I'm Going to EVO. I'm Terrible at Fighting Games

How Did I Get Here?

In April of this year, my friend Conlan (a long-time fighting game player) proposed the idea of going to EVO, just for fun. EVO (The Evolution Championship Series) is one of the largest fighting game tournaments out there, and is one that can be entered by anyone willing to travel to Vegas.

We signed up to play Guilty Gear Strive, his current “main” game, and the one he had been pushing me to pick up the most. Conlan has pulled me into a handful of fighting games before, but here’s the thing: I was awful at them at the time. Whenever we would play together, he would obliterate me.

Regardless, I was in, if only to say I’d fought at EVO.

Starting the Training

In early May, I started my training. I told myself I was going to play some every week, and try to reach a point where I felt competent at the game. The last thing I wanted was to show up and lose every set.

First, I had to figure out where I stood among other players. I played my first games in the Tower, Guilty Gear’s floor-based ranking system, and was placed on floor 4 (out of 10). Disappointing, but wholly expected. I told myself that it was that much more room to grow as a player.

I recorded every session, and after I was done, Conlan and I would watch the sets back, finding the biggest weaknesses in my battle plan. Then I would make the necessary change and climb some more until another weakness reared its head. This direct feedback from a much better player was, and still is, the most vital part of my training.


As training went on, Conlan decided we needed to start playing in tournaments, in order to get experience for the format. He linked me to WeebCup, a weekly online Guilty Gear tournament, targeted towards beginners.

I misunderstood the meaning of “beginner” going into it. When I looked into the tournament, what they truly meant was anyone below Celestial, a.k.a. everyone that isn’t in the best floor in the game. That made the tournament far more daunting, but I was determined to make a good showing.

I played a ridiculous amount of Guilty Gear, putting in well over 100 sets over the week leading up to the tournament. During that time, I made it to floor 6 in the Tower. Still nothing to call home about, but better!

The day of the tournament, I was both pumped and nervous. I played a few games on the Tower leading up to it, and jumped into my matches.

I was destroyed. It was double elimination, and I went 0-2. The first match was somewhat close, but the second wasn’t. I knew this was the likely outcome, though I had hoped to run into another actual beginner on at least my first game. I just picked myself up and reminded myself that it had barely been a week since I started my “serious” playing.

Hard Work, Dedication, and Salt

Thankfully, the results of WeebCup didn’t turn me off from the game. If anything, it was a kick in the ass to just keep getting better.

So I continued to put in the hours, determined to climb the tower. At that point, my goal was to reach floor 8, maybe 10.

Since then, that hard work has paid off. I’ve made it to floor 8, and I’ve fallen from it, and climbed back again, each time more driven to maintain that ranking. Some days, that drive was replaced by a mountain of “salt”, my cursing and frustration likely heard throughout the house, but I didn’t stop playing.

Comparing my first day of training to my latest, the improvements are clear. I’m more patient in my offense, I have a better idea of when it’s “my turn” in a match, and I’m able to more readily execute combos in reaction to my hit confirms.

On top of that, I’ve improved my general game knowledge. No longer does it seem like some cryptic cheat code when I see a combo written out as:

c.S > 2S > 2H > 214K

Which, translated, can be read as “Close slash, down slash, down heavy, quarter-circle-back kick”. Still nonsense if you’re new to the game, but at least it’s a bit closer to a real sentence. Don’t get me started on when those combos start to include more niche acronyms and punctuation.

The Climb Continues

As of the date of writing, I’m on floor 7 of the Tower, and there are a little more than 3 weeks left until EVO. In my mind, reaching floor 10 before then is unrealistic, but I’m not going to count it out. As a more tangible goal, I want to improve my combos further, and figure out a handful of character-specific match-ups that I do not run into often.

I’ve drastically ramped up the amount that I’m playing, putting in sets whenever I have a spare moment, and I’m continuing to see improvement.

As long as I maintain the desire to win, and continue to receive mentorship from Conlan, I think my chances of winning at least a couple matches at EVO are going to keep going up.

I’ll be sure to let you know in August how this arc of the journey plays out, from zero to he– slightly more than zero.