#140: Combat evolved

Hello! Firstly, a thousand apologies for my silence of late. The kid was sick, then I was sick, and then my previously manageable pre-holiday consultancy workload suddenly turned into the sort of deadline crunch I haven’t experienced since my Edge days. I’m still right up against it, but the end is at least in sight. (Then I’m going on holiday so will be going quiet again — details at the end of today’s edition.) Forgive me!

Well it was nice to have Evo back, wasn’t it. I didn’t watch as much of it as in previous years — blame the kids, the weather, the lingering virus and my general lack of engagement with fighting games these days — but it’s impossible not to be excited about the in-person return of the most exciting videogame tournament of them all. Even better, for once in my life I managed to avoid having the results spoiled before I sat down to watch the Street Fighter V finals last night. (There will be no spoilers here, but my word, what a grand finals set that was. I wonder if your man’s got out of his chair yet. I’d be there for days.)

If anything, Evo 2022 served to reinforce just how disconnected I have become from my beloved Street Fighter, and the genre and the scene around it. In previous years I knew the games inside out, knew the players and their recent form, and all that. This time round I was watching players I have not heard of, using characters I do not understand, in games I either dislike or have never played. But as I have argued on several occasions in the past, fighting games are innately watchable. I may not know what a V-Shift is, or how difficult the combo someone just landed was to execute, or what a particular player’s victory means in the context of the wider tournament scene.

But two big characters smacking big chunks off each other’s big health bars while a big timer ticks down, and a big crowd responds to the biggest hits by roaring the roof clean off the place? I will always understand that, and it will never lose its magic.

My main motivation for checking out this year’s festivities was to get a sense of Evo’s direction of travel following its acquisition by PlayStation. I’m afraid the omens are not great, though there are a couple of important caveats. Firstly and most obviously was the lingering pandemic: all attendees were fully masked, and there was a pretty obvious desire to keep crowd and competitors as far apart as possible. It is not surprising that the event felt a little sterile, because in this context sterility is good. I would rather have an in-person Evo with no facial expressions than no Evo at all.

Secondly, even before Covid struck, Evo was already starting to take on a more corporate air. Production values improved year over year. Pundits started wearing ties unironically. There were more sponsors, more marketing announcements, more ad breaks. Capcom gave the tournament organisers custom SFV builds with ads in the loading screens. You could see the money creeping in from the corners.

The venue change from Caesar’s Palace to the Mandalay Bay has meant that finals, rather than playing out in a big, flat ballroom with a sweaty throng of roaring fighting-game fans packed in like sardines, now take on the air of a boxing match. Players are at ground level and spectators in banks of seating stretching up into the darkness, the acoustics lifting the roar of the crowd into the rafters to dissolve. I loved the old room because everything was so close together, so level, a reminder that the people on stage were just the same as those in the crowd. Other top players would rush the stage in between games to pass on tips and matchup knowledge. There’s none of that anymore, and it feels a bit cold as a result.

Perhaps I shouldn’t read too much into the glossy corporate feel of this year’s event, or how shapeless and sterile it felt at times. I should probably cut Evo as an organisation some slack for all the ads, given that it’s coming off a two-year revenue squeeze caused by the pandemic. And sure, my lack of connection to Street Fighter V probably didn’t help. But I had the stream running on my iPad while working at the weekend and every time I looked up there was an ad break on, seemingly running the same ads every time. From time to time the pundits would tell me that over 1,300 people had signed up for the SFV tournament. That’s a lot of matches to get through! Could we perhaps watch some of them, instead of the trailer for that My Hero Academia game again? (Its publisher, Crunchyroll Games, is a Sony subsidiary.) SFV’s finals on Sunday night were terribly strung out: there were 13 minutes of adverts and chat between the first and second matches of the night, and that was no isolated case. Thank heavens I watched it after the fact on YouTube, remote in hand to scrub through all the filler. There was an awful lot to get through.

Sure, the floors are more shiny, the production values more glossy, the commentators more buttoned-up and presentable. It’s more professional, more corporate, more esports. But Evo is not esports! It predates the entire concept; it’s well into its third decade now, having grown organically from a tournament held in someone’s garage to one attended by thousands from around the world and streamed live to an audience of millions. In the old days, without fail, the commentator and SFIV designer Seth Killian would cry down the mic at the end of Street Fighter finals because he was there at the very beginning, had been there every year since, and could never quite believe what Evo has become. (There was no Seth this year, inevitably. Perhaps that’s why I’m so cross.)

Evo is the people’s event, as pure an expression of the power and beauty of videogame communities as you could ever hope to witness, built not by corporate interests but in spite of them. Grassroots, you might say, though I’m not sure that even covers it; when it all began there wasn’t even any soil, and a passionate community of like-minded people has raised upon this land a palace through sheer force of will. Only now it is built do the money-men arrive, hawking their wares, talking eagerly of growth vectors and sponsorship opportunities, plastering the region with billboards. As a great man once said, stick it up your bollocks. Let’s all meet up in someone’s garage and fight like gentlemen instead.

Sorry, rather lost the run of myself there. Here’s a good match from the weekend.


  • Speaking of marketing announcements at Evo, SNK announced that a new Fatal Fury / Garou game is in development, after 23 years in the shadows. Jolly good. Garou is absolutely mustard.
  • Firaxis has delayed its superhero XCOM-like Marvel’s Midnight Suns for a second time. It now has a vague FY2023 release date, though the last-gen console and Switch versions are rather ominously now TBA.
  • Turns out there’s been a hidden two-player mode in Super Punch-Out all this time. What a world!

There we go! Hit Points is now going on holiday for a bit. I doubt it will come as a surprise to many of you to hear that I’ve been struggling for inspiration of late. Sure, it’s been a quiet time for news, as summer often is. But compounding that is the fact that I have been so busy playing games I can’t talk about that I haven’t had time to play anything that I can, which has made it even harder to come up with ideas for Top Hit Points #Content. More than anything, if I’m honest, I am simply bloody exhausted.

Hit Points will be offline for the rest of August, apart from a little secret surprise edition next Friday, August 19, that I know will make at least four of you very happy indeed. In early September Hit Points will return with a longform, Max HP-style interview piece I’ve been working on behind the scenes for the past couple of weeks, followed by the return of Max HP itself; my next guest is the biggest to date, proper development-legend stuff — reader, you will gasp — and I’m looking forward to writing it all up.

But first, a week away with the family, then a fortnight at home with the boys, doing dad-things, playing videogames, and remembering what sleep, free time, and seats that aren’t my desk chair feel like. Have a grand few weeks, won’t you, and forgive me my silence in the meantime. Dad needs a good sit down.