The headliner for the Evolution Fighting Game Championships in Las Vegas will once again be Capcom's Street Fighter V. A field of 2,622 competitors makes this tournament the largest player pool of 2017, and the finals will be broadcast to a national TV audience at 10 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2. Evo perennially proves to be the hardest SFV tournament to win, and this year will likely be no different.
Every major region in fighting games will be represented in Las Vegas; the United States, Japan, Korea, China, Europe and South America all have a presence. This year, the U.S. enters the tournament as the class region of Street Fighter V. Behind the defending Capcom Cup champion, Team Liquid's Du "NuckleDu" Dang, and arguably the world's best player, Panda Global's Victor "Punk" Woodley, the region has several tournament favorites that should make a deep bracket run.
We've narrowed the field to 10 of the names you should follow during the tournament:
1. Panda Global's Victor "Punk" Woodley
Punk is the cream of the crop in Street Fighter V and enters Evo as the tournament favorite. The talk of performance nerves and fluke tournament wins are a thing of the past for the best player in the U.S. He figured out a hit-and-run style that takes full advantage of the buffer windows in the game and perfected it.
2. Team Liquid's Du "NuckleDu" Dang
The inaugural Capcom Cup champion looks to be in winning form. He's second in the Capcom Pro Tour standings with arguably the best Guile in the world and a great Rainbow Mika. His weaknesses are clearer now than a year ago; an opponent who plays at a slow pace and defensive style can trip NuckleDu up. That said, he's one of the best in adapting to situations and players.
3. Team Razer's Kun "Xian" Ho
It took one character change to put Xian on the short list of world's best players. Xian's Ibuki play is among the best, and he has the ability to both score a hit and confirm off anything. He's a former Evo champion, and his surge in 2017 puts him firmly in play.
4. Red Bull's Masato "Bonchan" Takahashi
For the second year in a row, a Nash player is on the short list of contenders. Unlike in 2016, however, the top Nash player is Bonchan. He plays his own unique style with Nash, with combo enders into frame traps and a fireball-heavy game plan. Bonchan's type of game caters to larger field tournaments because his zoning is second to none and he plays a character that few play well.
5. Team Razer and Grapht's Keita "Fuudo" Ai
It wouldn't be Evo without the Japanese Harry Potter cosplayer. Fuudo makes his yearly appearance on the Evo contenders list because he's the most consistent player in the field. His Rainbow Mika is a reflection of his immaculate ground game, and that sets him apart. He's the pioneer behind the walking tank gameplay that gives nearly every player in the world fits.
6. Cygames and Red Bull's Darryl "SnakeEyez" Lewis
SnakeEyez' 2017 is a complete reversal of his no-show 2016. With an elite Akuma and Zangief, SnakeEyez may just make his second next-generation Street Fighter Evo top eight. The man already plays with some of the best footsies in the game, and now he has built up some confidence.
7. Team Grapht's Tatsuya "Haitani" Haitani
One of the Japanese "gods" is still one of the best bets for a deep run. His Necalli play is unlike most players because Haitani's understanding of risk/reward is without equal. He's a gambler with his resources and is one of the most unpredictable players in the community. Despite the high-risk style, he still does well in any tournament format.
8. YOUDEAL's Atsushi "Yukadon" Fujimura
Evo 2016 was Yukadon's breakout tournament. His aggressive Nash play and ability to innovate on the fly was superb. This year, he's coming into the tournament with an insane Ibuki. Yukadon will look to turn his impressive offensive innovations into another deep Evo run.
9. Zowie's Li-Wei "Oil King" Lin
A relative newcomer to the fighting game elite, Oil King is a student of Zowie's Bruce "GamerBee" Hsiang and the only representative from Taiwan on the list. Oil King's year is nothing short of impressive (four top-eight finishes at Ranking Events and two top-eight performances at Premier Events), and his Rashid is firmly on the map.
10. BX3's Arman "Phenom" Hanjani
The unorthodox and offensive-minded Norwegian is always my pick as a tournament dark horse. Phenom consistently delivers top tournament results, and Evo will likely be no different. He's impossible to corner and condition, and his near-Japanese fighting style is highly effective for deep runs.
What about the established names?
Some of the international faces of Street Fighter are missing from this list, and here's why: More so than past generations, Street Fighter V's mechanics cater to aggressive risk/reward play. Competitors like Evo 2016 champion Team Razer's Lee "Infiltration" Seon-woo and Hx BST Cygames' Daigo "Daigo" Umehara, who rely on spectacular neutral game play and mind games to tame opponents, are at a disadvantage.
As for players like Echo Fox's Yusuke "Momochi" Momochi and GamerBee, their signature fearless and unpredictable patterns on defense do not provide much value in a game that fixates on heavy pressure and knockdown guesses. That's not to say that these players will not make a deep run, but they simply do not grade as favorites in this iteration of the game.