Gootecks, ultradavid, Wong weigh in on Evo 2016 lineup and growth

Street Fighter tournaments in Japan used to be dominated by Japanese players. That seems to be changing. Vincent Samaco, flickr.com/vsmak

The world's largest fighting game championship, the Evolution Championship Series (Evo) in Las Vegas, is going full esports for the 2016 event with new games, a bigger venue and an arena to watch the finals.

Evo co-founder Joey "Mr. Wizard" Cuellar announced Tuesday night this year's game lineup, featuring nine titles. Headlining Evo is Street Fighter V and Smash Bros. Melee; Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Mortal Kombat X, Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator, Killer Instinct, Pokken, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Tekken 7: Fated Retribution are also featured. This ties 2015's list for the most official games featured at the event.

The event runs from July 15-17, and for the first time, the event will be moved from the ballrooms to the Las Vegas Convention Center for the duration of Friday and Saturday. Additionally, in a more majestic fashion, Sunday's finals for Street Fighter V, Melee, Marvel, Mortal Kombat and Guilty Gear will now be played in the 12,000 seat Mandalay Bay Event Center.

"Finally fighting games are out of ballrooms because they can't contain us any longer," Street Fighter veteran and broadcaster Ryan "Gootecks" Gutierrez told ESPN about the venue switch. "For it to be at the convention center is a huge step in the right direction. Evo is a little more spread out this year, but that's what happens to large events in Las Vegas, such as music festival EDC. For it to be at the Mandalay, it's great as a natural progression of fighting games and what we do. Props to Evo for doing it big and taking this huge next step. I think it's going to work out better for everybody."

This will mark as the debut Evo event for Street Fighter V, which releases Feb. 16. This Evo will also close the chapter on Street Fighter 4, which for many ushered in a new era for Street Fighter, fighting games, and esports as a whole during its grandiose release in 2009. Daigo "The Beast" Umehara and Justin Wong put on a show in one of the most tense grand finals for Street Fighter 4's tenure at Evo, and Daigo's 2009 and 2010 championship runs set the tone for what would be the main attraction each year in Las Vegas.

Wong, a multi-time Evo champion across multiple games, would like to see SFIV stay past 2016, believing it will benefit the dominant Japanese scene.

"The community should fight for SFIV because SFIV helped us a long way", he said. "Even if Evo does not accept, grassroots will always run SFIV tourneys. I enjoy SFIV so I would still play. [Street Fighter III:] 3rd Strike got kicked at Evo and then the community stood up and brought it back with how hype the game can be. Ultra [Street Fighter IV] can go that route, and I'm sure Japan will still play Ultra a lot."

When discussing his aspirations for this year, Wong said "I have a lot of goals this Evo. Win SFV, Pokken and UMvC3 are the things I can see over the horizon. I want to win SFV the most because Capcom Cup is the end and I never won an Evo that didn't have the word Marvel in it."

For community members Gutierrez and David "ultradavid" Graham, this was the right decision by Evo.

"I think SFIV not being there is the right call", Graham said. "The only times they've ever had multiple games from the same series is when those games have significantly different player bases, like Super Street Fighter II Turbo & Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, and now with Melee and Smash 4, everyone expects SFIV players to play SFV, so the overlap would be very strong. SFIV has also had seven years headlining Evo, the most of any game in Evo history, and I think them moving on from that makes sense."

Graham continued: "Obviously SFIV still has a scene, but it doesn't need to die. There are lots of games that aren't official Evo games but still have strong, although smaller, scene. I hope SFIV fans don't feel entitled to Evo, because they shouldn't. That tournament isn't about any one game or publisher."

Gutierrez and Graham also approve of the lineup as a whole, including the addition of Pokemon's new fighter, Pokken, which came to a surprise to many within the community.

"The lineup is great, and the Pokemon game is an interesting addition to the lineup," said Gutierrez. "I think it'll bring in a whole new audience that never really thought about competing in an esports title. To me that was the biggest surprise."

Graham agreed. "Pokken is totally out of the blue for me, didn't see it coming at all. But I'm down to try it, why not."

Notwithstanding a special surprise announcement with Tekken 7's confirmation, and the character Nina Williams announcement by MadCatz community man Mark "MarkMan" Julio, the return of Marvel was lauded. The game, which lost developer support due to IP rights conflicts, is still one of the events strongest in terms of player attendance, online viewership and pure enthusiasm each year.

"People put up Marvel only podcasts, Twitch shows, discussions, media" said Graham. "And at the same time, the way the game is played has changed in that people figured out more teams and play styles are viable, so it's become more fun to play and watch. So with all that it felt like a Marvel renaissance over the last several months."