Inside EVO 2015: Street Fighter V, Crushing Defeats and $15 Hot Dogs

I’ve been to many conventions over my lifetime of various shapes and sizes. Comic-con, E3, Wondercon, Indiecade, to name a few, but none prepared me for EVO 2015.

To be fair, EVO 2015 isn’t exactly a convention. It’s more like a tournament with a few booths selling their wares on the side and a handful of panels. I entered without any expectations. Not low expectations, but an open mind. Upon walking into the main convention area, tucked away in the back of Bally’s Casino, an overwhelming amount of hype could immediately be felt. It was only the first day, but dotted among booths, which seemed to be placed without a plan, players were sitting down with CRT televisions playing pickup games of Super Smash Brothers melee and Street Fighter II.

Even while seeing the convention floor, I didn’t know where to start. The EVO map was basically useless for a spectator like me and only listed where to find where to compete, not what vendor booths were what or even what screen would be playing the various tournaments. After only a few minutes of being there, people were cramming next to each other trying to get a look at and talk to famous Youtuber Maximilian Dood and his “Hype Dog” Benny. Mike Ross, a manger of the fighting game community on Twitch who was commenting on matches throughout the day, was also on the floor and was spotted by my more knowledgeable friend, who was clearly excited to see this man I knew nothing about.

I was a bit overwhelmed.

My fighting game experience goes about as far as dabbling with Street Fight IV, beating up friends in Smash Brothers and playing through the story modes of Netherealm games, Mortal Kombat and Injustice. I’m familiar with some of the mechanics, but no where near into watching it matches of it regularly or knowing the nuances of winning a fighting game.  That being said, I was caught up in the hype immediately. Luckily, fighting games are one of the easiest eSports to understand with its giant health bars. It’s weird to me why they haven’t taken off as much as Starcraft, Dota2 or League of Legends.

Audiences don’t have to wait for the action to heat up in a fighting game. It’s always an intense brawl where every move and second matters.  By the time creeps spawn in a typical MOBA, two rounds of fighting could have already been completed. The reason is the popularity of the game among the general gaming population.  Street Fighter is one of largest and most respected games and the closing game of the tournament, its numbers of entrants is similar to Super Smash Brothers Melee, which was only introduced to the tournament two years ago.

The general audience of people who play these games is just not as big as the MOBA fans. That’s not a bad thing. The size of EVO I find charming. Everyone around seemed in love with the community and generally everyone was friendly, while remaining fiercely competitive.  Fighting game fans love fairness. While waiting inline to play Street Fighter V, a man was taking more time than the “one game per play” rule posted next to the console. My friends brought the man’s seemingly extended stay up and someone in the line next to us overheard and yelled, “Yeah, he’s being an asshole,” a bit louder than one should when talking smack about someone behind their back.

One would say he was a bit salty.

How could you not be though? This was EVO 2015, the hype was ever present in the room, everyone had their fight sticks or were buying fight sticks or repairing and customizing their fight sticks and cramming their wares into their fight stick’s undercarriage.  Obviously you could watch all of EVO’s fights on their twitch stream, but just like a real sporting event, the experience pales in comparison to actually being there even if you get a crappy seat (or no seat). Just watching the Ultra Street Fighter IV quarterfinals were harrowing when the crowded cheer an awesome match or booed a player using cheap tactics.

The hype surrounds you. The BO of someone who forgot to apply today’s deodorant, the smell of a $15 dollar hotdog being cooked just outside the convention door, the players chanting a moves’ name in a side Street Fight II tournament that only a few people are paying attention to, the smell of booze that someone snuck into the hall, the pretty okay Vega cosplay, the convention’s unrelenting florescent lights, the large crowd that isn’t big enough to make the place feel crowded yet, this is what EVO is and it’s fantastic.

I can’t wait to go back next year.