The best untold stories of Evo

Evo 2018: The Success of SSBM (3:12)

While Super Smash Bros. Melee is known for having one of the most passionate player bases across all of esports, it's had its fair share of problems with Evo. Tyler Erzberger says it has more than earned its place at the event. (3:12)

LAS VEGAS -- Every fighting game player knows about Evo Moment 37. Daigo Umehara parrying Justin Wong is the most famous moment in fighting game history and arguably the best moment in esports history.

But Evo is so much more than that. Its quiet side moments loom just as large in the untold lore of the event.

Evo began in 1996 and since its inception has grown to the point that its Street Fighter finals are now televised. As Evo has evolved, so have technology and the ways of documenting the tournament. Despite not having mainstream coverage during its lesser-known days, Evo has always produced great memories.

As the years progress, these untold moments become more like campfire stories. We sat down with some of the fighting game community's most prominent members to bring you some of them.

1. John Choi's heroic runs in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo and Capcom vs. SNK 2

This story was told through the eyes of Eliver Ling, one of the fighting game community's notable members who has been to every Evo.

"One event that goes very underappreciated is John Choi winning two Evos in 2008," Ling said. "It happened in the dark era, so people don't really know about it. He won CVS2 and Street Fighter 2 in one year. What was really interesting about that was the fact that Choi wasn't even supposed to be at Evo that year."

You can find footage of Choi's heroic run online on YouTube, but what you can't find is the story behind his run.

"Choi's dad had cancer, just got out of life-saving surgery, and Choi wasn't going to go to Evo," Ling said. "But his dad told him to go, and Choi spent about a day or two practicing up and went to Evo."

Choi had everything going against him: a lack of training, a hard pool and the difficulty of managing multiple games.

"He had an amazing run in Street Fighter and CVS2," Ling said. "I think he even got put into the loser's bracket in Street Fighter 2 like right out of the door because he was in a hell bracket with [Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi] and Graham Wolfe."

In 2007, Tokido, Choi and Wolfe placed first, second and third, respectively, in Street Fighter. At this time, pools were selected at random, so to have the top three finishers from the previous year all in one pool was actually ridiculous.

"He ended up climbing his way back and beat [Shinya "Nuki" Onuki] twice in the grand finals," Ling said. "In CVS2 he managed to beat [Ryo "BAS" Yoshida], who was considered unbeatable at the time because Japan won every year."

There are only 17 people in Evo's 22-year history who have managed to win multiple championships. Choi did it in one year despite having every excuse to give up. He trained only one day in Street Fighter 2 and another day in Capcom vs. SNK 2. His 2008 run is one of the greatest stories in Evo history that very few know about.

"A lot of people go into Evo and say they were dealing with personal issues if they don't do well," Ling said. "Then you look at Choi. His dad was having life-saving surgery, he was in an MBA program, he wasn't even supposed to show up, but then he wins two tournaments."

Choi himself looks at this moment as a very surreal memory, one he can't believe happened.

"That Evo, I had a completely different mindset and just played the matches like it was casual matches, and I ended up prevailing," Choi said. "Looking back, it was almost a fairy-tale story. It was a victory on all fronts for me: personal, family and competitive."

For Choi, that tournament wasn't just about video games. It was about winning in life -- a moment for him to hold his hand up high in a year that wanted to keep it down.

2. The Street Fighter Alpha 3 bathroom tournament

During every Evo, there's a man on the stage hyping up the crowd, announcing the players' names and bringing life to the tournament. That man is Ben Cureton, the Evo emcee, who has been attending the event since the beginning. A man who's been there for everything, Cureton gave us this great untold story about a Street Fighter Alpha 3 tournament being run in a hotel bathroom in 2005.

"For the first few years of Evo moving to Vegas, it was off-Strip at Green Valley Ranch and Red Rock Casino," Cureton said. "Since there was much less to do in regards to after-hours activities, everyone played in their rooms. We quickly realized that the TVs in the room had a ton of input lag, making any kind of competitive play all but nonexistent."

Input lag is a serious issue when it comes to competitive play, and that's why Smash Melee players bring their own cathode-ray tube TVs to tournaments. However, this was long before the days of individuals bringing their own setups around, so a makeshift solution was decided.

"Someone noticed that the bathrooms had little tiny TVs in them and hooked up their console to test it out," Cureton said. "Lo and behold, no input lag! So, we did what any enterprising FGC members would do: We proceeded to have a Street Fighter Alpha 3 tournament in a hotel bathroom."

This wasn't a tiny 10-man tournament either. These die-hard Street Fighter Alpha 3 fans ran an entire 32-man tournament in the bathroom.

"Competitors sat on the floor next to the toilet, in the bathtub, or just smashed against the walls," Cureton said. "We ran an entire tournament on a bathroom television."

The reason why this side tournament was initially thrown in a hotel room was because Street Fighter Alpha 3 was dead as a main tournament game at this point. Regardless, there were still a few who loved it and decided they would have a side tourney no matter what. Nothing embodies the passion of the FGC as much as this.

"End of the day, that's what the FGC and Evo was about," Cureton said. "We will always find a way to throw down."

3. 2009's after-hours shenanigans

Evo was founded by four individuals: Tom Cannon, Tony Cannon, Joey "Mr. Wizard" Cuellar and Seth Killian. These four men have a wealth of Evo stories that stretch beyond the scope of this story. Tom Cannon gave us his favorite untold moment, one hilarious tale of a late night at Evo in 2009.

"The event was really hype, and we had a great grand finals, but people just didn't want to leave the venue," Tom Cannon said. "There were no games to play, so we just found other games to play and bet on. First it was rock-paper-scissors. Then it evolved into footraces."

What makes the FGC different from others is their nature to be extremely hyped about everything. When you read rock-paper-scissors, you might think it's just a couple of friends quietly playing. In reality, it's most likely loud enough to hilariously receive noise complaints. It's typical for something small, like a footrace, to turn into a grandiose event with side bets.

"The hall had cleared up to this point, so we had a good 100 yards," Tom Cannon said. "We had Justin [Wong] footracing [Martin "Marn" Phan] and Mr. Wizard footracing [Ari "Floe" Weintraub]. We were taking side bets on who was going to win. So Floe and Wizard both take off, and Floe immediately falls and does a barrel roll on the ground."

While something like this may not seem special on paper, it's one of those moments that quietly builds a lifetime friendship. These are the moments that build a community between friends, and make them more than just video game players.

"It was one of those magical times you didn't want to go back to your hotel room, because that meant you had to pack," Tony Cannon said. "We were just playing random games and hanging out until 4 a.m."

The last statement on the Evo Moment 37 video says, "You had to be there." Yes, it would be nice to experience that moment live, but that's not why you have to be there. When you're a part of these moments you become a part of a community; these untold moments are a testament to that. You share these experiences together, use them as a common bond and build friendships off of them. These moments that you won't see on stream are the ones you truly "had to be there" for.

Honorable mentions

Here comes a new challenger

Ryan "Gootecks" Gutierrez: Me, [Ryan "FChamp" Ramirez] and [Curtis "CJ Showstopper" Minor] teamed up in 2010 to put together the NorCal Salty Suite. It started out as a low-key after-hours, ginormous presidential suite at the Caesars Palace. It was host to a number of important events: We had Daigo do money matches, and the Daigo vs. Arturo Sanchez 2009 runback was the main event.

Before all of that, we did a high-rollers tournament with a $100 buy-in. We had about 12 people enter, and there were these two unknown players that just destroyed everybody. Afterwards, we found out it was [Bruce "Gamerbee" Yu-lin Hsiang] and [Arubi "RB" Kao] from Taiwan. There's a great photo on my Instagram of the two of them holding up the money afterwards. The following day, Gamerbee whupped everybody and got fifth place in Evo, seemingly out of nowhere.

The hypest moment in Evo history that no one saw

Cuellar: There was a moment back in Evo 2002, we did an underground 5-on-5 Marvel tournament. It was invite only, East Coast vs. West Coast, and we hyped it around the rivalry. In the fourth match, a player from California named Soo Mighty went up against the king of Marvel back in the day, which was Eddie Lee. Soo Mighty did this incredibly showy combo with four snapbacks. A snapback is a move to knock a character out, but there was no character to knock out, and so it hit the character to the side. It's incredibly hard to keep the combo going. When he did this combo, the crowd all literally jumped up at the same time and shook the room. It was the most epic thing I've ever seen, but because there was no YouTube back then, it's not famous.