In the Fighting game community, Christmas happens in the summer. This isn’t because we’re all secretly Australian, quite the opposite- it’s because the whole FGC stops and congregates in the summer to bear witness to the Evolution Pro Championship- better known as EVO.
Every summer (well, not every since the bad times), the best players in the world gather in Las Vegas for the peak of the FGC- a whole multi-game celebration of a laughably niche genre that spawned memes to haunt both Justin Wong and the Melty Blood community for life.
Despite being one of the most hyped esports events of the year, the steep buy-in for fighting games has always made EVO a bit of a mystery to the outside world. What’s a plink? Why do I have to make a weird Z motion with my thumb? What the hell does any of this have to do with all those videos of guys singing weird songs about someone getting f*cked because they’re losing?
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While actually learning fighting games continues to be its own commitment, this year’s EVO sent a clear message- your developers know you love their games, and are working hard to make them worthy of that adoration.
Look, this might be the third time I’ve gone on about rollback netcode, but let’s be real: last year’s EVO online proved that netcode matters. You can talk about how the Street Fighter community made do for years without it, but the truth is we’ve hit the point that new fighting games are assumed rollback-compatible until proven otherwise.
I’ll keep the technicalities brief: Rollback is a network solution that makes games play smoother across better distances. For a while, Japanese fighting games in particular were vehemently against it- only smaller indie fighting games seemed to use it like Skullgirls and Them’s Fighting Herds, as well as western fighting games like Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat. After Guilty Gear Strive delayed the game’s launch to release with rollback, it felt like everything changed. KOF XV has rollback. Melty Blood? Rollback. Capcom even re-released the entire Darkstalkers catalogue *and* Cyberbots, all with rollback netcode before announcing Street Fighter 6 would also feature rollback at launch.
At the same time, we also got the idea of retroactive rollback, due largely in part to Arc System Works’ overall adoption of the system: it started with Guilty Gear XX Accent Core +R, before Blazblue Centralfiction and Cross Tag Battle started getting it too. This breathed new life into these games, as people were able to actually get matches in without having them turn into powerpoint presentations because of the old delay-based netcode.
This year’s EVO saw a huge double down on retroactively adding rollback- Persona 4 Arena Ultimax got its rollback update shadowdropped at the event, while titles like Samurai Shodown and the previously-thought impossible Dragon Ball FighterZ also announced they’d be getting it in future. Persona in particular saw a huge uptick on PC following the update, with fans excited to, well, play their favorite games.
It’s not a dramatization to say that rollback actually makes games playable- if more people can get matches where they’re not complaining about constant slowdowns, that creates more players. A bigger pool of players in turn means a more welcoming experience for new players, which is how you keep your game’s scene alive.
The Next Step
Of course, this wasn’t just rollback rant part 3. Part of the reason this year’s EVO was so good for the community is that we also saw more steps being taken towards the next gold standard for fighting games: cross-play. KOF XV, one of the largest fighting games to come out this year, announced that it would be getting cross play in a future update, while Guilty Gear Strive doubled down that their previously announced crossplay update would start this summer.
I shouldn’t need to explain why crossplay is a huge deal, but I will anyway: for years, knowing what the active platform for a fighting game was was a huge problem. For example, Melty Blood Type Lumina released on Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PS4 and PC. If you heard Neco Arc was coming to the game and wanted to pick it up, your main concern would be knowing where you’re actually going to find people to do sick Neco Arc air loops on. Cross Play naturally removes that, so you only need to worry about having a machine that can run the game well.
I’m especially hyped for how this might affect tournament organizing. I once had my PS5 all set up to join a local tournament, only to realize partway that they’d actually set it for PC instead (luckily I double-dipped). These kind of problems wouldn’t matter once crossplay gets more widely adopted, which means anyone will be able to join a tournament and have a shot at grand finals- which is exactly the kind of ethos tournaments like EVO were built on to begin with.
The Magic Of EVO
At it’s core, what sets EVO apart from other esports events is that it’s about community in a lot more ways than usual: a grandma playing Marvel 3 has the exact same road to Grand Finals as Hotashi or SonicFox. The crowds watching, cosplaying and armchair commentating aren’t just fans, in many cases they might have actually been people who drowned in pools, too. Yes, Daigo wears a shirt covered in sponsors, but at the end of the day he had to fight through pools same as everyone else.
Unlike tournaments like The Invitational or Overwatch League that are targeted to only one game, the multiple events of EVO make it feel like a celebration of the genre- almost like an esports olympics, except every sport is different variations of sprints.
EVO being the stage where they announce good things are coming to regular players is a great look for the event, because these announcements are so much more than a Daigo-themed skin for Guile- they’re actual things that help the community enjoy their game better, and in meaningful ways.
On top of it all? You get to watch some *great* games. Happy EVO, everyone.
Wan Amirul is the editor of GamerBraves and went 3-2 last year at EVO for Guilty Gear Strive
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