That's another spectacular Evo in the bag—and this one has considerable ramifications as to what the future of all things fighting games looks like. Broadcast on ESPN2—that's actual ESPN2, with all the actual sports—and hosted at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, home to many a boxing match, MMA event and concert, this was fighting games' massive, and some might say overdue, mainstream arrival. Three days, tens of thousands of entrants over many different games, and the biggest attendance numbers in Evo's history—2016 will be a year to remember. And here's what we think are the four biggest stories coming out of this historic event for the fighting game community.
INFILTRATION CEMENTS HIS LEGACY
South Korea's Seon-Woo Lee, a.k.a. "Infiltration," won the inaugural Evo Street Fighter V crown, surprising precisely nobody given he came into the tournament following a dominant opening six months of the game's competitive lifespan. He'd bagged several major championships already in 2016, and appeared to be making short work of the competition until he came up against his Team Razer colleague Keita "Fuudo" Ai. Fuudo managed to send Infiltration into the loser's bracket, but despite this setback, he fought his way into the grand final, taking five consecutive games, resetting the bracket and eventually adding another Evo first-place trophy to his already quite considerable collection. It is going to take something special to stop him walking his way to a Capcom Cup win at the end of the year.
'STREET FIGHTER V': LEGEND KILLER
Most of the major Japanese players from the tail end of Street Fighter IV's life washed out before reaching 2016's top eight for V, which was a huge surprise. Top-level Japanese competitors Tokido, Mago, last year's IV winner Momochi, and the legendary Daigo Umehara all failed to make final's day—which was pretty shocking, considering that they'd all been consistently performing well at tournaments around the world leading up to Evo itself. Are we seeing a changing of the guard, then? Probably not, but Evo is always a place for mega upsets – especially when you're whittling down more than 5,000 entrants to eight in two long days of Street Fighter. It did, however, leave the ESPN broadcast of the final eight lacking a bit in star power, so to speak. The introductory video package, clearly completed a while back, featured a few of these players, but only one of the lads who actually made it to the finals. Another reminder that when you make assumptions, something something, ass.
CHRISG WINS THE BIG ONE
Marvel vs. Capcom 3 refuses to die, and continues to be one of the most hyped events of finals day at Evo every year. Nicholas "KaneBlueRiver" Gonzalez has been the dominant player for the past year or so in Marvel, and he was also last year's Evo champion. His opponent for 2016's final, Chris "NYChrisG" Gonzalez, is regarded as the best Marvel player to have never won in Vegas. ChrisG was knocked into the loser's bracket early, but went on one hell of a winning streak where, before the Grand Final, he'd only lost six characters total across all his matches. He was in the form of his life, and after a close first set, he reset the bracket. Momentum on his side, he beat KaneBlueRiver 3–0 to take first place. It was an amazing moment for the MvC community, and if this truly is the final appearance of the game at Evo, it's a fantastic end to the game's lengthy tenure. His victory celebration was somewhat soured by some lad rushing the stage to, allegedly, challenge Chris to a money match later on that night. Marvel always gonna Marvel.
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L.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO
Evo has never crowned an American Street Fighter champion. It's come close to victory with Justin Wong and Mike Ross in recent years, but so far, no first place finishes. Hell, even Europe got there before them, with Luffy winning the thing in 2014. Joe Ciaramelli was unlikely to be the man to break the Evo duck, but it didn't matter. ESPN needed a hook. It needed one US-based player to hang the broadcast on, and honestly, you couldn't dream of a better person to play that role than L.I. Joe. A well-spoken and respectful competitor, but with skills worthy of a spot in the finals in the first place, he's everything you'd want a giant, casual viewership to see as their introduction to what a professional Street Fighter player is like. He was always humbled by the response of the crowd, arriving for battle wearing his bright pink backpack, a tribute to his mother who passed from breast cancer. ESPN hung its hat on him, flew his father in to watch from the crowd, and when he won his match against Eita in the final eight, we witnessed an eternal Evo moment to sit alongside stuff like the "Daigo parry" video. If Street Fighter V goes from strength to strength with this mainstream exposure, L.I. Joe is going to have played a huge part in this.
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