EVO GM Rick “TheHadou” Thiher speaks to Smash’s absence, plans to make Evo 2022 the biggest ever cover image

EVO GM Rick “TheHadou” Thiher speaks to Smash’s absence, plans to make Evo 2022 the biggest ever

Evo is returning from a two year hiatus with a new ownership team in tow. How will the event shift and change for the betterment of the FGC?

The Evolution Championship Series, or Evo for short, has long been the most important fighting game event of the year. As such, after an absence of two years in a live venue, this year's Evo is going to be especially important. Not only will it mark a return to form for the event, but it's also the debut of Evo's new ownership team of RTS and Sony.

That team brought on perhaps one of the brightest minds in the fighting game community as its general manager in Rick "TheHadou" Thiher. Long known as the creative force behind Combo Breaker, TheHadou brings with him over a decade of fighting game experience and plans to expand on Evo's legacy.

We had a chance to catch up with TheHadou to see exactly what will change in this year's event, see if we could get some more insight as to why Nintendo didn't want Smash at the event, and general philosophies carrying forward into future Evo's. Perhaps the event will even expand in the future? Read on, Esports.gg faithful!

Dustin Steiner, esports.gg: What would you say is the biggest benefit to players with RTS and Sony having ownership of Evo now?

Rick "TheHadou" Thiher, Evo General Manager: I think the expectation that players can have under the relationship of Sony and RTS is the ability for us to commit more full-time focus to Evo each year. But also that it allows us an opportunity to really look at the historical purpose of Evo, and how Evo should exist in the wider community. Their connectivity and resources allow things like myself to become a general manager of the product and try to start pushing all the corners of the community back into one place so we can celebrate as a collective. Instead of celebrating individually at any one of the products throughout the year. 

No Smash? What gives?

Steiner: Speaking of that connectivity, things with Smash didn't end up working out this year. Can you speak to why that didn't fly with Nintendo this year?

TheHadou: Not every publisher is interested in their game being showcased at every opportunity that presents itself, for any number of reasons. This year, Nintendo had some reasons, and therefore we're looking to the future with the games that we're running. We hope that in the future Smash will be one of them again. 

Steiner: Did Nintendo intimate in future years if they'd be interested in coming back?

TheHadou: Conversations with Nintendo continue to be amicable. 

Steiner: Is Smash going to be allowed in the community area of Evo and will that be able to be streamed?

TheHadou: The community area of Evo is going to have community organizers at their preference. We don't have a dedicated stream for those games, and I don't know which ones would or won't be on stream today. We haven't opened applications yet - but I would love to see every game possible in that space. We're going to find out together, based on who applies and what happens. 

Building a Dream Fight roster for Evo 2022

Games included at this year's Evo include SFV, Guilty Gear Strive, MK11, Tekken 7, KOFXV, Melty Blood, Dragonball FighterZ, Granblue Fantasy Versus, and Skullgirls.
Games included at this year's Evo include SFV, Guilty Gear Strive, MK11, Tekken 7, KOFXV, Melty Blood, Dragonball FighterZ, Granblue Fantasy Versus, and Skullgirls.

Steiner: Speaking of the selection of games that are going to be at Evo, what went into those choices? There were some choices we haven't seen as main titles before. 

TheHadou: We wanted to represent as wide a spread of subcommunities as we could. As many of the active developers and publishers as we could. So Evo could really continue serving as a showcase of what the fighting game genre has to offer. 

Steiner: Do you think that some of those unique subcultures within the FGC are going to show up en mass to Evo? What's your early read on that?

TheHadou: I certainly hope so. We're coming off of a few years without any active events. We're coming off of a couple of years where some of these games, like GranBlue Fantasy Versus, didn't have the opportunity to rally since release. So I'm hoping we get to see a lot of them together for the first time, or maybe overdue launch party as in the case of Skullgirls.

Steiner: Any early predictions or expectations on which game gets the most entrants? That game will get the vaunted status of closing out Evo.

TheHadou: I think either Guilty Gear Strive or King of Fighters XV are getting the new release interest bump. On top of that, they've been doing incredibly well at tournaments thus far this year, like CEO, Combo Breaker, or Frosty Faustings which had open registration. But you never know. Could wind up with a late surge of interest in SFV, could see Tekken 7 getting an incredible number of international entrants together. We also haven't seen a MK11 tournament in a long time, and that's one of the most active playerbases online of any fighting game there is. It's a question in flux all the way up to the show weekend in August. 

The future of Evo and the FGC

Steiner: Evo has traditionally been a once-a-year event in Las Vegas, with a few events in Japan that have had the Evo name. Now that Sony and RTS have come together and purchased Evo are there plans to expand Evo to other cities or other shows throughout the year?

TheHadou: We are focusing on the event in August for the time being, trying to get that right and get that up to the next version of what Evo in Vegas will be. From there, I'd love to see Evo's brand pushing out globally because the brand has the biggest reach in fighting games. Where that lands and what that means, not sure today.

Steiner: Something I've noticed a lot in the FGC is that there's always a lot of cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, just in terms of the number of organizers, the different ways TOs do things, the different games that are involved. Has there ever been any conversation between all the different TOs to try and standardize things across the industry with how these events work, and how players can participate?

TheHadou: Since I've gotten into the community, that has happened more than once. What usually has followed is the reality that this is a very decentralized ecosystem. The regions are very different, the organizers are different, the reasons they're putting on the events can even be different. So while that's happened from time to time, it hasn't really solidified into a single group. 

Steiner: Do you think that RTS and Sony could be a force to help something like that happen?

TheHadou: I think anytime there's a new player in an ecosystem all types of changes are possible. Whether that's one of them in relation to Sony and RTS, no idea - I've only been here since January [laughs]. 

It's Mahvel baby - maybe

Steiner: You mentioned recently on Twitter to keep the spirit bomb for Marvel vs Capcom 2 ready. I noticed that there was no mention of anything like the canceled Tournament of Champions exhibition, for example. Is anything like that in the pipeline?

TheHadou: Retro tournaments and Marvel, in particular, is always in the pipeline. It's just whether that pipeline exits into somewhere we want to be. Ideal world, I'd love to see Evo run the Tournament of Champions. In an even more ideal world, I'd love to see Evo begin to be able to celebrate the history of the genre and run many of those older games. Either as one-offs or on a consistent basis.

What would be potential roadblocks to that happening?

TheHadou: Games take licenses. Older games potentially have complicated licenses or just aren't a focal point of the current year. Beyond that, also just consumer interest. 

Evo's under new management - bigger and better than ever

Can you speak to the general feel of the event now that you're in the active planning stages for August? Will things just be more spread out with double the convention space, or will there be more to do?

TheHadou: It's a bit of both. We have a lot more space to spread out the experience. Provide a little bit more general attendee comfort room. But beyond that, we also want to increase the activities available, or the scale of the activities available. So it's of particular importance to me that Evo has the ability to give players that are traveling across the world to play an extensive amount of just casual relaxed sets with one another. So Evo this year has one of the largest casual spaces that have ever existed in the FGC. It's important to me that that community area is allowed to scale up and grow because there's a wealth of fighting games and fans and don't necessarily see themselves reflected in the 9 games we have time in the schedule for. Beyond that, I want to make sure we're celebrating where fighting games came from, which is the arcade and arcade culture. 

This is the first Evo that will have an extensive arcade available, to allow attendees to live through that history with us in 2022. 

Aside from the community area and the arcade area, what else do you have planned for the show? Will Sunday finals be in the arena, for instance?

TheHadou: We are returning to the Michelob Ultra arena at Mandalay Bay. We'll once again feature four of the games in our lineup, this time being the four games with the largest entrants as I'm a firm believer that when watching a top 8, the game that has the most eliminated players in the room has the best energy. 

Something that folks have had concerns with is that ticket price has gone up substantially this year for Evo. Could you speak to that, and maybe where some of the money is going?

TheHadou: Most of the money is just going to the activation around the event. If we look around the world, we're sitting at a point where gas is the most expensive I've ever seen it. That trickles out to everything that goes into an event. Equipment is more money, setup is more money, space is more money, staff is more money. If you go down the list, that's where price increases come from and where your money goes. We're spending every cent we can on making this the best Evo it can be. 

Anything you'd like to say to the FGC and wider esports audience before we close this thing out?

TheHadou: Play more fighting games. They're good for you!

Stay tuned to Esports.gg in the run up to Evo 2022 for more coverage on the show as we get closer to the day!