After half a year of nonstop tournament action, another season of competitive Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is on the horizon. With it comes updated Panda Global rankings, narratives new and old, an ever-developing metagame and, most importantly, this year's installment of the Evolution Championship Series.
This weekend, a mix of new blood and veterans alike -- 1,515 to be exact -- will be traveling to Las Vegas to compete in what is arguably the premier event for competitive fighting games. Placing well at such an event is the perfect way to kick off the season for any player. Nearly every notable active competitor will be present -- all vying prove themselves on the global stage.
A new generation
Perhaps the most notable development of the past season was the rise of a new generation of Smash players. A sizable portion of the top 50 was populated by players who had only become active in the past couple of years, players who showed the old guard that they had to step up or fade into irrelevance.
Leonardo 'MKLeo' Perez
Team: Echo Fox
Panda Global Ranking: 2
Leading the charge is MKLeo, the newly crowned second-best player in the world. He is among the most-traveled of the top Smashers, having attended over 25 foreign events this season alone and placing top eight at most of them, to boot. His aggressive-yet-careful play style, coupled with his wide character pool, has placed him in a spot most competitors could only dream of. A win at his first Evo is plausible and might very well be what he needs to put him on the path toward the coveted No. 1 spot.
Zack 'CaptainZack' Lauth
Country: United States
Louisiana native CaptainZack, in his second season on the global rankings, has already broken into the highest level of competitive play. The 15-year-old Bayonetta-wielding wunderkind racked up solid results over the past couple of months, a fifth-place finish at international major CEO 2017 being the most notable. He is a fan favorite at any tournament he attends, thanks in no small part to his flamboyant personality and play style. Given his rapid rate of improvement, a good run at Evo is likely and should boost his already-impressive résumé to greater heights.
Mason 'Locus' Charlton
This time last year, Locus was but a rising star in his home region of British Columbia. This year, he returns to Las Vegas off the heels of his best year yet, having risen to the 22nd spot in the global rankings. As one of Canada's top players and one of the few remaining high-level Ryu specialists, he carries the hopes of two communities going into Evo 2017. Should he perform well, he might even receive what he has been chasing after for much of the year: a team to call his own.
Despite the increasing amount of high-level newcomers, many veterans have held their ground; some have even pushed past their perceived limits in their efforts to stay ahead of the pack.
Gonzalo 'ZeRo' Barrios
Team: Team SoloMid
No major would be complete without ZeRo, once again the pound-for-pound king of Smash for Wii U for the third season in a row. While he isn't as dominant as he was in 2015, his oppressive Diddy Kong play puts him a cut above every other competitor in the world. He boasts an unparalleled 71-13 record over the top 50, establishing himself as the man to beat this season. Having lost the Evo title to Ally last year, he is determined to reclaim it by any means possible -- a feat he is capable of should he play at his best.
Elliot 'Ally' Carroza-Oyarce
As the champion of last year's Evo, Ally will have all eyes on him. He has remained strong throughout the past season on his signature Mario, with a few uncharacteristic low placings mixed in. Constant refinements to his style have allowed him to brave the influx of new contenders with success, meaning an upset win over him would be that much more meaningful. This weekend, everyone will be out to take his title -- expect to see the majority falter.
An open field
Each Evo is a global affair, and this year is no different. Both the East and the West will be represented by the best they have to offer, with Japan bringing in a record-breaking 41 players. Add Europe's small-but-sweet delegation into the mix, which includes the likes of famed Sheik specialist Ramin "Mr. R" Delshad, United Kingdom's top dog IxisNaugus and top commentator Jordan "SilentDoom" Campbell, and you have representation from all but a few corners of the Smash world.
The extremely deep pool of talent present, coupled with competitive Smash for Wii U.'s volatile nature, makes predicting results difficult. The field is wide open for anyone, new or old, to take the crown. One thing is for sure though: no esports fan should miss watching this competition unfold.