Last Week in E-Sports: An historic EVO

The doors have closed on EVO 2016, an event that will surely go down as a turning point in e-sports history. Featuring multiple tournaments, huge prize pools, a packed stadium, and full coverage on ESPN, this year’s EVO represented the fighting game community breaking out of its niche and going mainstream. The hype at the event was incredible, and it will be difficult for any e-sports event to compare in spectacle, at least in the near future. We have all the results from EVO, as well as some other notable e-sport stories for you in today’s “Last Week in E-Sports.”

The Great EVO Roundup – Upsetting the Meta

The theme of this year’s EVO was upsetting the meta. Nearly every tournament saw low-tier characters rising through the ranks of high-tier clones to take the gold.

Street Fighter V

INFILTRATION took the much awaited Street Fighter V championships at EVO this year. He played a mix-up oriented Nash, a character that many players and analysts were sleeping on, but one that took 3 of the top 8 slots in the tournament. INFILTRATION triumphed over other huge names in the FGC, such as Fuudo and Nemo, but, oddly, many of the expected finalists – such as Kazunoko, GamerBee, Xian, Tokido, Justin Wong, the great Daigo Umehara, and even last year’s winner Momochi – all went out before top 8. Some didn’t even make it out of pools! Still, it was nice to see Justin Wong square off versus Daigo once again in an incredibly tense recreation of their matchup, better known as Evo Moment #37.

But the real underdog story here was the rise of Long Island Joe. Also playing Nash, Joe made it to the top 5 this year. Known as a charismatic streamer and YouTube personality, and a big name in local NY tournament circles, this marks L.I. Joe’s first EVO top 8 finish. Not only that, but he was the only American representative in the top 8 this year. While he wasn’t the winner, he was obviously the fan favorite.

Super Smash Bros. Melee

Representing a split in the FGC since the days of the Gamecube, Melee was the tournament with the second most hype, and possibly the tournament with the most drama. One tournament favorite, William “Leffen” Hjelte, could not participate this year due to Visa issues, and his absence was felt in the brackets. Joining him in sitting out the big tournament was Kevin “PPMD” Nanney, who couldn’t attend due to health concerns.

Despite these absences, the top 8 was filled with big names such as Armada, Mang0, and Mew2King, but it was Hungrybox of Team Liquid that triumphed. Hungrybox is known for his amazing Jigglypuff, a character largely seen as high-risk high-reward. He rose through the ranks of player after player running Fox, Falco, Marth, and Sheik to prove that the Melee meta, which many have long believed to be stagnant, might still evolve in small but significant ways.

Guilty Gear Xrd –Revelator-

Guilty Gear has long been known as a game series dominated by Japanese competitors. The release of Revelator brought another wave of hype to the U.S., but no matter how hard our competitors worked, Japan still outdid us on the big stage. The top six competitors in the Revelator tournament were all from Japan, and the U.S. only had one player – Kyohei “MarlinPie” Lehr – make the top 8.

The winner of the tournament was Machabo-, a rising star in the Guilty Gear world. Machabo- ran Sin Kiske, a character added for the original –Sign- console release. For a while competitors slept on him, unsure of where to place him in the overall meta. However, Machabo- managed to pilot him through a veritable swarm of Zato-1’s (largely considered the best character in the game) in order to take the gold.

It’s also interesting to note that not a single Zato-1 made it to top 4, so maybe we don’t know as much about the tier list as we think we do.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

Sometimes you live long enough as a villain to become the hero. This is the story of NYChrisG, long considered to be the single biggest problem in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. ChrisG’s tactics included a horrendous amount of projectile spam with Morrigan and Doctor Doom, a variety of one touch death combos for any of his characters, and a strong X-Factor Level 3 Vergil finish – largely considered the cheapest tactic in the game. But despite his team personifying all of the flaws with the UMVC3 meta, ChrisG has never won an EVO, until now.

Climbing through the ranks, ChrisG found himself quickly becoming the fan favorite as he faced off against teams that, just a year ago, would be considered jokes. Second place went to Kane Blueriver, who ran his heavy-hitter team of Hulk/Sentinel/Haggar. All throughout the top 8 we saw teams running characters such as Deadpool, M.O.D.O.K., Rocket Raccoon, Arthur, and other characters largely considered to be low-tier. Some have called this proof that not enough major players are still competing in UMVC3, while others believe that the game might have some life left in meta, which has largely been considered stale and unbalanced by more casual players.

Mortal Kombat XL

With the upcoming release of Injustice 2, players are being dragged away from Mortal Kombat XL. Many assumed this would be its last showing at EVO, but what a showing it was.

Dominique “SonicFox” McLean once again took the championship, showing that the blue furry competitor simply knows this game inside and out. He ran a diverse cast of Acidic Alien, Gunslinger Erron Black, and Hollywood Cassie Cage. Fox is known for his aggressive Erron Black play, which has taken him to top levels of competition all year round. This is SonicFox’s third consecutive Netherrealm tournament victory at EVO! He took home the Injustice tournament in 2014, and won Mortal Kombat X last year. He also took home a Skullgirls title and placed high in several other games, making him one of the most accomplished multi-game competitors in the FGC. He is currently the favored competitor for all Netherrealm games. We will see if he retains that title after the release of Injustice 2.

Killer Instinct

On the Killer Instinct servers, players have noticed that characters from season one have slowly started to see less and less play. The prevailing theory is that the more unique characters from season 3 simply have more tools than the early cast, which allows them greater flexibility in a tournament setting. Other players believe that the strong fundamentals from characters like Jago and Fulgore will be able to defeat any “gimmicky” character.

This duel of philosophies played itself out on the big stage when Hollywood Sleep went up against Bass in the finals. Sleep was using Arbiter and Gargos, two season 3 characters, while Bass was using Spinal, Cinder, and Jago, characters from season 1 and 2. In the end, it was Hollywood Sleep that took home the gold, but only after a grueling set.

It’s worth noting that Killer Instinct might be one of the most balanced games at EVO. The top 8 saw a variety of characters with very few repeats, unlike other games whose top ranks were flooded by whoever was considered “top tier” in the current meta.

Pokken Tournament

Every year, EVO ties to showcase an up and coming fighting game in their main tournaments. This year, the game that was chosen was Pokken Tournament, the new Pokemon fighting game inspired by Tekken.

But Pokken Tournament has had a bit of a rough journey to EVO. The professional crowd for the game is slim. High-level tournaments have already stopped running. The meta was solidified shortly after day 1 and exploitative strategies seem to dominate.

But while much of the tournament was super saturated by Mewtwos and Suicunes, the winner, Tonosama, used Braixen, normally considered a lower-tier character. This could provide a huge shift in the way we look at the game, if the game was still popular enough to create competitive opportunities. Tonosama and the second place finisher, buntan, have both qualified for the Pokken Tournament World Championship Series, but most FGC analysts and competitors are saying that we won’t be seeing much of Pokken Tournament afterwards.

Smash 4

Smash 4 occupies an interesting space in the FGC right now. It’s not quite a casual game, but it doesn’t hold the same appeal as its older brother Melee. Frequent patches prevent the meta from solidifying, as problem characters such as Bayonetta routinely get nerfed out of usability. In the end, it was Canada’s Elliot “Ally” Carroza-Oyarce who took home the gold, triumphing over favorite Ono “Kamemushi” Takuto of Japan.  Ally ran Mario and Kamemushi ran Mega Man, two characters considered mid-tier at best.

The Smash 4 tournament was unfortunately one of the worst run tournaments at EVO. Match timing was strict, setups were rare and possibly glitch, and only the finals were run in a best-of-five format while Smash competitors are used to the entirety of top 8 being run that way. Considering other popular games, such as Street Fighter V and Mortal Kombat XL, got to have their entire top 8 run in a best-of-five format, many Smash 4 players felt that their competition was unfairly compressed for time.

Tekken 7

Finally we have the results for Tekken 7, a controversial pick considering it hasn’t yet been released here in the states. The finalists here were SAINT and Knee. SAINT was running Jack-7 while Knee was running Bryan and guest character Akuma. Knee was the winner of last year’s Tekken competition making him the favorite, but SAINT ended up triumphing coming out of the losers bracket. Both Saint and Knee will move on to The King of Iron Fist Tournament 2016.

Other Notable Wins and Trades

  • G2 Esports remained at the top of the standings in the European League of Legends Championship Series Summer playoffs. They defeated H2K and tied Splyce to secure their top position in the ranks.
  • Splyce has recruited three new placers to join its Counter Strike: Global Offensive team: Joey “cruc1al” Steusel, Enkhtaivan “Machinegun” Lkhagva and Asger “AcillioN” Larsen.
  • Virtus.Pro and mousesports won in ELEAGUES last chance qualifier, securing their spots in the $1.4 million Counter Strike: Global Offensive playoffs.
  • Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou has returned to H2k-Gaming after originally leaving in May. He joined team Origen only to be booted after a week due to “motivation” issues. FORG1VEN will be a substitute player, backing up current H2k ADC Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek.
  • Fnatic has replaced League of Legends top laner Noh “Gamsu” Young-Jin with Mateusz “Kikis” Szkudlarek, formerly of G2 Esports. “It has become clear to us that our organizational goals and ideals are not aligned,” Fnatic said in a statement about the decision. Kikis attempted to negotiate with G2 for more scrim time and a guaranteed starter spot, but was turned down in favorite of Ki “Expect” Dae-han. He stepped down shortly thereafter.
  • Sebastian “Xixo” Bentert of Natus Vincere took home Hearthstone gold in China’s StarSeries. He won 4-2 over China’s “XieShuai” to take home $20,000 and his second major title win.

Fans Can Contribute to the Capcom Cup Prize Pool

At its panel at EVO on Friday, Capcom announced a new Capcom Pro Tour Premier Package DLC for Street Fighter V. The bundle will include a new stage called the Ring of Destiny, a wrestling ring with the Capcom Pro Tour Logo plastered on it. It will also include special costumes for Chun-Li, Cammy, and other unannounced characters. It will retail for $25, and a portion of every sale will go to the Capcom Pro Tour Prize Pool.

The baseline prize pool for the Pro Tour is $500,000 dollars, but that will be boosted not only by these sales, but also by entrance fees for competitors that weren’t given a guaranteed spot in the bracket.

The ECS Is Returning For a Second Season

FACEIT’s Esports Championship Series is returning for a second season. Once again focusing on Counter-Strike, the ECS will now run open qualifiers for promotion into the main league, allowing anyone a chance at small screen stardom. They are also already planning for a season three and four in 2017.

“One part that is really important for us is the storytelling,” Attisani told the Daily Dot, “and giving the spotlight to the players and giving more insight into the players from either a personal or statistical standpoint. How are they playing, how are they evolving, how are they training? This is something we believe will really push the quality of the content higher and will definitely start implementing a lot of things from season two, it will be a constant evolution.”

While the ECS has been criticized in the past for focusing on spectacle more than skill, increasing the narrative appeal of e-sports does play a humongous part in making it more palatable to a mainstream audience.

Mountain Dew Now Has Its Own E-Sports League

E-Sports and Mountain Dew have had a long history together, usually in the form of internet memes. However, the brand has recently solidified that relationship in a more positive way. Teaming up with ESL, Mountain Dew has announced the MDL or Mountain Dew League.

The MDL is branded as an amateur gaming league. Currently only focusing on CS;GO the MDL will give gamers who failed to qualify for the ESL Pro League a second chance. They will hold a last chance qualifier on August 27th and 28th to find the top 24 amateur teams. Those teams will then participate in an eight week season ending in an eight team playoff, with the prize being entrance into the ESL Pro League.

E-Sports have long needed amateur leagues to help new players get adjusted to the competitive scene. Despite all the jokes we will make about the excessive neon green branding and glut of sugary products, this new league is a very good thing for aspiring professional gamers.

Valve Distances Itself From CS:GO Skin Betting Schemes

The controversy surrounding Counter-Strike skin betting is heating up. After numerous lawsuits and complaints, Valve is taking steps to distance itself from the growing gambling scene. They have officially said that the Steam API was not made to be used for gambling, and will begin sending cease and desist orders to any websites running gambling operations.

“Using the OpenID API and making the same web calls as Steam users to run a gambling business is not allowed by our API nor our user agreements.” Valve said. “We are going to start sending notices to these sites requesting they cease operations through Steam, and further pursue the matter as necessary.”

Valve has also made it clear that they receive no money from any gambling sites. While they do receive money when skins are purchased, they aren’t receiving extra revenue from gambling transactions, despite what a class action lawsuit against them claims.

In related news, Twitch.TV has begun banning users and streams that showcase skin gambling. “Content in which the broadcaster uses or promotes services that violate Valve’s stated restrictions is prohibited on Twitch,” the company said.

It’s estimated that the skin gambling industry brings in two billion dollars a year, more revenue than every single prize pool for every CS:GO tournament ever held, combined.

That’s all we have for you this week. EVO marked the end of a season of e-sports. Outside of ongoing competitions, few other events are planned for this upcoming week, but we will continue to scour the locals and amateur leagues to bring you news in next week’s roundup.