EVO 2019: The Super Jump Review

A full breakdown of the best and worst of this year’s event

Wyatt Donigan
Aug 6 · 18 min read

Every year, the fighting game community converges on Las Vegas for the spectacle that is the Evolution Championship Series. What started out as a meager gathering of fighting game fanatics has now turned into a massive event featuring almost 10,000 players from dozens of countries all over the world. With over 30 hours of streamed gameplay spanning nine different Twitch streams, you can bet that there were plenty of amazing highlights and reveals along the way.

You can also bet that as a major fighting game enthusiast, I watched almost all of those 30 hours. (Don’t believe me? Just look at my setup.)

With that in mind, I’m happy to be your guide to anything and everything that took place this past weekend in Las Vegas. So put on your favorite LoFi station (everyone listens to LoFi, right?), grab some water (gotta stay hydrated!), and strap in for the full rundown of the best and worst moments from this year’s event.

Best

Arslan Ash proves he’s the greatest Tekken player on the planet

Arslan Ash makes history.

Every year there’s a single moment at EVO that defines the entire event; a single moment that latches itself to the conscious of every FGC fan in the world until the end of time.

In 2016, it was LI Joe’s incredible run into the Street Fighter V Top 8 with his dad in the stands cheering with the raucous crowd.

In 2017, it was Tokido managing to stop the red-hot American phenom Punk to win the SFV title.

In 2018, it was SonicFox defeating Goichi for the first-ever Dragon Ball FighterZ EVO title.

This year, it was Arslan Ash staking his place in EVO history with a dominating victory over the Korean legend Knee.

Over the years, the Tekken franchise has been almost wholly dominated by the Korean and Japanese contingent. While players from other countries have threatened to do some damage, none have reached the prominence that those regions have. This has especially been the case with Tekken 7 as a Japanese or Korean player had won every EVO (or EVO Japan) since the game’s debut in 2015.

All that changed at EVO Japan back in February when Arslan Ash essentially came out of nowhere and upset everyone to bring the title home to his native Pakistan. Not only did he win that tournament, but in the months since that fiery debut, he has managed to defeat Knee, who is the highest-ranked player in the Tekken World Tour and regarded as the best player in the world to many, each and every time they have faced off.

As such, all eyes were on the pair in Las Vegas this past weekend as yet another meeting between the pair was perhaps the most anticipated matchup in the entire tournament across all nine main titles. They didn’t leave the fans waiting with both making their way to the winners semifinals for another showdown.

Despite the highly-anticipated nature of the matchup, though, Arslan Ash won handily in a 3–1 set before defeating America’s last hope in Anakin in an even quicker 3–0 set.

This set things up for one last showdown in the grand finals. Once again, though, Arslan Ash would not be denied and clutched out a 3–2 win to secure his historic victory.

This is what the FGC is all about.

The moment became even sweeter when the Pakastani player kneeled down and said a quick prayer in the moments following his victory, showing off the true multinational and multicultural nature of the fighting game community.

Perhaps one of the most shocking elements of Arslan Ash’s win is that prior to coming out to the states for EVO, he took part in a tournament in Pakistan and came in 9th. I can only imagine what other talent from Pakistan is waiting to be shown off and I can’t wait until we get to see it.

Worst

Under Night In-Birth acronyms

Just look at that title…

Now, before you guys pull out your pitchforks, just hear me out! The Under Night In-Birth series is incredibly fun to play and even more fun to watch. But the incredibly long and confusing titles have got to go, y’all. Just look at the different titles that have been attached to this game since its initial release in 2012.

  • Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late (the game’s first major update in 2013)
  • Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st] (the current iteration of the game that’s commonly abbreviated as UNIST)
  • Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[cl-r] (the upcoming update announced at EVO 2019 and slated for an early 2020 release)

See what I’m saying? I appreciate the ingenuity of creating new titles rather than simply saying 1, 2, and 3. But come on.

In all seriousness, though, UNICLR (I think this is what people have decided the acronym will be?) does look amazing and if you’re at all interested in the series, give UNIST a shot. I don’t think you’ll regret it.*

*Note: Super Jump Magazine makes no guarantees about your enjoyment of UNIST and is not responsible for possible wasted money).

Best

Goichi finally gets revenge on SonicFox

Much like traditional sports, the FGC is all about rivalries. When you’re the best of the best in whatever game you play, you’re bound to run into other top players over and over. There may be plenty of rivalries throughout the scene, there’s one that stands head and shoulders above the rest currently.

When Dragon Ball FighterZ was released in January 2018, fighting game legend Goichi “GO1” Kishida quickly rose to prominence in Japan, establishing himself as one of the best players in the world. He quickly set his sights on more than just Japan by uttering a single phrase that set the stage for one of the greatest rivalries in FGC history.

“You are next, SonicFox.”

For the uninitiated, Dominique “SonicFox” McLean is widely considered one of the best fighting game players of all time, having secured wins in a number of titles over the years. He’s mainly made a name for himself in the NRS community with the Mortal Kombat and Injustice series. So when he decided to dive into the anime realm, he turned quite a few heads.

Against all odds, however, he managed to stand with the best of them and dominate DBFZ, leading to an EVO 2018 victory over Goichi. Like any good anime, though, Goichi wouldn’t give up.

One of the best rivalries in FGC history

While SonicFox split his focus for most of 2019 with the recently released Mortal Kombat 11, Goichi kept on grinding (Goichi did play MK11 for a hot minute during the first month or do of release, but it was incredibly short-lived), hoping for his rematch against his rival at EVO 2019.

As expected, both players torched the competition all weekend long and secured spots in the Top 8. Thanks to the amazing bracket organizers, they were on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning they didn’t meet up until the Winners Finals for what was quite possibly the greatest DBFZ set in the short history of the game.

I’m exhausted just watching this.

Things were close, but Goichi finally got his revenge at long last and sent SonicFox into the losers bracket, punching his own ticket into the grand finals.

SonicFox, not ready to go home just yet, picked himself up and fought his way to the grand finals for yet another showdown with Goichi.

I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Much like the Winners Finals, the players went toe-to-toe the entire way, but Goichi simply would not be denied this time around. As he landed the final combo that locked up the championship, Goichi couldn’t contain himself, breaking down into tears as SonicFox, ever the respectful competitor, consoled his rival and lifted his arm as the crowd celebrated Goichi’s victory.

While many people have tried to stick a fork in Dragon Ball FighterZ over the last few months, this tournament made it clear that there is plenty of life left both in the game and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Worst

No Mortal Kombat announcement?

Dragon Ball FighterZ might have had a great showing during the event, but Mortal Kombat 11 was on the opposite end of the spectrum with what I felt with a bit of a lackluster showing.

The tournament itself was perfectly fine, mind you. Well, barring the ridiculously long breaks during a Top 8 that went to almost midnight local time. The competition was fierce and it was the biggest Mortal Kombat tournament in history.

What felt off to me was the lack of announcements. Now, I totally get that they have already announced four of the six characters that will be in the first Kombat Pack and just showed off the gameplay trailer for Nightwolf in the days leading up to EVO.

Nightwolf and his spirit animals would like a word with you.

My issue here, though, is that by showing the Nightwolf trailer before EVO and then having nothing at all to show at the event just feels like a missed opportunity when EVO is such a major event where most fighting game developers show off their major goods. Why not just hold onto that Nightwolf trailer for a few more days to give the fans something good at the event?

It becomes even more puzzling when you consider that NetherRealm Studios confirmed that the Kombat Pack trailer that will likely announce the final two characters and give our first look at both Sindel and Spawn will be coming on August 21. Something like that could have been a major reveal that fans would have loved at EVO.

It’s worth noting, however, that Ed Boon, co-creator of Mortal Kombat, previously alluded to issues beyond the studio's control when it came to trailer reveals, which certainly could have led to the awkward timing of everything here.

Still. I wanna see Spawn, dammit! And I wanna see who the final two characters are! I wanted to see the best selling game of 2019 get some hype announcements at the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, but that didn’t happen and I’m a bit bummed.

Best

An American won BlazBlue CrossTag Battle?!

Despite the FGC being a massive melting pot of different cultures and countries that come together to enjoy fighting games, the Asian nations tend to dominate things year after year. This is especially true when it comes to anime games, as Japanese players have completely staked their claim on the genre. Outside of SonicFox’s success in Dragon Ball FighterZ, American players don’t tend to succeed in any of these games.

You’d have to go all the way back to EVO 2013 to find a US player taking home the gold in an anime game (Reynald winning The King of Fighters XIII), but even that’s sort of an “anime light” title and often isn’t lumped in with the likes of Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, and the like. By those standards, the last US win was Spark for BlazBlue Continuum Shift II all the way back in 2011.

That all changed this past Sunday when Shinku defied the odds in the BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle bracket to walk away with the US’ first anime championship (outside of SonicFox last year in DBFZ) in almost a decade. What’s all the more impressive is that his road was paved with Japanese players the entire way, having to defeat three separate players (and overcome a bracket reset in the finals) to claim the title.

That raw emotion is what the FGC is made of.

You may hear people try and downplay the win by mentioning the fact that he was utilizing Ruby Rose from RWBY, but those people need to just chill because his victory was ridiculously impressive and he shouldn’t be downplayed in the least bit. Just look at the emotion Shinku showed following the win and the respect that Kyamei showed, and there should be no doubt that this was an impressively amazing win that will go down in the record books.

Worst

“SNAKE?! SNAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!”

As I’ve alluded to up above, EVO is a place where many companies plan major reveals for their games. Tekken is responsible for some of the biggest surprises in recent memory with the reveals of Geese from King of Fighters and Negan from The Walking Dead. Tekken 7 has also been the king of crossover characters with the aforementioned pair along with Noctis from Final Fantasy XV. Basically, it feels like any character in the history of video games is fair game when it comes to guest characters in Tekken 7.

This feeling caused the entire FGC to go into overdrive during the Top 8 when a Codec Call between Solid Snake of Metal Gear Solid fame and Tekken Chief Producer Katsuhiro Harada popped up on the screen out of nowhere.

“That was some Good Ass Tekken,” Snake told Harada, referencing the popular catchphrase used to describe Tekken over the last couple years.

The moment when everyone lost their collective minds

With hope of an announcement of a Season 3 featuring new characters following the conclusion of the Top 8, everyone was sure that this meant one thing and one thing only: Snake in Tekken 7.

The announcement (which we’ll get dive into shortly) came and went, but there was nary a mention of Snake. While I was still convinced that something would still be coming later on in the year, all my hopes and dreams were crushed with a single tweet from EVO’s official Twitter.

WHYYYYYYYY

Not funny, EVO! While it was still a cool moment (it was some good ass Tekken after all), it just felt a bit cruel given that our knee jerk reactions would of course be that Snake is coming to the game. EVO should have known that this rabid fan base would get all riled up from it, especially at this event of all places.

What makes it even worse was that David Hayter, voice of Snake, and Harada himself were pretty upset over the whole ordeal since they weren’t consulted on it at all. The entire thing just felt like a bit of an oversight from EVO that I’m sure won’t be happening again in the future.

But please, Bandai Namco, pay Kojima or Konami or whoever you need to pay as much money as they want to get Snake in Tekken!

Best

Smash Ultimate shows up with a tense Top 8

Many were pretty distraught following the announcement of the final EVO lineup when it became clear that Melee had seen its last days during the 2018 event. It was now time for Ultimate to shine, but could it muster the same staying power that Melee has brought over the last two decades? Time will tell whether Ultimate will manage to stick around as long as Melee has, but it surely got out the gate on the right foot.

MkLeo reminded everyone why he’s the best Ultimate player in the world.

With almost 3,5000 entrants, Ultimate led the way in participants this year and earned itself the closing spot on Sunday night. Despite the lofty expectations, the competitors hit that stage and put on one hell of a show for the massive crowd in the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

MkLeo, the #1 ranked favorite for the tournament, entered the Top 8 on the losers side and put on one of the greatest performances you’ll ever see. He torched the competition all the way to the grand finals where he met up with Tweek, the #2 ranked player in the world.

Tweek got out to a hot start, putting himself up 2–0 and on the verge of victory before MkLeo dug deep and rattled off six straight sets to win the tournament after a bracket reset.

Six straight games from MkLeo seals the deal.

The fact that he did it in front of a Twitch audience of almost 280,000 is all the more impressive and certainly bodes well for the Ultimate scene moving forward.

Best

Bonchan shakes off his EVO demons

Heading into the Street Fighter V bracket, many eyes were on Punk and Tokido as the favorites to win the event. Tokido had been to the last two grand finals, while Punk last made the grand finals in 2017 and is the current leader on the Capcom Pro Tour.

Those solely focusing on that pair were failing to see the forest through the trees as another man has been on an absolute tear over the last month and was well poised to make a deep run in a stacked bracket. That man was none other than Bonchan, who picked up wins at CEO and VSFighting heading into EVO.

Having settled into a one-two punch of Karin with a splash of Sagat, Bonchan has been playing out of his mind for weeks and continued that streak in Las Vegas with a dominating performance.

He torched his way through the entire bracket and only dropped two games in the Top 8 to earn his spot in the grand finals against Big Bird, the darkhorse monster from the United Arab Emirates. Even in that close 3–2 set, you just had the feeling that he could not be stopped and eventually walked away with the win.

While the win is impressive in its own right, it was an incredible redemption story of sorts as he managed to overcome the demons of EVOs past to finally secure that elusive championship. Bonchan has been a household name in the Street Fighter community ever since he rose to prominence in the Street Fight IV days playing Sagat but despite years of play, he hadn’t claimed the EVO title. He got closest in 2014 when he lost to Luffy despite being on the winners side of the bracket, and fell just short of the Top 8 in 2017 with a loss to MOV in the final qualifying match.

Bonchan has finally done it

Bonchan managed to push all that aside on Sunday and secured his big win and catapulted himself even higher in the CPT rankings. He now sits less than 200 points behind Punk, which sets up a frantic final four months of the season heading into the 2019 Capcom Cup in December.

Worst

SFV leak pre-EVO

Speaking of Street Fighter V, though, not everything was positive at EVO.

For months, SFV fans have been anxiously awaiting any sort of announcement following the last major piece of content back in December of 2018. Yoshinori Ono, longtime Street Fighter producer, assured fans earlier this year that there would be an announcement at EVO, leading to much excitement in the weeks leading up to the event.

SFV’s new characters look incredibly fun despite the mixups in their announcements.

The Wednesday before EVO, however, the unthinkable happened and the big reveal leaked, letting the cat out of the bag that three new characters (E. Honda, Poison, and Lucia) would be released the night of EVO. While many thought it was a planned “leak” to generate buzz for even more announcements on Sunday during the Top 8, it quickly became clear that this wasn't the case. Valve issued a public apology on the first day of EVO claiming responsibility for “a mix-up in the publishing process” that led to the trailer getting out in the wild early.

When the Top 8 began on Sunday afternoon, Ono went on stage and read an apology letter to the community and assured fans that even more announcements would be on the way in November and December (just in time for Capcom Cup!). But the hype and spectacle of the anticipated EVO announcement were cut short after the Steam snafu. Granted, Capcom leaned into it by officially announcing the characters themselves shortly after the leak occurred and showing the trailer all throughout the broadcast during EVO. This did nothing to stop the sting of missing out on seeing the reveal live on Sunday, though.

This is now the second straight leak that has plagued a SFV announcement, as Kage was leaked literal hours before his announcement at the 2018 Capcom Cup. Capcom desperately needs to do whatever it can in order to not have this happen again for whatever they have planned for later this year.

Crosses fingers and toes

Best

All those announcements!

Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Those sweet, sweet announcements.

While the general video game industry anxiously awaits E3 for all their major announcements, the FGC awaits EVO as all the developers save their major reveals for the event year in and year out. EVO 2019 was no different as these companies pulled out all the stops for this year’s event. Every game with the exception of two (looking at you Mortal Kombat 11 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate) brought something big to the table. Well, technically Street Fighter had nothing at the table, but that’s only because they accidentally threw away their plates days prior.

Everything else shown at the event was certainly well worth the wait, so let’s dive right in!

Soul Calibur 6

The newest entrant in the popular series is set to receive a second season of characters and features, a major sign that Bandai Namco hasn’t given up on this series and wants to see it flourish. While the character reveal of Cassandra was cool (and she’s already out!), it was the announcement that Haohmaru from Samurai Shodown would be joining the fray that left a huge impression in everyone’s minds.

Samurai Shodown (and King of Fighters!)

Speaking of Samurai Showdown, SNK showed off gameplay for the entire Season 1 roster and not only announced a fifth character for the season but announced a Season 2 set to release in 2020. Perhaps the hypest part of the entire announcement, though, was the confirmation that The King of Fighters XV was officially in development. All we got was a logo, but that was more than enough to light a fire under the SNK diehards who have been waiting for this day for quite some time.

Under Night In-Birth and BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle

Fans of the two current mainstays of the anime genre were greeted with a pair of announcements that got plenty of positive reactions from the crowd. First up was the announcement of Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[cl-r], set for an early 2020 release. Not only will there be new gameplay mechanics and moves for the current roster, but a new character (and my main once the game drops), Londrekia, was announced along with it.

ArcSys Works was back on stage Sunday morning to announce a massive 2.0 update for BBTAG, set for release on November 21. The update will include nine new characters (Yumi, Blitztank, Akatsuki, and Neopolitan from RWBY were announced) along with a balance patch that will surely shake things up. And yes, Blitztank is an actual tank. In a fighting game. It’s nuts.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

One of the worst kept secrets in the FGC, DBFZ’s Janemba, was officially announced. Janemba, who is a fan-favorite villain from Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn, was initially “announced” accidentally by Xbox’s Major Nelson during a “This Week on Xbox” video back in May, but was only just confirmed following the Top 8 on Saturday evening. In addition to Janemba, SSGSS Gogeta from the Dragon Ball Super: Broly movie was also shown off after being announced way back during the DBFZ World Tour Season 1 Finals in January.

Tekken 7

While we were denied Solid Snake, we got something even better instead. Not only did Bandai Namco announce Season 3 for Tekken 7, they also showed off a brand-new character, Leroy Smith, who looks AMAZING. As a person of color, I always love seeing how these characters are represented in different games and this certainly looks to be one of the best we’ve seen. He’ll be joined by Zafina, a returning character from Tekken 6, and three other characters yet to be announced. Season 3 will also bring an updated UI and new moves for every character in the game, making this Tekken 7’s most extensive season yet.

Guilty Gear (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

Now, for the hypest announcement of the entire weekend that no one saw coming. Guilty Gear is seen by most as the creme de la creme of anime fighters. The last major update for the current iteration of the series, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 (Under Night clearly went to the Guilty Gear school of naming games) came out in 2017, meaning it’s high time for a new entry. There had been no rumors or leaks of any kind, however, which allowed this announcement to come out of nowhere and rock the FGC to its core.

The trailer, while short, showed off just enough to give a taste of what’s to come. There look to be stage transitions, new movesets, new characters (the dude with the braids/dreads at the end looks SICK), and new looks for existing characters (Ky is looking good with that new hairstyle). All we know is that it will be releasing in 2020, but that was just enough to get everyone hyped for the upcoming release.

Takes a deep breath

Well, that was EVO 2019 in a (large) nutshell. There’s just something incredibly special about this community and EVO is the culmination of all the community has to offer. Whether this was your first EVO, your 20th, or you stumbled upon this without having watched any of it, I truly hope you enjoyed your stay and I look forward to meeting you guys next year at EVO 2020!

Now that you’ve come this far, we’re surely close to the next EVO, right?

What’s that you say? It hasn’t even been a week since EVO 2019? Alrighty, guess it’s time to fire up the PS4 and get myself in fighting shape for all the amazing goodness coming our way over the next year.

Super Jump Magazine

Celebrating video games and their creators

Wyatt Donigan

Written by

Calling it like I see it on culture, sports, video games, and everything in between.

Super Jump Magazine

Celebrating video games and their creators

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade