No Quarterback’s an Evergreen

My fellow New England Patriots fans: Let’s have a little heart-to-heart, shall we?

Very few things in this life are eternal. The skills of an NFL quarterback, whether you like it or not, are no exception to this rule. And this includes your hero and mine, Tom Brady.


No doubt, Brady has been a boon for the Patriots since he hit the scene in 2001. Barring two crushing Super Bowl losses to the New York Giants, his resume is one of the most decorated of any player in the sport, being the only player besides Charles Haley to claim that they have won five Super Bowl titles. The efficiency and skill with which he’s lead the Patriots back from the brink of defeat is unmatched, including the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history two short months ago. Simply put, Brady is a gridiron god.

Recently, Brady told the Pats’ owner, Robert Kraft, that he intends to keep playing for what he claims is “six or seven years.” That might sound well and good, and I’m sure many of you were (and still are) licking your chops at the prospect of Brady leading the Patriots to even more Super Bowl wins.

But let’s pump the brakes for just a minute and be real here: Tom Brady isn’t going to play for another six or seven years.


Now, if he thinks he can pull out another seven quality years at most, more power to him. While I think he’ll play for less than what he claims, I’m putting nothing past him in that regard; the fact that he’s played as well as he has over the years is a testament to how he’s kept himself in such fantastic shape. It’s especially impressive since he’s playing this well in an age range where most quarterbacks’ skills tend to taper off.

On top of that, suggesting that Brady will see a sharp decline in skill any time in the immediate future is foolish. Case and point: Max Kellerman of ESPN’s First Take suggested (rather idiotically) that Brady would “fall off a cliff” and “become a bum in short order” once he returned from his unwarranted Deflategate suspension. Even when he missed those first four games, Brady put up regular season numbers on par with a quarterback who had played a full season. And that’s before leading the Patriots’ through the postseason and their Super Bowl LI comeback. Suffice to say, Kellerman was given more than just a slice of humble pie.


That said, while Brady is nowhere close to falling off the wagon any time soon, it’s not unrealistic to believe it’ll happen later in the future. For how well he keeps himself in shape and preps for each game day, age is going to take hold at some point. Father Time has caught up with the best athletes before, and he’ll get to Brady at some point. It won’t be this coming season, more than likely, but it’s going to happen regardless. And when that happens, you better be ready for the post-Brady era in New England.

So, how much longer will Brady go on for? Provided he doesn’t suffer another catastrophic injury like he did in 2008, my best bet would be that he has three solid years left in him. In that timeframe, if Bill Belichick can keep a solid team together…and injuries don’t force him to resort to glue, dental floss and the hopes of small children to keep the team’s title hopes alive…he and the Patriots will win one more Super Bowl at the absolute least.


Believe me, I’ve been around for virtually all of Brady’s time as New England’s field general, and it’s going to be a sad day when the man decides to hang up his cleats for good. He’s been an excellent quarterback, and an equally-excellent man off the field as seen through his philanthropic endeavors. Be that as it may, no athlete is like an evergreen; age sets in at some point, and even with all of Brady’s physical upkeep, it’ll get to him, too. That’s just the reality of things.

In short: Enjoy the Tom Brady Era while you can, Pats fans, because it’s not going to last much longer.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

NFL = No Flippin’ Logic

Before we begin, I just want to address one thing: I know that the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl recently. I really don’t mean to come off as a buzz kill in light of such a joyful occasion. But this is something that needs to be brought to light, for better or worse.

Having said that…let me ask you something.

Has there ever been something that you’ve grown up loving, and then something happened to sour your love for it? Did it change your view to the point of leaving it behind?

That’s the case with me and the National Football League.


When I was a kid, I loved watching NFL games. I remember watching the 2001 AFC Championship Game with my dad when I was 11, when Drew Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXVI, which would eventually become the start of a Patriot dynasty. And as time went on, I’d always make it a mission to watch any game I could manage to find. The NFL was my gateway to sports, it’s what started me on my way to getting into leagues like Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League. Heck, I probably wouldn’t be into competitive video games if I didn’t get into the NFL.

Recently, however, I honestly couldn’t be bothered to willfully watch an NFL game. And you may be wondering why that is. Is it because I felt like the games were declining in quality? No. Is it because the officiating is usually godawful? No. Is it because there’s too much of the NFL on a week-to-week basis to the point of over saturation? No. So what is it?

You might be reading this and thinking that since I’m from the New England area, I’m just being a salty Patriots fan who was upset that Tom Brady was suspended four games for Deflategate, even after the Patriots pulled off the grandest comeback in NFL history. If that’s the case, I’ll say that you’re half-right. As upsetting and frustrating as the suspension of Brady was, however, what many people don’t realize is that there’s more to it; Brady’s suspension is part of a larger problem that the NFL has.

In short, it’s a matter of trust…or a lack thereof, in the NFL’s case.

The long answer is that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and his friends at the NFL’s front office, even if they claim the contrary, have an issue with moral priorities.

It seems like whenever the NFL comes under fire for something that legitimately damages the integrity they so love to bring up, they do next-to-nothing about it. Yet, when it comes to smaller, more minor issues like a rash of locker room bullying or underinflated footballs, they’ll go all-out and spend millions of dollars on investigations.

To get my point across, allow me to explain to you two different cases: The aforementioned Deflategate, and the recent revelation that former New York Giants placekicker Josh Brown abused his ex-wife on several different levels. When you look at the finer details of each case, you will see that not only are both cases poles apart in terms of severity, but when you think more about it, it conveys a chilling message that ultimately makes the NFL look like a league of hypocrites and scumbags.


First, let’s begin with Deflategate. In the wake of the 2014 AFC Conference Championship between the Patriots and Indianapolis Colts two years ago, the former was suspected of tampering footballs and deflating them below the NFL’s 11.5 minimum. What followed was what many consider to be the most outrageous and drawn-out case of “Much Ado about Nothing” in NFL history. While Ted Wells oversaw an investigation at the request of the NFL, there were scientists, professors, and even middle school children that stepped forward and explained that the Ideal Gas Law was the reason why those balls were under the minimum PSI; bear in mind, those balls were subjected to frigid winds and driving rain that evening.

Basically, they all proved that neither the equipment crew nor Brady had anything to do with the balls being under the legal PSI.

Despite that, the infamous Wells Report claimed in May of 2015 that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots’ equipment staff were behind the deflated footballs. As a result, the team was given a doozy of a punishment. They were fined $1,000,000 (lunch money by the wealthy Kraft family’s standards), and stripped of first AND fourth round NFL Draft picks over the next two years. Perhaps the most damning part of the verdict was the fact that Brady was suspended for the first four games without pay for being “generally aware” of the equipment staff’s supposed tampering. Following an appeal by the NFL’s Players Association on Brady’s behalf, the suspension was upheld in July after it was revealed that Brady had destroyed his cellphone as, supposedly, a means of covering his tracks.

The case then went to a legal battle. Richard Berman of the U.S. District Court vacated the suspension just before the beginning of the 2015 NFL season, citing that not only did Brady receive no fair due process, but the NFL had no evidence to actually back up the claims. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the suspension on the grounds that Goodell could handle the punishment as he so desired. Brady ultimately gave up the fight and served his suspension for the first quarter of this most-recent season rather than take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. All of this in spite of the fact that, once again, the NFL had no actual evidence to back up their claims.


Now we come to the Josh Brown case, and this is where you start to see the holes in the NFL’s logic. Shortly after the initial Wells Report verdict (funnily enough), Brown was arrested for assaulting his ex-wife, Molly Brown. As a result, Brown was initially suspended for one game at the start of the 2016 season after a prolonged legal process; while domestic violence incidents among NFL athletes call for a minimum of six games on the first offense (with more being added on in the event of aggravated circumstances), the reason this case yielded only a one game suspension was due to the NFL claiming that they had “insufficient information.”

However, Diana Moskovitz of Deadspin eventually found the Giants’ Pandora’s Box. And the minute it was opened, all Hell broke loose.

On top of the official divorce court records being revealed…the same ones that the NFL claimed that they couldn’t get a hold of…Brown was shown to have been abusing his ex-wife to physical, verbal, and emotional extents as far back as 2009, when she was pregnant with their daughter. He even viewed himself as God and Molly as his slave…which, if you don’t see an issue with, I genuinely don’t know what to tell you.

In addition, Brown was shown to be involved in another incident during the 2016 Pro Bowl, something that had gone unreported up to this point. He had tracked down his ex-wife and the former couple’s children, and pounded on their hotel room door in a drunken rage. It had gotten so out of hand that security for both the NFL and the hotel they were staying at had to step in and move Molly Brown and their children to a different hotel.

Worse still is the fact that not only was the NFL aware of the abuse Brown was dishing out to his ex-wife (including the incident at the Pro Bowl), but Giants owner John Mara was also aware of what was going on. Despite that, Mara signed Brown to a one-year deal that following April, only dropping him when the truth came out later that same year.

Do you see the issue here?


What most people don’t seem to get is that when it comes to off-field issues that actually damage the NFL’s overall integrity, such as domestic violence or DUI, they don’t do much about it. Moreso, they hardly show that they care about those issues; even when they try to show that they care, it doesn’t come off as genuine. They give the offender a slap on the wrist, chastise them, and move on, and that’s at the absolute most. Instead of actually cracking down on those cases, however, they seem content doing the same with what could be argued as minor issues like the Richie Incognito bullying controversy from a few years ago, or Deflategate.

This is why I’m so down on the NFL as of late, and why I’ve chosen not to write about them until now. They’ve raked Tom Brady and the Patriots across the coals when they should’ve been doing the same thing to people like Brown, Greg Hardy, and the man who actually got the NFL to try and take a hard stance on domestic violence in the first place, Ray Rice. They could’ve shown themselves as a league of their word and stand by their own policies, but as the Josh Brown case has so aptly demonstrated, they can’t be bothered.

And to anyone who may think that I approve of the Patriots’ supposedly-shady actions, let me be very clear. Deflating footballs is a scummy move; I’m not saying it isn’t, and the Patriots know that as well as any other team in the league. What I am saying, however, is that Goodell and the rest of the NFL brass have serious morality issues if they feel deflated footballs deserve a longer suspension than a domestic violence case. For that matter, the notion that deflated footballs deserve a suspension at all is suspect. And I understand that the Patriots have gotten themselves in “trouble” in the past with things like Spygate, which was not as big a deal as most like to make it out to be. However, that’s not the point.

The point is that the NFL is being generally stupid when it comes to off-field issues that damage the integrity they’re so gung-ho on protecting. And, as stupid goes, they don’t seem to realize it; either that, or they’re feigning stupidity just so they can keep their cash flow coming in strong.


People like Shannon Sharpe of Fox Sports 1’s Skip and Shannon: Undisputed say that Goodell, instead of handling outside transactions like domestic violence or DUI, should stick to handing out punishments that affect the integrity of the game, such as deflated balls or gambling. I’d be willing to agree with Sharpe’s words if Goodell’s judgment for on-field punishments were any better.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Consider for a moment that the NFL caught the Minnesota Vikings doctoring footballs on a cold November day in Minneapolis, and all they ever received from the league’s front office was a warning against ball tampering. Adding to that, the league didn’t even bother to look into the reported deflation issues during this past season’s game between the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, which certainly irked Patriot Nation. In both cases, there didn’t seem to be much concern.

And yet the Patriots’ alleged tampering deserves an elaborate investigation? Just because of their past? It’s a wonder Goodell still has his job.


So, in closing, the NFL’s ineptitude on major issues is what has turned me off from them, and the fact that they’d rather tear down their most successful team of the 21st Century instead of focusing on what’s truly hurting their brand doesn’t help at all. They’d rather attempt to slay dragons that were never there instead of going after the ones that exist; it’s startling, appalling, and makes them look bad to those who see with eyes unclouded by Patriot-focused hate. With all of that in mind, the only way I see myself regaining any sort of trust in the league is if Goodell either admits Deflategate was a deliberate sting operation from the get-go, or he steps down as commissioner altogether; in a perfect world, he would do both. But seeing that none of those scenarios are likely to happen any time soon, it’s doubtful I will find myself wanting to watch another NFL game for a while.

But as they say around One Patriot Place: “It is what it is.”

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Eight Crazy Games…Plus One TBD

The pillars are set for video gaming’s biggest competitive stage…almost.

At the beginning of the month, I talked about what I thought was going to be announced for titles at the Evolution World Championship, easily one of the biggest video game-based competitions in the world today. Recently, the head of the tournament series, Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar, announced the 2017 lineup on a livestream.

How right was I? Well, first let’s take a look at what my predictions were:
Street Fighter V
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Killer Instinct
King of Fighters XIV
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
Injustice 2
Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator OR BlazBlue: Central Fiction
A “Day Zero” Super Smash Bros. Melee exhibition tournament

As for the official lineup, Cuellar revealed eight official games:
Street Fighter V
Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev2
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Injustice 2
BlazBlue: Central Fiction
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
King of Fighters XIV

There will be one more game, but we’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s talk about what’s officially there.


So, the lineup is almost exactly what I was predicting it would be. Street Fighter V was the ultimate gimmie pick since Street Fighter is a cornerstone series for the tournament. The new characters coming in the months leading up to Evo (as well as any balance changes if Capcom decides to answer the players’ call) will surely shake up the metagame, and it’s absolutely sure to be a part of the Capcom Pro Tour once again. Whether it’ll get primetime broadcasting on ESPN again is still to be determined, but with how well it worked out last year, it wouldn’t be shocking to see.

Tekken 7, King of Fighters XIV, and Injustice 2 were all games I was expecting to be there, considering all three series have a past history with Evo. From what I’ve been hearing, King of Fighters XIV has been doing well in terms of tournament attendance and viewership, and considering the series hasn’t been featured on the main Evo lineup since 2013, it’ll be nice to have it back. The same can be said for Tekken 7, though now it’ll be on console as opposed to being limited to an arcade cabinet.

For Injustice 2, it’s still fairly early to say whether or not it’s going to do well since it hasn’t come out yet, but I would imagine we’ll get some decent character variety with the game still being fairly fresh. (It was announced by NetherRealm Studios prior to the lineup reveal that Injustice 2 would be launching in May as opposed to April, which is when they traditionally release their new titles; this means that the metagame will only be about two months young by Evo.)

One of the interesting things about this lineup of games is that we didn’t get either Guilty Gear or BlazBlue, but instead we wound up with both games on the main lineup. It’s hard to say how I feel about this. On the one hand, both series are incredibly fun to watch, and they each have their place in Evo lore for different reasons. (Part of 2015’s Guilty Gear top 8 was featured on SportsCenter while BlazBlue had one of the most emotional grand final sets a year before.) At the same time, however, it feels a bit redundant having two “anime fighters” on the main block, especially when you consider that they’re both created by the same developer. Honestly, I’m torn on this one.

What I’m not torn on is my stance when it comes to Super Smash Bros.’ presence at Evo. I still stand by the notion that Melee should’ve been given a Day Zero exhibition tournament instead of being given a full-blown tournament, because everybody knows that it’s going to come down to one of Melee’s Five Gods or Leffen. Moreso, one of them is going to end up winning it all. I’m sure it’ll be fun to watch, as competitive Melee always is, but knowing the probable winner takes some of the excitement away.

That being said, I’m very glad that Smash Bros. for Wii U got a spot on Evo Sunday. The game has come into its own over the course of the year, with different names rising to the top from tournament to tournament. Despite a few technical hiccups and other issues (which I may discuss later), Smash Bros. for Wii U has shown that it can hang with Melee in terms of views and excitement. Now, it has a chance to truly prove itself as a worthy Evo Sunday title.

Overall, it’s not a bad lineup at all. Are there things that I would change about the lineup? For sure, but I’m not going to pout about it because there’s not a whole lot I can say on the matter that will actually change anything.

…Oh, right. There was one more game, wasn’t there?


Five years ago, Cuellar left the last game up to the players through a fundraiser contest; the game that received the most donations towards breast cancer research would be the final game at Evo 2013. The winning title, as fate would have it, was Super Smash Bros. Melee, which barely beat out Skullgirls and Super Street Fighter II: Turbo in the closing minutes.

The contest is coming back again this year. All proceeds will be going to the Make-A-Wish Foundation this time, and whichever game wins not only becomes the ninth game at Evo, but will lead off Evo Sunday ahead of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, BlazBlue: Central Fiction, King of Fighters XIV, and the traditional closer in Street Fighter V. The candidates include:

Super Street Fighter II: Turbo
Mortal Kombat XL
Skullgirls
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Killer Instinct
Pokken Tournament
ARMS (A title for Nintendo’s Switch)
Windjammers
Nidhogg

We have three Evo mainstays (Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Killer Instinct, and Mortal Kombat XL), a potential returning title from last year (Pokken), an absolute classic (Super Street Fighter II Turbo), an underappreciated gem (Skullgirls), an unproven title that isn’t even out yet (ARMS), and two non-fighting games as candidates (Windjammers and Nidhogg) for the final spot. It’s…an interesting lineup, to say the least.

The issue that I see here has nothing to do with any of the titles that are up for contention…though I am very surprised that UMvC3 may not be in the main lineup at all…nor does it have to do with where the money is going. I recognize that the money being donated is ultimately going to a noble cause. That being said, the larger problem with the charity drive is that it’s counter-intuitive to the main purpose of Evo.

See, the whole point of Evo is to bring fans of fighting games together under one roof. It might have seemed like a daydream once upon a time when it strictly ran Capcom fighters, but now more than ever has Evo become a unifying force for fans of all fighting games, similar to how the Olympics bring together athletes from all nations for all sports. Even with a good cause in mind, however, setting up something like this only serves to divide, not unite. There’s already been a fair deal of in-fighting among many of the games’ communities, and there’s bound to be more of it when the donation drive ends in two weeks’ time.

Community interaction is fine, I’m all for it. But when it pits communities against one-another and enables them to put down other titles while promoting their own, all of a sudden we have a problem. If anything, I would’ve preferred if the Evo team debated on the last title and decide it for themselves…or, in a worse-case scenario, just stick to eight and be prepared to catch flak from the communities that have been left out. It may be a lose-lose situation, but it beats the alternative of the other communities trashing each other in the name of their game.


Here’s the bottom line, though. Whatever qualms I may have with this year’s Evo lineup…I would’ve included Ultimate Marvel 3 and Killer Instinct over Melee and Guilty Gear Xrd personally…I think it’s still pretty solid. No matter what the last game ends up being, it’s going to be a fun weekend come the middle of July.

It’s a long wait until July, and I couldn’t be more hype.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

P.S. If anything, this is what I would’ve done for an Evo lineup:
Street Fighter V
Killer Instinct
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Injustice 2
BlazBlue: Central Fiction
Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
King of Fighters XIV
Windjammers (Purely for the sake of having something off-color by Evo standards)
Three “Day Zero” exhibitions: One for Super Smash Bros. Melee similar to last year’s “Battle of the Five Gods,” another for Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2, and a final one for Pokken Tournament.

EVO Daydreamin’

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

First and foremost, Happy New Year! I apologize for leaving this blog to collect dust for a while. Truth is, December was pretty crazy, between working a temporary paid internship for the first time ever, and getting swept up in the Holiday Season. Because of both, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to work on stuff for the blog. Now that both are in the rear view mirror, I can put more focus on writing for this. Call it my New Year’s Resolution, if you will.

But enough about my whereabouts…let’s talk eSports.


January is usually a time where there isn’t too much going on in terms of competitive sport. The National Hockey League and National Basketball Association are in the middle of their respective seasons, while the National Football League is in the process of whittling the field down for Super Bowl Sunday. I’m talking about none of those today. (Especially the NFL, for reasons I may or may not get into in another blog.)

Instead, I’m here to talk about the inevitable announcement of what games will be at the Evolution World Championships.

Evolution, or Evo for short, is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious video game tournaments in the world. Fighting game players from all over flock to Las Vegas every summer to compete for massive prizes and a year’s worth of bragging rights. It’s right about this time the lineup of games usually gets announced, so with that in mind, I have a wishlist of what I’d like to see played at Evo 2017. No real guidelines to speak of here, but keep in mind that this is all strictly opinion. If there’s something you don’t agree with here, that’s perfectly fine; I’m willing to debate any point in this article, so long as things stay civil.

With that out of the way, how about we jump right into it?


Street Fighter V
First, let’s address the elephant in the room. However you want to look at it, Street Fighter V is going to be at Evo; it started off running only Capcom fighters, and Street Fighter has been an Evo staple to this day. Also, despite the game bombing commercially, it’s been an excellent tournament headliner, thanks in large part to Capcom’s eSports initiative in the form of the Capcom Pro Tour. In fact, Evo’s Top 8 tournament for Street Fighter V managed to get a prime time spot on ESPN2. That’s a pretty major accomplishment, so there’s no way Joey Cuellar (A.K.A. Mr. Wizard) won’t feature the latest iteration of the grand master of fighting games at the biggest fighting game tournament ever. And with balance changes to the old cast, as well as new faces joining the fray throughout the year, there’s potential for new faces to make some serious noise.

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Another “gimme” pick, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 has been a part of Evo’s lineup since 2012 (or 2011 if you count the initial Fate of Two Worlds version), being featured as part of what I like to call “Evo Sunday” all five years…most of them just before whatever version of Street Fighter IV was hot at the moment. And that’s despite the fact that the game has received no additional support from Capcom due to licensing issues with Marvel. Of course, we all know that’s no longer a problem as of early last month, and with Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite coming later this year, it only seems right to take the third chapter of this classic crossover fighter for one final ride.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Ever since its introduction to the Evo scene in 2015, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has had…kind of a weird run. Both tournaments had their entrant counts in the thousands, with 2016’s tournament actually seeing a substantial increase in entrants (2,662, an increase from 2015’s 1,926), and both tournaments even managed to surpass its older counterpart, Super Smash Bros. Melee, in terms of raw participant numbers. When it came to the actual tournaments, however, they felt more like afterthoughts, with inconvenient time slots and very little fanfare compared to the treatment the Melee tournaments received at Evo. To be fair to Mr. Wizard, scheduling for a tournament of this scale (with only three or four days to work with) is a massively tricky undertaking. Still, a little more care could’ve been put into the Smash Bros. for Wii U tournaments; I’m not necessarily saying they should’ve been given treatment equal to the Melee tournaments, but they could’ve tried a bit harder to hype it up rather than put all the hype towards Melee because of the seniority it possesses. Thankfully, every game at Evo this year is going to be featured at the Mandalay Bay arena in Las Vegas, so that’s a good start.

Also, no disrespect to D’Ron “D1” Maingrette, the guy’s masterful when it comes to Smash Bros. commentary. But would it be too much to ask for Phil “PhenomenalEE” Visu to co-cast Top 8 along with TKBreezy this time?

(As an additional note, while a Switch version of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is likely, I doubt it will be available in time for Evo. It would be nice to see, though!)

Killer Instinct
Originally, I thought Killer Instinct’s chances of returning to Evo for the fourth year in a row were a bit shaky, since it looked like Season 3 was the last hurrah for the game as a whole. That, and with the number of entrants for each Killer Instinct tournament at Evo dropping year to year, it’s not unreasonable to think that it won’t be back in 2017. However, with three new characters coming to the game throughout 2017, and Iron Galaxy promising more surprises, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that it could be back after all. Killer Instinct is not a lock for Evo 2017 by any means, but the chances are better than they were before.

King of Fighters XIV
Evo is no stranger to hosting SNK games; Capcom vs. SNK 2 was an Evo classic for many years, and King of Fighters XIII featured some crazy Top 8 moments in 2012 and 2013. With King of Fighters being absent from Evo’s main stage for the past two years, and SNK announcing an E-sports support program for the game, King of Fighters XIV could bring it back in a huge way, maybe even set a precedent for future King of Fighters tournaments.

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution
The original arcade version of this game was featured in 2015, while the Fated Retribution update got the spotlight in 2016. Now, with the latter coming to consoles at some point this year, it makes sense to think that Tekken 7 will be on the Evo stage once again. I’m not sure if there will be another King of Iron Fist tournament series like what Bandai-Namco had last year, but if one gets announced before the Evo lineup is revealed, I could see Tekken 7 coming back for at least one more year.

Injustice 2
Ed Boon and NetherRealm Studios have barely said a damn thing about this game since August, so it makes you wonder what’s going on behind the scenes. I’m not about to put on a tin foil hat and theorize what’s going on, but fighting games usually don’t have info droughts that last this long. That being said, considering Kombat Pack Season 3 won’t be walking through the door for Mortal Kombat XL any time soon, NetherRealm’s relationship with the Evo crew over the past few years is a good sign that Injustice 2 has a shot at getting into the lineup. Let’s just hope this game is not as zone-heavy as the first…

Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator OR BlazBlue: Central Fiction
The last entry on this list is technically two games, but only one of them is bound to make it to Evo. It’s just a matter of which one gets the call, and there are arguments for both.

While Evo has been publicly known to a decent degree, it’s Guilty Gear Xrd that helped it get SportsCenter’s attention, with the infamous “What’re You Standing Up For?!” match between Ryuchi “Woshige” Shigeno and Kenichi Ogawa being a particular focal point. On the other hand, BlazBlue: Central Fiction is the newest addition to the BlazBlue series, which hasn’t been on the main Evo block since what many consider to be the greatest Grand Final set in Evo history two years ago, Galileo’s comeback against Dogura in Chrono Phantasma.

It’s hard to say which of these two will get the call to Evo, but rest-assured, one of them WILL get in.


Now, by this point you may have noticed two omissions from this wishlist: Pokken Tournament, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. There are a few reasons for this. For Pokken, it’s simply a matter of popularity. It had a great start when it first launched last spring, and did decently at last year’s Evo in terms of views and participants. In fact, the Evo tournament was even a part of Game Freak and The Pokémon Company International’s Pokken circuit that lead to the Pokémon World Championships the month after.

Sadly, the well of success Pokken found early on dried up not long after it had sprung. Even if it was featured at other tournaments after both Evo and Worlds, its popularity took a nosedive after the Pokémon World Championships. Moreso while new characters made their way to the arcade version, there has been no sign of them coming to the Wii U version…which makes sense, considering the Wii U is essentially done and dusted.

For Pokken to come back to Evo, one of two things need to happen. Either an updated version for the Nintendo Switch comes out with the four arcade newcomers (as well as any other new surprises), or Bandai-Namco and TPCi wave enough dollar bills in Mr. Wizard’s face to convince him to give the game another shot. Only time will tell, but at this point, I say Pokken’s Evo status is looking grim.

Melee, however, is in an unusual position: I want to see it at Evo…and it’s more than likely going to be there…but at the same time, I kind of don’t want to see it.

First, let me start off by saying that I don’t hate competitive Melee, and I get why it’s as big as it is. It’s a fun game to watch at a high level, easily on-par with Marvel vs. Capcom or Guilty Gear in terms of fun factor. Moreso, it pulls in Twitch views by the truckload, and the competitive scene has been running strong since its revival in 2013. It’s a game with a massive following, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

So, why do I want to see Melee at Evo while not wanting to see it at Evo at the same time? (It’s confusing, I know.)

The short answer is that there’s no point in holding a tournament when you know who’s likely to win it all in the end.

The long answer is that as amazing as Melee tournaments can be, they’ve gotten predictable over the years. Allow me to explain for the uninitiated: There are at least six Melee players that are the strongest and most consistent in the competitive Smash Bros. community, players that, at their best, are borderline unstoppable by all but themselves. You have “The Five Gods,” which consist of:

  • Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman
  • Kevin “PPMD” Nanney
  • Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma
  • Joseph “Mango” Marquez
  • Adam “Armada” Lindgren

And then you have a player who many consider to be the “Sixth God,” William “Leffen” Hjelte.

If there is a major Melee tournament going on, like Dreamhack, CEO, or Big House, chances are very high that it’s going to come down to any combination of these six players, and one of them is going to win it all. Those six are on a different level compared to other Melee players, and only a few other Melee players, such as Justin “Plup” McGrath, can actually beat them in the early stages of a Top 8. Further down, however, is another story.

By comparison, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U tournaments are much more diverse in terms of entrants, even with only two years of metagame development under its belt compared to Melee’s fifteen. True, you may see faces like Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios pop up more often than not, but most of the time, any Super Smash Bros. for Wii U tournament feels like it’s anyone’s game to win.

So, with all that in mind, if Mr. Wizard and friends believe that Melee absolutely needs to be at Evo, here’s what I think they could do as a compromise. Skip hosting a full-fledged tournament for Melee, and instead hold a “Day Zero” exhibition tournament with a prize pool, similar to last year’s Battle of the Five Gods. The staff can gather the best Melee players in the world…the Five Gods, Leffen, and any other top Melee players they can get a hold of…and invite them to participate.

It’s a win-win for everyone: The Melee community gets its time to shine, they help kick off Evo weekend, and an important point of contention as far as its growth as a competitive title, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U gets more limelight for the actual tournament.

And as a final, not-actually-serious prediction for the Evo ’17 lineup, I predict another Day Zero exhibition: A Fighting Game Community Overwatch tournament. Non-fighting games have been featured at Evo before (hello, Mario Kart DS), and Overwatch feels very close to a fighting game with its emphasis on counterpicks. Keep in mind that there’s very little chance this will actually happen, but it would be kind of funny to see major fighting game names like Justin Wong and Michael “IFC Yipes” Mendoza go at it with the likes of McCree and D. Va as opposed to Karin Kanzuki and Necalli.

…A man can dream, can’t he?!

Evo Speculation Season is upon us, and the official unveils are not too far off. Will my guesses be accurate? Only time will tell. Maybe I’ll speak more on the official reveals when they happen.

(Spoiler: I’m going to speak more on the official reveals when they happen.)

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

“Someday” is Today

The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

People, this blog isn’t even a year old, and I’m already writing about stuff I never thought I’d be writing about. Let me say that again:

The Chicago Cubs…Major League Baseball’s lovable losers for so long…are World Champions for the first time in a century and change.

If this is part of that mass hysteria Bill Murray was talking about in Ghostbusters, than hey, I’m all for it.

Putting the humor aside, what a World Series that was. I don’t think you could’ve written a script any more dramatic or any less boring. Especially when it comes to that last game; even Game Six of the 2011 World Series wasn’t as tense. And given how that game played out, that’s saying something.

It’s just so crazy to think about only a few days after the last game. On one side, you had Cleveland*, a team that made quick work of my Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays to get to this point, all with three impressive pitchers and a borderline-untouchable bullpen.

(*For the purposes of this article, I will only refer to Cleveland’s ballclub as “Cleveland,” and will not mention their nickname in any capacity…another topic for another time.)

On the other, you had Chicago, a fusion of scrappy, mash-happy youngsters and tested veterans that muscled past the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers to get to baseball’s Promised Land for the first time since the ‘40s.

Chicago, obviously, was running on 108 years without a World Series title. Cleveland, while not as extensive, was waiting on a 68 year old title drought. All things considered, something had to give.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t going to be fussed with whoever won this World Series. For starters, Boston had been eliminated a while ago. My rule is that if Boston isn’t in it, and as long as the New York Yankees aren’t in it, I’m fine with any team winning in the end. Plus there were old Red Sox pals on either side; Terry Francona, Coco Crisp and Mike Napoli were rocking Cleveland’s uniforms, who Theo Epstein, John Lackey and Jon Lester sported Chicago pinstripes.

Basically, it would be a small victory either way. And I try to look for the small victories when there are no Red Sox in sight.

All of that being said, I picked Chicago to win it all. Mainly because the team, and their fans, had suffered enough; 108 years is a hundred years too long for any team to experience a championship drought, and even before Boston broke their own curse in 2004, Chicago always had it worse off…keep this in mind for later. So, I figured it was time for Chicago to fly one helluva ‘W’ at Wrigley Field.

We all know how this World Series played out: Cleveland wins three of the first four games to put themselves on the edge of clinching the city’s second major sports championship of 2016, Chicago battles back, rain delays the tenth inning of Game Seven, and Chicago manages to get what they need and bring the title home.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, allow me to say something that, speaking as a Boston fan, might sound sacrilegious: This was better than Boston’s curse-busting World Series.

And it’s not even close.

Look, I still hold the 2004 World Series in high regard when it comes to Boston’s 21st Century sports dominance. How can you not? When you pull off a four-game winning streak in the American League Championship Series against your hated rivals on the way to your first World Series in over eight-and-a-half decades, it’s a pretty special moment. There aren’t too many people in or out of Boston who would say that Boston’s miracle run wasn’t spectacular.

But here’s the thing: Remember how I said that Chicago always had it worse off when compared to Boston?

Well, for those who aren’t well-versed in baseball lore, here’s a quick history lesson: Prior to 2004, Boston’s last World Series title was in 1918. Similarly, before this most recent World Series, Chicago hadn’t won a World Series since 1908. That’s ten full years before Boston’s last title at that time.

Also, for a bit of additional context, Boston had to battle back from the deficit in the ALCS; they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series right afterward. Chicago was down three games to one in the final series, and had to pull off what very few teams had done before. Yes, no team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit before Boston, but battling back on the biggest stage means a touch more in the long run.

Especially when, you know, the team in question hasn’t won it all in over a century.

But just like Boston, Chicago’s long-awaited World Series victory was one for the ages. A win for all those that came before; it’s for the ones that came so close to tasting October glory only to fall short, and all those who couldn’t quite get the team to the World Series. And, even though he was never actually a Cubs player, this one was for Steve Bartman, who can now roam the North Side of Chicago without being reminded of 2003.

It’s still a weird thing to say a few days later. I won’t be shocked if it’s still weird even one or two months later. That being said, it’s kind of a nice thing to say. So, on that note, I end by reminding those still in disbelief once more:

The Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

The Strongest There Was

Let’s face it: New England sports fans have been wicked spoiled lately. Since 2002, the four major teams (the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics and Boston Bruins) have brought home four Super Bowl titles, three World Series titles, an NBA Championship, and the Stanley Cup between them. That’s nine titles overall, including all four titles in the span of seven years. For someone who was born after the glory days of the Celtics and Bruins, these are the titles I tend to focus on the most when it comes to Boston’s sports dominance, if only for the fact that I was a witness to all of them.

Of all these titles, I want to focus on my favorite today: The Red Sox’ 2013 World Series victory.

Now, at first glance, this might not seem like the most exciting pick for a “Favorite Championship.” I mean, to be fair, we’ve seen the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals on this stage once before. The matchups were interesting, but I don’t think anything could come close to matchups like Pedro Martinez vs. Albert Pujols. You could tell me that there are far more exciting championship moments to choose from, like Super Bowl XLIX or Game Seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, and I wouldn’t disagree.

But here’s the thing: The reason why this is my favorite Boston championship, sentimental as it may sound, is that it was won at a time when the city of Boston needed the Red Sox just as much as the Red Sox needed the city of Boston.

Ask any Red Sox fan about the first few years of the new decade, and you’ll likely be met with cringe. 2010 was a disappointing year for the Red Sox, but the end of 2011 and all of 2012 left their fans with an especially bad taste in their mouths. What was once considered a powerhouse lineup became a bunch of unlikable laughingstocks, with the hiring of Bobby Valentine in 2012 only making things worse.

Ask yourself this: Would you want to root for a baseball team with players that, amongst other things:

  • Snacked on fried chicken and beer between innings?
  • Played golf on days where they were scratched for injury purposes?
  • Didn’t show up for the funeral of revered Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky?*

Probably not, right?

(*To be clear: David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were the only Red Sox players who attended Pesky’s funeral; everyone else attended a bowling event hosted by Josh Beckett on the same day.)

So, by the time 2013 came along, the Red Sox dumped their “star-power” in favor of more chemistry-oriented guys; players that didn’t necessarily put up huge numbers night to night, but were more well-known for positive influences in the clubhouse than anything else. It didn’t seem too exciting on paper, especially considering they didn’t have the numbers of someone like Adrian Gonzalez or Carl Crawford. But unlike those two, signing these guys worked out that year.

Players like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes were additions that not only performed well enough, but made the Red Sox fun to watch again in the eyes of many fans. They were funny, stress-free, rocked some awesome beards, but most importantly, they were dedicated. And in more ways than one.

Everybody knows what happened in Boston in 2013: The bombings at the Boston Marathon’s finish line that killed eight, wounded several others, and left the entire city in shock. These Red Sox were doing well before that, but there was something about what happened that pushed their game to something beyond the concept of “Next Level.” It felt like every win the Red Sox collected wasn’t just for them, but for the city. They helped the people of Boston take their minds off the bombings and near-statewide lockdown that occurred afterward, if only for a few nights and days at a time. And it all came together on this day three years ago at Fenway Park…which, by the way, hadn’t seen a title-clinching game in almost a century.

The moment that best-exemplifies the mentality of the 2013 Red Sox occurred during the team’s championship parade a few days after their last game. The parade stopped at the Boston Marathon’s finish line on Boylston St., where Gomes set the Commissioner’s Trophy down on the line and draped one of the team’s specially-made “Boston Strong” jerseys over it. This happened all before Ronan Tynan and the parade crowd broke out into a stirring rendition of “God Bless America.” It’s a moment that shows how this team, players and management alike, accomplished all that they did for Boston after that week in April, both those that were lost, and those still on the mend.

2004’s Red Sox squad will always be held in high regard as the dawning of a new age in team history, a turning point for a franchise that had to share the moniker of “Lovable Losers” with the Chicago Cubs for the longest time. Nobody’s going to argue that notion, and I’m not going to be the first. At the same time, even if the 2013 team didn’t have to claw back from impossible odds to win it all like their ’04 and ‘07 predecessors did, what they managed to accomplish was still pretty spectacular. They redeemed themselves in the eyes of their fans, and helped those same fans heal from tragedy in the process.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d say that’s more than worthy of a #1 spot.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom