Last week the fighting game community (FGC) watched as Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar revealed the eight games which would comprise this year’s Evolution Championship Series (Evo) on a livestream. The announcement is big news; Evo is often the one time a year people outside the various FGCs tune into the fighting game scene. It’s also a marker of a game’s presence within the scene itself. If your game of choice makes it in, it’s likely there’s a healthy competitive scene for it.
But as Cuellar announced each game (you can find the full list here), he also made an announcement through omission: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite would not make the cut, marking the first time in 18 years a game from the Marvel Vs. Capcom series would not be on the main lineup.
Fans immediately took to the livestream chat to ask why. The game being relatively new wasn’t an issue: Both Dragon Ball FighterZ and BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle made the cut, with the former having released less than a week before the announcement and the latter out this June. Instead, Cuellar pointed to a lack of competitive interest. “We know it was on a slippery slope and it had a lot of competition going forward … and it just kind of fizzled,” Cuellar said on the livestream. “I don’t think people are playing it, and that’s the problem.”
The announcement caused a stir in the FGC. For many, it was yet another sign Infinite didn’t measure up to its predecessors. It has greatly undersold at retail, selling only half of its two million-unit goal as of January. Fans are disappointed by the lack of X-Men on the roster, the relatively small character count, and lack of single-player content, as well underwhelming visuals. Additionally, a Capcom spokesperson confirmed to Game Informer that, despite the publisher’s attempt to support Infinite’s competitive scene with its “Battle for the Stones” tournament (which gave the winners of every qualifier tournament a special “Infinity Stone” that gave them a special power they could use between matches), the company would not feature Infinite in its regular Capcom Pro Tour tournaments, focusing instead on Street Fighter V.
Overall tournament attendance, however, is a different story. According to tournament archive website Smash.gg, Infinite has held its own when it comes to competition, garnering over 100 entrants at majors and regularly following right behind the two current FGC draws, Street Fighter V and Tekken 7. It has regularly outperformed titles on Evo’s main lineup, including Injustice 2 and Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2. Alex Valle, who runs the weekly Wednesday Night Fights tournament series as well as the Southern California Regionals major, says the game is doing well. “I wouldn't say Infinite numbers are bad,” he told me via email. “We have dedicated Marvel players in SoCal who show up every week.”
Most players agree this is because Infinite’s fighting is top-notch. “I love how freeform it feels and how much improvisation it allows,” says David “UltraDavid” Graham, a longtime fighting game commentator and pundit.
Though many veteran players still look at Marvel vs. Capcom 3 fondly, many agree Infinite's changes make it a compelling beast of its own. “I actually really love Infinite,” says Samantha “Persia” Hancock, a Marvel vs. Capcom commentator and veteran. “I think it's a step forward in terms of bring a whole new demographic into our scene and allowing us to grow.”
Despite the cloud hanging over the game since before launch, dedicated players have few qualms with how it plays. “I fell in love with Infinite’s gameplay and I can't see myself dropping this game for anything else,” says Jonas “lolraid” Martinez, co-host of the Marvel LIVES podcast.
If turnout isn’t the problem, other factors could affect Evo’s lineup decision. As the event grows larger every year, the companies behind the games included are using it for promotion, setting up booths on the event floor and announcing new games and characters between tournament finals. “We have had meetings with some pubs/devs about including their title as a ‘main’ game at Evo,” says Mark Julio, head of global business development for Evo, posted on Twitter following the announcement. “We don’t always get the blessing that we hope for sometimes. We actively have to seek permission and/or content licenses to be able to include certain games.” Considering the game undersold, it’s possible either Capcom or Marvel have chosen to drop their own support for the game, including any promotional deal having the game at Evo would allow.
Whatever the reason for its absence, players can’t help but be disappointed. “Personally, it is a bit of a blow to my motivation and overall morale in the FGC,” says Eddie “NotEnoughDamage,” Mu, one of Infinite’s best tournament players. Mu is sticking with the game, but the announcement “mostly makes me need to reevaluate how much effort I put into Infinite."
Many others have been more heavily impacted by the potential fallout of the announcement. “Some of my friends told me they were in tears when they realized Mr. Wizard wasn't trolling about not having [Infinite on the lineup],” Graham says.
Additionally, many of the best players dabble in multiple games, and this where the scene could suffer. Despite having the best Evo track record of any Marvel vs. Capcom player (taking home first place in Marvel vs. Capcom 2 seven times, and once in Marvel vs. Capcom 3), Justin Wong has slowly shifted his focus away to other games in recent years. “My main goal the past few years was Street Fighter V now and it still is,” Wong says. “I do enter all Infinite events, but I do not practice the game as much. I only just enter it and play for fun.”
Whether this ends up hurting the game long-term is still uncertain, however. “I expect some players to drop Infinite after hearing it's not at Evo, especially those who have a strong chance to do well in other games,” Graham says. "But again I don't expect many to really do so."
Though Infinite won’t be on the main stage, Evo is an open event, where anyone can set up a TV, console, a couple of controllers, and get matches going. The King of Fighters series has faced similar snubbings in the past, and while its community is similarly disappointed in The King of Fighters XIV not making the cut, it isn’t taking the loss lying down. “KoF players have been here before,” says Christopher “Hellpockets” Fields, a prominent commentator and member of the King of Fighters community.
Between scenes in Korea and Central America and support from developer SNK Playmore, the KoF community has long been developing its scene on the margins of the FGC. “The players are loyal with or without it being on the main stage for Evo,” says Reynald Tacsuan, a top KoF player. “The community will be there to support KoF because it's a game they love.”
The Marvel vs. Capcom community will need to take a similar approach for now. As a token of goodwill, Cuellar announced Evo is “seriously considering” whether it will give games not on the main stage and which fit a set of criteria a little more presence this year, with a livestream and smaller stage to show off their final rounds live.
Infinite’s absence at Evo might signal the end of an era and could portend cloudy weather for its community, but it’s far from a death knell. It’s still scheduled to be a part of other major tournaments on the road to Evo, including Canada Cup, Community Effort Orlando, and Undefeated. Prominent members of the community are also confident it can survive. “We don't need EVO's validation or the approval of the mainstream FGC to sit down and beat each other up,” Martinez says. “As long as people are willing to sign up to a bracket, the game will do just fine.”