Two days before the Evolution Championship Series in Las Vegas, an international competitive gaming tournament, 10 local gamers prepare to represent the best of the Valley.
They’ve got their work cut out for them. Fresno Gaming is participating in the “Street Fighter 5” championship against 5,000 professional gamers from around the world during the event July 15-17. “Street Fighter 5” is just one of the games EVO hosts.
Jared Wong, a retirement specialist with the County of Fresno and Fresno Gaming’s organizer, is confident about placing in the semifinals of what he calls “the Super Bowl” of fighting games.
“We have arguably one of the best, if not the best, Ryu player in the country,” he says.
Wong is referring to his friend and team member, Putthivath Chea, or “Miky” as his friends call him. Chea, who uses the moniker XsK_Samurai when playing. He always uses the character Ryu in “Street Fighter 5.” Last year at EVO, he ranked 17th out of over 2,000 players.
Chea is a full-time student who will start substitute teaching in the fall. He played “Street Fighter” as a kid. Back then, the competition was about beating his older brother. He has participated in other gaming tournaments before, including EVO, but describes this weekend’s event as the “grand slam” of fighting game tournaments.
“It’s amazing,” Chea says. “The talent is an international level. There’s players from Japan, there’s players from Korea.”
We have arguably one of the best, if not the best, Ryu player in the country.
Jared Wong, Fresno Gaming organizer
EVO will draw more than 14 thousand players across nine video games. It’s one of the longest running fighting game tournaments in the world. Gamers compete for money in the prize pool. Portions of registration fees go into the pool, so the number of people entering a tournament determines the final cash amount. The prize money is distributed among the top eight players.
Last year, the “Street Fighter” prize pool was over $72,000, according to the website E-Sport Earnings.
Earlier this year, Rory Appleton wrote about the growing world of esports. Last year's League of Legends tournament drew over 300 million viewers online. Twitch, a video game streaming site, will stream the event and ESPN2 will cover the “Street Fighter” championship on Sunday.
Planning the trip
This will be the fourth time Wong and his friends have attended EVO.
Wong starts planning the trip in December or November, as soon as the dates are announced. He quickly figures out how many people are going and reserves hotel rooms. He tries to plan everything ahead of the event, so that the trip itself is as fun and wallet-friendly as possible. For each player, it can cost anywhere from $200 to $400 for hotel, food, and registration. This year, Wong estimates the cost is around $300.
“Leading up to the event … it is stress free,” Wong says. “We don’t have anything to worry about.”
All that’s left is to focus on the game.
Chea takes inspiration from sport icons like Kobe Bryant, Bruce Lee and others who he says have that “sharp mental attribute” that leads to their success.
“It’s very important for me to go into an event with a clear mind,” Chea says.
Over 14 thousand players will compete in EVO this year.
Chea has one superstition. Depending on how good his opponent is, he might not shake their hand before the match starts.
“If it’s someone really strong, and very good, I don’t shake their hand, because I want them to know, ‘I’m here to beat you, I’m not your friend,’” he says.
Like any good player though, he always shakes opponents’ hands after the game: “It definitely tells a lot about your character if you do and if you don’t,” Chea says.
The hardest part about competing is balancing work, school, and family life with gaming practice. He practices a couple of hours a day.
Chea has won tournaments in Northern California, Utah and here in the Valley.
“The best part is proving your ability to play against the best in the world,” Chea says.
Chea met Wong at a local tournament in 2011. They worked with a group of friends to create their first group, Alpha-Counter, but changed the name to Fresno Gaming in 2013 after they realized the first name was already being patented.
They host weekly tournaments at Blue Shell Gaming, where all skill levels are welcome. Anywhere from 20 to 40 people could show up for an event, Wong says.
“It’s about giving players an avenue to come and compete, to hang out and meet people,” Wong says. “That’s what we’re all here for, that’s how we started.”
Rick Gonzalez, owner of Blue Shell Gaming, is optimistic about Fresno Gaming’s chances in the championship on Sunday.
“From what I’ve seen, they’re going to do really well,” he says. “Miky’s been preparing for a long time.”
Chea and Wong say the group has created strong friendships.
“Some of the gaming friends I’ve made, through playing Street Fighter, are some of the closest friends I have,” Wong says.