The Evolution Championship Series (EVO) is widely regarded as the most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world, with players from all over the world coming together for the annual event to duke it out and see who will reign supreme. To win an EVO title is to solidify yourself amongst the fighting game greats. That is…unless EVO fumbles the event so badly that the tournament goes from prestigious to a punchline.
This is exactly what happened in 2008 when they hosted Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The Smash community had made quite the showing with Super Smash Bros. Melee in 2007, and Brawl had just released in March 2008. The situation was perfect for the new game to be showcased on the big stage until the organizers made the worst mistake possible.
You see, Super Smash Bros. Brawl had already torn the Smash community in two because of several gameplay changes that made the game a slower, more defensive experience. There were concerns that since the meta had only a few months to develop, Brawl would serve as a major bore at EVO. So the organizers decided to spice things up by making items legal.
Items were sometimes used in tournaments back in the 2002-2004 era, but were banned widespread because of their random nature and lopsided effects; someone getting a Pokeball is likely in a better position than someone who has a Star Rod, and where the items spawn is completely random, allowing players who are getting whomped to fall conveniently onto a powerful item that completely changes the match. This obviously didn’t sit well with designing a competitive and fair ruleset, so they were removed. But EVO, nervous about Brawl’s slow-paced meta, decided to keep things fast by including select items.
The ruleset was widely condemned by the Smash community, with many top Brawl players opting out of the event. Indeed, only a few select names in the top 8 (SK92, BarDulL) were notable in the competitive community. However, the tournament still drew some attention as Ken Hoang, the winner of Super Smash Bros. Melee at EVO 2007, was making his Brawl debut at EVO.
Hoang would make a strong showing, obliterating SK92 in pools and making it to grand finals, where he played against CPU. CPU was 14 at the time and had never competed in a major tournament. He used R.O.B and had made the most of items to get to this point. The finals went to the last game, where CPU made a brilliant case for why items had no place in competitive Super Smash Bros. play. NOTE: The commentary is perfect in that it makes this match the most horrendous competitive Smash match you will ever watch.
While the Brawl event has since become a meme in the community, and items have not made an appearance at any tournament since, this was not the last blunder EVO would make when dealing with a new game; in 2012, when the highly-anticipated Street Fighter X Tekken was to make its EVO debut, they decided to make the main event 2 vs. 2 instead of traditional singles. This is considered one of the major reasons why the game did not take off as expected, and became a mostly niche fighting game after 2014.
For additional reading pleasure, you can head over to the Smashboards thread where people reacted to the news that CPU beat Ken and won an EVO title using items.