This past weekend saw the largest fighting game tournament, EVO 2016, take place in Las Vegas, Nevada. This highly prestigious competition, featuring nine different fighting games including Street Fighter V, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Super Smash Bros., spanned the course of three days. Days One and Two took place at the gargantuan Las Vegas Convention Center. The final day, Championship Sunday, was hosted in the Mandalay Bay hotel’s equally impressive convention center. This was a first for EVO, as the finals were presented in a massive arena, with four screens projecting the gameplay to thousands of cheering spectators in stadium seating.

Another first this year was my own experience as a competitor. I entered the tournament for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, with no prior tournaments, local or otherwise, under my belt. Needless to say, before trekking across the desert to the oasis that is Las Vegas, I was a bit anxious. I had attended EVO once previously, but merely as a spectator interested in seeing the Top 8 for Super Smash Bros. Melee Wii U. How would I fare this time around, as an entrant?

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My perspective from the badge pickup “lines” a third of the way through.

Arriving in the evening on Day 0, my friend and I entered the Las Vegas Convention Center to retrieve our badges. Upon reaching the pickup hall, what greeted us blew me away. I would guess that no less than one thousand people were crowded into the ballroom, waiting to sign in. Keeping in mind that this was already close to the end of the day, I could only imagine the amount of people that had come and gone throughout the day. I remember thinking that this event was going to be jaw-dropping and jam-packed. I wasn’t wrong.

At 7:30 the following morning, Day One, there was a line stretching around the entire front of the center prior to entry. In the half hour I spent in line, I calmed my nerves, and realized I was ultimately here for a good time. I knew my skill level wasn’t anywhere close to anyone else standing in this line with me. Even the 14 year old kid with his mom in front of me could probably wipe the floor with me.

The doors opened a few short minutes before eight, which seemed a bit problematic for those who had matches right at eight, like myself. Nonetheless, I walked in casually, prepared for the ass-beating I was about to receive. I reached my station after weaving through the waves of attendees, and before I knew it, I was seated next to my first opponent: Michael “Nintendude” Brancato, a top Melee player who also dabbles in Smash Wii U. I knew I would be facing him, having seen the brackets the week prior. I had watched a few of his matches at other tournaments online to understand his playstyle, including clips of a buddy of mine who had faced him at last year’s EVO.

I had a brief onset of panic when it took more than 5 seconds to find my profile I had just created.
I had a brief onset of panic when it took more than 5 seconds to find my profile I had just created.

We sat down, exchanged a greeting, a grin, and a fist bump, and got to our set. Standard procedure for the tournament was best two out of three, and I’ll get right to the point: I got 2-0’d. I had decided to main Luigi for my matches at EVO, and my lack of practice with him turned out to be the death of me. Nintendude’s Zero Suit Samus tore my Luigi a new one, while I managed to only take one measly stock. I missed good down-throw opportunities, wussed out on edge-guarding because I didn’t want to risk losing a precious stock, and ultimately succumbed to nerves.

After the grueling decimation of the green plumber, I turned to my opponent, who gave me what I believe was a knowing smile, and exchanged a simple “good game, man,” and stood up to report my loss to the ref. I was knocked into the losers’ bracket, one game away from elimination. I figured I might have a chance with a loser’s run, but it wasn’t meant to be. I faced a player with the tag “Dust,” who mained Link. I thought I’d be more capable of handing Link, as a good friend of mine often uses him, abusing the Hylian hero’s projectiles like no other.

Once again, I found myself 2-0’d. Granted, I put up what I felt was a lot more of a fight this time around, but in the end, I fell victim to some hard reads and well-timed up-smashes.

Following this match, I started to understand the appeal of tournaments like EVO. There was no trash talk to be found before or after any of my matches, or any of the matches in my pool. In fact, as soon as we were done, Dust turned to me and explained what I could do to improve. He pointed out that I rolled a bit too much, and stuck to the same game-plan instead of mixing it up. Mixing it up will prevent reads. I thanked him for his advice and walked away determined.

The fighting game community, particular the Smash outlet, is one that I had only really observed from a distance through windows like Twitch or Smashboards and other forums. Being there amongst everyone, it almost feels like a second home, even if I didn’t even know anyone. It was terribly easy to pick up a conversation with the person next to me while watching a match, and all of a sudden you’re talking like you’ve known each other for years.

We cheered each other on, made jokes, discussed mains and matchups, and other stuff. I’m not the most knowledgeable of any of the games at EVO, and yet no one is condescending about a lesser opinion. Other players are always open to giving advice and don’t protect their characters like trade secrets.

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Smash Wii U matches on Day 2 were regulated to a smaller projection screen until Top 8.

Though the community is incredibly warm, the EVO organizers seemed to not have as much of a regard for the Smash Wii U scene. Day 1, there was not a single projector for matches, forcing anyone who wanted to observe the professional players’ matches to tune in on their phones for the Twitch stream. According to the number one ranked Smash Wii U player Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios’ twitter postings, many stations intended for tournament play were recommissioned for friendly matches, and a debacle involving Eric “Mr. E” Weber highlighted the TO’s lack of effort or empathy for the Smash Wii U community.

Day 2 of EVO finally saw the Smash Wii U semifinals on a projector, albeit a small one. Of course, with a projector comes a need for seats to sit down and watch, but none were provided. Seats were available for the main projector, on which the Tekken 7 finals were taking place. Most attendees found themselves sitting on the floor or standing until Tekken finished, at which time Smash was moved to the main screen.

To me, it seems a bit strange for the Smash Wii U crowd to be treated a bit unfairly compared to the other games, especially considering Wii U received over 2,600 entrants, outshone only by Street Fighter V. Many top players have spoken out against the management at EVO.

Despite all of the problems with how the event was run, the Top 8 matches for Smash Wii U were the definition of hype. The crowd was witness to a multitude of surprises and upsets, including the Japanese player Takuto “Kamemushi” Ono nearly taking the entire tournament with Mega Man.

Not falling prey to Kamemushi’s incredible technical ability, Elliot “Ally” Carroza-Oyarce and his superb Mario play took first place. The grand finals were easily some of the most impressive matches of Smash Wii U I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing, and the energy in the audience was palpable.

The Top 8 players receive their medals.
The Top 8 players receive their medals.

Could EVO have treated Smash Wii U better? Definitely. But that doesn’t take away from the credit that the Smash community deserves. This was easily one of the most amazing events I’ve ever attended, made possible by the incredible community and the passion of the players.The devotion of the community to their game is astounding, and a single poorly managed event should not and will not discourage both veteran and new players from competing.

I say all of this as a newer, less skilled player, and I can attest to this devotion. The Smash Wii U tournament at EVO 2016 has given me the drive to practice, to compete, and to win. I have a long way to go, but the spirit of the Smash community is inspiring. The spirit of the entire fighting game community is inspiring. To me, they stand tall above every other genre’s fan base, from MOBA to FPS, and it’s only going to get better. From top viewership on Twitch to coverage on ESPN, fighting games are in a fantastic place right now.

For now, I will continue to practice and compete, and I’m already counting down to next year’s EVO.