EVO 2019: Smash Bros. Melee is out, Dragon Ball FighterZ is no longer a headliner

Last Updated January 23rd, 2022

Last night the lineup for this year’s 2019 EVO fighting game championships was announced, and it surprised a few people. While certain mainstay titles are coming back, EVO is also taking a chance on some new titles, and ditching some old ones.Whenever the EVO lineup is announced, there’s always fighting game drama hot on its tail. Let’s take a look at what’s coming to EVO this year, and why people are getting stirred up.

Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition (headliner)

The inclusion of Street Fighter in the EVO lineup surprised absolutely no one. The tournament has been built around Street Fighter since day one. The inclusion of Street Fighter in a Sunday headliner slot surprised absolutely no one. It’s been closing out the tournament for years now.

The big question here is going to be: will Capcom have anything new to announce? Street Fighter V is now the only Capcom game in the lineup, which is itself a rarity. However, we’ve also seen support start to slow down for the game. We have only seen a single character come out in the current season, and Capcom has decided not to offer a season pass this year. Maybe we will see a new character announced. Maybe we will see some other content. Either way, it’s pretty clear that SFV is nearing the end of its lifecycle.

Even so, it will likely continue to close out EVO year after year simply due to tradition.

Tekken 7 (headliner)

Tekken 7 has had an absurd amount of support behind it, and it’s benefited greatly from that support. It’s easy to forget that it’s a four year old game now, yet still brings some of the most well-known competitors to the stage. This is one of those rare EVO years where Tekken won’t be the only representative of the 3D fighting game crowd, but it’s still undeniable that Tekken dominates the 3D fighting game space. It’s no wonder that it got one of the coveted Sunday slots.

Will Bandai Namco have any exciting Tekken announcements? Maybe. A whole season of Tekken 7 was announced last year, and the game hasn’t lost momentum yet. We will have to wait and see.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (headliner)

Some Smash always needs to be in a headliner slot. Sometimes it’s the most recent Smash. Sometimes it’s Melee. Sometimes it’s both. This year it’s going to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and that makes sense. It’s the most recent Smash, and it seems to be (slowly and through a process of intense drama) uniting the Melee and modern Smash crowds.

It’s almost certain that we are going to get a new DLC announcement at EVO, and perhaps a few other announcements too (perhaps a new balance patch). Smash Ultimate is young, popular, and deep, and it’s very likely to pull massive numbers on the Sunday main stage.

BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle (headliner)

This is an interesting headliner.

BBTAG was part of the EVO lineup last year, but wasn’t played on the main stage. Still, it was one of the most well attended tournaments at the event, while Guilty Gear, its older brother, had a much smaller tournament even though it did get a Sunday slot. This made the BB community more than a little angry. It looks like EVO is making it up to the community by letting them take the main stage this year.

Expect the grand reveal of the sixth fate after the tournament.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

Welcome to the first major bit of EVO drama.

Dragon Ball FighterZ has undoubtedly been the fastest growing fighting game in recent days. Last year it was the first non-street fighter game to be the biggest game at EVO. Yet despite it literally having the most entrants of any game at the tournament, DBFZ isn’t getting on the main stage this year, giving up its Sunday slot to BBTAG.

Why is this? Is it because Bandai Namco already had a representative in the big four in Tekken 7? Is it because of the strange drama late last year with DBFZ tournaments getting shut down? Is it simply because EVO wanted other big games to get a chance on the main stage? Or maybe a shadow conspiracy of lizard people is trying to keep DBFZ down. You never know.

I’d give better than even odds that we will see some sort of big DBFZ announcement at the tournament. Depending on the DLC release schedule, we might see the last two DLC characters from season 2.

Soulcalibur VI

Here we have the other 3D fighting game community that is going to get its chance in the spotlight.

Soulcalibur VI came out at an odd time last year, a few months after EVO. That means it will have had a whole year to be played before its first EVO appearance, which is unfortunately enough to make it feel old, but also enough to make its competitors skilled enough to have a real cutthroat tournament.

Whether or not Bandai Namco will have new content to give us is still up in the air. Once again, the game will be “old” by the time it hits EVO, which means the first DLC cycle will be long over. Yes, we might get some new DLC, but it will largely depend on how active the scene is at this time. I certainly hope that the scene is still thriving, and we get a bunch of new characters and costumes announced, but I’m not confident enough to say it’s a certainty.

Under Night In-Birth EXE:LateST

This is definitely the strangest entrant to the EVO lineup.

UNIST came out early last year, but was largely overshadowed by BBTAG which had UNIST characters in it. Nevertheless, it was one of the most attended side-tournaments at EVO last year, surpassing the numbers of some main tournaments!

The Under-Night series hasn’t been on the EVO lineup very often, and it’s nice to see them finally getting a chance to show their skills. Of course, this has certainly angered many other corners of the FGC, who believe that their game is more popular and more deserving, but that’s always going to happen when lesser known games get their fifteen minutes of fame.

Mortal Kombat 11

This one should have been contentious, but we all knew it was going to get in anyway.

EVO says that it needs all of its games to have a certain amount of time before they are confirmed to be part of the tournament. Why? Because they A) want to be sure that the scene is thriving and B) want to be sure that the game will be popular.

But of course MK11 is going to be popular. It’s the one NetherRealm Studios title on the block this year. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for some NRS fans, and they’re wondering why MK11 is not a headliner. That might be a step too far. You can guarantee that MK11 will have a scene, but you can’t necessarily guarantee that scene will be as big as Street Fighter’s.

Samurai Shodown

While you might be able to put money on MK11 having a thriving scene when EVO comes around, Samurai Shodown is a whole other story.

It’s slated for release in the summer, shortly before EVO. Competition is going to be insanely fresh, with competitors having no idea what the meta is going to be like. It’s going to be a very entertaining tournament, that’s for sure.

While its inclusion has made some people mad because of how fresh it is, SNK is another major name in fighting game publishing, and letting them include their major game release this year isn’t just a matter of popularity, it’s a matter of showing respect to the companies that keep the FGC going.

Notable Exclusions

Super Smash Bros. Melee

Well everyone, Melee is gone. It had a good run. Hell it had the best run. It’s an 18 year old game! Melee is a legal adult.

While there is still a split between Melee players and the rest of the Smash community, Ultimate has brought them both closer together.

This year, EVO had a decision. EVO is an influential tournament, and if they allowed both Melee and Ultimate in, they would essentially be reaffirming the split in the Smash community. They could either do that, or allow only Ultimate, and hope that the entire Smash community rallies behind it.

They made their choice. Was it the right one?

We won’t know until we see Ultimate’s numbers, but I think so. Excluding Melee was a fine choice, done in order to allow the diverse selection of games that is currently on the roster. Besides, it’s not like Melee won’t have its own side tournament anyway.

There’s also a cold hard business side of this decision as well. To effectively hold Melee tournaments, EVO had to keep 18 year old hardware in working order. That’s difficult. GameCubes and CRT displays are becoming rarer these days, whereas the rest of these tournaments can be held on any low latency monitor that accepts HDMI input. Unless Nintendo re-releases Melee (which honestly wouldn’t be a horrible idea) I don’t see it coming back to the main lineup any time soon.

Dead or Alive 6

This is perhaps one of the biggest bits of drama this year.

Dead or Alive 6 is slated to come out just three days after the EVO announcement, and it didn’t make the lineup. Meanwhile, two fresher games that aren’t due for a release for a while, Mortal Kombat 11 and Samurai Shodown, both made the lineup. Why is that?

While several people have just jumped on the “Mr. Wizard hates DOA” meme bandwagon, it’s a bit more complicated than that. First of all, two 3D fighters already made the lineup. EVO always tries to strike a balance between 3D, 2D, anime/air-dash fighters, tag fighters, and the like.

Second, DOA has long sold itself on the sex appeal of its female characters. EVO, on the other hand, is cultivating a more mainstream image. While DOA6 is attempting to rebrand the series are more universally accessible, it would be very hard for EVO to accept that rebranding without seeing it in action.

In short, we will have to wait and see if DOA actually manages to alter its image from “the fanservice fighter” to a more respectable mainstream fighting game. If it does, maybe we will see it hit the lineup next year.

Injustice 2

With the removal of Injustice 2 from the lineup, a theory has been confirmed, that Netherrealm can only ever support one of its fighting games at a time. Now that MK11 is coming out, the Injustice 2 community is likely to whither and die, like MKX and Injustice 1 did before it.

BlazBlue Centralfiction

This is another curious omission. While, yes, a BlazBlue game is entering the lineup, it’s a strange crossover spinoff with mechanics not found in the main line, so it’s a bit peculiar to see BBTAG replace Centralfiction.

Also, Under-Night got two games in the lineup, while BB did not, and that’s very surprising. Then again, this might be a way to reach out to French Bread as designers, since they technically aren’t designing the Under-Night characters in BBTAG.

Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2

Guilty Gear will always be Arc System Works’ mascot series, but it simply didn’t pull numbers last year. Besides, between BBTAG, UNIST, and DBFZ they have a TON of representation in the main lineup.

But with Guilty Gear exiting the lineup, many fans have speculated that this means a sort of Guilty Gear 4 or maybe even Rev 3 is coming soon. It’s possible, but I’m not sure Arc wants to take the spotlight off its other franchises right now.

What do you think about the EVO lineup? Did all your favorite games get in? Do you think EVO snubbed anyone? What lineup would you have made? Let us know in the comments.

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