LAS VEGAS – EVO General Manager Rick Thiher has seen how much EVO has grown in his time since he first started working for the brand in 2010 as a bracket runner.
He has seen EVO grow into a well-known entity in the gaming world, and it will host its largest event ever. EVO returns to Las Vegas, starting Friday as it hosts more than 9,000 competitors for 71 countries to the Mandalay Bay Convention Center for its yearly world championships and annual convention.
“You can expect the single largest Street Fighter tournament that has ever been hosted, as well as what we think is one of the largest offline open bracket competitions of all time,” Thiher said. “We have a significantly enhanced exhibitor and vendors area at the show.”
While other eSports leagues are experiencing mixed, if not negative, results, EVO continues to steadily grow.
One reason, Thiher said, is EVO’s long-standing convention that brings fans and competitors together since its inception in 1996.
It’s what makes EVO different from other leagues that model themselves after professional sports leagues.
“In a market that has focused a lot on sports style, competition, and sport-style presentations. I think EVO, early on, was a convention. It was a place for people to rally their focus to and a place for players and competitors to test themselves in and against,” he said. “Having a convention element of the fighting namespace is incredibly important. I think it’s why you’re seeing this space having such an almost banner year at the same time that we’re seeing lots of reporting and lots of articles about other struggles within competitive gaming overall.”
Another reason for EVO’s growth is the types of game itself that EVO is built around.
Most gamers have tried a fighting game once or twice in their lifetime and definitely understand the skills needed to play it.
“It might not lined up your favorite, but like when people discover candy and discover chocolate, at some point everybody tries dark chocolate,” Thiher said. “Some people like the bitter taste of that. Some people like the milk chocolate mindset, but the variety being available in front of you kind of entices you to figure out if it’s your thing. And I think fighting games are like that.”
Unlike other leagues that features team-based mechanics and high-level strategies, little is required to understand a fighting game. Thiher credits that simplicity as the reason for EVO’s steady growth.
“Even when you add the flashiest of mechanics on top of it is a very clear story for people to follow,” he said. “Individual performance is pretty easy to track with what’s going on screen you have two health bars. When one health bar is empty, the other player wins. How does the health bar empty? This character is going to hit that character. There’s a whole bunch of special effects and stuff that happens in between and around that. But the story really just boils down through this person versus that person, this health bar versus that health bar.”
Thiher expects EVO to continue to grow over the next few years. The EVO 2023 Arena Finals sold out the Michelob ULTRA Arena. It only proves that fighting games will continue its steady rise in the eSports scene.
“EVO is in a delightful position right now of I think knowing what it is. And in having that knowledge,” he said. “It also is granted the opportunity to find out what it can be. And we’re very excited over the next. I don’t even know how many years to try a lot of things that figure out exactly what we can be while not losing sight of what we are.”