What Is EVO? A History Of The Most Prestigious Fighting Game Tournament

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The Evolution Championship Series, or EVO for short, is the most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world. Every year, thousands of fighting game fanatics come from around the world to compete in their respective games. Winning an EVO title is a surefire way to secure your name in the fighting game history books.

But outside of all the hype moments and glory that surrounds the EVO name lies a deep history with its fair share of secrets and controversies. How did it start? Where did the name come from? Why did this series become the tournament of tournaments in the fighting game community? We have the answers for you right here.

The Origins Of EVO

A still from a recording of Alex Valle at the original Battle by the Bay tournament.

The first tournament of what would become the EVO franchise was hosted in 1996, although it wasn’t called EVO; the tournament series was originally called “Battle by the Bay” and it was hosted in Sunnyvale, California. The series was created by Tom Cannon and Joey Cuellar, with Cuellar becoming the public face of the tournament under his tag “Mr. Wizard”

The tournament focused solely on the Street Fighter series early on and the first event saw a young Alex Valle winning Street Fighter Alpha 2. The tournaments would become annual starting in 2000 while also expanding their roster to include other fighting games such as Tekken and Marvel vs. Capcom. It would retain its Battle by the Bay name until 2002, when it was changed to the Evolution Championship Series.

EVO Moment 37

Daigo’s play in Evo Moment 37 was a landmark moment in competitive gaming.

While EVO had already become quite a popular event for the grassroots fighting game community, it solidified itself as an integral part of esports history in 2004 when Evo Moment 37 happened. Evo Moment 37 was when Daigo Umehara faced off against Justin Wong in the Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike tournament. Daigo parried all the hits of Wong’s Chun-Li’s Super, and then launched into a combo to clutch out the match. The technical mastery in the video coupled with the crowd reaction has become one of the most famous moments in video game history.

The year after Evo Moment 37, EVO moved from California to Las Vegas, where it continues to be hosted to this day.

The Growth Of EVO

EVO has become the event for fighting game enthusiasts.

The first Battle by the Bay event was only a 40-man tournament, but the growth of the EVO series has been bigger and bigger every year. EVO 2004 saw over 700 competitors come from around the world, which is impressive in its own right. However, EVO 2016 would see over 5000 competitors for Street Fighter V alone. The total number of overall entrants for EVO has increased every year since its inception.

With the introduction of livestreaming and broadcasting rights, EVO has been able to extend its reach and become a must-see event for video game enthusiasts all over the world. The Sunday finals of every EVO event has been hosted at the Mandalay Bay Events Centre which seats 12,000 spectators, and these finals regularly bring in hundreds of thousands of viewers, and recent years have had the finals of tournaments such as Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Street Fighter V broadcasted on ESPN and DisneyXD. 

Controversial EVO Moments

Throughout its history, EVO has had its fair share of complaints against how they run certain tournaments, with common gripes being rulesets, how the bracket is run, and schedules. These kind of issues can be a symptom of a large-scale event trying to get as much done as possible in the span of a weekend. However, there have been some controversial decisions made by EVO staff that, in hindsight, likely did some serious damage to the tournaments for these respective games.

In 2008, Super Smash Bros. Brawl was hosted at EVO, but there was concern about whether the game would be fit for spectators; they tried to fix this by making items legal for the tournament. The result was many competitive players boycotting the event, and the tournament was won by a 14-year old who never made another mark in the competitive scene.

Another questionable decision was in 2012 when Street Fighter X Tekken had just been released. EVO decided to make the Street Fighter X Tekken event a teams-based, 2vs.2 event instead of the traditional 1v1 tournaments. This sucked a lot of the hype out of the event, and has been cited as a main reason why interest in Street Fighter X Tekken would have a relatively short lifespan.

While not widely controversial, in 2015 EVO decided to try running a customs-legal ruleset for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. There was concern that the customs would overshadow the event and potentially lead to skewed results. In the end, ZeRo won the tournament without dropping a game, and also without ever using customs.

Does EVO Host Anything Other Than Fighting Games?

The ultimate fighting game; Mario Kart DS.

EVO has been fairly consistent throughout its run to only host fighting games on its official tournament roster. There is a “bring your own setup” room at every EVO where players can bring any game they want and host unofficial side tournaments for it.

Having said that, there was one year in 2006 when EVO hosted an official tournament for Mario Kart DS. This was because Toyota was a sponsor for the event, and they requested some form of a racing game to be featured, so Mario Kart DS was chosen.

EVO continues to be the most important fighting game tournament every year, and its continuing to grow in size with each iteration. Every summer, you can expect to see the best of the best in fighting games compete for the coveted EVO title.