The Evolution Championship Series, the world’s most prestigious fighting game tournament, is back! Sort of. Originally established in California in 1996, being called Battle by the Bay before moving to Las Vegas and taking up its current mantle in 2002, Evo has long been viewed as the World Cup or Super Bowl equivalent for fighting games. But 2020 was filled to the brim with turmoil for the legendary event. First, the Evo staff altered the lineup of games after being forced to move the tournament to an online format after the COVID outbreak, then cancelling the event entirely amidst copious, disturbing allegations of sexual assault leveled at Evo co-founder Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar. With Cuellar’s removal and Evolution’s cancellation, the fighting game community was at a loss, akin to Major League Baseball in 1994, when a player’s strike caused there to be no playoffs or World Series that year and just like the MLB, the future of the FGC/Evo was in doubt.
That was, until this past March when Sony Interactive Entertainment acquired Evo from remaining co-founders, brothers Tony and Tom Cannon, who will “remain closely involved as key advisors”, according to Sony reps. In their statement to the FGC, the Cannons seemed confident in placing their faith with the Sony team, admitting after the controversy of the past year that “we realize that we need an experienced strategic partner who truly respects the spirits of the FGC.” The Cannons also clarified at this time that any form of abuse or harassment is unacceptable at their events and that they would be taking extra precautions to prevent this type of behavior from ever happening again. As for Sony, it would seem they’re a near perfect choice of partner when taking into consideration their claims the Cannons will “ensure that Evo remains a one of a kind, grassroots competitive platform for fighting game players and fans around the globe” and their involvement in past Evolutions, providing consoles, pot bonuses and sponsorship money. Not to mention the exposure that Sony could potentially bring to both fighting games and the fighting game community, which have long been a niche in gaming. And although Evo pulls in thousands of participants and hundreds of thousands of online viewers each year, it has been unable to generate the colossal views and player base of MOBAs and shooters.
Shortly after Sony’s acquisition of the famed event, Evo Online 2021 was announced and is to be held over the weekends of August 6-8 and August 13-15, along with confirming the main lineup of games to be played, which includes Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, Mortal Kombat 11 and the brand new Guilty Gear -Strive-. The games will be played on PS4, PS5 and PC, with Street Fighter V being the only game played on all 3 and Tekken 7 being played on PC only. Registration for Evo Online opened up June 4, ends July 15 and is free to competitors across the globe, provided they have access to the proper console(s).
Sony wasn’t satisfied with just helping to resurrect the granddaddy of fighting game tournaments though, as they later announced the Evo Community Series, a circuit-esque trio of events that begin June 10 and and ending August 3 that will span the course of two months leading up to the Evo main event. Kicking off with FGC Arcade: Evo Edition from June 10-22, region locked to North America and Europe, it will feature Granblue Fantasy Versus, Guilty Gear -Strive-, Mortal Kombat 11 and Tekken 7 running exclusively on PS4. Then continues with the Evo Online 2021 Warm-Up from June 26 – July 13, which will run the same 4 games as the main event albeit only on PS4, along with being an open tournament across the globe, before finishing with the third leg, the also global Evo Online 2021 Side Tournament. The side events will include BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Mobile Suit Gundam EXtreme VS Maxiboost ON, Skullgirls: 2nd Encore, Soul Calibur VI, Them’s Fighting Herds, Granblue Fantasy Versus and Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[cl-r], with all of thes games running on PS4 except Them’s Fighting Herds, which will run on PC.