The Problems with EVO 2016 (and how it can do better next year)

As you are more than likely aware, EVO happened this month, and it was a pretty big deal! It was undoubtedly the biggest the event’s ever been, both in terms of attendance and presentation, with a split venue of the Las Vegas Convention Center on Friday and Saturday and the Mandalay Bay Event Center on Sunday. It was also the first time EVO was broadcast on national TV through ESPN2… well, the Street Fighter V part was, anyway. It was a weird transitional year, as EVO experiences the growing pains of wanting to both serve a grassroots fighting-game community, and dealing with the reality that… well, like it or not, the FGC is #esports now.

And, like any year of transition, there were issues. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time at EVO this year! I did a lot of work for Red Bull eSports that I’m really proud of (check out this KoF feature in particular), saw a lot of friends, and watches some really cool stuff go down. Of course, I also didn’t see certain friends for long enough, didn’t get to set up Fighting Vipers 2 and other obscure competitive games I like, and missed a few legendary matches for the ages. But that’s more personal gripes: this year’s EVO had some more pervasive issues that I heard a lot of folks grumbling about. I’d like to get some of those complaints off my chest here. (I know the folks at home had issues with some of the streams, as well, but since I didn’t see many of those until after the fact, I feel it’s better for me to address the issues with physically attending the event.)

As an FYI: This article’s gonna be rather picture-light, mainly because I’m not about to rip off TempusRob’s great pictures like so many others folks like to do. Go visit him if you want rad EVO photos, because we’re here to talk.

The layout of the Friday-Saturday venue made crowding miserable

I really liked the layout at Bally’s for EVO 2015, with one gigantic room devoted to a main stage and tournament setups, and another room with additional setups. More importantly, though, the second ballroom had big areas set aside for vendors, BYOC, and exhibitor demos/stage shows. Here, they could thrive without having to fight for attention from the noisy crowd and booming audio from the big screen — and also provide a place for people who might not want to stay throughout all of Sunday’s Grand Final events to retreat to.

This year, everything was packed into the same giant Las Vegas Convention Center convention hall on Friday/Saturday, with no vendor/exhibitor presence on Sunday due to the Grand Finals shifting to the Mandalay Bay Event Center. As a result, there were lots of issues this year that weren’t as severe a problem previously: namely, the crowding. Of course, EVO attendance this year was the biggest it’s ever been — I heard in the 11,000-person range, so that certainly contributed. But the sheer numbers aren’t the only culprit. EVO’s definitely not the most crowded event I’ve ever been to (hi, 11-time Comic Market veteran here), but even so, a lot of it felt more congested than it actually was thanks to some really puzzling layout decisions.

There are a handful of big vendors at EVO, the two most notable being Arcade Shock and Gaming Generations. (Mad Catz has had a big showing in previous years, but their diminished presence this year is probably linked to the company’s recent financial woes.) Both of these vendors had massive, MASSIVE lines at all times – I heard something like hour-long waits for Arcade Shock at certain points during the day – and due to the layout, a lot of the lines spilled over into other areas. (I had people asking me “are you in line” or “is this the end of the line” at various times and places when I was not lined up at all). At least Gaming Generations was near the entrance, which gave them some room at the counter to serve more people and offer up raffles – a luxury that Arcade Shock, who were jammed in the middle, didn’t have. I really wanted to stop by Arcade Shock and pick up a few small things, but I couldn’t justify an hour-long wait for a new joystick balltop with my work schedule.

Atlus and SNK were also at the event with one of the first King of Fighters XIV builds to have all of the game’s cast featured, and this, too, drew quite a crowd – especially on Saturday with a special 48-player tournament. A lot of folks who wanted to spend time with KoFXIV simply couldn’t get as much hands-on as they wanted to, thanks in part to some of the crowding around the area. And with no Sunday demos, a lot of players simply couldn’t get a chance to try the game out between playing the games they signed up for, getting food, and waiting in lines to buy stuff.

It wasn’t just the vendor and demo areas that suffered, either. Having all of the tournament games being played in one gargantuan convention all made finding certain stations a real nightmare. I had to cover some specific pools for assignments, and between the crowds and the not-very-distinct-at-a-glance areas assigned to different games, it got pretty tough to figure out where I needed to go. Most of the time I just had to wander through a morass of game setups that seemed vaguely geared towards a particular title in hopes that I’d stumble upon the pool I needed to find. While BYoC was easy to locate, side events related to “official” games were not: There was a Pokken US vs. Japan exhibition I wanted to try and cover for Red Bull, but I couldn’t find it at all.

How can this be fixed? Well, I’d really like to see things split up again. Get another two-ballroom deal to make it easier for people who want to watch, shop, or play to know exactly where to go. It might even be a good idea to see EVO organizers rent out a few extra spaces and devote them to particular games: Smash 4/Melee and SFV could easily command their own tournament areas, and could be turned into casual play/BYoC after pools have run their course.

Splitting the event between two venues made group gatherings a pain in the ass

One of the big draws of EVO, as with any nerd convention, is that all of your friends are gonna be there to do fun stuff with! In the case of EVO, this involves a lot of room parties and specialty suites catered to certain groups or particular games. If you want to play the really obscure stuff, like money matches of Jackie Chan in Fists of Fire, you’re gonna need to set up in a room somewhere and tell people to drop in. In previous years, this was a compelling argument for reserving a room at the Official EVO Hotel: you’d be near the EVO venue, you could retreat to your room whenever, and then invite folks to hang out, grab food, then come back to your room to play games — or you could go to another room to play games until absurd hours in the morning. (It also means you never have to go outdoors in Vegas during summer – temperatures were in the high hundreds during the event!)

The problem this year is that since EVO was split between the Las Vegas Convention Center (connected to the Westgate) on Friday and Saturday, and then the Mandalay Bay Event Center (tied to the hotel of the same name) on Sunday, people were spread across not just two, but three hotels: The Westgate – which hosted EVO in 2014 and was not well liked, Mandalay Bay, and the Luxor (which a lot of people opted for over Mandalay Bay since they’re connected by walkway and Luxor is cheaper). This made setting up gatherings an awful experience: the Mandalay Bay is a good distance away from the Westgate/LVCC (which isn’t even on the Vegas strip!). I wound up skipping VF gatherings on Saturday because I just didn’t want to have to go all the way over to the Mandalay Bay where the suite was, play for an hour or two, then go all the way back to where I was staying and write up the day’s proceedings before crashing and making it groggily over to the finals in the morning. If it was just a case of a short hotel room jaunt, well, that wouldn’t have been an issue at all. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was forced into a situation like this, either.

I found myself wondering why EVO just didn’t hold the whole thing at the Mandalay Bay, which is equipped with copious convention facilities to complement the Event Center. The answer is probably something like “it was already booked” (I did see there was some tech convention happening on Thursday). Hopefully in 2017 the EVO planning crew can book a space that provides all of the necessary facilities without dividing people up.

<Insert non-SFV Game> isn’t getting the proper respect it deserves

Let’s face it, folks – the big thrust of this event was Street Fighter V. Nothing else got nearly the same amount of main stage presence, and none of the other Sunday games were shown on the much-vaunted ESPN2 broadcast. So much was slanted in favor of showcasing SFV that it felt like every other game was getting shafted in some way. Marvel top 32 took place in a crowded corner venue. Mortal Kombat X went to top 8 late Saturday evening and was scheduled for 8 AM in the Mandalay Bay the following day. Guilty Gear Xrd’s finals were laden with sound issues. And so on.

The biggest complaints came from the Smash 4 players: badly run pools, lots of delays, Saturday finals, no stage presence, you name it. And I believe that many of these complaints have merit. Logistics, of course, dictate that you can’t show everything that comes out of EVO, – especially on the main stage — but when you look at how many entrants Smash 4 got versus its organization and stage presence, well… it’s really easy to see why that scene is unhappy with their treatment.1

What can be done to fix this? Unfortunately, there isn’t a particularly easy solution to this – you just have to listen to the members of various scenes (some of who are, let’s be real here, a wee bit hyperbolic) and try to address specific things next time. If there is a next time. (I don’t think Marvel’s coming back guys 🙁 )

The Chair Problem

I think I heard this from more folks than any other complaint: there aren’t enough chairs in the venue!  And yeah, this was a pretty pervasive problem, especially for the side tournaments, BYOC, and games not on the main stage. If you wanted to sit down, you basically had to appropriate a chair from a setup nearby that looked like it was going unused. If somebody had just left the game for a moment and was planning on coming back – well, tough shit, it’s YOUR chair now! By the end of the evenings something like 2/3rds of the chairs had mysteriously wandered away from their stations.

Even then, there still weren’t enough chairs, because the ones close to places people want to sit were claimed very quickly. Your choices were mostly limited to stand up and kill your feet, or sit on the hard dirty floor as a potential roadblock to the aforementioned crowds. I certainly did the latter more than a few times!

Why were there so few chairs? I’ll wager that EVO staff just underestimated how many would be needed. Most of the chairs and tables are provided by the convention center, and typically, you’ll get a space plus X amount of chairs/tables as a package deal. They just need to up the chair count when they’re making arrangements next time.

Did I mention that EVO somehow assigned me press seating for Sunday that didn’t exist?

Well, they did.

Yup, my seat was in the area where Mike Ross and Seth Killian were going to be doing ESPN2 commentary… and no chairs were there. So I officially had no seat. The Event Center staff was just like “well, we were told not to seat people there, so you just have to find another seat. Of course, it would be assigned to somebody else, so you’ll have to leave if they show up.” what.

Then again, the nosebleeds actually gave a better overall view, so maybe it wasn’t so bad. But still.

So, what do I want to see next EVO?

  • Better stage time planning that gives more games a time to properly shine
  • Better location organization: separating pool play, casual play, demo, and storefront/artist alley areas well to reduce crowding and make things easy to find
  • A convenient all-in-one hotel/convention/finals location that allows for people to easily gather together to enjoy EVO when the competition part isn’t running
  • Please, please, more places to plop our behinds into
  • Food options that aren’t absurdly priced (yeah, it’s Vegas hotels – that’s not happening)

How about you folks? Do you disagree/agree? Maybe you have your own specific gripes that I didn’t address? Post away in the comments!

  1. Not to mention the shit they have to put up with from The Melee People on top of that.

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