The organizers behind the largest fighting-game tournament in North America, the Evolution Championship Series, made a surprise announcement late at night on May 13th about their plans to move the competition online. Here's how Evo 2020 is going to shake down.

Evolution 2020 Online Edition: What You Need To Know

Evolution, frequently abbreviated to "Evo," is the biggest fighting-game tournament in the world. It began as the Street Fighter-focused "Battle by the Bay" in Sunnyvale, California in 1996, before eventually becoming known as Evolution in 2002.

Evo 2019, held at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, drew over 9,000 competitors in nine main-stage games, including Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Mortal Kombat 11. The international fighting-game community organizes its yearly schedule around Evo, and many game developers use Evo as a platform to make big announcements.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Evo's organizers announced on May 1st of this year that the tournament was officially canceled, with plans for online tournaments in its place. This was met with some derision by the fighting-game community, as 7 of the 9 games that were planned for the main stage at this year's Evo have notoriously poor online play, especially if you're trying to play internationally.

On the night of May 13th, the Evo staff revealed their new plans on Twitter. Traditionally, Evolution takes place over the course of a three-day weekend, with the biggest games' grand finals on Sunday, but Evo 2020 Online Edition has been announced as unfolding across "5 weekends of fighting games, with special exhibitions and content for Evo 2020's original lineup."

However, that original lineup has been noticeably edited. 9 games were scheduled as main-stage events at Evo 2020 before the cancellation, and two of them, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, conspicuously aren't in Evo's announcement. While MVC2's presence at the tournament had been weird anyway--it's still a popular game, but it's 20 years old and hasn't been a main-stage Evo event since 2010--the omission of Smash was instantly controversial. The Evo organizers haven't said why it's gone, or if it'll stay that way.

The remaining games are Street Fighter V, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Tekken 7, Soul Calibur VI, Granblue Fantasy Versus, Samurai Shodown, Under Night In-Birth, and a mystery slot devoted to a "2ournament of Champions" [sic]. In fighting-game community talk, "exhibitions" usually means a series of matches between well-known players, meant to entertain an audience and show off their skills. It may be that for the main-stage games this year, Evo will involve some competition between skilled players, as well as announcements regarding each game's future releases.

Evolution 2020 will also feature four open-enrollment online tournaments, for Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath, Killer Instinct 2013Skullgirls, and, uh, Them's Fightin' Herds, a slightly obscure fighting game that began its development as a My Little Pony fan project. It's MK11's return to Evo after skipping the 2019 show, Killer Instinct's first appearance since 2017, and Them's Fightin' Herds' tournament debut. These four games are all notable as being relatively new Western-developed games that use rollback netcode, and as such, offer stable enough online play that you can actually run a reasonably honest online tournament with them.

Further details about Evo 2020, like prize pools, how to enter, and streaming schedules, have yet to be announced. The official Evolution Twitter and website both still list the show, as of this writing, as happening from July 31st to August 2nd of this year. We'll be keeping an eye on this story as it develops and will continue to provide updates.

For an insider perspective on the Evo 2020 news, check out this short video from Spooky, who runs the streams for most of the fighting-game world's major events:

We love fighting games here at Prima. Check out some of our other articles about brawlers, beat-'em-ups, and tournament fighters, like:

COVID-19 has forced fans and developers of fighting games to confront the fact that many of the best games in the genre have deliberately inefficient netcode. Evolution 2020 may end up being a pivotal moment in that conversation, as well as the announcement that the new Guilty Gear game will be built around online play. Keep track of the discussion by following our official Twitter, @PrimaGames.