Let The Games Begin!

EVO Tourney Kicks Off

Staff Reporter Jevon Jenkins flew out to Las Vegas to participate in a massive tournament called EVO. As tournaments are becoming more and more popular these days, especially as next-generation consoles continue to become easily portable platforms for top games, we wanted to see what an actual tournament was like. The following are Jevon's experiences in Sin City. Also, stay tuned tomorrow for wacky photos of the event.

Deep down every true gamer believes there's something special and unique that he or she brings to the game. Whatever that game may be, every time he or she picks up his or her joystick or sits down in front of his or her keyboard they believe they can achieve something grand. We dedicate countless hours of our personal time to our games not simply because they're fun, but more so because deep down we're all driven by this unspeakable force pushing us to make it to the end, run up the highest score, save the princess, best insurmountable odds, rue the day, or reach those otherwise thought to be unattainable personal goals.

Whatever the ending, whatever the prize, trophy, or hidden bonus that lays at the end of our journey, we ultimately do what we do as gamers for two absolute reasons: Self-gratification and bragging rights.

So with that said, what is EVO? What's it all about? Well, EVO is a Three-day tournament event devoted solely to hardcore competition on console fighting games. It's a tournament where the best of the best come from all around to wage the highest of stakes of all: Their pride and their reputation.

EVO started out as an inner-city game competition that would later grow with such an explosive growth that it would soon take the West coast by storm and spread like wildfire across the Eastern United States, even gaining serious recognition in far away countries of the world, especially in Japan. This year's competition entitled "EVO2K5" marked the 7th consecutive annual tournament.

An awesome mix of classic 2D fighting games and next generation 3D brawlers like "Street Fighter Turbo," "Street Fighter Third Strike," "Marvel vs. Capcom 2," "Capcom vs. SNK 2," "Guilty Gear," "Tekken Tag Tournament," and the colossal "Tekken 5" made the hot list for this year's much anticipated competition. Additionally, new to the 2005 roster of games, eight new tournament games had the opportunity to be selected for this year's competition based on "special votes" by all active participants of the tourney. Games such as "Mortal Combat: Deception," "Dead or Alive 2," "Street Fighter Alpha 3," "King of Fighters," "Darkstalkers: Vampire Savior," "Soul Calibur 2," and "Virtua Fighter 4" all got looks for consideration. Of course, when all was said and done there were quite a few that didn't make the list simply because they didn't receive enough votes or entrees. However, that doesn't mean that you might not see them on the hot list again in 2006.

This year the EVO staff wanted to do something special for 2K5, so they teamed up with another big-time tournament organization called Major League Gaming to help put on the grandest showing yet. Bringing MLG into the mix brought with it several advantages. For starters Major League Gaming also had its own tournament going on the same weekend as EVO, so as a special added bonus players got a chance to witness or participate in some serious first-person shooter mayhem. Halo 2 and Ghost Recon 2 were the featured Xbox games of MLG's tournament but there was also a heavy showing of "cubites" that turned out for games like Super Smash Brothers: Melee.

The biggest advantage of the EVO/MLG partnership was that all the fun, games, and competition would be played not only on the grandest stage of them all, but also in the grandest city of them all: Las Vegas, Nevada baby! Let me just tell you that if I had to describe Vegas in one statement, I would simply say, "Vegas is undisputedly the most fun one could ever have in a desert."

Just when you thought the news couldn't get any better it was later learned that the event would be held at the Green Valley Ranch Hotel, a top four-star resort hotel in the Vegas area. The place is built much like a sandstone palace surrounded by scads of towering palm trees. It's got it's very own strip mall and downstairs movie cinema and arcade. The second floor is comprised of over roughly five or six hundred slot machines mixed in with all kinds of black jack, craps, and poker tables. All of this is surrounded by an outer wall of restaurants, cafés, bars and souvenir stores. The hotel is also equipped with its own private shuttle to escort you to the Vegas Strip where all the happening things go on. If you were really feeling venturous, you could even head on up to the roof to the helipad (a helipad?!) and take the high road to the Strip. You could literally not leave this hotel your entire stay and you would have been able to experience nearly every aspect of Las Vegas.

It's really easy to be distracted and caught up by all the fun and splendor. The place is constantly pumping with enthusiasm and social activity on a 24-7 basis. There's a casino, night club, bar, or place of importance for everyone to visit or see. None the less, as time presses on and the night before the tournament comes, one can't help but to ponder the future. Who's the opposition? Are you up for the challenge? Did you practice hard enough? Is your strategy air-tight? Do you have what it takes to make it to the top? The only surety that you carry within yourself is that when tomorrow comes all of your questions or uncertainties will be unveiled before yours and everyone else's eyes.

Myself and Dave Stewart, a good friend of mine and fellow hardcore gamer whom I often refer to as the "Stewman" had been following the details of this years event for the last eight months. We both have a great respect for Street Fighter, the godfather game of 2D fighting. When we got word that STF Turbo was slated for tournament competition we immediately went into hardcore training locking ourselves away in our game rooms night after night studying and analyzing STF and occasionally holding private tourneys on Sunday afternoons to apply our new found knowledge and strengthen our skills. Now, months later, the time was finally here to see if all of our intense training and efforts would produce the big pay off we were shooting for.

The morning of the tournament was surprisingly pretty dead. We had gotten up early, grabbed some breakfast and headed down to the main hall where the competition would take place to try and secure as close a spot in line as possible to the registration desk. We were surprised to see only roughly about 15 or 20 gamers milling around the main hall. We were thinking that maybe the turnout wouldn't be as grand as we had anticipated.

Then suddenly it happened. A half an hour rolled by and 20 gamers became 40. Another half an hour and 40 gamers became 100+. Another half an hour rolled by and things were starting to get a little crowded as over 500 gamers were invading the main hall. Then about approximately about an hour later, there were easily 1200+ gamers bumping elbows and "butting" up in line with their buddies while waiting in line for registration. Gamers from all parts of the world and of all nationalities were there to participate in this huge event. It wasn't until another two hours later we finally got ourselves registered and received our event badge. Once registration was complete we learned that process had taken so long that there was no time for formalities. The tournament had to start immediately.

The tournament rules were pretty clear. All players were sectioned off in "pools" of four participants. Double elimination was in effect within your selected pool. However the top two participants of each pool would advance into the semi-finals the next day. Most of the games had an average of 30 pools to play in them. Other games with higher entries of players went as much as 40+ pools. As you can imagine this would definitely be an all-day event. Thankfully though, I was in pool number four so I got to compete early that morning. Poor Stewman, however, found himself in pool number 30 and didn't end up being able to compete until about 7:30 or 8 pm that night.

Every game had its own station which was set up with four consoles and televisions squared up adjacently from each other. There were two judges per game so as many as two, and in some games four, pools were going on simultaneously all around the auditorium. Of course, the volume in the room was through the roof. Random spontaneous shouts and cheers from different areas of the building indicated upsets or total domination matches. Many onlookers waiting for their pools were huddled in hordes around each station talking, whispering and strategizing with friends and new acquaintances anxiously awaiting their time to play. One could never forget the harmonious tones of thousands of buttons being mashed simultaneously throughout the hall or the distinguished facial antics of enthusiastic gamers as they worked their controllers.

The vigorous competitions waged on for hours and hours. However, by the end of the day more than two thirds of the participants would be eliminated from the competition for the rest of the tournament, I and the Stewman included. Though the taste of the defeat was extremely bitter, we soon found that it wasn't anything that a slot machine, poker table, refreshing beverage, or a deliciously fulfilling dinner, and a good nights sleep couldn't solve.

The next day while the EVO semi-finals played out, the MLG's Halo 2/Ghost Recon 2 tournament began to kick-off. Another 600 plus gamers hit the scene to explode the population numbers well over 2000 gamers present for all the game festivities. Halo combatants faced off head to head in groups of four on four over mini networks. Let me just say that I have never seen Halo death matches played with such enthusiasm and tenacity. Match rules were simple. The team with the most kills at the end of, roughly, a 20 minute time period would move on to continue with the tourney. It was amazing to see how tactfully coordinated each team was.

Every team had a squad leader constantly barking out commands and strategic positions to their group. It was very apparent that all the teams had trained together for quite some time as the competition was stiff all the way up to its climax. In the end, a team of kids who were directly represented by MLG games prevailed to take home $60,000 in prizes. Afterwards, MLG held an open house raffle to give out three free copies of Halo and Ghost Recon 2.

After the MLG tourneys and EVO semi-finals finally came to a close all of the participants were treated to an exclusive look at a mini-motion picture entitled "Bang the Machine," put together by members of the Evolution staff. "Bang the Machine" is a film about youth culture and its relationship with the Street Fighter tournament scene. It follows the lives of an elite group of Street Fighter videogame players as they train and eventually compete against the Japanese national team in Tokyo. The movie basically tells the incredible tale of a few young men who come together under one motto of "kill or be killed." This compelling true story was actually very entertaining and inspiring to gamers everywhere; a reminder that when you put your mind to something you can do anything or go anywhere.

Alas, on the third day, the EVO finals were upon us. The top group of players from each game began squaring off to see who exactly was the "best of the best." The EVO finals matches were all played up on three full-sized movie screens for all to see. The remaining contestants would take their places up on stage in front of an audience of a thousand plus gamers. All of the matches were commentated on play by play and the audience hung on every move, counter or miraculous comeback victory performed by these phenomenal players.

There was no question these guys were the best of the best and everyone sitting out in there seats looking on knew that. All respect and bragging rights were being paid to these guys giving it all they had up on stage. Every match went down to the wire and many extra tie-breaker matches had to be played before the winner was determined. When it was all said and done, only an elite set of gamers left the stage as champions. I would reveal the names of those champions to you but you can check it out yourself at http://www.evo2k.com and perhaps make plans to attend EVO2K6 next year yourself if you are curious about the tournament scene and think you've got something special to bring to the table.

Finally, after three days and nights of non-stop gaming EVO had at last come to its end. Thousands of gamers came to the event with high hopes, dreams and aspirations, but only a handful of those visions were realized. None the less, the real beauty of a competition of this type is that defeat does not discourage one from rising to such an occasion once again, but rather it provokes that unspoken force within us to pick our dreams up off the ground and lift them atop our shoulders once more and raise the bar so that the next time we might find the success at the end of our journey.

As the wheels of the plane left the ground and the landing gear pulled itself in, I took one last glimpse of Vegas as memories of the last few days began to flood my mind.

I thought about the all the rooms with doors cocked half open all night horded by gamers until the wee hours of the morning getting in one last practice before the upcoming tournament. I thought about that painfully long three hour wait in the registration line and the butterflies that overwhelmed me just moments before my pool's number was called. I remember the gamers who were eliminated from the competition early, but brought their own consoles and found empty stations around the auditorium to hook up and start up their own private tourneys and grudge match sessions. I could still hear the shouts and roars of random crowds cheering those hair-raising matches. I remember the awesome spectacle of talent displayed in the final rounds of the tourney.

Most of all I remember not the names, but the many faces etched into my mind. You see it made me realize that gamers are a magnificent society of individuals. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and nationalities. We all have our own beliefs, our own morals, and our own ways of life. And yet you could pull any random group of gamers from any corner of the world, bring them together in one room and there you would find more harmony and co-existence than you would anywhere around the world.

Quite simply we are gamers and gamers we will always be, nothing more or nothing less. We are not defined by the society or our surroundings. We are defined by the one love that we all simultaneously share together: the love of the game. So I take those faces with me and hope that one day I might see those faces once again together perhaps in a new place, perhaps under new terms, but always under the same banner.

See you all next year at EVO2K6.

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