The Evolution Championship Series (Evo) is the mountaintop of fighting game tournaments. As the biggest event on the Capcom Pro Tour, Evo represents the ultimate cherry on top for a player's career if they emerge victorious. This year is the 20th anniversary of the tournament series and it'll be the biggest turnout yet.
With 5065 players registered for Street Fighter V, Evo is slated to be the largest fighting game tournament in history. The popularity of Street Fighter V at Evo has reached the levels of the World Series of Poker in participants. There will be approximately 53 countries represented for the marquee competition, with the United States boasting 4335 players, Canada following behind with 220 players, Japan with 160 players, Mexico with 64 players, and more.
The final day of the tournament will be presented at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, a subtle nod to Evo's roots when it was still called "Battle by the Bay."
The "Land of the Rising Sun" is a hotbed for Street Fighter talent and this year is no exception. If there were ever a region filled with superlatives like "best player to use X character," it would be Japan. Players like Goichi "Go1" Kishida, arguably the best Chun-Li and Necalli, YouDeal Majestic Athletic's Tatsuya "Haitani" Haitani could make it very far in the brackets alongside the trinity of greatness: Twitch and Red Bull's Daigo "The Beast" Umehara, Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi, and Team Razer's Keita "Fuudo" Ai.
Tokido is the world's number two ranked player and the greatest threat to win Evo from his region. He's the most consistent placer in the Capcom Pro Tour with five Top 3 placings at premier tournaments, including a victory at Community Effort Orlando. While his Ryu has plenty of game tape behind it for others to scrutinize, that won't slow down his momentum.
Fuudo is the best Rainbow Mika in the world. His defensive and smothering style is perfect for large tournaments because he forces his opponent in a corner where they have no choice but to make mistakes. He'll come into Evo with little fanfare, but if his recent fourth place finish at G-League is any indication, he's ready for the big stage.
Daigo Umehara is the people's champion. It wasn't too long ago that he was considered a virtual lock for a Top 8 placement, but this is a different time and game. That said, he's still the face of Street Fighter V and the man's skills are second to none.
The region with the majority of the tournament's participants may have a few contenders lying in wait. In the lead is Evil Geniuses' Justin Wong. The "marvelous" one is the current leader in Capcom Pro Tour points (716) and may just boast the best Karin in the world. He's the best bet to defend North American soil, but may still be considered a long shot to take it all down. This isn't a jab against Wong, whose pedigree is legendary, but an indication of just how difficult Evo will be. His running mates -- Kenneth "KBrad" Bradley, Eduardo "PR Rog" Perez, and Ricki Ortiz -- round up some of the best hopes for the country.
After the boys in blue, there's honorable mentions for Panda Global's Ryan "FilipinoChamp" Ramirez, Team Liquid's Du "NuckleDu" Dang (who has a good record against international talent), Team Naventic's Peter "Flash" Susini, and Echo Fox' Julio Fuentes. All are definite threats to snag a Top 8 spot.
In Street Fighter IV, the only player outside of Asia to take a championship was from Europe. Red Bull's Olivier "Luffy" Hay may not be the favorite from his region to win this year, but his Evo victory in 2014 proved that Europe may just be the dark horse in the race. Even without mentioning Luffy, Europe still boasts plenty of stars in BX3's Arman "Phenom" Hanjani, Benjamin "ProblemX" Simon, and Meltdown's Nathan "Mister Crimson" Massol.
The latter three players already experienced Capcom Pro Tour success earlier in the year, with the big exclamation mark belonging to Phenom.
The favorite of the entire tournament still belongs to Team Razer's Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo from South Korea. He's the world's number one player with a play style that only one man could match and disassemble: Tokido. The Capcom Pro Tour is Infiltration's playground and Evo may very well be the next domino to drop.
There are two other players remaining that deserve a nod: Qanba Douyu's Zhuojun "Xiao Hai" Zeng and Team Razer's Kun "Xian" Ho. Both represent the best shot for their respective regions, China and Singapore. For Xian, his mastery of unusual characters may benefit him the most in a large tournament setting because of the unfamiliarity and knowledge others might have in the matchup. For a talented player like Xiao Hai, the question was never if he could win a tournament, but when?