If you want to get a quick gauge on the health of the multitude of titles in the fighting game community, the best place is still EVO.
Joey Cuellar, the president of the EVO Championship Series, released registration numbers were released overnight for the nine main titles on the tournament roster this year. Numbers for EVO tournaments will always be larger than anywhere else, given how prestigious and Mecca-like the annual tournament is to the FGC, and esports more broadly.
But the figures still provide a useful view into the health of different communities. It's fairly well understood, for instance, that Smash Ultimate is transcendent beyond most fighting games, and so it's not much of a surprise that it would have the most participation with almost 3500 fighters this year.
But there are some surprises in the figures. Street Fighter 5 is still the second-most popular game on the EVO 2019 dance card, just beating out Tekken 7 with 1929 competitors to 1885. Most intriguingly — or worryingly, depending on your point of view — is the rise of Samurai Showdown, which will be the 4th biggest main game with 1719 entrants.
Things are looking less bright for Dragon Ball Fighter Z. Entrants are down by more than half, with 1191 players competing in the main tournament this year compared to 2575 last year. But the overall numbers are up — although keep in mind that players can compete in multiple tournaments.
Evo 2019 Final Numbers!
Smash Ultimate - 3492
Street Fighter V - 1929
Tekken 7 - 1885
Samurai Shodown - 1719
Mortal Kombat 11 - 1567
Unist - 1156
DragonBall FighterZ - 1191
Soul Calibur 6 - 742
BlazBlue:CTB - 640#Evo2019
— Joey Cuellar (@MrWiz) July 15, 2019
The entrants for Smash Ultimate have grown by almost 1000 on the combined entrants for Melee and Smash Bros Wii U, further highlighting just how much untapped potential Smash still has. But even the lower end figures for the more niche fighters are solid, and Street Fighter 5 has remained relatively resilient.
The quiet story amongst all of this is the continued growth of Tekken 7, a franchise that was attracting only 550 entrants in 2016. Tekken's gotten more popular every year, however, to the point where it's got a larger player base at EVO 2019 than Mortal Kombat 11, which launched this year. Mortal Kombat hasn't been on the EVO main stage since 2016, but it's still got its highest number of entrants since 2015 (1567 this year compared to 1167 in 2015).
All in all: the FGC is growing. No one single tournament has 5,000-plus entries that Street Fighter enjoyed in 2016, or the equivalent numbers Melee and Smash Wii U enjoyed that same year, but overall, FGC's stage is bigger than ever. It makes you wonder what Smash Ultimate could really do if Nintendo dedicated themselves to fleshing out the tournament scene the way other publishers and developers have for their titles, but for now, I'll hold onto my dream of watching Isabelle donk her way to the Evo 2019 finals.