It's amazing how demoralizing it can be when your normally rock-solid computer randomly hard crashes, costing you a couple hours and over a thousand words of typing. That's what happened to my already delayed post-Evo blog that I am finally dragging myself back to the keyboard to type up now. It's going to be a long one so buckle up.
It was always hard to justify the Evo trip while we lived in LA, what with the kids and a lack of any reliable child care in our immediate area. But after moving across the country my wife and I realized that we could probably con the grandparents into a month of free babysitting. I casually suggested that we schedule our trip some time around Evo weekend and she was super into the idea. #bestwifeever #hashtagsinablogpost
We flew out to NorCal, hung out with my wife's family for about a week, then bid the babies au revoir and shot down to Las Vegas so my wife could gamble and I could watch people play video games real good. Thanks to a delayed flight, we didn't make it to the Bally's until very late Thursday night. Not only did I miss early badge pickup, we didn't end up getting into our room until an hour after the clock ticked over to Friday. On the bright side, this meant the very first true bit of Evo I got to see was a sleepy Daigo waiting in line to check in, still wearing his neck pillow. He had the honor of being the first of many eCelebrities that I would creepily photograph while trying not to be noticed but completely being noticed and then immediately ignored as the person tried to pretend they didn't notice me ohmygodisthispersonastalker!?
Also Nemo was there with a small entourage. He is a tall man.
Four hours of sleep later, I woke up to try and get an early run on badge pickup at 7AM. The more fool I, as everyone in Vegas decided to get an even earlier run and the line was stretched across the entirety of Bally's by 6:30. An hour later, badge in hand, I drowsily staggered my way into the second line to enter the venue that had reached the terminus and folded back upon itself one-and-a-half times as frustrated hotel security fought to wrangle the eager masses into something more resembling an ordered progression and less a Möbius strip of fightstick-appendaged humanoids. I may have accidentally entered the line somewhere closer to the halfway point as I was confused by all the bends and turns.
A couple of Japanese gentlemen were intrigued by my CPT2014 Champion Select tee and asked to take some pictures of it. I obliged as I had just, er, cut in front of them, and by 8:20 we had made it inside. Woe be anyone with an 8AM pool who was not super on-top of their Evo badge/line game.
I made a beeline for the MadCatz booth, conveniently located just inside the doors to the viewing hall, because I knew those Rivals TE2s were going to go fast. Lo and behold, another big line! With seemingly only one person working the register and a lot of indecision from customers, things were going slooow. Luckily MarkMan was there to thank us for our support and hand out random trinkets. I got some sunglasses for the car and a selfie. I also realized that I had never taken a selfie and had no idea how to take a selfie. You guys are going to see all (3) of my bad selfies. Sorry.
So joystick in hand I did what any Evo attendee would do in my situation, went back to my room because who in their right mind would carry a heavy, $200 box around with them all day? My wife was about to head out to get breakfast so we went together and ate at what would prove to be the restaurant with the best cost-to-taste ratio of the entire weekend. Vegas food is expensive! Back at Evo I went looking for the Namco panel because I foolishly harbored hopes that some Tekken x Street Fighter news might finally be coming out for Harada other than him once again insisting that it still exists.
It was the worst-attended panel I had ever seen. It probably didn't help that the doors to the panel room were never opened except for when people wandered by and randomly peeked their heads in to see what was going on. There was absolutely nothing indicating to attendees that anything was happening inside. I actually spent a good five minutes standing by the doors wondering if I somehow was in the wrong place before someone else walk in past me and I sheepishly followed. Lots of Tekken talk happened. Basically the only slide they had was a picture of Lucky Chloe. There's some new employee ex-Jpop idol whose job is to become a good player? Someone asked a question about the lack of black characters in Tekken 7. Michael Murray's rambling answer at one point included him assuring the audience that he has black friends. I died a little inside. No Tekken x SF news.
At several points during the panel I found myself nodding off and almost falling out of my chair so when it ended I headed back to the room to take a nap. But first I wanted to try my new stick out on the PS4 I had lugged from the East Coast back to Cali. Then I wanted to take a shower because I felt all gross. Then I decided that fuck it if I'm at Evo I should be doing the shit I can only do at Evo so even though I've had my fair share of negative things to say about this game that I've never actually played, I went to the Killer Instinct panel.
Compared to Namco it was like night and day. The doors were still closed and there were no signs outside saying "KI Panel Here!" but the room was packed with standing room only by the time I got there so I headed to the back to hang out with the water cooler and hold up the wall. There was a huge focus on merch which everyone else was real hype over, but I just wanted to hear Keits say smart shit about fighting game character design. They did a reveal of Shadow Jago and shared a few tidbits about the legacy of creating Aria. They also gave away a pair of KI/Evo 2014 LE Razer Atrox sticks to people tweeting while attending the panel. One of the two dudes selected left early (ouch!) and I was the first runner-up (thanks buddy!)! They offered to mail it to me and it actually just arrived a few weeks ago which is fine since it's for a console I don't own/a game that's not out yet on PC and actually the button spacing is wider than a TE so I don't even know if I'm actually going to use it but woohoo free stick! I also ambushed Keits afterwards and gushed like an idiot and he took a picture with me.
Then I went and took a nap. The rest of the evening was spent taking candids of random players, eating dinner with my wife and her friends who drove up from LA to gamble/keep her company, and watching people getting eliminated off-stream before the Persona 4 Arena Ultimax finals and the Ultra Street Fighter IV semis. I saw Champ's surprise (to me) Seth pick against Haitani. His could have won off the strength of his footsie game if he wasn't dropping so many combos. Inco Rufus went on a rampage through a few players including Smug and Matsuri. Valle fought valiantly but eventually fell to Eita and all the MCZ boys were there to watch Misse take out Bonchan. Also during the semis Zhi kept walking back and forth trying to make sidebets on all of the matches. He was super organized with a clipboard and everything.
Also the cutest thing ever. Sako was there with his wife and baby girl, and by the time it was Sako vs Tokido, his daughter was falling asleep in his wife's arms. They were standing just under the jumbotron when Sako took a game. His wife jumped up and pumped her fist and their previously-sleeping-now-awake daughter looked at her like, "WTF mom?", before putting her head back down and nodding off again. Sako ended up losing that match. So sad.
A night's sleep happened, followed by breakfast. After that, most of Saturday was spent aimlessly wandering unsure what to do with myself. I didn't really care to watch any of the pools going on (not a Smash or KI fan, I was mad at MKX, and UMvC3 is almost always garbo before top 32), so I looked at booths, tried waiting for people to stop playing the Dancing All Night demos so I could have a turn but they never stopped, and I ended up impulse buying an Evo balltop and a few buttons plus an 8-way gate because square-gates gross me out.
Also Amiibos are a scourge that must be stopped.
The Capcom panel was just as jamming as the KI panel, although Ono only showed up for a few minutes before it actually started. They did the big "fight money" reveal which I feel like I have been more-or-less calling ever since Street Fighter V was announced (self high-five) and trolled everyone by heavily implying a character reveal at the beginning of the panel then telling us to wait until Sunday at the end of the panel. I battled my way through my social barriers and got up to ask a question about in-game currency and training mode since I have always been a lab-monster at heart and was basically told "lol no" so sucks to be me I guess o_O. Haunts was there. He's a pretty cool guy.
Cut to: Tournament Hall
I'll say this, for as much as I may personally dislike the dial-a-combo counter-breaker system of KI, the finals that day were pretty hype. I still think Thunder's DP is kinda BS, but maybe I'll finally understand why it isn't once the game is out on PC and I get my dirty mitts on it. Thankfully there was so much gloriously lame play. SleepNS's ability to outlame his opponent despite basically being at a full life-bar deficit and there being effectively zero chip damage in KI will be one of my top fighting game moments of all time, and I was there to see it in person! Rico's depth of character knowledge and plasma throwing/laser blasting prowess was also incredibly impressive.
Mortal Kombat X and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 semis also happened. I have a vague recollection of UMvC3 being full of blowups but honestly, my brain was still reeling from the insanity of KI so I can't think of anything specific other than KBR being a boss.
On to finals day!
I was one of the people with a viewing hall pass which worked out for me because not only did I need to get my dose of ultradavey and jimmychensor, the oft-delayed and much hyped Luffy v Santarou match was finally set to be held at the MadCatz booth. I also got a chance to try taking panorama shots and I learned that I do not have the attention span/steady hand necessary to take panorama shots. So here are some panorama shots:
The room was pretty empty for the entirety of the Guilty Gear Xrd top 8. Even by grand finals, there was only a smattering of people scattered across the front few rows. That still didn't stop the entire room from freaking the fuck out at the moment "what-are-you-standing-up-for" Woshige will always be known for. I missed most of MKX because I was watching Luffy completely flounder during the exhibition. I think he said something about a hangover? It wasn't a total blowup but Santarou managed to stay in decisive control for the entire match. My Rose pride took a critical hit that day.
Going back to MKX, there was a lot of USA chanting for SonicFox's wins over Honeybee and A Foxy Grandpa and I appreciated all the strong Kitana play. I'll admit that despite all my misgivings over NRS's patch policy, by the end I started getting some of my MK hype back.
Then it was Smash time AKA lunch time. I wasn't in any rush and actually wandered around for a while after going to the completely wrong hotel looking for a restaurant that didn't exist, yet somehow by the time I made it back to the venue there was still an hour of Melee left to play. So I found an outlet, camped out in the hallway, and talked my wife's brother through a draft of the practice college application essay he was working on. It worked out that as I was wrapping up so was Melee, and it was interesting being able to observe how little overlap there exists between the Smash and Marvel audiences.
I've always been a fan to big body teams in Marvel so I was thrilled that KBR was doing so well that weekend. Frutsy and Apologyman actually had the two teams I thought were best suited to shutting KBR down, so when he stomped both of them back-to-back it felt like victory was guaranteed. Of course everyone else played extremely well. The cultural representation and team diversity was amazing and even without the "Gods" it was easily one of the best Marvel top 8s I've ever seen. I get that some people were salty about KBR's win for personal reasons that I'm not privy to the details of, but I couldn't be happier for the dude. Like me, he loves the game and even though they wouldn't give him the mic at the time, listening to his victory speech afterwards was super inspiring.
I saw Fnatic for a brief moment. He was far less successful trying to get sidebets going for Marvel than Zhi was with USFIV.
Finally, the main event! Knowing that everyone else was waiting for me to finish so we could drive back to LA, there was part of me hoping that USFIV would end quick-ish. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA NOPE.
When it comes to storylines, the USFIV top 8 had one of the most perfect narratives you could hope for. Ever since he beat Jwong in... 2010? Gamerbee has been a fan favorite who keeps getting painfully close to glory without ever quite taking it home. He has so much heart and works so hard and it's always heartbreaking to see how crushed he is after another loss. That became the through-line for my USFIV finals experience, with me sitting on the edge of my seat rooting for Bruce to take it all the way. There was a minor exodus of attendees after both Rog and Du were eliminated, but everyone else knew we were really there for the Gamerbee show.
As bad as I felt nervously glancing at my phone clock during the match of a thousand Elena's lifebars, I could help but enjoy what was some #kissesfingertips-caliber lame play. I didn't know about Infil's victory using Chun earlier in the tournament, but all I could do was grin like an idiot while he kept throwing Kikokens. I think it was the first time I actually heard people in the viewing hall boo which made the whole thing even more delicious. People got hype again for the Juri pick and then it was grand finals.
Honestly, I don't even know what to say here. It was beautiful and poetic and tragic and bittersweet. The stick malfunction was so perfectly timed, you couldn't write a better story if you tried. If you haven't watched it yet you definitely should, also what are you doing reading the blog?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the privilege to attend my first Evo in this golden age of fighting games. Not only that, but several of the top 8s were simply the best I have ever seen for their respective games. I got to creepy stalk so many of my favorite FGC people and breathe the same air as them. With the community continuing to grow at this rate it probably won't be long before Evo has to abandon the hotel ballrooms for something more akin to a convention hall, and I'll be doing my darndest to keep attending in the future if I can.
Who knows. Maybe I'll even build up the courage to pay an extra $10 to get bodied by total strangers.
SFV and Rising Thunder at Evo2016!