Only three weeks now until the world’s biggest fighting game tournament comes to Las Vegas, Nevada. The Evolution 2013 Championship Series is going to be a bombshell, and an absolute must-watch gaming event. The best of the fighting game community (FGC) will be on display, from Japan to Boston, from Taiwan to Brazil, from China to SoCal, and it will all be streaming live on the internet for your entertainment.
Last week, we talked about the games that will be on the main stage at EVO this year. This week we’ll talk about the names to look out for- the best players from around the world, along with commentators that make the whole spectacle understandable. There will be far too many players to possibly describe at EVO this year- a simple list of names would be pages upon pages- so I’ve picked out some personal favorites and standouts to introduce you to.
Mortal Kombat/Injustice – Please note, because they are by the same studio and have nearly the same community, I have put these two games together. No disrespect meant.
Carl “Perfect Legend” White – The title may seem excessive, but don’t mistake it for simple braggery. Perfect Legend isn’t perfect, of course- no one is- but he comes pretty damn close. When it comes to Netherrealm fighters, he is the man to beat. A three time world champion, this year he’s focusing all on Injustice. From his comments, he might not even be competing in MK9. I guess we’ll see.
Tom Brady – No relation (that I’m aware of?) to the football player, Tom Brady is an irreverent, energetic fighter who always places high in MK or Injustice. In MK9, he was fond of Johnny Cage: perhaps because of their similar personalities. In Injustice, he seems to prefer Aquaman- perhaps hoping to add a little insult to the injury he inflicts on the opponent.
Emmanuel “CD Jr” Brito – Another longtime MK fan, CD Jr almost took the title of MK king from Perfect Legend last year in a fantastic Grand Finals at EVO 2012. He’s back again this year for another shot- in MK, he plays a variety of characters, but Injustice he’s been sticking with Black Adam. Can he seal the deal this year?
King of Fighters XIII
Ricky Diaz – One of the few american KoF players that is a real contender for the top, Ricky Diaz holds his own in a game that the rest of the world just plays better than we do. His Hwa, Takuma, Shen team plays… well, like a KoF team. There’s only one speed in this game- rushdown. And god, do I love it. Go USA!
Armando “Bala” Velázquez – The pride of Mexico, Bala has mastery over a wide variety of characters, able to adapt to any matchup with speed and skill. One of his choice characters, Benimaru, has an infinite that was discovered, which makes me wonder if we’ll see a lot of that nonsense this year. I kind of hope so, honestly- the more madness, the better. That’s KoF for ya.
Kwang-noh “MadKOF” Lee – Last year’s champ, South Korea’s MadKOF belongs to the CafeID team, who cleaned up last year with four of the top eight KoF spots. The finals between him and Bala converted an audience of american viewers to the incredibly hype world of KoF, which until then was not very widely viewed in the US. Now no big tournament is complete without it, and I look forward to seeing those titans clash again.
Street Fighter x Tekken
Mike “Mike Ross” Ross – A crowd favorite with good reason, Mike Ross plays underrepresented characters (Marduk, Blanka) in an unconventional, aggressive way. What’s more, he’s easygoing and honest- when he makes a mistake, you can see him wince, when he gets lucky, you can see his big grin. He hasn’t gotten first place in a long time, but he’s always up there, makin’ SoCal proud. He’s also a beast in SSFIVAE… and not much of a beast in Marvel.
Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi – Tokido is the first of only two nicknames this man has- the other is Murder Face. I’ll let you guess why. In SFxT, Tokido rolls Cody and Dhalsim, instead to the character from Street Fighter that gave him his (second) nickname, Akuma. He is exceptionally skilled, and a showman to boot, ready and willing to show the crowd some style.
Ricky Ortiz – Confident, charismatic, and relentless, Ricky Ortiz is a classic American Street Fighter who translated his knowledge into SFxT mastery. In SF3 he played Chun Li, and in SFIV he played Rufus, so naturally his SFxT team is Chun Li and Rufus. Careful with this one- he’s always good, but make him mad, and he steps up his game significantly.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2
I’m embarrassed to say I just don’t know Tekken Tag Tournament 2’s scene very well. I’m not a big fan of 3D fighters, so I tend to not pay a lot of attention to the Tekken series, and I’m not familiar with its players. Sorry I couldn’t be more help!
Super Smash Bros Melee
Joseph “Mango” Marquez – The old meme about pro Smash play is that it is all “no items, Fox only, Final Destination.” Of course, it’s plenty more than one character and one stage, but Fox is the iconic pro Smash character for a reason- he’s just incredibly solid. Mango is maybe the best Fox out there these days, placing third last time Smash was at EVO. I’m sure he’ll be glad to be back on the big stage.
Juan Manuel “Hungrybox” DeBiedma – It’s hard to believe that Jigglypuff is a serious, competitive character, but you underestimate her at your peril. Impossible to pin down, capable of astonishingly powerful hits with her Sleep attack, and an irritatingly small target, Hungrybox takes this Pokemon over the edge with overwhelming insight. He’ll even keep an eye on your hands to see what buttons you’re going to press so he can react that much faster. A scary man.
Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman – Despite having “Mewtwo” in his name, Mew2King doesn’t play the character. Instead, he plays Marth- arguably the most powerful character in the game. As fast as this game gets, Mew2King takes it to an entirely different level when he gets focused. Combined with the range and power of Marth’s sword, he’s one to watch.
Persona 4 Arena
Reynald Tacsuan – This warrior from the Phillipines sports a relentless Chie (though he has been known to play Mitsuru as well) with speed and combos that will make your jaw drop. He’s brilliant at keeping himself safe and escaping disadvantageous situations, and his rushdown just doesn’t stop. Good luck against this guy, competitors.
Eddie “Brkr Dave” Sales – In Persona 4, Teddie is generally something of a comic relief character: mildly incompetent, clueless, and clumsy. None of these would be accurate descriptors for Teddie when he’s in the hands of Brkr Dave, who turns him into an absolute monster of wild unpredictability. The chaos he creates only leaves one thing certain- you’re gonna be in pain.
Jeff “TheBiter” Lee – My personal inspiration as a Persona player, TheBiter takes Kanji, a grappler character (which are usually considered underpowered in professional play), and turns him into an absolute demon of pressure. Skillful lockdown forces you to stand still while he rushes in, and then you have to contend with his overwhelming offense. Definitely one to watch.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Kyohei “MarlinPie” Lehr – A technical wizard, MarlinPie is a combo monster with some of the best execution in the business. Running C Viper, Dr. Doom, and Amaterasu, he is the king of swag- executing combos so stylish and devastating that everyone is taken aback.
Nicolas “KaneBlueRiver” Gonzalez – I have never seen a player make Marvel look as easy as KaneBlueRiver, and I mean that as a compliment. Kane’s team of Hulk, Sentinel, and Haggar does incredible damage, combined with his brilliant reading of his opponents, means that sometimes matches are over in a matter of seconds. I’ve never seen anyone get as many perfects as this man.
Ryan “FilipinoChamp” Ramirez – One-time Marvel EVO champ, FilipinoChamp is known as much for his attitude as his play. The very picture of (over)confidence, Ryan runs two different teams- Magneto and Dr. Doom, with either Phoenix or Dormammu as he thinks is best in a given match. FChamp also plays Dhalsim in AE, but isn’t nearly the force in that game as he is in Marvel.
Vineeth “ApologyMan” Meka – A personal favorite of mine, ApologyMan is a player who came into the public spotlight last year with an incredible debut, baffling famous players with his devious setups and massive combos. From all appearances, a super nice guy with a ton of heart. ApologyMan rocks Firebrand, Super Skurll, and Doctor Doom these days, but also has one hell of a Frank West waiting in the wings if he needs it as well.
Christopher “ChrisG” Gonzalez – The man to beat- currently considered the best Marvel player in the US, if not the world. If FilipinoChamp is cocky, Chris G is downright disrespectful… and why shouldn’t he be? Seemingly no one can beat his devastating Morrigan/Doom/Vergil team… and some people can’t even get close enough to land a hit on it. He also plays Injustice and AE.
Super Street Fighter IV AE 2012
Alex Valle – Though he does more tournament organizing than practicing these days, the veteran Alex Valle is still an absolute beast in the fundamentals of Street Fighter. A son of SoCal, Valle is tricky, smart, and has an overwhelming amount of experience on his side. Years ago, fights between him and Daigo Umehara were legendary, and Alex is still no joke.
Daigo Umehara – Japan’s most famous player, Daigo is a household name in the FGC. His skills, brilliant reads, and blank poker face have been conquering tournaments for more than a decade, and he was for a long time considered the de facto king of Street Fighter. In recent years, however, powerful challengers have put his Ryu down a few notches, but he’s still one of the best for sure.
Sun Woo “Infiltration” Lee – The current reigning champion of the title “Most Powerful Street Fighter,” Infiltration is a terror, pure and simple. His play is damn near flawless- technically excellent, intelligently planned, and swiftly executed. His Akuma has been crushing the competition and keeping him at the top for more than a year now… will EVO 2013 finally see him dethroned? I can’t wait to find out. He also plays SFxT with the best of them.
Ho Kun Xian – Simply refered to as “Xian,” this master from Singapore plays a very tricky, uncommon character- Gen. His expertise with the character is unmatched, allowing him unblockable setups and mixups that most have no idea how to handle. Even if they do, though, his play is skillful enough to give anyone a run for their money- even Infiltration.
Justin Wong – I had to put him under some game, but really, Justin Wong plays everything, and plays them all damn well. SSFIV, SFxT, Injustice, Marvel… any game he tries, he plays with the best of them. There’s a reason why they call it the Wong Factor. Never count this man out.
Seth “S Kill” Killian – I cannot think of a man who better represents the FGC than Seth Killian. A long time ago, Seth Killian was a professional player himself, then he became a tournament organizer, and then he was hired by Capcom to help make fighting games. He’s since moved on from that, but he still holds a special place in our hearts, and often shows up to use his vast knowledge and charisma to tell people what’s what. He can comment a wide variety of games with expertise and finesse, and is a true legend of the community.
James Chen – The first half of commenting duo “UltraChen,” James Chen is one of the premier Street Fighter commentators. While his playing skills are superb, they are not quite at a top eight level… but his knowledge is all-surpassing. His complete understanding of player mindsets and game mechanics allows him to often predict the turning points in a fight before they happen, leaving him to triumphantly declare “I told you!” to his partner.
David “UltraDavid” Graham – A lawyer by day, and by night, the second half of “UltraChen.” UltraDavid acts as a great compliment to his partner James, breaking down the simpler parts of a fight’s ebb and flow elegantly and eloquently. His knowledge about the game, too, is exceptional, but he chooses to let James handle the predictions while he simply explains the action.
There are so many names I wish I could put on this list, but it seemed better to simply introduce you to a few. As you watch EVO, the excellent commentators will fill you in on other players, and you’ll come up with your own favorites by watching. Here’s to hoping you and I have a few in common.
To all the warriors who I didn’t have space for- my sincere apologies, and know that I’ll be rooting for you at EVO!