Evolution Finals 2006 - All Growns Up
Not just the tournament itself, mind you. Evolution 2006 at the Red Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, sponsored by the Toyota Yaris, has grown in every way, shape, or form; every aspect, detail, and angle; every one, where, and thing. Evolution has grown up. The stakes were higher, the competition fiercer, the quality of play stronger. The underdogs tougher, the champions wiser, and the players more mature. Yup, this was the year that Evolution grew up.
This is the year we saw America assert itself. Many predicted that the Japanese would come over to our home court and walk away with the prizes. But this year, through a valiant effort, many of the American players managed to show that not just a few players have grown stronger, but the overall level of play in the country has grown stronger. Players like Warren Patten can take Kindevu to a few pixels, lose, and still have the strength to immediately follow-up by taking out Tokido in Capcom Vs. SNK 2. Alex Valle has the confidence to take down Daigo not once, but twice (and thrice if you count arm wrestling). And Alex Wolfe, Graham Wolfe, and Jason Nelson, the "OG'est" of the OG crew, were able to show that, despite a casualty, home turf would be more strongly defended than previously thought.
This is the year that the dark horse of Street Fighter, Capcom Vs. SNK 2, showed why it belonged in the canon of fighting game greats. In a year where Hyper Street Fighter 2 had so much anticipation built up, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 had so much drama ready to go, and Third Strike yet again boasted the largest pool of players, Capcom Vs. SNK 2 stole the show and ended up being perhaps the most exciting game at Evo 2k6. The level of play on display was more advanced than I've ever seen in the game, and the level of excitement was incredible. Kim, longtime proponent of CvS2, had always tried to tell me the game was good. This year, I was convinced.
This is the year that the tournament was run as smoothly as it ever has. Gone was the past inevitability that the tournament would run late into the night past midnight or 1:00 a.m. or even 2:00 a.m. Gone were the problems of having players playing multiple games at once, forcing them to ferry themselves back and forth between two pools from two different games. Gone were the schedules that were eventually disregarded. This year, the Staff put on a great show, and I'm proud to know that all the blood, sweat, and tears put in by the Staff gave an event everyone could enjoy.
This was the year that saw a change in the way we view rivalries. A proud Josh Wigfall proclaimed on the forums that the Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 scene wasn't ready for the cards that the East Coast were going to bring to the table at Evo 2006. But after the West Coast withstood the East Coast onslaught, Wigfall came back and, once again on the Forums, congratulated the West Coast for putting up a strong fight. And what was the result? A forum full of East Coasters and West Coasters giving each other shout-outs and props, focusing on the enjoyable matches in the steamy bathrooms of Red Rock and in the "Bring Your Own Console" area. So even though there was plenty of room for immature bragging and excuse making, the players chose to use the competitiveness to form a stronger overall community by congratulating each other instead.
This was the year that saw that we only get better with time. I already mentioned that Alex Valle and Daigo squared up twice at this year's Evo. And if you recall, these are the same two young fighters that competed in 1998 in the very first US Vs. Japan event in Street Fighter Alpha 3. And now, 8 years later, here they are playing twice on a grand stage in front of huge audiences in Las Vegas. And while, back in 1998, Daigo was viewed as the foreign enemy, Daigo is now a hero in America, having given the American audiences probably the greatest moment in Evo history two years ago in Third Strike. And after the tournament, this former enemy partied and hung out with Valle and other American players, getting so... uh... "into it" that he and Combofiend had to be wheeled back to their rooms afterwards. My, how far we have come in 8 years...
And while Daigo and Valle showed that the experts only keep getting better, we had players like one Gene Wong come in and show that the crop of new top players doesn't end with another guy named Wong. Gene came into this year's Evo, his first ever, and showed that no one can ever be underestimated and that the veteran pros can't take any ol' 15 year old lightly. With the poise and determination from players twice his age (yes, we exist), Gene powered his way to 7th place in Capcom Vs. SNK 2, taking out even top players such as Nitto from Japan. This is a good sign that there will never be a shortage of top players.
This was the year we saw one of the most anticipated match-ups ever. With more money than you can shake a stick at -- gathered from an entire fighting game community -- on the line; with so much trash talking and posturing on forums; with so much pride in the hero of your coast on the line; with all this, we saw two people battle it out in what could be the most hyped up competitive gaming event in fighting game... nay, video gaming history. And despite all of the competitiveness, the lasting visions I have were Duc and Sanford discussing their pools match in a very cordial fashion after Duc's victory and Sanford shaking Duc's hand and then the two engaging in a respectful embrace after Sanford won the money match 7-4.
Evolution is a competition, a gathering of players ready to defeat one another. But, to quote Chris Li while he MC'ed the Duc / Sanford money match, "It's not about the hate, it's about the hype." I echo his sentiment that it's events like the money match and Evo itself that keep the community strong, energized, and everlasting. Though the arcades have died and the new games are scarce, Evolution has grown larger. Evolution has grown stronger.
Evolution has grown up.
P.S. Check out photos here, from the first three days of the event. More photos will go up as I write more about the event. I intend to write what I think the state of every individual game is.