Welcome back to the Smash Seminar! In this series I’ll be introducing readers to the world of competitive Smash through articles about its history, characters, players and more, in hopes of getting more people involved in the competitive scene. Whether you wish to be a casual observer or a future champ, I hope this series offers a good way to get a grasp on what makes professional Smash so special.

And what a day it is. For this weekend, within the glamorous desert of Las Vegas, Nevada, the largest Super Smash Bros. tournament of all time will take place at Evolution Championship Series 2016 – EVO for short. The most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world will play host to nine games, including SSBM and Smash 4. Today, we’ll be looking at the history of the tournament, storylines for both games leading up to the clash, and who I think will emerge victorious. So without further ado, let’s get smashing!

EVO – 20 years of brawls

Founded by Tom Cannon, known for his work on FGC website shoryuken.com (which still runs to this day), EVO began as a 40-man Sunnyvale, California Street Fighter II and Street Fighter Alpha 2 tournament known as “Battle by the Bay.” Eventually the location of the tournament changed to the Las Vegas Valley, and its name changed to EVO in 2002. Since 1996, the tournament has not only played host to a multitude of fighting games – from Tekken to Marvel vs. Capcom to Guilty Gear and more – but also to a lot of hype and memorable moments, the most famous of which is EVO 2004’s Evo Moment #37, a Street Fighter III match between Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong with one of the most insane endings you’ll ever see.

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Smash’s history at the event is also storied, though not quite to the extent as other games. EVO 2007 was the first to hold Smash, marking the end of Melee’s Golden Age. Ken Hoang reaffirmed his title as the King of Smash one final time, taking out Hugo “HugS” Gonzalez and retiring as the best in the world, tired of being constantly rooted against. The next year would have Melee replaced by Brawl, but the results of EVO 2008 were widely contested due to the ruleset (which allowed items and had other odd bits). Ken ended up being beaten by virtual unknown Asim “CPU” Mehta, and the fallout from the tournament results meant that Smash was dropped from the lineup in the following years.

After a long donation drive at EVO 2013 (which you can read about in detail in our previous Smash History article), Melee found itself once again on the big stage, with Joseph “Mang0” Marquez taking the crown. While Mang0 repeated his win a year later at EVO 2014, last year’s 2015 Melee tourney was taken by Adam “Armada” Lindgren. 2015 was also the first year to feature Smash 4, as Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios continued his rampage by taking the entire tournament without dropping a game (not a set – a game), a feat that had never before been accomplished in any game.

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EVO 2016 is shaping up to be quite the impressive spectacle. The main attraction is once again Street Fighter, as SFV boasts over 5000 entrants (more than twice as many as the next two highest games combined) and will have its Top 8 broadcast on ESPN2. Melee holds the second most prestigious spot in the tournament, with its finals right before Street Fighter’s, while Smash 4 will have its tournament concluded during the preceding Saturday.

Which leads us right into…

Tournament Troubles

EVO is without a doubt the largest fighting game tournament in the world – but that title carries with it certain caveats. Due to its immense size and the breadth of games, scheduling and streaming are run on tight ships, with a tournament structure that favors streamlining over maximizing matches. And while most communities going to the tournament have been accepting or understanding of these issues, the Smash community as a whole is much more vocal about them.

There are numerous problems, each with differing levels of legitimacy. Scheduling for pools (which has players go to sleep late and wake up early), wonky brackets that were unseeded below top 32 (which have since been fixed after much finagling), and no Best of 5 below Top 3 (when nearly every other tournament has it at least for Top 8, if not Top 16 or even Top 32). Smash 4 players have an extra wrinkle to their complaints, as despite being the second largest game in terms of entrants, it has arguably the worst time slot for finals (Saturday afternoon) and an even worse pool schedule. This all, of course, has set off more tension between Smash and the FGC as a whole.

It’s important to understand how these two communities view each other. On a good day, everybody within both communities can get along just fine and appreciate and respect each other’s skills. On a bad day, however, the mud gets flung around. Some FGC players find Smashers to be whiny, entitled kids who scream whenever something doesn’t go exactly their way. The perception of Smash as a party game doesn’t help. Meanwhile, some Smashers view FGC players as jealous elitists who can’t handle the fact that a “kid’s game” is more popular than their more technical fighters. And while there are obviously many who get along, it only takes a few rotten apples to spoil the whole bunch.

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In terms of EVO, both sides have legitimate points. Some of EVO’s tournament structure was poorly handled, and the flippant attitude of TO Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar towards Smashers can seem degrading. On the other hand, EVO is not a Smash centric tourney, and thus cannot expect perfect accommodations to their every whim, and the way some players have been handling the situation has been poor. Regardless, EVO is sure to provide great spectacle and fun no matter the qualms, and most of this petty drama will be forgotten… until next year, where it’s all dredged up again.

But that’s enough of that. Let’s get to the storylines, shall we? After all, this is one of the first times in both Smash games’ history where anybody could take it all.

Melee – Clawing for the throne

Going into EVO 2015 seemed like a Swedish invasion. William “Leffen” Hjelte had swept multiple tournaments heading in, only to end up in fifth. Armada had done very well that year so far, with his victory cementing his position at number one for the remainder of the year. While the rest of 2015 had notable events, such as Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma’s victory at Dreamhack Winter, going into 2016 seemed like more of the same, with Armada taking Genesis in a close set with Mang0.

But the recent months have paved a strange path, one that leaves the tournament without a clear favorite. Hbox has risen to prominence, being undefeated against anybody below the Top 4 before the recent WTFox 2 (where he was stunned 3-0 by Falcon superstar Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallett), and taking several tourneys with other top players in attendance. Armada’s appearances have been more sparse, and he’s lost more than in 2015, but he clutched out Smash Summit 2 and remains a great threat – not to mention his great consistency. Mang0 has also been remarkably consistent, taking at least 2nd at every 2016 tournament he’s been to (with the exception of Smash Summit 2) and winning WTFox 2 with a showing off of his Marth. These 3 are definitely the most likely to take the tournament, but they’re not the only ones with a shot.

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Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman has had an odd year, one where he 3-0s his nemeses at times and falls flat at others. He’s been unable to take a tournament yet, but if he can tap into his innermost potential and keep his mental game strong, he has a shot. Justin “Plup” McGrath often seems teetering on the border between the topmost level and the one right below it – if he gets lucky with his brack, he has a legitimate shot. Weston “Westballz” Dennis is wild, but can hang with the best of them. Jeffrey “Axe” Williamson has been trying to break through for some time.

The tournament is also notable for two big absences – Leffen and Kevin “PPMD” Nanney. Leffen has been struggling with visa issues for the past ten months, having been denied entry to the US since October. While his team, TSM, seemed to have sorted out his problems for the immediate future, they weren’t able to finalize the visa in time for the tournament. Meanwhile PPMD has been struggling over the past couple of years with hormonal problems and depression, both things he’s taken extensive steps to try and cure. While he’s far on the road to recovery, he still isn’t feeling in good enough shape to compete, and thus dropped out. Hopefully these two can both recover and make it to the next big Smash tourney, August’s Super Smash Con.

No matter the victor, there will be a crazy story to be told at EVO. Will Hbox finally claim the title of #1? Will Armada repeat last year’s success? Can Mang0 snag the 3VO? Can anybody below the Top 3 swipe the trophy? With a tournament full of Best of 3s, just about anything can happen.

Smash 4 – The Fallen King

If there was one person on a Smash 4 player’s mind in 2015, it was ZeRo. His 55 tournament streak is the stuff of legends – something that not even Ken could attain in his Melee days. Only one person, Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada, was able to vanquish him, a small blip at MLG World Finals 2015, but ZeRo kept on charging forward, and with his sound victory at Genesis 3 it seemed that 2016 would be much of the same.

But then, something happened. In February ZeRo received a finger injury – nothing major, but something that kept him off the circuit for about three months. In the meantime Nairo took most big tournaments – with the exception of Pound 2016, the largest in that interim, where he got 49th (an exceedingly low number) and Yuta “Abadango” Kawamura took it all with Mewtwo, in a bit of a surprise. Also during this period were a couple of balance patches, which notably nerfed Sheik, the best character in the game. Still, people expected ZeRo to return to dominance after all, he still did well with Diddy Kong even after he was nerfed, right?

But at ZeRo’s return at Get On My Level 2016, he was defeated by Elliot “Ally” Carroza-Oyarce for the first time, taking 2nd. A surprise, but understandable – he was rusty after his time off, after all. But he lost also his next contest – 2GGT Mexico Saga – this time to Larry “Larry Lurr” Holland. Trying to recuperate at a weekly, he lost once again, this time to Jason “ANTi” Bates. And then he fell once more to Ally at Smash ‘N’ Splash 2. Despite the fact that he was consistently getting 2nd – and would end up taking Low Tier City 4 the next week – whispers began to abound. Had ZeRo’s star fallen? Was his reign truly over?

CEO 2016 provided the definitive answer. ZeRo fell early in pools to a Palutena main by the name of Jose “Prince Ramen” Tijerina, and struggled through a tough loser’s bracket. While he made it far, he hit a wall when he once again ran into Larry Lurr, who would 3-0 him and leave ZeRo at 9th, his worst Smash 4 placing ever. A week later, at WTFox 2, he would place 3rd, losing to Samuel “Dabuz” Buzby and Ramin “Mr. R” Delshad. Unless he can take EVO, it would appear that ZeRo’s time as the undisputed best is up.

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The question then becomes – who replaces him? Nairo has strong showings, but also struggles with consistency. In terms of recent tournaments, it’s quite a hodgepodge of who’s taken who – Ally got Smash ‘N’ Splash, ANTi took CEO, and Dabuz snagged WTFox. CEO in particular has massive waves of upsets, and nobody besides Dabuz has managed to remain consistent at tournaments. Not to mention the host of Japanese players like Ryuto “Ranai” Hayashi and Takuto “Kamemushi” Ono who could make a statement. At the moment, it’s difficult to say who’s truly number one. Whoever wins EVO will definitely be a contender, if not stated outright.

Last year, it was ZeRo versus the world. Now, the world is full of people trying to take on each other. It’s a bloodbath waiting to happen, but it’s also the most exciting time in Smash 4’s history. The game can only go up from here.

Predictions

It’s tough to say for either game who will emerge victorious. The fields are so volatile and uncertain that it feels like anybody could easily take it.

For Melee, I’m going to put my faith in Hungrybox to take it. Given the huge range of tournaments that he’s succeeded in this year, and his impeccable consistency towards the majority of players, it seems likely that he has a chance to take it all. As long as the pressure doesn’t get to him, he has a very serious chance at claiming the trophy. Of course, Armada and Mang0 both have great shots as well. Mew2King and Plup can do it, but only if they play out of their minds and get some good brackets.

Smash 4 is more uncertain. CEO proved that anybody can fall out early, and that anybody can make it far. If he can continue his streak, then Dabuz has a fantastic shot at winning. But you still can’t count ZeRo out, and if Nairo doesn’t get upset then he’s a contender too. ANTi, Larry Lurr and Ally have also had strong showings in the past month, you can never count Abadango out, and Mr. R had a strong showing last year. In the end, anything can happen.

When to watch?

EVO 2016 will take place from this Friday July 15th through Sunday July 17th. The stream schedule will show when Smash is taking place and on which streams. Pokkén Tournament is also located here, for fans of that game. Smash 4 finals begin on Saturday at noon on twitch.tv/srkevo1, while Melee finals are on Sunday at 3pm on the same stream. Pokkén’s finals are right after Smash 4.

Whether a long time fan or a first time watcher, I hope that EVO will provide an experience that will satisfy and excite. Until next time, stay smashing!

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Written by Amelia Fruzzetti

A writer and Nintendo fan based in Seattle, Washington. When not working for NinWire, she can be found eating pasta, writing stories, and wondering about when Mother 3 is finally going to get an official localization.

Amelia Fruzzetti

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