Update: Tom Cannon, founder of EVO, stopped by to comment on the issue with a clarification. It turns out that Ustream was not to blame for the EVO stream going down during the final fight. A hardware failure in the Level Up production team’s setup is at fault for the downtime. Ustream is completely free from blame in this situation. Many thanks to Tom for taking the time to correct the story, and our apologies to Ustream for the inaccurate accusation. But still, FFFUUUUUUUUU….
The mecca of fighting game tournaments is known worldwide as Evolution Championship Series. It happens every year in the heart of Sin City. The best video game warriors from across the globe convene at this tournament to engage one another mano a mano in titles such as Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, Tekken 6, Super Street Fighter II HD Remix, and of course the headlining event—Super Street Fighter 4. The best two out of three games wins the spoils in this massive tournament, and it is always bursting at the seams with excitement.
For three days, Evo 2010 would separate the men from the scrubs, and after the dust settled, the world would have its champions. The event was bigger and better than ever in 2010. A host of sponsors were on board for this year’s tournament, bringing prizes and swag for all of the attendees. Beyond that, the entire tournament was to have full announcer commentary featuring G4TV’s Adam Sessler, all while being streamed live via Ustream. The stream was provided by LevelUp and G4.
The stream was certainly impressive this year. High resolution video with a decent framerate ensured that all of the viewers back home could watch the action as if they were actually in Vegas. Compared to the weak streams offered in previous years, the Ustream service was a definite upgrade!
Evo 2010 introduced the recently released Super Street Fighter IV as a tournament piece. SSFIV is a unique game in that it shared a universal release date worldwide. In the past, Japanese players were always given an advantage because fighting games were released in Japan first. Players in other countries would have to study videos or try to import to make up for lost time while the Japanese gamers got a head start. With SSFIV being at Evo 2010, all gamers from every country started at the same point, and there was no clear advantage to any country.
The results of this even playing field were immediately evident. As the finals drew to a close for SSFIV, there were many players representing an array of different countries still in play. Among these finalists were Japanese, Korean, and American players.
Daigo, from Japan, was looking strong going into the final rounds. He has won Evo so many times in the past that many people consider him to be the best Street Fighter player in the world. He lays claim to many classic Evo moments. Calm and collected, his real-life persona reflects that of Ryu, his main. Nothing phases Daigo—he always keeps his head in the game. In the final rounds, Daigo went head-to-head with EG.Ricky Ortiz, an American player from Northern California. Ricky’s persona was a brilliantly stark contrast from the emotionless Daigo. Jumping up out of his chair, running around the stage and pumping up the crowd solidified him as a very cocky, yet able challenger. Love him or hate him, Ricky was the underdog that everyone wanted to bring the upset.
Though Ricky kept the matches close and intense, his Rufus was just narrowly bested by Daigo’s Ryu in the semi-final round. The crowd was stunned, it looked as if the only hope at defeating Daigo and bringing the crown to the US had just walked off the stage with his tail between his legs.
A quick look at the connected users on the stream at the end of the fight showed just under 25 thousand. Ustream was holding up rather well for such a high volume of viewers.
Back in the loser’s bracket, Ricky went up against Infiltration—an accomplished Akuma player. The crowd at Evo was electric, and they were clearly rooting for the American. They chanted “USA! USA! USA!” like it was a professional sporting event. Ricky acknowledged the chant, then sat down and got to business. The ensuing match between Infiltration and Ricky was extremely intense. You could feel your heart racing as you watched the stream. The crowd was so into the match that cheers and yelling would overwhelm Sessler’s microphone anytime Ricky pulled together a combo or punished a mistake from Infiltration. After a slight comeback, Ricky emerged victorious. With this victory, he would re-engage Daigo in the championship event. As Ricky ran up and down the stage, receiving high fives from everyone watching, my room went dark.
I’ve only lived in Southern California for a month, but I’m already too familiar with Los Angeles brownouts. It’s one of the reasons why I never operate my PC without pulling power through a UPS. Unfortunately for me, this brownout managed to surge and reboot my PC. That’s right—at the genesis of the Evo 2010 Super Street Fighter 4 championship bout, my PC took a dump. I let out an audible scream that I’m sure caused my roommate to question my well being.
As my PC rebooted, I slid my chair over to my laptop and plugged my headphones into it. I pointed my browser to the live feed as soon as I was able. I managed to get the stream rolling before the match started. The match began, and was immediately intense. Both players had mastered not only the physical aspect of the game, but also the mental part. They predicted each others moves so quickly that the untrained eye would fail to see the execution taking place. Both players gave few opportunities to punish. Back and forth they fought. My heart was pounding, my pulse was high. I wanted to see an upset, and I wanted to see an American be that upset. Everything about it was exciting, and it sucked me right in. The first fight resulted in a Daigo victory, but it was far from over.
I rolled back over to my desktop PC, as it had rebooted and reconnected to the stream. I glanced down at the number of connected viewers. It sat at an astonishing 29,000 users. You could feel the energy of thousands of eager eyes all across the globe watching the fight. This is what Evo is all about.
The fight continued. Ricky appeared to gain confidence in his play style as he won the next two fights. It was beginning to look like the Cinderella story might actually happen. The vibe was incredible; thousands of cheering fans, the excitement of the competition, the brutal showdown between the two players.
Ricky’s Rufus, using many of the same effective combos in close range, jumped back. He focus canceled through one of Daigo’s fireballs. He set up a jumping EX attack. He executed. And then suddenly, this:
I screamed again, this time like I had taken a knife to the chest. At the closing moments of the championship fight, the stream dropped dead. I looked over to my laptop just in time to see it drop the video at the same moment. I pressed F5 faster than a TF2 fan does on the official Team Fortress blog. No matter how hard I tried, the video would not return. The stream was off-air. It finally folded under the pressure.
I frantically searched for answers. I began asking friends on Twitter if they had lost the stream as well. I looked everywhere for answers as quickly as I could. I saw chat rooms, image boards, and angry tweets—all confirming the same, horrible truth. It became painfully evident that this was a massive problem, and that we just might miss the finale of Evo 2010. One snarky member on a popular imageboard spouted words that will live on in infamy—”Just watch. When the stream comes back, everyone will be congratulating Daigo on another EVO win.”
Finally, Sessler’s voice came over the airwaves once more. Like a neglected addict, I sat up and glued my eyes to my display. Sessler was recapping the event, how Ricky just couldn’t handle Daigo’s relentless assault, and ultimately how the pressure got to him and caused him to get sloppy. The tournament had ended. Daigo was the Evo 2010 champion, and 30 thousand viewers missed the final seconds.
Pure rage filled the internet that night. Everywhere you looked, people were cursing Daigo, they were cursing G4, and most of all, they were cursing Ustream. Imagine, if you will, ESPN dropping the broadcast during the final World Cup game between Spain and the Netherlands just seconds before the single goal that ended the game. It’s hard to imagine because such negligence is unacceptable. Yet, here we were, sitting alone in front of our computers in utter disbelief. When it mattered most, Ustream let everyone down.
Perhaps it is unfair to expect a service such as Ustream to be capable of handling 30 thousand connections to a live stream. Perhaps we didn’t actually miss any good fights. Such speculation is foolish however, as we will never know the truth. That night I lost a lot of faith in the internet. I will never again count on the web for live coverage of such an important event.
Well, until Evo 2011, anyways.