Into the Fray: Open Bracket Madness

August 02 2018

“Pool A1! Pool A1! Please report to Station 1 to check-in!”

It’s begun.

All of your preparations are about to be tested. The countless hours in the lab, the neverending march of ranked netplay, and countless private sets with friends and foes. It’s time to pay up and see where you stand.

“Crms vs UltimateMasterRYU69 on Station 6”

You do your best to maintain composure. You don’t want to succumb to the nerves, the cold sweat or the shaky hands. Your inner monologue is racing, “What if I go 0-2?” “What if I drown in pools?” “If I win RD1, I have to play Nemo next, $%^#.” And then silence….


You did it. You won your first match — and the payoff? Well... it only gets harder with each and every win. You studied your bracket, you saw the potential paths and you know what awaits you.

“Crms vs Liquid`Nemo”

“Follow that guy in the red shirt,” the bracket runner says hurriedly, “you’re going to play on stage.”

It’s the moment you were hoping for since the brackets released. A chance to test yourself against one of the best in the world on a huge stage. The pressure mounts as you will be shown to the world as stream monsters lick their chops. An army of online warriors ready to rip you apart for the slightest mistake. Will you shock the world or be another flailing body put to rest by the seasoned veteran?

Do you have the skill, the composure, the nerves, the decision making to get to the next level? There is only one way to find out. You play.

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The open bracket format is as daunting as it is gruelling. There are no free passes at FGC majors, from pot monster to sponsored champions, everyone gets thrown into the pool. Many will drown, few will survive but everyone earns respect.

While this volatile, no holds barred format has been a contentious topic, it's something that has been ingrained within the FGC culture for generations. One criticism levied against continuing this tradition has been that sponsored players have a threat of losing early to a ‘fluke’* and not getting the proper exposure for teams and sponsors.

While there’s no bigger bummer than Nemo or John Takeuchi busting out early at a major event, it’s a risk that comes with the territory. In the long run, these moments can last forever. That underdog story is replayed on YouTube and during stream breaks for years. When a hero falls, a new one rises. A storyline is created that will develop through tradition and a new moment is entered into FGC history.

These events are celebrations of community and competition. Every tournament player can wax poetically about their hardest pool or their most successful run. That feeling of self improvement, achieving goals and testing yourself against all challengers are huge motivators for players to put themselves through the rigor of ‘getting good.’

Team Liquid has a history of open bracket madness, as far back as the early days of StarCraft 2 at MLG. When esports was just beginning to have its explosion through new mediums like, players would have to qualify to group play by going through brutal brackets. This is where some players made their names, like our old fan favorite HuK. Fans during this time would follow along and spam refresh Liquipedia to see who was knocked down each round and try to predict brackets and groups for the following rounds. It was exciting.

Nobody knows the opportunities a large open bracket event can afford than our very own John Takeuchi. John was known before his colossal run at the inaugural EVO Japan but he was mostly regarded as an eager hopeful — the new blood in the Japanese Street Fighter scene. John had rarely traveled, and when he did it was due to crowdfunding through reddit support.

EVO Japan changed everything. A 2,200+ player gauntlet where John Takeuchi clawed, scratched, and shoved towards the finish line. His reward was the grand finals versus multi-EVO winner Infiltration. John ultimately lost after a bracket reset but the bodies he climbed to reach that point left the world on notice. John beat some of the most respected fighting game players ever, Street Fighter or otherwise and 2 former Capcom Cup champions too: Sako, Poongko, Kazunoko, stormKUBO, MOV, and MenaRD. A path this treacherous is hard to rival and John only dropped a single game. The spotlight on John afterward was blinding, and it has now entered FGC open bracket lore.

As the FGC continues to explode, there will be trial and error, stagnation, peaks and valleys, good events and bad, but it will move forward. The FGC isn’t a ‘flash in the pan’ that lives or dies by active monthly players or Twitch viewership. The FGC has been around for decades. Whether it’s through $250,000 invitationals ala ELEAGUE or a community driven open bracket such as Combo Breaker, the scene will grow in its own way and the tradition of open bracket events will always have a place at its core.

The King

The biggest of all open bracket events in the FGC is the legendary Evolution Championship Series or EVO for short. The growth of this event shows that there is no shortage of driven and engaged fans. EVO, which originally began in 1996 under the moniker ‘Battle by the Bay’, has held successive events since 2000. Registration this year shows over 7,400 competitors and over 10,500 in total will be there to participate in the festivities. This is ~9% growth in competitors from 2017 and ~15% growth in overall attendance.

Our Street Fighter V squad will be in contention this year to grind it out with 2,400+ combatants. This event isn’t just the largest event, but also holds a significant weight on the Capcom Pro Tour. All other events are labeled as ‘Ranking’ or ‘Premier’ which have different point accumulation structures. EVO is such a spectacle that it has its own distinction. It isn’t a Ranking or a Premiere, it’s simply ‘Evolution’. It carries its own point structure worth far more than Premiere events.

With the current Capcom Pro Tour standings, winning EVO would instantly place you #1 on the leaderboard even if you had 0 points heading into the mayhem. It’s not inconceivable for a top 3 placing at EVO to automatically qualify a player for the Capcom Cup finale.

While the stress of EVO will be concentrated on the rising stars and professional players, we’re ecstatic that we will have Team Liquid representation at every level. Of course, our supremely talented professional players, Nemo and John Takeuchi will be hopeful of making history and gathering precious CPT points. However, we will also have staff and community members entering the fray — which is exactly what EVO is about. EVO welcomes everyone on their own unique quest to gather in celebration of a common love: fighting games.

So whether you are entering for fun, to get noticed for sponsorship, to win the event or anything in between, know that you are welcome and encouraged. There is no right or wrong reason for putting yourself into the madness that is EVO but you’ll be glad you did.

We look forward to seeing everyone August 3rd - 5th at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada for Evolution Championship Series 2018. Please send your energy as Nemo and John Takeuchi look to capture their dreams. If you aren’t making the trek, be sure to follow Nemo and John Takeuchi on Twitter and tune into to Twitch for the madness.

*It wouldn’t be a fluke.

Writer // Jeff Anderson

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