While fighting games have been around since the mid-1970s, it wasn’t until 1991 with the release of Street Fighter II that the genre really took off. Whereas earlier fighting games put more focus on becoming proficient at a single moveset, Street Fighter II‘s cast of fighters each had their own unique moveset for players to master.

With the ever-growing popularity of the genre and the death of the arcade, the fighting community needed a space to share their love through competition. Therefore, tournaments big and small began to crop up worldwide. The largest of these tournaments is the Evo Championship Series, which attracts thousands of players each year.

What’s Evo?

Short for Evolution Championship Series, Evo is the largest and longest-running fighting game tournament in the world. Originally called Battle by the Bay, the tournament started in 1996 in California. It would later move to Las Vegas, where it has been ever since. While dates vary from year-to-year, Evo is usually held in July or August.

In the past, all games were played on arcade cabinets. Nowadays, the tournament uses consoles — more specifically the U.S. version of PlayStation 4.

On top of the competition, Evo is about building community. As such, the tournament offers BYOC (bring your own console) areas, where players can enjoy all types of games and just have fun.

How to Get Involved

The tournament runs for three days and welcomes anyone interested in games. If you’re under 13, you must be accompanied by an adult/guardian. Most people attend to watch the matches and have a good time, but you can do more if you’d like.

If you’re a great player, you can obviously participate in the championship and win prizes. Additionally, if you specialize in a game not featured on the main stage, there are plenty of side tournaments you can participate in. Also, people with deep knowledge of the games can work on a voluntary basis as judges and commentators.

2019’s Featured Games

Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition

It’s nearly impossible to imagine Evo without some iteration of Street Fighter.

Released in early 2016, Street Fighter V had a bumpy launch. While the game was mechanically sound, the rest of the package was half-backed. Standard modes, like an arcade mode or exhibition matches against the computer, were missing, while the sloppy net-code used for the online modes left a lot to be desired.

While Capcom would improve Street Fighter V over time, it wasn’t until the 2018 release of the Arcade Edition that it would come in one cohesive package. This new iteration of Street Fighter V improved the user interface, added new game modes, and included the first two seasons of DLC, which came with 12 playable fighters and costumes.

The biggest gameplay change from previous entries is the V-Gauge. This is a three-bar gauge that adds three new techniques: V-Skills, V-Trigger, and V-Reversal. Each technique has its pros and cons, which adds a new wrinkle of strategy to the proceedings.

Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition is available on PS4 and PC for $40.

Tekken 7

Despite being released in 2015, Tekken 7 is still going strong as one of Evo’s favorites. Ever since it debuted in 1994, Tekken has been known for its impressive graphics and technical gameplay. While the seventh entry refines these stables even further, the developers at Bandai Namco added a more cinematic feel to fights through the addition of Rage Arts, easy to use special attacks.

In addition to exciting gameplay, Tekken 7 has earned a reputation for its surprising guest fighters. They include Akuma from Street Fighter, Noctis from Final Fantasy XV, Geese Howard from Fatal Fury, and even Negan from The Walking Dead.

You can find Tekken 7 for $50 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

2019 marks Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s first appearance at Evo. Ultimate has the big task of replacing fan-favorite titles, Super Smash Bros. Melee — which has been at Evo for the last six years — and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Considering the game is currently the leader in registered entrants, it’s safe to say it is up to the task.

Including every character to ever appear in the series, Ultimate has one of the largest rosters in any fighting game. As the biggest crossover in gaming, this roster of 70+ fighters includes characters from all corners of the industry, such as Cloud, Pac Man, Sonic, Simon Belmont, Solid Snake, and Mega Man.

Available exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate comes with a $60 price tag.

Mortal Kombat 11

Despite being incredibly popular for its graphic violence and Fatality special moves, Mortal Kombat could never break into the competitive fighting game scene. That was until the 2011’s Mortal Kombat brought the series back to its roots. As a result, the series has become a regular part of Evo.

Released April 2019, Mortal Kombat 11 added some interesting mechanics to change up the pacing of fighters. First, Fatal Blows deal a massive amount of damage, but can only be activated when a fighter’s health drops below 30 percent. To combat some exploits in previous entries, Flawless Blocks, short windows of invulnerability after a perfect block, were added, so players can reverse the momentum of the match.

Priced at $60, Mortal Kombat 11 is available for the PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

SoulCalibur VI

It’s been six years since SoulCalibur was a part of Evo. During that six-year absence, the developers at Bandai Namco took all the criticism made towards the fifth entry to heart. Their response was 2018’s stellar SoulCalibur VI.

Compared to the last few entries, SoulCalibur VI is a breath of fresh air. Instead of furthering the confusing tale of the titular blade, this game took a back-to-basics approach. As such, game mechanics were made much more approachable for beginners. This included the introduction of Reversal Edge, a way to defend against an attack and quickly hit back.

You can buy SoulCalibur VI for $60 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st]

Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st] is making its first appearance at Evo. Although it’s wildly popular in Japan, it has remained a niche title in the Western market.

Co-developed by French Bread and Ecole Software, Under Night focuses on high-resolution sprites, tight controls, and combo-heavy combat. The biggest addition with Late[st] comes in the form of the Cross-Cast Veil Off system. This system allows fighters to enter a temporary state with higher strength and better combos.

Don’t be scared off by the weird name, you can find Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[st] for $50 on PS4 and PC.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

After years of middling results, Bandai Namco and Arc System Works produced the fighting game this beloved anime deserved. As a result, Dragon Ball FighterZ took the fighting game world by storm. It even set a viewership record for Evo during the 2018 tournament.

Similar to the Marvel vs. Capcom games, battles in FighterZ are 3v3. Apart from tagging characters and using the Ki Gauge for attacks, players can use the titular Dragon Balls for special benefits such as increasing strength or reviving a fallen fighter.

Available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC, Dragon Ball FighterZ comes with a price tag of $60.

BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle

Despite having BlazBlue in the name, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is more of a crossover fighter than a new entry in the series. As such, the game brings together characters from BlazBlue, Under Night, Persona 4 Arena, and RWBY.

Considered the quintessential anime fighting game, Cross Tag Battle has amazing 2D visuals, fast-paced combat, and beautiful music. It’s the type of game where players can annihilate their opponents with intense long combos and intricate tag-in combinations.

For $30, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is available for purchase on PS4, Switch, and PC.

Samurai Shodown

Although it would release only a month before the tournament, the announcement of Samurai Shodown’s inclusion in Evo 2019 was met with great furor. Despite being around since 1993, it’s the first time the series has been featured at the tournament.

Samurai Shodown is famous for how well it weaves traditional Japanese culture into the presentation and its focus on powerful strikes. Instead of whittling away at health bar using never-ending combos, you can end a fight with a few blows.

Currently, Samurai Shodown is available on PS4 and Xbox One for $60. Also, the game is coming to Switch and PC in late 2019.

Round 1, Fight!

With an ever-changing roster of games, there’s no doubt this year’s championship will be a success. And if for some reason you can’t attend the event in person, don’t worry, the whole thing will be live-streamed.