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The world’s most prestigious fighting game tournament made its way from Las Vegas to Tokyo for the very first time this past weekend, and it was busy, exciting, and… kind of scrappy?

Evo Japan 2018 had a uniquely grassroots vibe that brought Evo’s early days to mind, trading in giant sports arenas for a humble exhibition hall that was shorter on spectacle but much bigger on noodles and Red Bull. There were no pro tour points on the line; no extravagant pot bonuses — just a crowded room of folks celebrating the games they love most.

And boy did those folks show up. With some of the biggest names from games like Street Fighter, Guilty Gear and Tekken in attendance, Japan’s smaller-scale Evo delivered matches and moments every bit as memorable as what we’ve seen in Vegas. Hell, there was even a sick Arms tournament. From huge comebacks to unforgettable displays of pure passion, here are some of our favorite moments of Evo’s big Eastern debut.

Arms Shows Some Legs

Arms didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it launched in summer 2017, but that hasn’t stopped Nintendo’s wacky, wiry Switch brawler from developing a small but passionate community. That community reminded us just how exciting their game can be at Evo Japan, with a riveting 327-man tournament that saw the U.S. and Canada hold their own with some of Japan’s finest.

Every match of competitive Arms is a ballet of last-minute dodges and perfectly-timed barrages, two things you’ll see a lot of in the excellent grand finals between Pega’s bruising Max Brass and Gore Magala’s snakey Helix. To state the groan-worthily obvious, perhaps Arms has legs after all.

Majin Obama and Tasty Steve Bring the Passion

Not all Evo moments happen in-game. In the lead-up to the Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 grand finals, commentators Majin Obama and Steve “Tasty Steve” Scott set the scene brilliantly with a passionate speech that drove home just how much this showdown between Omito and Nage meant in the grand scheme of fighting games.

Majin Obama transformed into an emotional fighting game preacher in the booth, delivering now-iconic lines like “when you get off of work, you clock out, you go to the arcade, you clock back in” when describing the passion of Japan’s Guilty Gear players.

“If I can give you guys any advice at home, don’t look away,” said Majin Obama. “This one is going to mean something.”

It sure did. What followed was 30 minutes of dizzying high-level Guilty Gear, filled with crazy combos, a momentous bracket reset and an incredibly climactic finish. Watch this one with the sound on.

The Street Fighter V God Returns

Seon-woo “Infiltration” Lee was an unstoppable force throughout the end of Street Fighter IV and early months of Street Fighter V, but the decorated Korean competitor has been looking decidedly more human ever since his big Evo 2016 win. However, the Infiltration of old rose again at Evo Japan, where Lee scrapped his way through a ferocious top 8 filled with some of Asia’s very best competitors from past and present.

After making quick work of Jonny “Humanbomb” Cheng, Infiltration was sent into losers by John Takeuchi, a prodigal 19-year old competitor who’s been making waves with his relentless rushdown Rashid play. This set up a fateful loser’s finals that saw Infiltration take down Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, the all-time Street Fighter legend who himself turned back the clock with a surprising 3rd place finish.

After Menat’s strong zoning game and overwhelming orb combos weren’t enough to stop Takeuchi’s Rashid in winner’s finals, Infiltration made a switch to Juri, one of the versatile player’s many pocket characters. That change proved crucial in grand finals, as Lee used the Tae Kwon Do fighter’s flurry of kicks and projectiles to mount an oppressive offense against Takeuchi and reset the bracket. With momentum (and far more grand finals experience) on his side, Infiltration handedly took the second set and became Evo Japan’s first Street Fighter champ.

Evo Japan 2018’s SFV finals were big for a few reasons. The event marked Takeuchi’s best performance yet, and a sign that the talented teen has a bright career ahead of him. The presence,of Juri, Menat and Rashid in the final matches of a major tournament likely shattered many a tier list. But perhaps the biggest takeaway is that Street Fighter V is still anyone’s game, be it rising prodigies or struggling ex-champions.

“I’m not back,” tweeted Infiltration after his win. “I never left.”

Evo will return to Las Vegas on August 3rd, with a much bigger stage and probably less commercials for Nissin noodles. If the competition is half as good as what we saw in this Eastern offseason, we’re all in for a treat.


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