This year's Evolution Championship Series started with a bang last night as King of Fighters XIV wrapped up its one-day competition with an intense finals bracket. Spectators crowded the exhibition hall to see the weekend's first champion crowned among the impressive mix of players from across Taiwan, China, Mexico, Pakistan, Japan, and the United States.
It became clear early on that Mexican competitors Luis "Luis Cha" Martinez and Ruben "Pako" Partida were the crowd favourites. Evo's strong American presence meant that every character they eliminated and every match they won were met with deafening cheers from the audience. In the first round, both players were able to defeat heavy favourites to take the whole tournament -- China's Zhuojun "Xiaohai" Zeng and Masanobu "M'" Murakami of Japan, respectively -- allowing them to move further into the dense top eight bracket.
Unfortunately, elimination came soon after for our Mexican heroes at the hands of Xiaohai, who clawed his way through the lower bracket to earn a spot in the losers finals. After soundly defeating Luis Cha with a clean 3-0 sweep, he would earn a shot against Taiwan's Chia-hung "E.T." Lin in the grand finals.
E.T. entered the championship match with a perfect record, and few players looked capable of stopping him thanks to his impressive march through the dense King of Fighters XIV bracket. But after sticking with a predictable group of characters for much of the tournament, the Taiwanese competitor broke out someone completely new for the grand finals: Goro Daimon, the beefy judo master.
At first, this character selection didn't seem to be working out for E.T. While the character's mixture of precision strikes and devastating throws initially threw Xiaohai off guard, he quickly adapted to E.T.'s surprising team composition, tying the game count at two apiece with an incredible comeback. On the verge of having the bracket reset, E.T. adjusted his team order, moving Daimon from second to third. As an anchor, the judoka would have more meter to work with, making him that much more deadly in E.T.'s capable hands.
With just one character left for both players, E.T. made a series of impressive reads, snatching Xiaohai's Iori out of the air with successive command grabs for his own mini-comeback. The crowd mimicked Daimon's expressions on screen, building themselves to a fever pitch until the moment he landed his final combo. E.T., who had come so close to securing a King of Fighters XIII title at Evo 2014, collapsed on stage as he celebrated his Evo 2017 championship.
Xiaohai, who playfully boasted earlier in the week that the $US14,000 ($17,882) pot bonus from developer SNK and publisher Atlus was as good as his, held his face in his hands, going home at a respectable (yet still devastatingly unsatisfactory) second place.
It's going to be hard to follow-up on that. Check out our previous coverage for more details, and be sure to catch up on the amazing King of Fighters XIV finals in the official Twitch archive, starting around 10:03:00.