Skip to main content

Evo manager explains how he and Street Fighter 6 revitalized the event

For decades now, the Evolution Championship Series (known as Evo for short) has been known as the biggest event in the fighting game community. Since 1996, players from across the globe have gathered in Las Vegas for a chance to prove themselves on a global stage. And 2023’s Evo was no different in that aspect, but where it does differ is the management, ownership, and love of the game.

Evo 2023 Trailer | PlayStation Esports

After a sexual misconduct controversy involving one of Evo’s co-founders and chairmen, Joey “MrWizard” Cuellar, the event was purchased by Sony in 2021. After what many saw as a rocky start for new ownership due to having to work around COVID-19, 2023’s release of Street Fighter 6 seemed to make this the most important year of a new era. To capitalize on what might be a “make-or-break” event, Evo was placed in the hands of a new general manager, Rick “The Hadou” Thiher, who I had a chance to speak with before attending this year’s event.

Rick Thiher standing in a wrestling ring at fighting game tournament, CEO
© Robert Paul /

“I’ve worked in the fighting game space for over a decade at this point,” Thiher told Digital Trends when talking about his entrance into his new position with Evo. “I was working with the Twitch Rivals team, and my current bosses at both Sony and Evo contacted me. I immediately went for it because the opportunity to work on fighting games every day instead of fighting games a couple of times a year leans a lot closer to my personal interests.”

With Thiher behind the wheel, the vibe of the looming event changed. Much like another fighting game event under his managerial belt, Combo Breaker, which Thiher was an event manager for, Evo stopped feeling like an event that relied on legacy and refocused on reminding people why they love fighting games. Evo 2023 was a massive success, setting new records in attendance and the number of people registering for game tournaments. That made it an Evo to remember and served as a reminder that we’re in a new golden era for the fighting game genre. I spoke to Thiher to get more insight into why this year’s event was so successful and the major role Street Fighter 6 played in that.

A titanic balancing act

Thiher chalked up Evo2023’s success to the people running carefully balancing what exactly Evo is and making it digestible to any potential viewers or attendees. “I think the scale and presentation of Evo is unmatched in the realm of competitive gaming events,” Thiher says. “There’s an expectation that comes with the brand. There are relationships that come with the brand that simply aren’t part of any of the other shows in the space. Whereas Combo Breaker has this aspect of drastically outgrowing its original vision, Evo starts at that outgrown the original vision point. So there’s a longer process of figuring out how to appeal to the entire community that might attend and keep it balanced so that the tournament side of the event never loses focus. But we also want the fandom side of the event to deliver.”

Marvel vs Capcom 3, Evo winner Jibrill celebrating on stage.

According to Thiher, it’s really key to find a balance in appealing to those engaging with Evo to watch the fighting game tournaments and those eagerly awaiting fighting game-related announcements. “When people talk about what Evo is supposed to be or what Evo is, I think that’s because for most attendees, there’s always been a general idea,” Thiher said. “It’s the biggest tournament, or it’s the place where you’re going to get publisher reveals, etc. Balancing it all is incredibly difficult, but now having a team of people that focus on each component makes that difference for our relaunch.”

Unlike events of the past under the Evo umbrella, Thiher didn’t want to lose sight of the grassroots tournament side of things. Not only did he amplify the idea of putting a magnifying glass to smaller games of the past for big showcases like Marvel vs. CapcomSkullgirls, and Killer Instinct, but he found it necessary to embolden Street Fighter 6, which was making its big Evo debut this year. Street Fighter 6, being one of the greatest fighting game releases in recent years, lent some of its success to Evo. In sports terms, if Evo is the wide receiver landing the touchdown, then Street Fighter 6 is the quarterback throwing the game-winning pass.

Kimberly doing a spray paint punch in Street Fighter 6.

“I think we’re having almost a perfect storm of opportunity right now for fighting games,” Thiher says. “We have new games that are coming out that are good. You have Street Fighter 6  releasing as arguably the most complete Street Fighter product that’s ever been put into the market. You have online that’s working amazingly and bringing all these global players together. And all of that exists at the same time as Twitch and YouTube. So that boost of awareness is not only huge for the game and its longevity, but for the community and events like Evo. Evo hit record numbers in entrants for the Street Fighter series this year. I think we’re going to be seeing these boosted player numbers for years to come with every title that’s coming out on the backside. Numbers higher than anything that was ever dreamt of when these games were first being coded.”

Experimenting for a better future

All of these accomplishments don’t come without hardship, though. Thiher mentioned there were tons of hard decisions that had to be made while trying to keep everyone happy. Things like the controversial cutting down of the Top 8 tournament finale to a Top 6 had to be made to keep Evo running smoothly. While players were furious at first, this accommodation led to no early-morning matches and ensured there were enough console setups to keep things moving. This is yet another case of Thiher pushing toward looking after the players that make Evo the success it always has been, but it’s still a learning experience.

The Evo grand finals arena.

“I think there are experiments at the show that we’re going to learn from because it depends a little bit on kind of what the response is,” Thiher states. “A common conversation at tournaments has always been ‘if you’re playing from sunrise to sundown, when do you eat?’ We included a dedicated hourlong broadcast break so that the team and players could eat. We’ve made sure, to the best of our ability, that no semifinals runs directly into that Top 6 cut, so participants always have the chance to go and rest and get their heads on straight for the matches that are about to really matter.”

Through all of this trial and error, Evo 2023 became an all-around amazing event. And while there were a few player complaint bumps in the road, Thiher believes those bumps are necessary to make next year’s event even better and more memorable.

Evo 2023 - Street Fighter 6 - Top 6

“I’m excited about the number of casual and tournament setups that are on the show floor,” Thiher says. “That’s one of the goals when you start running tournaments in your garage with your PlayStation and your buddy’s computer. What we have been able to put together, whether it’s the Arcade Stick Museum, the items that are in the merch line, or the publisher panels and reveals that people are expecting at the show, makes things feel holistic.”

“It’s about both that tournament player experience and that fan experience that, right now on paper, don’t feel like they’re fighting with each other,” Thiher states. “And that’s something I’m proud of because if I can help our team build something where those two objectives are never in conflict, we’re going to have an experience that as a community, as a culture, we can be deeply proud of.”

Evo 2023 brought an event that seemed lost in itself back to a single focus: celebrating fighting games, their culture, and the community around them. During my time at the event, enjoying the convention, camaraderie, and competition aspects of it all, I found myself falling in love with it all over again. I was reminded why this was so important to me and why this genre is so great. Count me in for attending once more next year.

Editors' Recommendations

DeAngelo Epps
De'Angelo Epps is a gaming writer passionate about the culture, communities, and industry surrounding gaming. His work ranges…
Fighting games took a breather this year, but 2023 is the genre’s moment
Chun-li classic outfit in Street Fighter 6.

Depending on who you ask, we're either living in the golden age of fighting games right now or in a dry spell. From late 2020 to now, fans had no shortage of games to keep them occupied, but many of the genre's big developments have been supplemental. In recent years, we've seen a stream of final updates for Street Fighter 5, two betas for Street Fighter 6, and the release of King of Fighters XV, Guilty Gear Strive, Melty Blood Type Lumina, and more.

Street Fighter 6 - Pre-Order Trailer | PS5 Games

Read more
Street Fighter 6’s best new feature takes cues from Mortal Kombat
Chun Li kicks Ryu in Street Fighter 6.

Street Fighter 6's recent beta left an amazing impression on me and, according social media chatter, lots of other fans too. The upcoming fighting game has already delivered on many fronts, even during its beta, with stylistic battles and a thoughtful social integration.

Street Fighter 6 - Kimberly and Juri Gameplay Trailer | PS5 & PS4 Games

Read more
I can’t wait to go back to Street Fighter 6’s excellent Battle Hub
street fighter 6 battle hub preview arcade cabinet

Fighting games live or die on their online communities. Of course, basic functions like rollback netcode and cross-play are essential to a healthy fighting game, but Street Fighter 6 goes further by creating an online hub that celebrates the series and gives players somewhere to hang out between matches. Call it a metaverse if you must, but in reality, the Battle Hub is one-third of the Street Fighter 6 package and will likely be home to the communities and tournaments that ensure people will play the game for years to come.
It was also the focus of the Closed Beta for Street Fighter 6 this past weekend, which gave me a second chance to go hands-on with the game after falling in love with it at Summer Game Fest Play Days. The core 1-v-1 fights are still a joy to play and the beta’s new characters -- Juri, Kimberly, Guile, and Ken -- all come with the exciting combos and flashy animations. But really, I came away impressed with the groundwork Capcom is laying for Battle Hub and its implications for World Tour mode.
What’s the hubbub about?
The Battle Hub is one of three options players can choose right from the main menu of Street Fighter 6, and when selected, it tasks players with creating a character avatar that will represent them. I didn’t spend too much time with these options, but they seemed quite in-depth for those who enjoy a detailed character creator. After creating a blue-haired and face-tattooed fighter, I was thrust into the Battle Hub’s futuristic arcade.

Multiplayer hubs as a replacement for simple menus aren't a new concept for fighting games (Bandai Namco games like Dragon Ball FighterZ have done this for a while). Still, for Capcom’s first attempt at one, the Battle Hub is full of personality and things to do. Its stark blue colors, a plethora of screens, and many gameplay cabinets make it feel like the high-tech arcade Capcom wants it to be.
As soon as I entered, I could walk around, emote, and perform classic Street Fighter moves the Hadoken with button presses. I was also near two kiosks. At one, I could register and view tournaments and Street Fighter 6 events, although none were available for me during this Closed Beta. The other one was the Hub Goods Shop, where I could buy clothes and other gear to customize my character further with the currency I accrued while playing.
The other kiosks on the main level weren’t available in this Closed Beta outside a screen that showed which player in our server was performing the best. I then headed toward the arcade cabinets, most of which form a circle around the center of the Battle Hub. One person has to sit on each side to initiate a Street Fighter 6 match. While it’s a bit annoying to sit and wait for someone to play with you, I could always find an opponent if I looked around at every cabinet. Hopefully, the final game will have an option to get into fights slightly faster for those who want to simply jump into it.

Read more