Evolution 2006 Season Wrap Up
(Note: Though I am on the staff, please DO NOT use this article as evidence of any theories you have on what may happen at Evo 2007. My opinion is only one person strong, and over the course of the next few months, so many new games will come out, circumstances may change, and moods can alter so that what I say now may not even reflect how I feel half a year from now. So don't go quoting me as a source of proof that next year will feature such-and-such game or not.)
Dead or Alive 4: It's tough crafting a community out of nothing. That's essentially what was happening with Dead or Alive 4 at Evo. The Dead or Alive 4 community doesn't currently exist, really. Is it realistic to expect a large turnout for the game?
It's not like there isn't plenty of DoA4 players out there. The problem is that they're spread throughout the country and they play mostly on XBox Live. And then there's the kicker: Dead or Alive doesn't have a rich history, and Dead or Alive 4 may be only the first game in its series to be really considered a tournament worthy game due more to its exposure (and, thus, decently large player base) on XBox Live than to anything else. As a result, the players of the game really have only one experience playing others: online.
Every other Fighting Game community out there has had deeper roots that DoA4. Those other communities have been playing fighting games long before online play was even worth discussing. Thus, players were used to traveling 5, 10, 25, or even 80 miles to go to an arcade to play other high-level players. And then, traveling across the country for a major Fighting Game tournament was a natural for players of the more established games. But the DoA4 players aren't accustomed to it. Few have ever gone farther than their own living room to play against people across the country. Thus, it might be hard pressed to expect them to entertain the idea of traveling out of state for Evo.
So while there are a lot of players playing DoA4, there really is no community that exists. And this ends up being a tough reality for the small number of DOA4 that are trying to form a community akin to the ones that exist for, say, Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 or Tekken. And so for these players, DoA4 at Evo is hugely exciting. As one player stated, if I recall correctly, on the Shoryuken.com Forums, DoA4's inclusion at Evo gave the game a bigger shot of life to the small existing community than anything else ever has. It did its part to help stir up the community and help it grow a bit larger.
But it wasn't enough, it seems. After last year's Evo, DoA4 already seems to be dangling dangerously at the precipice of obscurity. DoA4 had a very small turnout at Evo compared to the other Fighting Games featured. And to top it all off, many of the players who entered the tournament were actually new to the game, picking it up only weeks before Evo Finals just to get a shot at the prize money when they figured the turnout would be small. Thus, its community probably barely represented half of the entrants for the game. That doesn't bode well for DoA4.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, at how enthusiastic about the game the actual hardcore DoA4 players at Evo were. As small as the crowd was, they were able to generate a lot of noise and excitement. They seemed to have their characters and rivalries and short history nicely established, which helped stir up a lot of energy and bravado from the players that were there. There's definitely evidence that a community is lying there, waiting to spring forth from underneath the covers. I'm just afraid there wasn't quite enough to be able to rally up this potential community in time as new games continue to crop up as potentials for next year's Evo. Some games will have to miss the cut. I'd love to see the Dead or Alive players get another chance, however, and see if they can answer the call. I can see the potential there, but it is up to them to prove why they deserve another shot.
Tekken 5: Tekken found itself in an awkward situation. Currently, it is stuck in limbo. Naturally, if it is accepted within its community, updated versions of the game are the ones chosen to play at major tournaments. The Guilty Gear community, for example, fought tooth and nail to make sure Evo carried the upgraded Guilty Gear XX Slash in its roster, a game not even officially released stateside. Evo obliged and Slash was added to replace the older Guilty Gear XX #Reload. After all, who wants to be playing an outdated version?
Unfortunately, this is the fate that befell Tekken. A new version of Tekken 5 exists called Tekken: Dark Resurrection and it is preferred by the majority of its fanbase over the original Tekken 5 that exists on the PlayStation 2. But Namco ended up doing their fans a great disservice by not releasing Tekken: DR on any consoles other than the PlayStation Portable (though it might not actually be Namco's fault). Even though Tekken DR can be extremely addictive in its portable form, I've heard from players that playing it across the WiFi connection against another player can be laggy at times. Thus, it's not as playable as it would be if it existed on an actual non-portable console.
So unlike the Guilty Gear situation, there wasn't really anything Evo could do. We had to play the original Tekken 5. However, to the Tekken community's credit, the players made do with what they were given. With nary a foreign player in sight, the Tekken 5 Finals produced some great dramatic match ups, playing host to various forms of rivalries and grudges. We had East Vs. West in Jinmaster vs. Arario, the outspoken JRA from Texas piling up victims, East Coast supremacy on the line between Jinmaster and Justin Wong, and, in the end, West Coast and Texas vying for the championships with California's Insanelee going up against last year's reigning champion from Texas, Crow. And with Crow winning his second Tekken 5 Evo World Championship in a row, it looks like a dynasty could be building up here.
Which is exactly what may happen, if Tekken remains in limbo. Tekken 6 is slated to be released onto the PlayStation 3, but no one is sure when. Rumors are that Namco will release it only in the arcades for a while before putting it onto the console. If they wait too long and it is not out on console by the time Evo rolls around next year, we may be seeing Tekken 5 one more year in a row! This would be a very harsh blow to the Tekken community, as it would certainly be preferable for the players to be competing on the latest game. Playing one revision behind is one thing, but two revisions behind? Hopefully, Namco will help out the Tekken community and release either Tekken DR or Tekken 6 on a console soon, because the Tekken community is a very solid and close-knit group that deserves better from Namco.
Hyper Street Fighter 2: There are two aspects that Hyper Street Fighter 2 brought to the light for me this past year at Evo 2006: 1) America has reached the next step in this game. 2) We really, really need to have a pure version of Super Turbo.
In addressing the first point, I was very excited to see the real old school players like Alex Wolfe and Jason Nelson come in and dominate the game, proving that, not only are the old school players still the cream of the crop and are not ready to bow out to the new players just yet, but that they were also ready to really defend home turf. Allowing only two Japanese players into the Final 8 (and limiting only one to the top 4) was quite a statement. In particular, watching Alex Valle defeat Daigo Umehara was a very inspirational win for the U.S. Players.
But we can't become over confident. We may have reached the next step, but most people who follow Super Turbo in Japan know that the Japanese players at Evo, outside of Daigo, are not even considered the top Super Turbo players in Japan. There are a whole host of players in Japan that have never come here to challenge us, and for any of us who have watched many Japanese ST match videos, such as the X-Mania tournaments, we've learned to recognize a lot of those names. There's "Ryu," who (unlike his nickname suggests) plays a really strong Bison (Dictator). Gian, who won last year's Super Turbo tournament at Evo, doesn't even seem to have a Dhalsim as strong as the Dhalsim of "KKY." And crowd-favorite Kuni himself admits that his strong Zangief is not comparable to the likes of the Zangief of other players, such as one by the nickname of "Pony."
And there's still many more. There's Ani-Ken, the famous Ken player using New Ken, a character few Americans use. Then there is the infamous "More Vega," a player known for his super defensive style of play using the clawed Spaniard. And I've even seen this one really killer Blanka, who won a Round-Robin tournament despite Blanka's perceived low tier status. There are so many other players I see repeatedly (I recognize their nicknames written with Japanese characters, but don't know what their English equivalent nicknames are), and I don't think any of them have come to Evo before. With all of these player known to be the best at Super Turbo, we may have to be concerned a bit that Tokido, who placed third and is not considered a top ST player in Japan, only decided to pick up and practice HSF2 a few days before Evo.
A lot of this will be addressed by the second point, however. Admittedly, Tokido's high placing was largely thanks to the use of Champion Edition Bison, a bane upon the entire existence of Hyper Street Fighter 2. While not completely over-dominating, the presence of CE Bison really makes a beautiful game look very ugly. Yes, we can learn to fight him properly. Yes, he has weaknesses to exploit. But who cares? CE Bison is like the river card in poker. Through random bad luck, it can be brutal. Being able to win through guessing games and, sometimes, luck makes CE Bison an abomination.
Hyper Street Fighter 2 needs to go away, to put it bluntly. If an arcade-perfect Super Turbo really is on the horizon in the form of Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2 (under the watchful eye of the reliable David Sirlin, author of the "Playing to Win" book), nothing but good could come from this. We won't have simple tactics, like CE Bison's Psycho Crusher fuzzy guards, affecting the game anymore. And though a character like O.Sagat will be back, he's never been dominating, as most of the top tier crew (Dhalsim, Vega, Bison, Balrog, and Ryu) can defeat him.
And most importantly, if a huge pot is on the line once again and the Japanese players see that we have moved to an arcade perfect version of Super Turbo rather than the defective HSF2, the draw may be large enough for the elite ST players from Japan to actually come and play. Not only is there a lot of money to be won, but the Japanese also need to re-assert the dominance that has been taken away from them. If we can get some of those players over and Alex Wolfe, Graham Wolfe, Jason Nelson, and Alex Valle can still defend home turf successfully, then we can declare the gap in player skill-level between America and Japan officially null and void. Let's all hope that Sirlin's efforts succeed in bringing us an arcade-perfect Super Turbo and that Super Turbo makes a return next year to Evo.
Guilty Gear XX Slash: Frankly, Guilty Gear doesn't stand still long enough for anyone to really give it a fair evaluation. I've already told the tale in the Tekken section of how the fans were outraged at the idea of playing Guilty Gear XX #Reload for another year knowing that there existed the upgraded version of Guilty Gear XX Slash. But the outrage really is a good sign: it shows how dedicated the Guilty Gear fans really are. They wanted Slash despite the fact that Slash hasn't ever been released, Arcades or Consoles, in America! So everyone who loves Guilty Gear somehow has access, whether by buying it themselves or knowing someone else who has, to a machine that an play the imported Guilty Gear game.
So while Guilty Gear may have the smallest community of the 2-D fighters featured at Evo, they definitely are very dedicated. And it was definitely loud enough to demand having Slash at Evo. And then the players demanded even more, rallying behind the idea of having Guilty Gear be a Team Tournament. I will say this: the Guilty Gear community is awfully demanding for being relatively small! But as proof that, yes, the Evo Staff does listen to the community and, yes, the Evo Staff is willing to change their minds, we succumbed to both pleas: not only was Guilty Gear turned into a Team Tournament, but the Staff went the extra step and, rather than asking players to donate Japanese PlayStation 2's and copies of the game as originally planned,
went ahead and purchased multiple Japanese PlayStation 2's for the sole purpose of running the import Guilty Gear XX Slash copies that were also purchased.
And so Evo also ended up having its first Team Tournament, which was run with fair success. The Team Tournament concept itself caused a few minor problems. 1) It seemed that it was difficult, at times, for people to properly form teams of three, and I can only imagine there were a lot of last-minute teams formed. 2) Because of having three people on every team, the pool areas got rather crowded. 3) A lot of times, there seemed to be teams that were mostly one person strong, with the other two players not really contributing much.
However, there were a lot of positives as well. Team tournaments guaranteed a lot of players chances to play multiple times even after losing twice (having been rescued by teammates). Also, the character variety was a welcome sight for those watching, especially with Japanese players like Ruu decimating everyone with Bridget, a character not widely viewed as top tier in Slash. Also, just because it is so hard to find Guilty Gear competition, many small "sub-communities" have formed within the community's entirety. Team Tournaments seemed a perfect way for those sub-communities to not only band together to compete against the other sub-communities, but it also provided a way to avoid having to play against your friends in the tournament. Having tried it out and seeing how positively the community responded to having a Team Tournament, I would not be surprised to see more Team Tournaments in the future.
As for Guilty Gear itself, I would like to see it continue to thrive. I personally enjoy the game very much, and I think it's one of the most well-constructed fighting games out there today. Not only that, but the creators of the game are never content to rest on their laurels, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. The #Reload/Slash debate before Evo last year was a direct result of the creators always tweaking their game and trying to keep it fresh and balanced. While it's definitely nice, especially as a Capcom fan watching Capcom fail at their upgrade attempts over and over again, to see the creators always trying to make their game better, it also makes it difficult to really judge the game's performance at a major tournament at Evo. Does it really matter how well the game looked? I ask this because there is already a new version of Guilty Gear being beta tested in Japan: Guilty Gear XX Accent Core. Next year at Evo, if Guilty Gear is brought back, which one will it be? If Accent-Core is released on the consoles by Evo next year, what will the players demand this time? I guess only time will tell.
Capcom Vs. SNK 2: I'm not gonna lie. I don't like Capcom Vs. SNK 2. I've argued with one of the biggest proponents of the game about it as well: Kim-Hahn Hoang, creator of CrazyAssKim.com, pretty much the only American CvS2 dedicated website out there. I've pointed out the things I don't like about the game to him before, and while he tried his hardest to convince me that it was a great game, I never really quite believed him. And, much to Kim's dismay, he could only end his argument with a simple, "You just don't understand the game properly."
And after seeing this past year's level of Capcom Vs. SNK 2 play, I may have to concede that Kim was probably right. After a mediocre CvS2 showing at Evo West and a fairly blasé CvS2 showing at Evo East, CvS2 showed what it was capable of at Evo Finals. In fact, if I were told I had to choose a game for this type of an award, I would give Capcom Vs. SNK 2 "Game of the Year" for Evo 2006. Maybe it looked so good because I expected so little from the game, but what I saw this year displayed by the players was crazy. I think, of all the games at Evo, I saw the most advanced play in CvS2 in all of the Semis and Finals. I hate Roll Cancels, but even I have to admit that it's added a different level to the game (though I still think it makes Blanka's Fierce Electricity a tad bit too powerful). For example, I can think of two instances when Roll Cancels were used during Custom Combos as a means to overcome not being able to Block, one which involved having a perfectly timed Reversal Custom Combo activation followed immediately by a Roll Canceled Blanka Electricity to beat the opponent's Roll Canceled Blanka Electricity, courtesy of Kindevu.
Not only was the level of play very strong, but it had all the right elements needed for an exciting tournament. We had players like Evil Elvis showing a strong performance against Japanese players. We had newcomers like Gene Wong assert themselves. We had the veterans from America show their true power, with guys like Combofiend and Buktooth and Kim doing massive damage throughout the Pools and the Finals, which included keeping Daigo out of the top 4. And, in the end, it was the only game where the final match was between a Japanese player and an American player, giving the audience a stronger vested interest on the outcome, hoping that the American (Ricky Ortiz) could defeat the Japanese (Kindevu) for the victory.
It had all the proper elements to provide the audience with an entertaining show. And the amount of people entering CvS2 always remains one of the highest at Evo, so it's obvious that the game isn't going away anytime soon. Before, knowing that CvS2 was sticking around for the long-haul would have made me cringe. Now, I'm looking forward to seeing CvS2 next year to see how far the players have advanced this time. Well played, CvS2! But now, its community needs to ban together to show their support for their game. CvS2 fans are definitely the quietest and they are very casual. If CvS2 wants the respect that the other games have, its community will have to start stepping it up.
Marvel Vs. Capcom 2: Someone has gotta get to a point where they can challenge Justin Wong. After taking a hiatus last year, Wong was back to his usual self, dominating Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and taking back the crown. And while it's great to see Justin back on top of his game and, thus, the mountain, you just sometimes wish it would more of a struggle before he achieved his victory. But, instead, it looked business as usual, with Justin Wong really not sweating too much on his way to the championship.
And it's a shame to have it end on such a note. Everything for MvC2 at Evo previous to the Finals on Sunday was exciting as hell. Having the whole audience cheering and going nuts while watching Duc Vs. Sanford on the big screens during pools was great. The rivalry between East Coast and West Coast also generated a ton of hype and excitement (anyone who says otherwise didn't see or hear the money matches going on in the BYOC). And then there was the most hyped up match-up ever in Evo history with the Sanford Vs. Duc Super Championship Money Match on Saturday.
And there was even more reason to be excited about Finals Sunday. There was a lot to be hyped up with Duc trying to defend his championship from last year against the huge entourage of East Coast players coming to Evo for the first time, all wanting to prove that Duc is really last year's news. Heck, Duc even had to try to defend his championship from all of the West Coast players itching for their chance to take the MvC2 crown and for their chance to fight Justin Wong.
But in the end, it wasn't quite as exciting as we'd all expect it to be. It's not that we are disappointed in Justin Wong winning every time. It's not that Chunksta didn't give it his all and didn't throw everything he had at Justin. No, I think it's more that Justin has no solid rival. In 5 years of MvC2 Championship victories (B5, Evo2k2, Evo2k3, Evo2k4, and Evo2k6), Justin Wong has faced five different opponents in the Grand Finals. It's almost just like how the Chicago Bulls won 6 championships playing only one team twice, which never really built up the excitement of a true rivalry. It should be more like the days of the Lakers and the Celtics, with the two teams facing off against each other year after year. Justin needs a good, strong rival, one from the West Coast who can give him the challenge he needs every year. That would be a really good way to keep the community and the life of MvC2 going strong. Let's see if the like of Soo, Chunksta, and Duc can continue their strong play and start giving Justin a really good run for his money.
But sadly, I don't even think the biggest danger the MvC2 community is the lack of a rival for Justin. Actually, the scene is in danger because of the shoddy hardware it must be played on. Year after year the Dreamcasts we use continue to die on us, and these machines really don't grow on trees. Eventually, there will be no new Dreamcasts for us to scrounge up. Not only that, but year after year we have to continually deal with the blue screens / random pausing because the Dreamcast hardware cannot take the punishment dished to it by all of the custom joysticks. A solution to the lousy hardware needs to be found to keep MvC2 alive, otherwise the scene might just die out by default. It's a shame Capcom's attempts at releasing the games on the other hardware (PlayStation 2 and XBox) have been so poor that the community cannot accept them. Is there any chance of expecting an arcade-perfect version to appear in the future at all? The chances seem very slim.
I would love to keep MvC2 going, as I still think the players in the community are the most passionate of all the Fighting Games. I love watching the East Coast players in particular because their unbridled passion for the game is an inspiration. All communities need to be as passionate about their game as the MvC2 community is about theirs. It's that passion that keeps MvC2 a staple of Evo every year.
Street Fighter III: Third Strike: If you throw out Guilty Gear, where there exists a HUGE gap in terms of level of play between Japan and America, Street Fighter III: Third Strike is probably the most lopsided game at Evo. Two games (HSF2 and CvS2) at Evo had 2 Japanese make it in the top 8. Three games (DoA4, Tekken 5, and MvC2) had zero Japanese players make it in the top 8. In Third Strike, 5 of the top 8 spots went to the Japanese, with Japan taking the top 4.
Many people have been citing Third Strike's finals as being completely boring with too many Yuns crowding up the field. Someone told me that, to settle a bet, they counted up 120+ Genei-Jin activations in the Finals alone. 3 of the top 4 Japanese finishers, Nitto, Mester, and Issei, all used Yun. Add to this the fact that none of the 5 Japanese players in the Finals were Daigo (eliminated in the semis), K.O. (didn't come), or KSK (eliminated in the Semis), all three crowd favorites. I'm not downplaying the other 5 Japanese players, it's just that we know there are players that the crowds just prefer to watch.
And so, people grew very tired of watching Yun Genei-Jin every opponent to death. There is now even discussions on the Shoryuken Forums on how to "jazz up" Third Strike, sparking up huge arguments on banning certain Super Arts and discussions on creating a "new" altered version of Third Strike using the System Direction available in Anniversary Collection.
While many of the players have a point (Third Strike Finals were awfully unexciting this year), I blame it less on the Yun-fest as I do on the fact that the Americans still cannot keep up with the Japanese in this game. If the Americans could give a good challenge, it would be a lot more exciting to watch. Not convinced? Lemme try to paint you a scenario:
If one of the Yun in the top 4 was Pyrolee, do you think the audience would have been as bored? If Pyrolee were landing Genei-Jins on the Japanese players, giving them a "taste of their own medicine," per se, you don't think the audience would have been more interested? If the finals came down to Pyrolee vs. Nitto, the crowds would go mad every time Pyrolee landed a Genei-Jin on Nitto. If it ended up America vs. Japan, don't you think the audience would watch more carefully and enthusiastically?
I do. That doesn't solve the problem of the game being a Yun-fest and a Chun-fest, but it certainly helps. Every year, America thinks it gets closer and closer to matching the Japanese in terms of skill level in Third Strike, but year after year we always fall short (with the closest chance of victory being last year, with Justin Wong finishing 2nd). Compared to what we accomplished in HSF2, we have a long way to go. And since Third Strike never loses steam (remaining by far the game with the most entrants), you would have to think we're improving overall 'cause so many people continue to play the game. I do think we continue to get better, but I think we gotta keep trying harder and make bigger leaps every year. Many people are worried that Third Strike will be boring as it is at every Evo from now on, but I think if we can get 5 or 6 players out of the top 8 from America, things will be a lot different.
And with that, I officially end the Evo Season on my blog. It's been a great year, and I think it's only gonna get better next year. We learn so much every year, and when the things that were hard before become pedestrian, we can start adding more and more to the event that will definitely make Evo even greater. So I hope to see you all next year!
And for those waiting for me to get back to my ramblings on the gaming industry, starting next post, we will be back to our regularly scheduled programming.
P.S. If you haven't already, please check out all the photos from Evo Finals Sunday here.