The Evolution Word Championships just happened this past weekend, and it was an incredible event. There’s probably some bias here because I have been playing a lot of fighting games lately and following the pro scenes fairly intensely this year, but this is by far the most I’ve enjoyed an Evo. It was great to see Problem-X win a major Street Fighter tournament, the GO1 vs SonicFox rivalry remains the best thing in fighting games, and BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is a game that needs to be on my radar now. Every Top 8 (with the exception of Smash 4, which was interesting for all the wrong reasons) was exciting, and I still need to go back and see some side things I missed like the Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite Top 8, which I’ve heard was really great.
But what I want to write about today is not the games or the players, but the way I watched all of it. Starting at Evo 2017 and continuing at Evo Japan this year, there has been a stream called “The Jump Off”. I didn’t watch it at either of those events because I didn’t know about it. But this year it was streamed on the primary evo twitch page, exposing it to a much larger audience, including myself. And after spending all day Friday and Saturday watching “The Jump Off”, I think it’s by far the best way to watch Evo.
“The Jump Off” is a stream in which four FGC commentators sit at a desk and watch everything at Evo, switching between games and talking over them. It runs throughout the tournament on Friday and Saturday, primarily covering the pools and semifinal rounds as well as the Saturday Top 8s. On the surface level the stream fills a very simple need. I have some level of interest in most if not all of the games at Evo in any given year, but I’m not going to keep eight twitch streams open and switch between myself. That’s too much of a hassle and my internet isn’t that good. Usually I just end up watching Street Fighter pools while maybe switching over to Tekken during breaks. I never see Guilty Gear until Sunday despite really enjoying watching that game. “The Jump Off” fixes that problem, showing you matchups from every game, including some side events like the Soul Caliber 6 exhibition or the Under Night In-Brith Exe:Late[St] side tournament. Anything streamed on the seven other evo twitch channels or Capcom Fighters could show up on “The Jump Off”. Of course, you then don’t get to see every Street Fighter match that makes it on stream, but they did a good job of showing the matches with high profile players. Nothing I’ve heard about the Street Fighter stream makes me feel like I missed anything—I still got to see Alex Valle send KnuckleDu to the loser’s bracket. I’ll take the variety of seeing every game if it means I miss some pools matches.
Because ultimately what’s great about “The Jump Off” on a more fundamental level is that it furthers the idea that the fighting game community can be a single community with subcommunities as opposed to a loose collection of completely different communities. This is a much larger trend within the FGC—go down the list of the best Dragon Ball FighterZ players and you’ll find people from ArcSys games, Street Fighter, Marvel, Melee, NRS games, and even previous unknowns—but “The Jump Off” is a really great instance of it. By having four commentators on the stream, they were pretty much always able to ensure that at least one person would be an expert in whatever game was being shown. This sometimes just meant having three general commentators and one Smash commentator, but it was usually a little more nuanced than that. It created an atmosphere where not every commentator had to be an expert on every game, in turn making it so that not every viewer had to be an expert on every game. When Tekken was on, for instance, someone unversed in Tekken might ask whoever that hour’s Tekken guy was a question about the game that as a viewer unversed in Tekken I wouldn’t know if I just watched the Tekken stream. I’m not saying it’s a “beginner’s stream”, because there is definitely a level of general fighting game knowledge assumed, but it is definitely more penetrable than the specific game streams. And just in general the stream has a more relaxed atmosphere that allows for things like asking questions and more casual discussion between the commentators. Because the people at the desk don’t have to worry about calling the play-by-play of the actual match, they’re allowed to talk more about a player’s history or character-specific strategies or just random nonsense. The range of discussion is much wider and usually much more interesting than watch you get during a regular match.
Then there’s the secret best part of the stream, which caught me completely off guard but in retrospect makes perfect sense, and that’s the end of the day Saturday. Let’s just say the relaxed atmosphere from earlier disappears and is replaced with constant dread as the brackets start to narrow and great players are being eliminated every minute. There were so many high stakes matches happening at the end of the day on Saturday, including the BlazBlue Top 8, and “The Jump Off” was covering all of it as fast as they possibly could, trying to keep up with the matchups between top tier players. “Oh, Caba just eliminated Daigo, well before you get any time to let that process here’s Supernoon and HookGangGod in loser’s followed immediately by a Top 8 qualifier for Guilty Gear between Omito and Fumo”. It was this hour and a half barrage of great fighting game play that really drove home just how high the level of competition is at Evo and how much of an achievement it is just to make it to Top 8. That’s something you can always say, but I never really appreciated just how true it was until I was bombarded with it this weekend. It was also just really intense watching high stakes matchups with no room to breathe, and the commentary team (Tasty Steve, Sajam, D1, and Rynge) did a great job of showing that with their complete incredulity to everything that was happening. Even if you didn’t who Dogura and Moke were, the desk’s disbelief at the fact that they were facing each other in Top 16 loser’s would have clued you into the fact that these are two Top 8 fixtures, and that’s not something you would get from commentators who had been watching every single Dragon Ball match and knew ahead of time that these players would be meeting there. They might be able to say that, but the Jump Off crew was able to show it with their raw reaction, which feels a lot more real and a lot more in-line with the passionate spirit of the FGC.
I don’t know if “The Jump Off” did well, and I have no idea if people at large liked it. But I hope the answer to both of those questions is yes. This is the best way to watch Evo, and because of that it’s something that I hope they’re able to keep doing.