What to expect from Evo Japan

Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi is one of the players to watch at the Evolution Championship Series in Japan. Provided by Stephanie Lindgren/DreamHack

With the inaugural Evolution Championship Series set to take place in Japan on Jan. 26-28, the Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 brackets are packed with top competitors, while the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U event will be a much more muted affair compared to its Las Vegas counterpart.

In Street Fighter V, with 2,258 player signed up, pretty much every top player in the world will be in attendance, from Echo Fox's Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi to Capcom Cup champion Rise Nation's Saul "MenaRD" Segundo. Even Evo 2016 champion, Team Grapht's Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo, will be competing, after being largely absent for much of 2017.

Going into Street Fighter, all eyes will be on Japan's top players. Along with Tokido, Twitch/Red Bull, HyperX and Cygames Daigo "The Beast" Umehara, Echo Fox's Yusuke "Momochi" Momochi, and Red Bull's Masato "Bonchan" Takahashi are all favorites to take the tournament. Given that it's their home turf, expectations are high. But American players like Panda Global's Victor "Punk" Woodley, who was easily the most dominant player in the first half of 2017, Splyce's Ryan "Fchamp" Ramirez, and Echo Fox's Justin "JWong" Wong are all capable of taking the tournament as well.

On the Tekken 7 end, things are a little bit unknown. Tekken 7 was released on home consoles in June of 2017 with strong sales. With over two million units sold within the first year, it surpassed Street Fighter V sales within the same timeframe. But there is a geographic skill gap between Asia and North America. Tekken 7 had been out in arcades in South Korea and Japan since 2015. This gave the region a leg up on the rest of the world. Echo Fox's Kim "JDCR" Hyun Jin and Choi "Saint" Jin Woo are favorites to take the tournament. Both have largely been considered the best in the world, often losing only to each other.

But this past December during the Tekken 7 World Tour Finals in San Francisco, Son "Qudans" Byung-moon, now sponsored by ROX Gaming, took the tournament, defeating JDCR, and then Saint in a bracket reset in the grand finals. Tekken 7 is still young, and with good worldwide representation at Evo Japan, it will be interesting to see how the bracket develops.

On the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U side, much of the pomp and circumstance leading up to the tournament has fizzled. With Team SoloMid's Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, currently ranked the best player in the world, announcing a temporary retirement, and other top players like Most Valuable Gaming's Saleem "Salem" Young and NRG's Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada not making the trip out, Evo Japan will not have the same competitive density as the primary event in Las Vegas. But that's not to say there won't be strong competition. Echo Fox's Leonardo "MKLeo" Perez, Phoenix1's Gavin "Tweek" Dempsey, and Immortals' Jason "ANTi" Bates will be making the trip out and remain players to watch.

But the real thrill for Smash 4 fans is seeing the Japanese talent. Not only will household names like Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura and 2GGaming's Rei "komorikiri" Furukawa be competing, but so will Tomoyasu "Earth" Yamakawa, the best Pit player in the world, and Tsubasa "Tsu-" Takuma, the best Lucario player in the world.

Japan's hopes will be on Kengo "Ken" Suzuki, currently the best player in Japan. As the 8th best player in the world, according to Panda Global's Ranking v4, his most challenging competition will be MKLeo and Tweek, both players ranked higher than him. But maybe the home crowd advantage will swing some energy in his favor.

Unfortunately for Smash fans, Super Smash Bros. Melee will not be showcased. But Nintendo fans will be able to get a glimpse at competitive Arms play, which will be the first major tournament for the game.

Other fighting games at Evo Japan will include Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2, The King of Fighters XIV, and Blazblue Centralfiction.