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

Baton Pass, Part II: To Alola, and Beyond

Last time I talked about Pokémon, I offered my perspective on the most recent generation of the series. Now, with the latest generation almost ready to take the world by storm, let’s focus on what’s to come.

To this day, it still amuses me how the news cycle for this generation has played out. (And, if we’re being honest, it’s been far more fun than this past electoral cycle.) If you weren’t paying attention, here’s a brief summary of how the news cycle has played out:

  • February 26th, 2016: Sun and Moon are officially announced.
  • March to Mid-May: No news at all; not even anything from CoroCoro Magazine, a Japanese magazine publication that is notorious for leaking Pokémon-related information ahead of The Pokémon Company International and Game Freak’s official announcements.
  • May 10th: The first gameplay, starter trio, and legendaries are revealed.
  • June-October: Monthly news blitzes revealing mind-blowing new additions and features, with some smaller surprise reveals in-between.

Yeah. That’s pretty crazy. What’s even crazier is how they’ve been able to keep this up for almost half a year.

We get confirmation of new titles, things go bone-dry for a few months afterward, and then all of a sudden all kinds of new information pops up every month, most of it involving things people never would’ve seen coming otherwise. Things like Alolan forms, Z-Moves, and Ultra Beasts blew people away when they were first revealed, with the promise of adding new dimensions to the tried-and-true formula. That, to me, is a big part of why I think Game Freak has been keeping all the excitement and speculation going for as long as it has.

But as great as all these supersized info-drops have been, one of my hopes for these games is that there’s more to these games than what Game Freak and TPCi are letting on. The fact that we’ve been getting so much info on these games before their release is all well and good, considering we didn’t get anything for the better part of two-and-a-half months. At the same time, I still want there to be some element of surprise when it comes to what the games have to offer.

Something that I feel is missing in a lot of games these days is that surprise factor. Everything is unveiled before the games even officially come out, whether it’s through leakers or, in some rarer cases, the developers themselves. Even then, and with this being Pokémon’s big 20th anniversary, my hope is that all of this info they’ve dropped on us for the past five months is just part of something bigger. Not a small part, necessarily, but this game as a whole feels like something Game Freak has been working towards for a long time.

One of the few issues that I had with Generation VI as a whole was its story. Again, it was nothing really bad… just lackluster. I will grant that it had a tough act to follow with Generation V’s story, but even then it’s no excuse to follow up with a story that wasn’t just hollow, but also left a lot of untapped potential on the table; potential that could’ve been realized with a Pokémon Z, or an X2/Y2 like what they did for Black and White. Of course, we now know that’s never going to happen.

For Sun and Moon, I want to see what Game Freak can really do for a story. There have been little bits and pieces on what the games’ story centers on, such as what truly makes a Pokémon, which already sounds like an interesting concept to work off of. If Game Freak goes deeper with that concept, and truly delivers, we could have something really special on our hands. On top of that, strong character development is also welcome. The characters we’ve seen so far look fun and enjoyable, but there’s bound to be more to them under the surface.

A story-related hope I have is that Game Freak really surprises us with these characters and how they develop throughout the journey. I want to see something like Lillie, who’s against Pokémon battles normally, come to the realization that they’re not as bad as she makes them out to be. Or what about something like Guzma, for all the streetwise bravado he’s shown off, revealing a different side to his character. And possibly the biggest surprise of them all would come from the Aether Foundation; most people are pinning them as the true villains of the story, but what if Game Freak toyed with our expectations and made them a genuinely benevolent organization? I’d give them kudos for that.

…Maybe.

But above all else, the single biggest wish that I have for Sun and Moon is really pretty simple: That it’s just as fun as the previous games, if not moreso. Being a game enthusiast, I always hold out hope that the games I play will be enjoyable; basically, I’m a “Gameplay First” kind of person. They pull that much off, and they get a passing grade, it’s as simple as that. X and Y were already enjoyable as they were; they may have had a few hiccups to them, sure, but in the end, going through Kalos was still a treat. For Sun and Moon, I’m really hoping that they take what worked before, and go a few steps further with them. With the demo being out for a while, there’s a good feeling that Game Freak will answer the call in making this a great experience for any and all Pokémon fans. Whether or not that will translate to the full experience being fun is anybody’s guess.

Even with all the reveals we’ve been getting, and some leaked information coming out as well, there’s still a lot about Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon that we don’t know yet. Are we getting more than what we’ve seen for new Pokémon and Alolan forms? Is the Aether Foundation the real team of antagonists? What exactly ARE the Ultra Beasts? What happens once we clear the Island Challenge? We don’t have the answers to these questions yet. Thankfully, there’s good news: As of this writing, we’re a week away from finding out.

From Generation VI to Generation VII, Game Freak used Baton Pass.

‘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

A Sporting Chance

Nintendo made a huge splash when it unveiled its next big thing. What once went under the codename NX is now known as the Switch, a slick-looking console that can be played both at home and on the go; basically, it’s a home and portable console rolled into one package.

Real quick before we get to the actual topic, I think this is an amazing idea on paper. The ability to play video games virtually anywhere is going to be a massive boon for many game enthusiasts out there. And that list of third-party developers is nothing to sneeze at; you know you’ve got a good thing going for you with developers like Arc System Works and Bethesda in your corner. There are concerns with the hardware, obviously, and I do think that Nintendo holding off on announcing games until the beginning of next year is kind of worrisome. Overall, though, the Switch looks like it’s going to be a revolutionary new system, and I honestly can’t wait to hear more about it.

But enough small talk, let’s talk about something that came to mind when I saw the Switch trailer for the first time: Nintendo taking on the world of E-Sports.

At the end of the Switch trailer, Nintendo unveiled what looks like a sequel to their surprise hit from 2015, Splatoon. It showed off two teams going over possible strategies, and then heading out into what may as well have been a dead-ringer for Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The more I saw this scene, I got this feeling that the Switch would create a new avenue for Nintendo.

Then, it hit me: This could be Nintendo’s way of getting deeper into the world of E-Sports.

Before I get too carried away, let’s get one thing straight. I’m not saying that Nintendo is going to abandon the console gaming business in favor of cultivating competitive gaming scenes, and for that matter, I’m not saying they should. The Big N has always been about creating consoles and games for all audiences from Day One, and that’s never going to change. This is merely something that Nintendo could do in addition to that. They’re already trying to make strides in theme parks and movies, so why not branch out into one more medium?

Now, technically Nintendo has been involved in E-Sports before, at least to a degree. Games in their Super Smash Bros. series, specifically Melee and the latest entry for the Wii U, have been featured at several major fighting game tournaments in recent years, with Evo (short for Evolution, for those not in the know) being the most notable of them all. That’s not bad for initial exposure to the world of E-Sports, but who’s to say Nintendo can’t go deeper with this?

If Super Smash Bros. gets a new entry to the Switch (and if insiders like Emily Rogers are to be believed, it’s very possible), it would be the perfect foundation for a professional circuit, something akin to the Capcom Pro Tour for Street Fighter V. In addition to being a staple at major fighting game tournaments like Evo, the competitive Smash Bros. scene has plenty of exclusive tournaments like Genesis, Pound, APEX, and the Big House.

Imagine those tournaments as stepping stones toward something much grander.

It’s hard to say whether or not this will actually happen due to series director Masahiro Sakurai’s stance on Smash Bros. as a competitive fighting game. But considering how successful Smash Bros. has been competitively…one look at the attendance numbers of Smash Bros. for Wii U at Evo speaks for itself…Nintendo could open up new doors for the Smash Bros. series if they do something like the Capcom Pro Tour.

If Nintendo does get serious with an E-Sports venture, Splatoon is sure to be a part of those plans, what with how the first game absolutely exploded in popularity. While live tournaments have been possible with the first game, a new Splatoon game on the Switch essentially streamlines the process of conducting a tournament, with everyone being able to bring their own systems. Following this, another notable boon to having Splatoon on the Switch is that players on each team would be able to use their own specifically-tuned gear instead of having to rely on pre-made loadouts.

And why stop at Super Smash Bros. and Splatoon? When you think about it, Nintendo has a few series that could benefit from the E-Sports treatment. Mario Kart jumps out as a perfect first option for a professional league, and collaborating with The Pokémon Company International could yield a bigger, better Pokken Tournament circuit.

Some of Nintendo’s older franchises would make for great tournament games as well, if you think about it. Can you imagine an F-Zero pro circuit? Or an all-new Star Fox game with competitive multiplayer in mind? Sounds crazy, right? (Maybe that’s because it is, but you see my point.)

Or, if all else fails, we could see a new game from Nintendo that’s largely dedicated to tournament play. More specifically, a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA for short) with characters from across Nintendo’s wide stable of franchises, with gameplay similar to games like League of LegendsHeroes of the Storm, maybe even Overwatch in some respects. The game would still be accessible to game enthusiasts of all skill levels, obviously, but for those that really want to get more out of it, a tournament series would be the perfect thing to aspire for.

By this point, all of this may seem like the crazy ramblings of a guy who grew up with Nintendo and loves competitive gaming just as much as pro sports leagues like Major League Baseball. And, honestly, I can’t fault you for thinking that. That being said, my point still stands that the Switch could be a huge opportunity for Nintendo to branch out into more unexplored territory. Would they revolutionize E-Sports in any way? Probably not, but it would still be amazing to see them give it a try regardless.

The Nintendo Switch has a ton of possibilities. Maybe, just maybe, a stronger involvement with E-Sports is one of them. Until the Big N tells us more, only time will tell.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

Baton Pass, Part I: Views from the Sixth Generation

We’re exactly one month away from the true beginning of a brand new generation of Game Freak’s crown jewel video game franchise. Ever since the middle of May, news for Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon has been coming at a frequent clip, with information coming almost monthly. With so much newness to look forward to, Pokémon Sun and Moon are looking to cap the series year-long 20th Anniversary celebration with a bombastic finale.

But before we jump into the newest generation of Pokémon, let’s take a look back at the previous one.

Now, I want to start this piece off by being very clear about something. I’m not going to make too many comparisons between Generation VI and the ones that came before it. There are a few reasons for this; for one, I haven’t played many of the games past the original Pokémon Red, Blue, Gold and Silver. In recent times, I have only completed the main campaigns for X and Alpha Sapphire, both of which will be talked about in this piece the most. In addition, I am currently working on Pokémon Platinum, and have yet to play Black, White, and their sequels, though I plan to do so in the future. Any references to these games I do bring up are strictly based off of viewing experiences rather than actual gameplay experiences.

Second, and most-importantly, even if I did play any of the previous titles, I would rather not compare Generation VI to previous generations too much. While I may bring up fleeting comparisons, I would rather judge this generation on its own merits instead of weighing them against those of its predecessors. Yes, there are things that previous generations did better; case in point being the fifth generation’s storyline. But at the same time, the point is more about my own personal experience with generation six.

Having said all of that, what was Generation VI like for me? Well, on an overall scale, it was a solid generation to return to after so many years away from the series. There was a lot that Game Freak did well with this generation, and just as much that they fell short with. The story of Pokémon X is, unfortunately, one of the latter.

The story takes a very back-to-basics approach, where you journey across Kalos to collect eight gym badges and challenge the Pokémon League, all while dealing with an evil organization along the way. The thing is, this would’ve been fine if not for one key problem: Missed potential. Shauna, Tierno, Trevor and Serena/Calem are enjoyable enough to be around as human companions, and as characters, there are some cool concepts; Tierno’s obsession with dancing, for example, is a great idea that I would’ve loved to see explored and expanded on. Unfortunately, the game’s story never seems to develop these characters any further than their basic traits.

AZ is even worse in this regard. At least the companions have a presence in the story, but AZ is just…there. His backstory is explained somewhat, but other than that he has no real impact. The story could’ve had a focus on AZ and his place in the lore, and it would’ve been far more interesting. All we get instead is his backstory, very little exposition from him, a battle following the champion, and a reunion with his beloved Floette. That’s all.

That’s the biggest issue with Pokémon X and Y’s story. There’s so much potential here for a compelling storyline, between AZ’s past and the history of Mega Evolution. None of it is tapped into, and all we’re left with is a hollow story topped off by a laughable evil organization in Team Flare. (Don’t get me started on those jokers, I swear…) I understand that Pokémon isn’t known for prize-winning narratives, but if you’re coming off one of the most story-driven entries in the series to-date…Black and White, for those keeping score at home…a little extra effort would’ve gone a long way.

Outside of the story, the gameplay fares much better, albeit with a few hiccups of its own. The introduction of Fairy-type Pokémon brought a sense of parity to a series that was otherwise dominated by Dragon-types, and Mega Evolution was a good way to breathe new life into some old favorites like Gardevoir and Charizard. (That being said, I do feel like there was some favoritism involved in the development of some Megas; did we really need Mega Garchomp?) On top of that, while the likes of Aegislash, Talonflame and Greninja wore out their welcomes in the eyes of competitive players, the new Pokémon that were introduced this generation are all great additions between their concepts and designs.

Sadly, the fact that there were so few new Pokémon presents a nitpick that I have with Generation VI. X and Y’s combined selection of monsters (as well as that of Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire) are curated from past generations to make up for the small number of new ones. This makes Generation VI’s games feel less like a brand new generation, and more like an anthology of the series’ greatest Pokémon. Yes, it does offer players plenty of options for in-game team building, but my point still stands.

On a final note in regards to problems I have with the game, it felt a bit too easy, even by the series’ standards. Part of it does have to do with how the EXP Share works, but it’s not the only factor. (Even though, for what it’s worth, I didn’t find the EXP Share to be all that busted.) Super Training and the benefits you get from Pokémon-Amie, like shrugging off status conditions, also factor in. Once you train and play with your Pokémon, and you have an idea of what’s coming as far as opponents go, beating the main story is a breeze. For instance, I went into the Elite Four with my team at least five levels lower than the champion’s ace, and I still managed to make it through the last fight without losing anybody. Granted, there were one or two moments where things looked dicey, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that beating the champion was fairly simple.

Whatever issues Pokémon X and Y may have had with story and gameplay, it’s tough to deny that Game Freak managed to nail the little things. Kalos is an amazing region to explore, with some incredible locales worth exploring. The soundtrack is phenomenal (try to tell me the theme of Xerneas and Yveltal isn’t epic with a straight face), it looks good, trainer customization is an excellent addition, and Pokémon-Amie is a fun, charming way to interact with your Pokémon companions in ways you never could before.

As far as Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire go, the problem is that I never played the original third generation games when they came out, due to their release coming around the same time I started losing interest in Pokémon as a whole. So I can’t really judge whether or not the remakes are improvements over the originals. That said, I think they’re fine games, all things considered; they build off of what worked in X and Y, while adding features that I’m surprised didn’t make it into those games, like Soaring. The fact that they didn’t include customization for the remakes was a downer, but it doesn’t make it any less of a good game.

Overall, Generation VI of Pokémon was just as I described it earlier: Solid. It did have some growing pains, with the jump to the Nintendo 3DS being chief among them, but it still managed to do enough to succeed in my book. Not for one second do I regret returning to the series with this generation.

I do want to close on one thing that I feel needs to be mentioned. Without name dropping, there are some individuals who are far more passionate about Pokémon than I am who have said that Generation VI felt “soulless.” Now, I’m not going to say that these people are wrong; after all, that’s their opinion, and they’re entitled to it. Having said that, I respectfully disagree with that notion. The fact that you can customize your trainer however you want them to look, as well as the ability to actually interact with your Pokémon partners, shows that there is a soul to these games. Moreso, the problems with Generation VI have nothing to do with a lack of soul so much as they do missed opportunities and the aforementioned growing pains. Sure, X, Y, Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire weren’t perfect games, and they made some weird design decisions, but that doesn’t necessarily make them soulless. Make of that what you will, but that’s just my two cents.

So, those are my thoughts on Generation VI of Pokémon. What do I think of what lies ahead for the series? Well, I feel that I’ve talked more than enough here, so we’ll save that topic for another time.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom