In one month, the world's biggest and most watched fighting game tournament in the world will draw more than 12,000 people -- fans and competitors alike -- to the Mandalay Bay Event Center in Las Vegas for the chance at glory, gold and a giant prize pool. For the first time since the Evolution Championship Series' (Evo) inception, more than 4,000 competitors will compete in the Street Fighter V tournament, the largest, and main, event.
But the money, the fame and the glory that come with being an Evo champion weren't always the pinnacle of fighting game esports. Fourteen years ago, the first Evo in 2002 was a small competition held in Los Angeles, with games including the likes of Street Fighter II Turbo, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001. And in the past 14 years, the event and the scene have certainly experienced growing pains -- for instance, adaptation to new versions of the games, change of location and more events popping up more regularly.
Enter the Capcom Pro Tour. Launched in 2014, it's a Street Fighter circuit that takes the results of the best tournaments around the world to determine who's invited to the Capcom Cup in December, with Evo's winner receiving a direct invite.
For Capcom, Evo and the Capcom Cup aren't competitors, but instead are mutually beneficial.
"[Evo has] been a longtime staple to people of the fighting game community and really helped grow the [fighting game community] over time," Capcom Director of Brand Marketing Matt Dahlgren tells ESPN. "When we set out to create the Capcom Pro Tour, we're not here to really take over the competitive scene ourselves, we're here to really strengthen our infrastructure and those that helped the FGC grow to begin with. Evo is always gonna be super prestigious, just because to be able to weed yourself through over 4,000 competitors is a huge, huge feat. And then Capcom Cup is gonna be 32 killers who are fighting for a record-breaking prize pool amount."
Unlike many other developers, such as League of Legends creator Riot Games, which started the League Championship Series in 2013 and took over the competitive scene, Capcom allows third-party events -- such as Evo and the upcoming Community Effort Orlando this Friday, Saturday and Sunday -- to reward points to Street Fighter competitors that count toward pro tour standings.
"What we're doing with the Capcom Cup and the Capcom Pro Tour as a whole was just trying to tell a better narrative," Dahlgren explains. "The fighting game community has been around, tournaments have been taking place for a long time, but nothing was really there to help tell a story and tie everything into a centralized league. Capcom Cup is the end of the [league], it's the end of this season, it's how everyone performed throughout the end of the year."
This year, the Pro Tour has changed significantly. Originally, the rankings were centralized with all regions combined. However, this year, they're split into four regions: North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Each region has its own tournaments, its own competitors and its own rankings. This revamp, Dahlgren says, is an improvement from the previous 2014/2015 renditions of the tour.
But the CPT didn't reach this point without help. In late 2012, the Capcom team hired straight from the competitive playing field with the addition of Peter "ComboFiend" Rosas. Rosas was, and still is in many ways, an extremely strong competitive and well-known player of the game. Adding Rosas to its staff allowed Capcom to have one thing it didn't have much of before: player connection.
And in 2013, the development of the tour began, with Rosas helping significantly in the process. As an associate producer for the company, his job has been to ensure the Capcom Pro Tour and its affiliate tournaments run smoothly.
"[The Capcom Pro Tour] was a collaborative effort," Rosas tells ESPN about its humble beginnings. "Matt [Dahlgren] had the initial vision of creating this worldwide league, and then it was really me who leveraged my relationship with the community as a member of the community prior to joining Capcom, to really lay the foundation for the events that would be a part of that."
Even though it now includes four different regions, Rosas hopes that the CPT will continue to expand to countries where competitors don't have nearly as much opportunity to compete.
"[The four regions are] just the start for us," he says. "What we really want to see is global representation, because there are players that are everywhere in the world, in India, Africa and some countries we've not been able to touch just yet, but we know that they have a player base there. What we want to see is global representation -- people representing for their home countries and the players who play within their region to be able to cheer for them, and have a home hero representing their country."
But Capcom's plan for expansion hasn't come without resistance. With the release of Street Fighter V in mid-February this year, a large portion of the nonprofessional community has been critical about changes from Street Fighter IV to Street Fighter V.
"What Street Fighter IV introduced was the ability to play by yourself and figure out your own tactics and not really take your opponent into account," Rosas says. "[You could] figure out sequences, because there was this thing called set play, where you could rinse-wash-repeat a sequence over, over and over that the opponent couldn't get out of. And that, in our eyes, was not Street Fighter."
In a major change from Ultra Street Fighter IV, the previous version of Street Fighter, Street Fighter V requires you to "play the opponent," as Rosas puts it. This has made the game slightly more difficult, causing you to have to work against your opponent rather than focusing primarily on your own character, combo and sequence fluency.
"So, with Street Fighter V, we wanted to take it back to that," he continues. "We thought that's something players have been longing for, or at least, the majority have. So yes, you might be reading Reddit and there's this vocal minority who are unhappy with that, but the fact of the matter is, the joy of playing Street Fighter is playing against your opponent. When Street Fighter shines is when you play someone who is really good and you out-think them and you outplay them."
But even with the changes, and some minor pushback, the game and the scene are continuing to grow. This weekend, more than 825 people will gather to compete in or watch the Street Fighter V tournament in Orlando's Wyndham Resort for CEO. And while that's just a fraction of the 4,000-plus at Evo, the summer for Street Fighter V has only just begun.