Out With the Old, In With the Street Fighter V
Joey Cuellar: It was a matter of logistics dropping [Street Fighter IV]. Most players would have entered both tournaments, thus doubling the workload for us with no rewards. Also no one was really going to play Street Fighter IV after 5 came out, so we had to make the hard choice early on, and it seemed that a lot of players did stop playing SFIV after February.
Tom Cannon: Today there are just a ton of high-quality fighting game franchises that are competing for slots in the EVO roster. Since SFIV's release, we've seen reinvigorated Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Marvel vs Capcom, and Guilty Gear franchises, along with awesome new IPs like BlazBlue.
Back then there were simply fewer games, so we had the luxury of keeping older games on the roster.
Joey Cuellar: Once it was gone and Capcom threw their support behind SFV there was no looking back. We had offered space in the BYOC area of EVO for people that wanted to still play SFIV but we were unable to offer it in any official capacity.
Tom Cannon: There was a lot of theoretical pushback in the days leading up to SFV's release, but that pretty much vanished once the game was out. The writing was on the wall that this was the new game for Capcom, and we all needed to support it.
But that's a double-edged sword for sure. Yes, Capcom certainly needs to produce new games to stay in business, but SFIV had a ton of momentum that got left behind when we made the switch. Capcom spent years refining that game, and by the end SFIV was in a really great spot. SFV brings a lot of new things to the table, but it's just not reasonable to expect it to have the same level of refinement as that final, polished version of SFIV.
Smashing the Division
Much has been made of the growth of Super Smash Bros. Initially dismissed by fighting game fans and even Nintendo as a "real" fighting game, it's become a notable force in EVO and eSports as a whole.
Tom Cannon: When we moved EVO out of arcades and into venues, we had to put different kinds fighting games under one roof as a financial necessity. Back then there were real divides between "traditional" Street Fighter games, and the Marvel-type "Vs" games, between 2D fighters and 3D fighters, etc. We had to do a lot of communication around, "look, you guys have a lot more in common than not. We all love 1v1 competitive fighting games. Let's try to get along."
The divide between the Smash crowd and traditional FGC does seem wider than those we have bridged in the past. Part of that is that platform fighters just have their own unique form of gameplay, but I think there's also something to the fact that the Smash scene did not grow out of arcades like the rest of these games.
I'm not ready to give up bridging the divide, but there are definite challenges there.
Joey Cuellar: It became very clear that there were two very different Smash communities at EVO and so we tried to cater to them both. EVO is a celebration of fighting games in general so why not include everyone into one event? [If] that means having both Melee and Smash 4, then that is what we had to do.
Tom Cannon: We got off to a rough start, but Nintendo has been awesome. Basically, when we tried to return Smash to the EVO roster a few years back, Nintendo told us that we could not broadcast the tournament. They never said we couldn't hold the tournament, just that we couldn't broadcast it.
The internet had a pretty strong negative reaction to that, but within like a day Nintendo contacted us and tried hard to understand what EVO was about and work with us. They explained some of the difficulties in managing the Smash IP, and were creative in coming up with solutions that enabled us to broadcast without stepping on IP holders' toes.
Looking back, I'm really impressed with the way that Nintendo rethought their initial response and were open to expending effort to actually solve the problem in a way that worked for Smash fans who just wanted to see the best play.
See you in Japan?
With EVO continuing to thrive, the tournament is now looking to expand. Next stop? Japan. But there's also room for reflection.
Joey Cuellar: [Planning for EVO Japan] is going extremely well. We have a good team in place and with the addition of Mark Julio to the business side of things, it's going to rock!
Tom Cannon: I've always been a gamer, and have been involved with fighting games since the beginning. Through fighting games I've met incredible people, made lifelong friends, and learned life-lessons about facing adversity and breaking through personal barriers.
Seth Killian: Just like the arcades were a home-away-from-home for many of us as kids, EVO has become similar. It's a unique combination of competitive bloodbath and family reunion. As former competitors age and have other obligations in life, we still love the action and to hang out with the crazy cast of characters that we spent so many years dueling against—you still want to mix it up. It really does feel like a family to me, and in the same ways—sometimes family members surprise you and do amazing things, sometimes they'll disappoint you, but at the end of the day you love them anyway.