Last week at Mandalay Bay the best fighting game players gathered in Vegas for the most prestigious tournament of the year.
I went to Evo to compete in Dragonball Fighterz, a game that has taken the Fighting Game Community (or FGC) by storm. Traditionally, players are separated by their games. Street Fighter, Tekken, Guilty Gear, and Smash Brothers players each have their own little cliques. But EVERYONE loves Dragonball, we grew up with it and know the story inside and out. The game has become a touchstone in the FGC, something that everyone gets excited about, and after what I had been through, I needed that unity.
Days before I was supposed to leave for EVO, the Carr fire ravaged over 160,000 acres, right next to my parent’s house in Anderson. I had to call off work to help them prep for evacuation, and it was the scariest 48-hour period of my life. (And I’ve been fishing in the Bering Sea) This is what I saw going up to Anderson. And this on the way back.
Thanks to the work of those brave men and women, the fire was contained before it reached Anderson. My parents’ home wasn’t one of the 1,599 properties destroyed. But I didn’t have time to rest, as soon as I got back to Sacramento, I had to start packing for EVO. I still remember the view from the plane, looking down at my home state covered in smoke. I prayed for the people fighting to save lives and homes, but I admit there was a selfish part of me just happy to get away from it, knowing that MY home, and MY family, were safe.
I got a taxi to Mandalay Bay with a friend in the Sacramento FGC, Robert (AKA Sakabato). This badass is an Air Force vet and a talented player who showed me the ropes about traveling in Vegas. He saved me a huge headache and helped me get hyped and keep my mind off things, he also finished in 129th place, a huge accomplishment at an event with almost 3,000 entrants, thanks Rob, and congrats. We got to Mandalay and got our badges, along with a gift of ramen, the official food of starving millennials.
EVO reminded me of a much smaller, but infinitely more competitive Blizzcon. There were setups everywhere, and the variety of games being played was nuts. Pokken tournament, Street Fighter: Third Strike, even freaking Windjammers. There were skilled, passionate players at all, and like Blizzcon – there was a feeling of solidarity in those shared passions.
It wasn’t all a nostalgia trip, there were new games too. Dead or Alive 6 was playable and feels clean, with a new meter and counter system like Soul Calibur. Smash Brothers Ultimate had a playable demo, complete with flipping ninjas. (May not have been official but it looked cool). There were demos of the new Kill la Kill game coming out (super early alpha version, so they wouldn’t allow footage,). My Hero: Ones Justice was playable and feels like the Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm games, and Bandai Namco had a booth setup for Soul Calibur VI, with some great cosplayers, one of which was kind enough to let me hold his sword, thanks Siegfried. (If someone could tag him I’d appreciate it, didn’t catch his name.)
While I was looking at the detailed filigree in Siegfried’s sword at the Bandai Namco booth, they had begun setting up a table with Dragonball Fighterz for Nintendo Switch. There were also special Dragonball Fighterz pins on the table, which I immediately knew I needed for my lanyard. I asked how I could get one of those pins.
The man setting up the booth puffed out his chest, “You can have one IF you beat ME in Fighterz.”
My heart smiled. “Ok,” I said.
He gave me the look that Nappa gave Goku before asking Vegeta about his power level, “Just so you know, I’m the community manager for Dragonball Fighterz,”
“Thanks for your work,” I replied, “but that means you gotta be on Facebook and Twitter, not training.”
The first thing you learn in the FGC is that everyone loses, no exceptions. He was just setting up, which means I would be his first opponent, a line was forming behind me already, as eager challengers overheard of the prize pins.
I couldn’t play my real team against him because the switch didn’t have the DLC characters, so I picked the OG, Super Saiyan Goku. He picked Android 16, and his mission to kill Goku went about as well as it did in the anime, (spoiler alert: poorly). This clearly wasn’t how he thought this would go. When he realized he had no other options, he tried to self-destruct on my face.
Time slowed in that moment, I heard him say, with frustration in his voice, “gotcha,” I replied, louder than necessary, “NOPE” and jumped over his head for the punish to end the match. So, my first match of Evo was against the DBFZ community manager, and I bodied him for this tiny trophy.
On Switch the game looked and felt incredible, with no noticeable slowdown and very responsive controls. We played on the switch Pro controller, which has a similar shape and feel to the Hori Fighting Commander I play with in tournaments. If they could make the Switch compatible with arcade sticks, it would become the future of setups and portability in the FGC. For now, it seems confined to those of us on pad and smash players.
All the big FGC personalities were at the event, Maximillian and the Doods were kind enough to stop and take goofy selfies with me. I posed with a Ness cosplayer (my favorite smash character), and I got up close and personal with an Arby’s Nightmare, (not the kind you’re thinking of, no bathrooms were involved.) My lifelong friends from So-Cal were with me and the littlest guy in our group, a 9 year old Goku reincarnation by the name of Jayden, got a picture with his favorite player, the friendly furry phenom SonicFox.
Though my matches weren’t till tomorrow, three of our group had matches that day, including Jayden. We cheered them on as they went 0 and 2, except Adam, who made it out of his pools matches and even played on stream, where shout casting legend Yipes complimented his offensive pressure. Considering Adam had a non-synergistic team, his performance was awesome, we went home to our budget Travelodge accommodations and celebrated with sleep, cause tomorrow morning I would compete in my first EVO.
I had been to tournaments before to prepare for this, the weekly Sacramaneto Fighterz, Norcal Regionals, and Bay Area Brawl were great, but I was never this nervous. Now at Evo, my hands were visibly shaking and would not stop. I was kind of upset with myself, only days before I was preparing to evacuate from one of the biggest wildfires ever, how are nerves getting to me NOW?! Playing a game I knew inside and out? Jitters aside, I was happy with my performance. I went 5 and 2, respectable for a first time Evo, but I “drowned” in pools from mistakes against less shaky players. My bracket looked like this:
Making it out of pools was my EVO goal, so failing that was pretty tough on me. I couldn’t help but think of all the hours I had put into training, all the late nights looking at discord tech, analyzing Yohosie’s videos, all that work, only to fall short near the finish line. I looked at my hands, still shaking, unable to stop, and experienced the one thing worse than salt, disappointment in myself. In that moment, when I was feeling my lowest, Brett Latenbauch, President of NRG and San Fransisco Shock, came up to me and complemented me on my Shock jersey (my favorite OWL team).
I forgot how I was feeling and pressed my professionalism button. I introduced myself quickly (pro tip guys, don’t take up too much of important people’s time.) And gave him my contact information. He infected me with his positivity before excusing himself and rushing off to cheer on Supernoon and HookGangGod. I went over to watch Adam’s match feeling surreal and optimistic. I may not have met my EVO competitive goal, but I got one step closer to my LIFE goal of working in E-Sports. So needless to say, it turned my whole mood around, and I was ecstatic from there on out.
Adam was knocked out shortly after, and we all went out to the Rio buffet, where we talked about EVO and Adam had me watch the Dragonball Super fight: Goku vs. Hit. (I was waiting to watch DB Super with my girlfriend, once I got her caught up on the rest of the anime, but Adam insisted this was badass and wouldn’t spoil anything… he was right as usual.)
With our bellies filled and our butts knocked out of the tournament, we went back to our hotel and messed with new techniques we had learned late into the night. Finally, we passed out, sleeping anywhere we could fit. (Thank you, Carey, for being the trooper that slept of the floor.) I needed rest, because tomorrow would be one of the coolest experiences of my life.
Evo Grand Finals.
Part 2 comes out soon!
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Till next time, GG
Photo credit to Robert Paul. His photography was used as a base for the banner.