A New Era for Evo
The Evolution Championship Series (Evo) has long been hailed as the ultimate gathering for the fighting game community. Since its inception in 1996, players from around the world have converged in Las Vegas to showcase their skills on a global stage. But this year’s Evo, held in 2023, was different in more ways than one. With new management, ownership, and a renewed love for the game, Evo embarked on a new chapter.
After a scandal involving Evo’s co-founder and chairman, Joey “MrWizard” Cuellar, the event was acquired by Sony in 2021. Despite facing challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the release of Street Fighter 6 in 2023 marked a turning point for Evo. To seize the opportunity of this pivotal event, Evo entrusted its fate to a new general manager, Rick “The Hadou” Thiher. I had the privilege of speaking with him before attending this year’s event.
Image credit: Robert Paul / http://rmpaul.com
“I’ve immersed myself in the fighting game space for over a decade,” Thiher shared with Digital Trends when discussing his new role at Evo. “Having previously worked with the Twitch Rivals team, both Sony and Evo reached out to me. I didn’t hesitate because the opportunity to work on fighting games every day aligns perfectly with my personal interests.”
Under Thiher’s guidance, the atmosphere surrounding Evo underwent a significant transformation. Drawing from his experience as an event manager for Combo Breaker, another renowned fighting game event, Thiher shifted the focus away from the event’s legacy and instead refocused on reigniting the passion for fighting games. Evo 2023 became an unprecedented success, breaking attendance records and drawing a staggering number of participants for game tournaments. It served as a powerful testament to the new golden era of the fighting game genre. I spoke with Thiher to gain deeper insights into the factors that contributed to the triumph of this year’s event, with a particular emphasis on the significant role played by Street Fighter 6.
A Delicate Balancing Act
Thiher attributes Evo 2023’s triumph to the careful balancing act performed by the event organizers, who strived to cater to the diverse interests of potential viewers and attendees. “Evo stands out in the world of competitive gaming events due to its unmatched scale and presentation,” Thiher emphasized. “The brand carries certain expectations and unique relationships that set it apart from other shows. While Combo Breaker had the challenge of outgrowing its original vision, Evo started at the point of already surpassing its initial scope. This requires a longer process of finding the right balance to appeal to the entire community while ensuring that the tournament aspect remains at the forefront. However, we also want to create a fandom experience that exceeds expectations.”
Image credit: Evo
According to Thiher, striking a delicate equilibrium between catering to the audience’s desire to watch intense fighting game tournaments and their anticipation of exciting game-related announcements is crucial. “When people discuss the essence of Evo, they often refer to a general concept that has been ingrained in the attendees’ minds,” Thiher explained. “It’s recognized as the largest tournament or as the event that unveils exciting game reveals. Balancing it all is incredibly challenging, but with dedicated teams focusing on each component, our relaunch has made a significant difference.”
Unlike previous Evo events, Thiher was determined not to neglect the grassroots tournament scene. In addition to providing a platform for showcasing smaller games such as Marvel vs. Capcom, Skullgirls, and Killer Instinct, he placed great importance on highlighting the debut of Street Fighter 6 at Evo. As one of the most exceptional fighting game releases in recent years, Street Fighter 6 played a vital role in Evo’s success. To use a sports analogy, if Evo is the wide receiver scoring the touchdown, then Street Fighter 6 is the quarterback throwing the game-winning pass.
“I believe we are currently experiencing a perfect storm of opportunities for fighting games,” Thiher asserted. “We have new, high-quality games being released. Street Fighter 6, in particular, is the most comprehensive Street Fighter installment to date. The outstanding online experience brings together players from across the globe. Moreover, platforms like Twitch and YouTube provide an unprecedented level of awareness. This surge in popularity not only benefits the game’s longevity but also has a positive impact on the community and events like Evo. This year, Evo witnessed record-breaking numbers of participants in the Street Fighter series. I anticipate these numbers will continue to rise with the launch of each subsequent title. They will surpass any expectations from the early days of game development.”
Paving the Way for a Bright Future
However, these accomplishments did not come without their fair share of challenges. Thiher acknowledged that numerous difficult decisions had to be made to ensure the smooth operation of Evo. For instance, controversial changes, such as reducing the Top 8 tournament finale to a Top 6, were implemented to prevent time constraints and ensure sufficient console setups were available. Although initially met with player backlash, these adjustments ultimately led to a more efficient and player-friendly event. Thiher sees these challenges as learning experiences that will contribute to making future Evo events even better and more unforgettable.
Image credit: Evo
“I anticipate that certain experimentations we conducted during the event will provide valuable insights based on the response they receive,” Thiher declared. “In tournaments, it has always been a common concern that players often struggle to find time to eat due to continuous gameplay. To address this, we implemented a dedicated one-hour broadcast break. This allowed participants and the team to enjoy their meals. We also ensured that no semifinal clashes directly coincided with the Top 6 cut, allowing participants to rest and prepare themselves before the crucial matches.”
Through trial and error, Evo 2023 emerged as an extraordinary event. Despite a few bumps along the way, Thiher firmly believes that these challenges will ultimately contribute to creating an even better and more memorable experience in the future.
“I’m particularly excited about the abundance of casual and tournament setups on the show floor,” Thiher expressed. “When you start hosting tournaments in your garage with just a PlayStation and your friend’s computer, you dream of reaching this point. The Arcade Stick Museum, the merchandise, and the highly anticipated publisher panels and reveals all contribute to a holistic experience.”
“We have successfully created an environment where the objectives of both tournament players and fans do not clash,” Thiher proudly stated. “This outcome fills me with pride because if we can build something where those two aspects never conflict, we will offer an experience that the community can embrace and be genuinely proud of.”
Evo 2023 brought the event back to its essence: a celebration of fighting games, their culture, and the vibrant community surrounding them. As I immersed myself in the convention, savoring the camaraderie and competitive spirit, my love for Evo was reignited. It reminded me of the significance of this event and why the fighting game genre holds such a special place in my heart. Count me in for next year’s Evo, as my enthusiasm remains stronger than ever.
- Exoprimal’s Street Fighter crossover is purely cosmetic, Capcom confirms
- Capcom Showcase 2023: how to watch and what to expect
- Street Fighter 6 is the single-player fighting experience I’ve always wanted
- A free Street Fighter 6 demo is available now on PS5 and PS4
- Multiversus’ 99% player drop is a lesson in how not to make a free-to-play game