W hen Tom and Tony Cannon called on dozens of Street Fighter players to enter the first “Battle By The Bay” tournament (now called the Evolution Championship series, or Evo) in Sunnyvale, California, back in 1996, they never imagined it would end up where it has. “This was never the plan for Evo,” Tom Cannon said during a panel at this year’s tournament. Since its modest inception, Evo has grown to a monumental scale, moving from arcades to ballrooms to convention centers. This year the tournament took place at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, hosting thousands of attendees and airing on major television channels like ESPN2 and Disney XD, exposing an enormous audience to a growing-but-niche scene. As the tournament grows, it has fostered several offshoot communities, both large and small. Attendees set up CRT televisions to play classic fighting games wherever they can find the space, and sponsors are pouring more money than ever into tournament prize pools, booths on the show floor, and players themselves. Through these changes, the Cannons still strive to have Evo abide by its core mission: “Preserve and grow the arcade competitive culture.” by Suriel Vazquez More Than A Tournament At its heart, Evo is a tournament gathering all of the disparate fighting game commu-nities (FGCs) in one place. But in recent years, it’s also grown to accommodate the average video game fan. “This right now is like FighterCon – that’s where it’s been moving gradually,” says Leah “Gllty” Hayes, a high-level Street Fighter V player and streamer. Though its main component is competition, you can easily spend your entire weekend at Evo without signing up for a single tournament. “Maybe you only play in one game, and then you’re done,” Hayes says. “Now there’s plenty of things people can do and enjoy, and I think that’s a really positive step.” This year, several publishers set up booths to show off upcoming games like Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Gundam Versus. Many inde-pendent developers also showed off their wares, including fighting and other kinds of competitive, arcade-style games. You could find several booths hocking arcade sticks, artist sketches, autographs, and chachkies. If your controller of choice broke, wasn’t compatible with a console, or could have used a little more flair, you could find booths offering repairs, converters, and mods on short notice. Several panels covering Twitch streaming, the history of Evo, and more offered a reprieve from the noise of the connect Mandalay Bay Convention Center. It also helps that Evo now takes place in a Vegas hotel, where food courts and casinos are a short walk away. Despite the burgeoning con-like atmo-sphere, the focus on fighting, arcade, and competitive games gives Evo a distinct feel. Opposite the showy booths and merch, you can find dozens of players competing at every kind of game imaginable. Fans brought in a few Dreamcasts for hours of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 play, CRTs littered one area full of Super Smash Bros. Melee players getting in some practice between tournament matches, while others honed their skills at more recent fighters like Pokkén Tournament and Arms. A few setups even featured custom machines that allowed players to hook up original arcade boards for classic Capcom fighters like Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Darkstalkers to their televisions with ease.