This article is part of our Street Fighter series.
EVO 2017 took place at the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Nevada from July 14 to July 16. The most important annual fighting game tournament of the year brought in talent and personalities from across the world. EVO is for everyone, not just the top competitors. Cosplayers, members of the media, and various tournament organizers from around the country came down to celebrate their favorite fighting games during EVO's 15th anniversary. As usual, the main event this year was Street Fighter. In a game where Asian players have traditionally dominated, an American was favored to win this year in Victor "Punk" Woodley. His Karin would take on Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi's Akuma in a dramatic grand final. In the end, Tokido's years of experience prevailed as he was crowned the EVO 2017 champion, while the 18-year-old Punk couldn't hold back his emotions after a loss he will no doubt learn from.
A USA vs. Japan Grand Final
Punk opened the final match of EVO in style, comboing into a Critical Art to take round one. Tokido turned it around and took the first game with a disrespectful "taunt combo" in the corner. Punk evened up the set with a decisive two round victory in Game 2. Tokido changed it up with patient execution and mixups to regain the lead in Game 3, going on to reset the bracket after an intense Game 4 victory.
Tokido got in Punk's head in the very first round of the second set, embarrassing him with a corner perfect. He poured on the pressure and mental games in Game 2, bringing out the Raging Demon Critical Art to get to Game 3. Punk's nerves clearly got the best of him at this point. He walked into normal moves over and over again, eventually flipping into a fireball that led to his ultimate demise in the last game.
Eight Players, Eight Characters
As any competitive game develops, certain strategies evolve and become more dominant than others. For fighting games, this usually translates to a few characters being favored at the highest levels of play. Last season, Nash, Chun Li, Ryu, Ken, Cammy and Necalli dominated the scene, with most top eight scenarios resulting in several mirror matches. This season has been a bit more varied as players with solid fundamentals and intuition have found success with many different characters. The top eight at EVO highlighted this strategic climate nicely.
2017 EVO saw a new type of meta arise. Hiromiki "Itabashi" Kumada brought out his signature Zangief, a character that had struggled immensely all last year. Newcomer Naoki "Moke" Nakayama had a surprising Rashid. Echo Fox's Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi has been right at home since Akuma was reintroduced back in December of 2016. Team Liquid's Du "NuckleDu" Dang is one of the world's best Guile players, though he has a pocket R. Mika as well. Splyce's Ryan "Filipino Champ" Ramirez is known for his Marvel game, but Dhalsim is his character of choice in Street Fighter V. Panda Global's prodigy Karin player, Victor "Punk" Woodley, also has a Nash to answer Zangief players. Ryota "Kazunoko" Inoue was the sole Cammy in the top eight, to the surprise of many. Last but not least, Joe "MOV" Egami has been one of the few loyal Chun Li players this season.
Many pros who play very strong characters didn't perform as well as one might expect. Bryant "Smug" Huggin has been a fan-favorite Balrog player for some time. Many people consider Balrog to be a "cheesy" character these days, but not even Smug could bring out the best in the boxer at Evo. Tatsuya "Haitani" Haitani has been one of the absolute best Necalli players since the early stages of Street Fighter V. He did well, but was beaten by Tokido to fall short of the top eight. Street Fighter V has immense depth and is still evolving, but it's very rewarding to people who put in the work with their favorite characters.