In two days, over 15,000 contenders will gather to compete in the world's largest fighting game tournament: the Evolution Championship Series (Evo). This year, the event's set of nine titles includes Street Fighter V, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Mortal Kombat X, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Killer Instinct, Pokkén Tournament, Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator, and Tekken 7: Fated Retribution.
This time around, multiple competitors will look to defend their titles from last year. While some have remained on top of their games, many others have faltered, and others have risen as favorites. But it all comes down to this weekend as hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money is on the line across all of the games.
Looking ahead to the weekend, we ranked 10 competitors who are considered favorites going into the tournament, judging them based on recent performances or their legacies as champions of their game.
1. Infiltration - Street Fighter V
When Street Fighter V was released and the Capcom Pro Tour began, Team Razer's Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo quickly separated himself from the rest of the pack to claim the rank of the world's best player. In a dominating start akin to his "Year of Infiltration" run in 2012, he took down the first two Premier Tournaments (Final Round and NorCal Regionals) with relative ease.
His weapon of choice, Nash, was not one of the most popular picks among the community, but Infiltration played him in a style that could only be considered his own. Essentially, Infiltration is frenetic and active with his button and movement choices. He's the only player to maneuver Nash, a heavy zoning and space-control character, into an unpredictable moving wall. He's also the only player in the top 15 of the Capcom Pro Tour standings to play Nash.
The second coming of the Year of Infiltration just may continue with an Evo title, as this world-class warrior possesses few weaknesses.
2. SonicFox - Mortal Kombat X
For the past year, Mortal Kombat was dominated by one name: Critical Reaction's Dominique "SonicFox" McLean. He's the three-time ESL Mortal Kombat X Pro League champion, a two-time Evo winner (one for Injustice: Gods Among Us and for Mortal Kombat X), and the favorite in every NetherRealm Studio game tournament he enters. But, the most daunting fact about SonicFox is his character versatility. He won't just beat you with his signature Erron Black; he'll crush you with a pocket list of characters that span from Alien or Mileena, and all the way to Jason.
If that weren't enough, no one in competitive Mortal Kombat can remotely figure out how to shut down SonicFox's incredible gameplay. He's a bully and a fearless risk-taker. He's the most dangerous in the neutral space, as he harasses opponents with the best normal moves at razor-sharp precision. He refuses to be conditioned and marches to his own stubborn beat. To beat SonicFox would mean the greatest outplay of your career. He's the Mortal Kombat juggernaut and an easy favorite for another Evo title.
3. Mang0 - Super Smash Bros. Melee
Already a two-time winner of Evo in Super Smash Brothers Melee, Joseph "Mang0" Marquez wants nothing more than a third Evo trophy to add to his collection. He comes into this year's Evo with all of the momentum of winning WTFox 2 earlier this month.
In recent months, he has added Marth to his arsenal of characters to handle some of his weaker matchups. He is known for his relentless pressure to force his opponents into making bad plays, and now has developed a slower patient gear to throw off his opponents. His ability to play without fear in high pressure situations makes him a strong threat to win this year's Evo.
4. Anakin - Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
CEO 2016 champion in June? Check. First place at Combo Breaker in May? Check. Circa's Hoa "Anakin" Luu has earned his way into the Tekken Tour on more than one occasion, and despite being sent to the losers bracket at both of those events, he still walked out on top.
That said, Evo is an international event, and with Saint, Take, Yuu, Kuro, JDCR, Knee and countless other international players coming to Vegas, this will be a bigger challenge than anything so far this year. Anakin is two years removed from his last Evo top eight; let's see if Fated Retribution and this year's bracket is kinder than last year.
5. ZeRo - Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
The Evo 2015 Super Smash Bros. for Wii U champion will return this year to defend his title. Last year, Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios dominated the competition throughout the entire year, taking first at Apex 2015 and CEO 2015 before Evo. At Evo, he continued to reign supreme, ending with a victory over Dutch player Ramin "Mr. R" Delshad in the grand finals.
This year, however, has been a lot more difficult for ZeRo. In January, he took 2016's first super major, Genesis 3, and then took a break from the game roughly a month later. After returning from the break, he lost to Elliot "Ally" Bastien Carroza-Oyarce and Larry "Larry Lurr" Holland in a row. Last month, he took ninth at CEO. Despite the slump, don't count ZeRo out--because there's a good chance he could repeat and retain the title.
6. KaneBlueRiver - Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Marvel is in an odd place right now. Many of the top players of old have shifted focus to Street Fighter V, but you never know if Justin Wong, Chris G or Filipino Champ will have have a run. You do know the kind of day that Nicolas "KaneBlueRiver" Gonzalez will have, however, and it involves a lot of smashing, a lot of drones, and the mayor lariating anything and everything.
His focus has been firmly on Marvel, and despite all of the criticism he's received, he's won many of the larger events this year. We've all heard about Zero, Doom, Morrigan, Vergil dominating the cast, but, somehow, big bodies are looking to get two years straight as Evo champion, thanks to KaneBlueRiver.
7. Armada - Super Smash Bros. Melee
As the reigning Evo champion, Adam "Armada" Lindgren embodies what it means to be consistent. His record against players outside of the top six has been flawless for the past six years.
In every possible way, Armada is the ultimate competitor. He practices on his own for hours to perfect his movement and his combos. He evolves his game to stay ahead of his competitors by implementing new techniques and characters into his toolbox. His mental fortitude is top notch, rarely crumbling in close situations. If you want to defeat Armada, you have to earn every stock and every hit.
8. Ogawazato - Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator
Anime went mainstream last year, thanks to Guilty Gear Xrd and Woshige not keeping track of the game count in winners semis. This year, the newest version of Xrd returns, and last year's champion is in the conversation still.
Ogawa was the man that took Woshige and the field out last year, and fans of the series shouldn't be surprised by that, as the man is synonymous with Zato-1. He's nearly won team tournaments single-handedly against some of the best in the world, but nothing is guaranteed. He's been in a slump so far this year, and with Omito, Machabo, Dogura and others filling out a stacked field with a strong cast of characters, anything goes. Let's see if familiarity with the Evo stage can help him get back to his winning ways.
9. Tokido - Street Fighter V
There hasn't been a more consistent player in Street Fighter V than Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi. The man who's also known as "the Murder Face" will enter Evo as a odds-on favorite to take down the championship. His resume for the 2016 Capcom Pro Tour is nothing short of amazing: one first place finish at Community Effort Orlando, two second place finishes at Final Round and NorCal Regionals, and two third place finishes at StunFest and DreamHack Summer for just his Premier Tournament accomplishments. To say that Tokido will enter Evo in fine form is an understatement.
He's been the standard-bearer for Ryu players. Whether it was his abusing of Ryu's jumping light kick or his beautiful use of critical art whenever available, he set most of the trends for the character. He'll come into Evo as the world's number two player and a legitimate threat to take down the crown in Las Vegas.
10. Dabuz - Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby has never won a super major during his time in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, despite coming extremely close at Apex 2015, CEO 2015, The Big House 5, and CEO 2016. But despite a string of second and third places, Dabuz is something no other Smash for Wii U competitor is currently: consistent. The remainder of the competitors, including ZeRo, have placed highly or won at one tournament, only to falter weeks later. Dabuz's stability at the top makes him a threat at every tournament he attends.
Evo might be his time to take it all, with Rosalina & Luma, his character of choice -- one only he has mastered at that level of competition -- by his side. To get to the finals on Saturday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, he'll need to weed his way through over 2600 competitors, including some of the best, like ZeRo, Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada, Jason "ANTi" Bates, and more.