Breaking Down the Evo 2018 Lineup
The Evo 2018 Championship Series lineup was announced last Tuesday (February 6th) on a livestream hosted by Red Bull Esports. The eight game lineup—down one game compared to last year—will consist of Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Tekken 7, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2, Injustice 2, and BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle.
Evo is a huge deal in the FGC (probably the biggest deal, frankly) and being at Evo can substantially alter the path going forward for a specific game’s scene. After taking a couple of days to ruminate on the announcement, here’s what I think this year’s lineup says about the FGC going forward.
The Locks: SFV:AE, Tekken 7, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Injustice 2
These four games were basic locks. In terms of entrants and viewership, Street Fighter V and Melee are the top class of the FGC (SFV has the Capcom Cup, but Melee tends to have more higher-profile tournaments). There was no way we weren’t going to have a single Capcom game here, and, well… it’s Street Fighter.
Tekken 7 is another obvious choice. With developer Bandai Namco’s support fully behind the game, and as a long-running franchise and the only 3D entry this year, this was a given as well. With the dominance of Echo Fox’s premier pair of players, Knee and JDCR, slipping over the past months, Tekken 7 should be a thrilling show, as always (although who knows what will happen in the months to come, prior to Evo’s later-than-usual August 3rd weekend).
Meanwhile, Dragon Ball FighterZ took the world by storm when it was first announced, a slickly produced trailer capturing the hearts of many. The marriage of a beloved license with Arc System Works’ fantastic production quality proved to be a massive hit, with DBFZ hitting peak activity on Steam that no fighting game had ever seen before. DBFZ has also had really good pre-registration numbers at Combo Breaker 2018, although that could merely be pre-release hype. The spring tournament season will prove to us whether or not DBFZ will become a third pillar for the FGC, but early indications look great (and it will take a year or two to see if DBFZ’s initial surge of popularity is a SFV-esque illusion, or if it has real staying power). Still, it’s heartening to see a company produce a well-made fighting game from the ground up, give it all the bells, whistles, and QC it needs, and see it succeed.
Injustice 2 rounds out this crew. While Injustice 2 doesn’t have the strongest entrant numbers—in fact, just browsing smash.gg shows that Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite has outpaced it in entrants at some tournaments of late—the likelihood of there being no NetherRealm representative was 0. NetherRealm’s development cycles generally last roughly 2 years between releases, meaning each game has two years at Evo, and with Injustice 2 failing to secure a Sunday slot for the second consecutive year, that means that Injustice 2 may never get a Sunday slot. Hopefully the turtles will inject some more energy into the scene, though it’s far from being on life support.
There isn’t a lot to say for these games—I would say almost all reasonable people would have expected these four to make it into the base lineup, at the very least. We satisfy the 3D and “Western” (NetherRealm) scenes, Street Fighter is there as always, and the hot new kid on the block who’s tearing it up has joined the fray. These games are also the most likely, in my opinion, to have had significant corporate backing behind their appearances—so really, no shockers here.
Two Smash Games Again… For Now
Yes, two Smash games. If you’re wondering why Smash gets two games and (insert franchise here) isn’t in, the reason is simple. Both games bring a lot of unique entrants, and both are consistently the 2nd and 3rd most well attended games at Evo, after Street Fighter. Melee in particular also brings the online viewership. Cry woe about “esports,” but bringing both Smash games is almost a necessity if Evo is to maintain the same level of grandiosity and prestige. Moreover, the entrant crossover between the two games is minimal—at Smash majors, crossover between the games can be as low as 10%, which is probably lower than the crossover rate of many other games at Evo. At some point, pure numbers makes too compelling of an argument.
— Andrew “PracticalTAS” Nestico 🐼🌎📊 (@PracticalTAS) February 8, 2018
Actually old enough to drive, though.
Still, Melee is the only esport of a decent size that soldiers on without any developer support (and Nintendo has little reason to support Melee, unless it pushes out a mythological re-release). Last year it even moved away from its traditional slot—as the penultimate game of Sunday finals day—to the Saturday slot. Tony Cannon explicitly confirmed that this switch was due to Nintendo pushing for Smash 4 to be shown on TV (Disney XD to be precise), and it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to assume that that was the beginning of Nintendo slowly trying to push Melee out of the spotlight.
Well, Melee defied expectations once again, making it back to the Sunday finals slot while Smash 4 was relegated to Saturday. Smash 4 has lost some momentum as of late—after what felt like a peak at 2GGC: Civil War, it feels like viewership excitement and momentum has stumbled. The 2GG Championship held in December of last year, which at the time of its announcement was purported to be the biggest thing in competitive Smash 4 history—a “GENESIS” or “Evo” level tournament of its own—only garnered an underwhelming peak viewership of 40,000 viewers. Complaints about DLC characters, specifically Cloud in doubles format and Bayonetta in singles, have been rampant amongst viewers and top players. Just recently, the undisputed #1 player of the game, TSM ZeRo, stepped away from the game. While he didn’t cite Bayonetta as a specific reason in his exit speech, the numerous times he’s brought up how unfair he feels the character is provide an inkling into part of the reason he left (ZeRo notably also lost Evo 2017 against Salem’s Bayonetta).
So what does this all mean? It’s a minor blow for the Smash 4 scene, certainly, which seemed like it might have been on the verge of a breakthrough after the high it was riding after last year’s Evo. Still, both games made it in and Smash 4 is almost certainly going to be the closer for day 2, and you could do much worse than that (Melee was in that spot last year and did better than all of the Sunday games except Smash 4 and Street Fighter). Meanwhile, Melee keeps chugging along, despite the fact that its showing its age nearly every step of the way. Someday, Melee will die… but not this year, it seems.
Anime Crossovers, and… Where’s Mahvel?
To round up this wrapup we have the last two games—both anime ones. Guilty Gear Xrd: REV 2 (that’s ecks-ard) and BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. Rev 2 just had a fantastic showing at Evo Japan, with over 1,000 entrants and an absolutely fantastic grand finals that I encourage you all to go watch right now. With its heavy international (Japanese) appeal, Rev 2 also grabbed a coveted and well-deserved Sunday finals spot in the Mandalay Bay arena as well. While its attendance numbers aren’t always the strongest in America through the year, Guilty Gear always shows up big at Evo, and it’s not surprise that it’s here again. ArcSys also announced a game balance patch in mid-March, which is always a good sign regarding continued support.
Lastly, we have BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. While still unreleased, Cross Tag Battle has been mired in some controversy due to its DLC practices and pricing scheme. After initially revealing a base roster of 20 characters, ArcSys later announced that an additional 20 characters would be available via DLC. ArcSys tried to assuage fans by pointing out that the base game will be cheaper than traditional pricing (likely around $40), and that purchasing all of the DLC characters will only cost $20 (again, an estimate). Moreover, the game launches on May 31 in Japan and several days later in other regions. While games that released shortly before Evo have been included in the main lineup before (Injustice 2 had a similar release window: May 16, 2017), there’s no taking away from the reality that the gameplay at Evo 2018 for Cross Tag Battle will be unrefined and unpolished, even if the rate at which the meta for fighting games advances is faster than ever. It’s a bit of an outlier move that does smell somewhat suspiciously of corporate meddling, but it’s hardly a truly indefensible choice. Perhaps it’ll end up like Persona 4: Arena, another ArcSys game that lasted only a year at Evo. Maybe it’ll end up becoming something more. Right now, it’s hard to tell, and we won’t have a good grasp of things until the game comes out.
Finally, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite will not be a main stage game at Evo 2018, the Evo of its release year. MvC has been the backbone of Evo seemingly forever and was the main attraction for many years. For Infinite to fail to make it in is a punishing indictment of its quality and appeal. Despite promising gameplay, the intractable mistakes stemming from its visual quality, roster choices, and overall sloppiness doomed the game. It might have been doomed from the second Chun-Li’s face was infamously revealed. And just several days ago, it was confirmed that MvC:I would not be part of the Capcom Pro Tour. And honestly, this isn’t an outcome that people didn’t see coming.
Realistically, it will be extremely hard for Infinite to come back from this. No, the scene won’t be truly dead in the sense that no one will ever host tournaments for it again, but it’s now unlikely to ever be the major tournament force it was back in the MvC2 and UMvC3 days. As alluded to earlier, Infinite’s numbers at certain events weren’t terrible, but it’s hard not to feel like this isn’t a death knell for the series, at least for several years. And as Markman also insinuated, there is more at play here than simply Mr. Wizard’s general explanation of “people just weren’t playing it.” MvC:I beat out some of the main stage games this year at several tournaments and isn’t close to being dead in the water entrants-wise (at the very least, I think it has a solid claim over Injustice 2). Of course, there are side tournaments held every year at Evo (with Mr. Wizard even trying to show some extra love) and I’m sure that MvC:I will have one of the biggest side tourneys this year, but as Viscant said, this has an air of finality to it. Seeing one of the historic greats in the FGC be sidelined like this just doesn’t feel good. There isn’t a better way to put it.
If there were to be a silver lining, it’s that perhaps this will serve as a wakeup call to Capcom to get their act together. The competition has stepped it up in recent years, and if Capcom wants to keep making fighting games they’ll have to step it up too.
Or they’ll just stop making MvC for the next decade. Who knows.
The Other Games That Didn’t Make It
I can’t think of too many other deserving games that really had a shot (excluding MvC:I, of course). BlazBlue: Central Fiction and King of Fighters: XIV are the two games that could have made it in instead of Cross Tag Battle, or in a potential 9th slot, but I can’t argue strongly for or against either of those games. Killer Instinct had basically no shot. Dissidia NT’s reception has been lukewarm, and the game has some terribly complicated logistics behind it as well, so I saw it as extremely unlikely. And of course there’s a handful of Nintendo games that are worth mentioning here even if I thought they had no chance: ARMS and Pokkén Tournament DX. ARMS was present at Evo Japan but didn’t really take off (and has a smaller scene anyway), and Pokken similarly seemed like an impossibility simply due to the size of the community.
And that’s a wrap on my Evo 2018 games lineup thoughts. Agree or disagree? Let me have it in the comments!
Author: Keisuke Isobe
Huge video game, comic book, and anime fan. Spends way too much time watching things he doesn’t like. Hates Zack Snyder. Mains Falco.