It's time for EVO, once again, with digital fists flying from the 17th to the 19th of July. For those not in the know, EVO is the world's premier fighting game event, where competitors travel from all over the world to a hotel convention suite in Las Vegas to prove that they're the best at their chosen pugilistic game – and ultimately leaving what is becoming a substantial amount of money for pulverising buttons and yanking sticks. It always turns out to be a fascinating and entertaining weekend and well worth checking out, but it might seem a bit intimidating for those who don't know what the hell a FADC is. To help with that, here's a guide to the basics of each game featuring at EVO 2015 and why you, as a newcomer, should check them out.
ULTRA STREET FIGHTER IV
The big one. With Street Fighter V set for release in early 2016, it is likely that this EVO is the last time Street Fighter IV takes the centre stage. But it is ever going out with a bang. A huge injection of cash from Capcom and new suitors of the Street Fighter series, Sony, means that the prize pool is the biggest to date. Seeing as it's estimated that last year's winner walked away with $30k, a lot of veteran players have returned for a chance at winning even bigger money.
Why watch the World Cup final? The Street Fighter finals are where the absolute elite face off against one another, and they're almost always full of drama. Expect to see big things from last year's winner, Luffy, who plays with a customised PSOne controller, as well as the legendary Daigo Umehara, arguably the best Street Fighter player of all time, but who hasn't taken first place in Street Fighter at EVO for five years. The UK will likely be represented by Ryan Hart, a consistent top-eight competition finisher who will be looking to improve on his top-25 placing last year.
MARVEL VS CAPCOM 3
Aka Mahvel. The MvC games have been a fixture of EVO since the very beginning, creating some of the competition's most memorable moments. Recently, however, the game has waned in popularity. There's no updates planned and due to Marvel's deal with Disney we're unlikely to ever see a new instalment. Despite this, the MvC 3 finals will likely feature some of the most exciting drama of the entire weekend.
Where else are you going to see The Incredible Hulk, Thor and the lad from Ghouls 'n Ghosts take on Spider-Man, Ryu and Dr. Doom? MvC 3's ridiculous, high-speed combat is quite the sight to behold, despite being a bit overwhelming for newcomers. One of the more interesting wrinkles in this year's tournament is that Justin Wong, current EVO Marvel champ, has put a bounty on himself and several other major players, paying cash from his own pocket to anyone good enough to step up and eliminate them from the tournament. Ballsy.
SUPER SMASH BROS
After Nintendo pulled a bit of a Lars Ulrich a few years ago when they tried to get Smash Bros banned from the EVO live stream, showing that they were painfully out touch with a large part of modern gaming, everyone's kissed and made up and EVO 2015 has two major Smash Bros tournaments: one on the latest Wii U release, and one on the GameCube classic Super Smash Bros Melee. The Smash games have a huge following and are usually some of the biggest tournaments of the weekend, but they're very much their own thing, with little player crossover with the other titles.
The Smash Bros games are the absolute best place to start if you're an EVO novice. They're filled with characters that everyone knows, all doing things they're known for, and with the simple goal of knocking one another off the stage the rules are immediately understandable. It's very visual, and once you've got your head around the basics you'll quickly start recognising skilful play both offensively and defensively – the Smash Bros equivalents of a goal-line clearance or a 30-yard screamer of a free kick.
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One of the most underrated beat 'em ups in quite a while, the Xbox One's Killer Instinct has attracted quite a few of the big-name Marvel players. Perhaps this is because both games share a fast pace and a reliance on punishing openings in the opponent's defence with massive combos – but it might also be down to the big bundle of cash that Microsoft and developer Iron Galaxy have put forward for the prize pool at EVO 2015. This one should be interesting.
Killer Instinct is actually a deceptively simple game despite seeming quite busy. It's fast, flashy and built around the spectacle of huge combos that provide a load of entertainment. It also looks incredible, which helps. The sizeable prize pool has attracted some big names from other games, including Justin Wong.
MORTAL KOMBAT X
Mortal Kombat was always a bit rubbish (oh come on, it was), but the series' latest instalment has turned its fortunes around. Loads of really unique characters and interactive elements in each stage combine make it a quite strategic fighting game, played at a much slower speed than a lot of the other games at EVO. This is another title that has seen a big injection of prize money from its publishers: Warner Bros. have chucked a cool $50k into the pot.
A more methodical approach and really nice new-gen graphics mean that Mortal Kombat X is easy to follow visually, but it may take a bit longer to truly understand due to the systems that supply the action. Although it may not be the most exciting game played at this year's EVO, its old-fashioned ultraviolence will more than make up for any relative sluggishness.
Bit of a weird one, this. Although Tekken as a series has been a fixture of EVO for many years, its latest entry isn't actually out on consoles yet. The arcade version was rolled out in Japan in March, but even so, this isn't something you can fire up at home whenever you feel the need to practise. There's still quite a healthy Tekken scene with some great players, but a chunk of them may not even have had the chance to play this yet. So it's hard to be sure what to expect from this one.
Basically, this is going to be the opportunity to get a good look at the new Tekken game, set for release early next year on PS4 and Xbox One. Expect Japanese players to dominate this tournament, as the arcade machine isn't even officially released outside of Japan yet.
Can't get enough manly blood sports? Direct your lustful eyes at FIGHTLAND.
GUILTY GEAR XRD AND PERSONA 4 ARENA ULTIMAX
Arc System Works have a reputation for creating extremely good and extremely good looking fighting games and both their entries into this year's EVO are no exception. Persona 4 Arena made its debut last year after coming out of nowhere and really impressing upon its release. This year sees the "Ultimax" version of the game being played, while Guilty Gear Xrd (pictured) is the long-awaited third proper entry in its parent series, which is considerably more complex than the Persona game, with depth that is quite intimidating for even seasoned fight fans. It might just be the best looking game of the entire weekend, too.
Although Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a great game, there's not much buzz behind the tournament and it lacks a lot of the glamour of the Street Fighter and Marvel competitions. Guilty Gear Xrd is a bit more popular, with the aforementioned Daigo Umehara being a former champion, but it is perhaps the most complicated game on EVO's roster. Sure, it is easy to see who actually wins and loses, but getting to that point requires a series of incredibly detailed, OTT animations and attacks that newcomers to fighting games will run a mile from. There's four different ways to block! Super Smash Bros, this is not.
EVO 2015 takes place in Las Vegas from the 17th of July to the 19th. Find more information at the event's official website.