I heard it from LI Joe,, I heard it from an almost totally unrecognized Paul George, and I heard it several times throughout the weekend: Evo 2022 was like a family reunion.
I’ve never been totally comfortable with using “family” with regards to a large gathering of fellow hobbyists and acquaintances, but I’m not made of stone either. The last couple years have been a tad wacky – I know when I was able to head to Frosty Faustings earlier this year, it was a bit of an emotional experience. The thrill of an offline tournament was definitely sorely missed, and I had a lot of fun playing in pools again and catching up with people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Much like family, no matter how long it’s been or whatever drama you’ve been through, it’s easy enough to pick up the pieces like nothing ever happened.
And also, much like with family, you can feel brutally let down sometimes, even if you still care about them, even when they’re trying to sell you on cryptocurrency schemes.
Mandalay Bay looks almost exactly as I remembered it. No plexiglass, up at full operations, all the same stores kicking around. Making that long walk to the Evo floor was incredibly nostalgic, recognizing every little landmark along the way. I’ve been going to Evo for roughly ten years now, and I’ll be honest – my years felt a little off without it. Seeing everything preserved as it was, like it was frozen in time, sort of lulled me into thinking that maybe things wouldn’t be that different, despite the fact that everything had changed.
As has been well documented, the former president of Evo, Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar, in one of the best examples of the no-homies law possibly ever, was banished to a time warp from whence he will never return. Not long after that, the Cannon brothers sold Evo to Sony and Endeavor, and that was truly the end of an era. Evo was now a corporate-owned (Evo is an LLC but natch) event which had some immediate effects: Super Smash Bros. got sent blasting off again, probably never again to be featured in an Evo lineup, as I imagine any game not at least on a Sony console will be in the future.
I’ve been pretty clear about my hesitancy towards Evo’s new corporate masters. Despite the hiring of some really good people, I couldn’t help but think that Evo had basically been compromised. Basically, a tournament that had grown exponentially but had suffered a bit on the attendee experience was going to double down on the growth but continue to shaft the attendees, in my assumption.
I can definitely admit that I was wrong in that assumption to some degree, but I was also, sadly, massively right in other ways.
But first, how I was wrong.
My floor experience was, ultimately, pretty good. Right as you walked into the convention floor there were classic fighting game cabinets next to pyramids of old school CRT TVs. The wall next to those also had a list of Evo champions going all the way back to the tournament’s inception, which was very cool. Immediately, the nerdery and respect for the history of all fighters was on display, and it set the stage for two of the coolest new editions to the show floor: the hall of joysticks and the freeplay arcade.
I grinched in my Frosty Faustings post that while I appreciated their arcade setup, it was a little one-sided. Plenty of coin-op classics, but a bit heavy on the prestige Japanese fighters side. Not a bat top in sight! I simply asked, where’s the bollocks? But bollocks I wanted and I bollocks I had! The westmost side of the floor was dedicated to a fairly large arcade, with both the classic back-to-back Japanese cabs and some good old fashioned stand-up coin-op cabinets! The Punisher, Mortal Kombat 3, Killer Instinct, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (but with a modded version inside? Ah lads, that ain’t it), Guitar Hero, but sadly no War Gods. You can’t be perfect! Still, one could easily lose a few hours in this free-to-play section, a stand-out of many tournaments nowadays but one that had escaped Evo. I’m glad to see that’s no longer the case.
The hall of joysticks was another trip down memory lane that is history well-worth preserving. In 2022 it might be hard to view it in the right perspective, but given the fact that major stick makers sell their wares and sell not only controllers but also buttons and levers and all the accessories is incredible. Walking through that little section and setting the old school MAS sticks, so big they’d be a murder weapon in 8 states, the old Sega Saturn joysticks, Hori’s original sticks, it really put into perspective how revolutionary the 2009 MadCatz Tournament Edition was. Obviously enthusiasts were going to make controllers that worked for them, but having a base model that already had good things like sanwa buttons and universal plug-ins significantly lowered the barrier of entry for customization. It was such an awesome exhibit and all the props in the world for whoever decided to include it.
It might have been that historic view of classic arcade stick controllers that got me in a buying mood. As usual companies like Victrix and Hori had their wares available, but as I perused the vendors the one that caught my eye was Junk Food Custom Arcade. Specifically, their Snack Box Micro, which is a great evolution of the lever-less controller innovated by Hitbox. At $260 it wasn’t cheap, but the custom Evo edition came with the artwork casing and the all new M2 PCB, which will make customizing the LED lighting and other controls changeable with a future app. I’ve been giving it a lot of use over the past few weeks, and while being a large lad makes it tough to sit in my lap, it’s an excellent desk controller. Sits well, button placement is good for my small hands, and every button on a Sony device is accounted for. And it’s USB-C powered? I couldn’t resist. I got tired a long time ago of carrying around arcade sticks, but the Snack Box Micro might just get me back to it.
Lastly, this Evo kind of reminded me how far we’ve come in terms of shoring up some of the biggest issues of Evo’s past. I was there for 2016’s chair-gate, where the amount of chairs available in the miserable Westgate Las Vegas Resort was dire-dire docks, as well as 2018 where it was incredibly difficult to get a hold of inexpensive water. You know that thing, life’s nourishment? These were amenities that many other tournaments had gotten on board with, and it just made Evo seem so behind the times, but no longer! Not only did the cost of your ticket get you a fairly good size Evo-branded clear water bottle, there were no less than 20 or so filling stations in a small ring near the northwestern corner of the convention floor. At no point was there ever going to be a huge line for one filling device as there was for Evo 2019, nor did you have to supply your own bottle. Even the food options were slightly better – there were multiple snack vendors both inside and directly outside the room, and there was even a guy with a cart of snacks walking around. It’s Vegas so it wasn’t cheap (and I’ll get to that later), but again, Evo now feels like its contemporaries in providing comforting amenities.
I think that’s about it for the really good stuff. Now let’s get to the Yin.
Look, I’m way past my prime as a competitor. I don’t take it that seriously. I’ll enter the one game I’ve been playing just to get my money’s worth, so I am not obsessing over my seeding, the bracket composition, any of that stuff. I’m just there to show up to my pool, hopefully get a W or two, and walk away content.
When the bracket starts 40 minutes late, and the pool, which is not terribly big and has the wonderful Combo-Breaker-innovated system of having three players exit out, takes two+ hours to finish, even I have my limits. Now of course, some caveats. I’m well aware that this is the biggest tournament in the world, and the logistics necessary to run it are insane. I’m also aware this means the demand for volunteers, many of whom are not experienced running a bracket, is high. I’m also playing MK11, which by some diabolical plot is still best of five. My Frosty bracket took like 45 minutes, but that was like a 60 person tournament, so I don’t expect it to be a jaunty breeze.
But none of the players could hear the poor gal calling out names, made worse by the (correct) mask-wearing, there were times where setups would go unused while we were all waiting around, and the DQ time given to players was far too generous. I don’t know how budgeting works for this stuff, but I’ve got to imagine there’s some kind of plastic bullhorn that can be provided to staff so they can at least make themselves heard over the dull roar of the main hall. I’d recommend a technological solution like an app that can give notifications and track, but I like to keep my feet planted on the ground. Either way, even as a fairly casual competitor the stamina required to wait through a very long first round pool that wasn’t even very big was pretty exhausting. This also isn’t terribly out of line for Evo, I’ve always had pretty poor pool experiences and my complaint is in no way novel or interesting, but over the excitement of all the new stuff it does sting a little to be brought back to earth with the same ‘ol same ‘ol. It’s like complaining about the huge downtime between matches and likely on stream – it’s there, it’s not going away, so there’s probably no meaningful middle ground to find.
But if it was only that, I’d still be pretty content. Again, I’m not a serious competitor. I’m mostly there to have fun, and there were pretty decent offerings throughout the weekend, including a glorious Street Fighter V finals. As usual the atmosphere in the Mandalay Bay Arena was electric, the production quality out of this world. I’ve never had so much fun as I did watching Idom rip and tear through the loser’s bracket like he was the Doomslayer.
I would have had a lot more fun if seeing the Freshcut logo plastered all over the arena and during ad reads didn’t make me wish I was anywhere else.
FYI, I’m going to do my best to put this in plain English, but the truth of this matter is this is complex and multi-layered, sometimes on purpose. If you don’t fully understand it as I’ve written here, DM me on Twitter, I’ll do my best to level with you.
For those unaware, Freshcut is a website/app that is home to the best gaming moments from the games and creators you love. It offers superior engagement from fans towards creators with endless scrolling of content, and an opportunity to have your voice heard in the platform you help build up through shared web3 values. It’s about sharing value back to the community contributors, both fans and creators, that other social media and video companies of the web2 generation have cashed-in on through ‘free’ engagement.
…How was my sales pitch?
In non Satan-speak, Freshcut is an app that emulates the Tik Tok, Vine, or Youtube Shorts model of endless scrolling of short gaming clips, usually no longer than 80 seconds. More broadly, it is a platform designed entirely around a digital currency (crypto) called Freshcut Diamond, or FCD. Through use of “smart contracts,” which are immutable code sifting around on an Ethereum-based blockchain, the goal of the company, Freshcut Labs Ltd., is to maintain this token’s utility by making it the main “value” of the Freshcut App, designed by Freshcut Interactive Inc.
“Hey, Tanner, why did you write out two different companies that have the same name?”
It’s about to get real stupid.
Freshcut Interactive Inc. is a Delaware-based company that is actually making the app you can find on the Play Store or Apple Store, but it has nothing to do with the FCD Token. The cryptocurrency part is managed entirely by Freshcut Labs Ltd., which is a limited liability company based in the British Virgin Islands. Freshcut Labs Ltd. is solely owned by Freshcut Labs Holdings, which is a limited liability exempted company based in the Cayman Islands. And finally, Freshcut Labs Holdings is solely owned by Freshcut Foundation, another LLC also based in the Cayman Islands. Here it is in writing from the private placement memorandum (PPM) they offered to private investors via the crypto crowdfunding site Republic:
For one, the reason the IP for this company travels through both the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands is, in essence, a tax dodge. These islands have very little tax regulation – no income tax, no capital gains tax, no property tax, nada. A US-based company such as, say, a Delaware-based app developer, may want to incorporate in these places as to funnel their profits to a place where Uncle Sam can’t take his cut and they can reinvest into further operations. This isn’t illegal, by the way, and my intent isn’t to make it seem that way.
The other reason, however, is where legality gets in the way. The USA Securities and Exchange Commission has pretty strict laws when it comes to selling what they would consider Securities, a fungible instrument that has monetary value. Specifically, if money is invested into a ‘common enterprise’ and those investors expect a return on that investment through the actions of a third party, that’s a security according to the SEC. As one can imagine, being a fungible token with monetary value, it’s extremely arguable that cryptocurrency or tokens based in cryptocurrency are absolutely securities that must be SEC-registered. Freshcut Labs Ltd. knows this too, because this is plastered all over their PPM, which is meant to attract high-dollar investors:
In more plain language, Freshcut Labs Ltd. acknowledges that FCD Tokens are not, nor ever will be, registered with the SEC, and as such, their initial round of investing cannot come from US-based entities because the legality of this enterprise is in question. Instead, they were asking for SAFTS, or Simple Agreement for Future Tokens. An explainer below:
Before you go cross-eyed, it’s like this: Startup knows it’s selling something that could very easily be a security, but doesn’t want it regulated. In order to receive investment, it has to promise some sort of monetary “value” to investors, so they promise you’ll get some of their “valuable” token at a later date. No tokens will be exchanged until the product is up and running however, so this isn’t considered an exchange of securities, and therefore above board. Kinda. Sorta.
In other words, these investors are quite literally gambling on success, with the hopes of a big payday in a year or two when they can sell off their mass of tokens for some actual liquidity.
But wait, you might say, I thought FCD Token was meant to just be for the Freshcut app? It’s a fair question, and it’s true that its value is almost entirely concentrated in the app. But nevertheless, you’ve got to hold $FCD to be a member on the Discord and app, so it’s available on crypto exchange websites:
These sites require you to set up a crypto wallet through MetaMask, which is like a browser attachment, and use unique security codes to get it set up to receive $FCD. None of this is particularly well protected and the blockchain technology powering these things is immutable – and because it’s unregulated, there is no governing body to appeal to should these definitionally insecure securities be stolen or go missing. You also have to convert fiat currency (crypto-speak for real, not Monopoly money) to a “stablecoin,” which is a cryptocurrency that is valued at what a dollar actually would be. The fact that these “stablecoins” are laughably inflated throughout the ecosystem and whose financial reserves are quite literally a pinky swear from its representatives is irrelevant.
But Freshcut Labs isn’t offering financial advice! Please don’t feel encouraged to buy or sell $FCD…but yes, you do need to buy and hold $FCD to be a member. 500 $FCD, to be clear, or roughly $25 USD…which could be considered an…”investment” of sorts that will blossom into real actual super super legit money one day…
The term “value” is thrown around a lot throughout Freshcut’s Lite Paper and its website. “We’re creating value for creators;”viewers will finally be able to take back their value from Web2 sites,” etc. But what “value” does $FCD have? The company has a lot of money invested in it, but in order to get those investments, they have to state definitively that they can’t give a valuable asset to their investors. Instead, the “value” will come later when a huge deposit of the coin is given back to the investors in order to give them a return. That return is almost assuredly good ‘ol USD; after all, what person would give hundreds of thousands of dollars to something in return for a coin they know is volatile and worth far less than USD? Especially in a time when the crypto market is crashing and burning? It makes statements like this, from co-founder and CEO James Kuk, ring especially hollow.
He’s making it sound as if the real problem is the people who game the systems of these coins and dump it all repeatedly. Never mind that the “value” of these coins is going to be entirely driven by how many people on the bottom with the least amount of coins can believe that it is valuable. Somehow, the giant companies investing in this startup, who are allocated a massive portion of the finite (1 billion $FCD) amount of coins specifically to sell it off when its value has been unlocked by the peons on the bottom and earn back the USD investments they made, are blameless in this scenario.
It’s the exact same scheme that the Bored Ape Yacht Club, one of the most hated companies in the world responsible for these abominations, pulled with their Apecoin bit. They too have multiple shell companies operating an allegedly “decentralized” coin that has a 1 billion coin limit, to be unlocked for those investors over a period of years, with most of the coin going to the developers, the private investors, and the founders of the various LLCs:
Freshcut’s allocation of coin and unlock schedule is almost no different. 50% of the coin will go to the community/creator rewards over 5 years, while all the various folks who invested in the company and the developers get the other 45% over 3 or so years. In what way is this clearly not a bid to get useful idiots like Evo and the creators on the platform to build up the “value” of the coin only for the people holding the majority of the coin (already rich people) to cash out and make the most money?
Even more depraved is how the token’s “value” is sold as part of the allegedly ultra democratic process known as the “Decentralized Autonomous Organization,” or DAO. Freschut, you see, will eventually transition into a DAO where members will get a vote on the various aspects of the platform that can change. “Community-involved governance” they call it. It even says so in fancy slide decks!
The idea is you, the creators or consumers, do all the work, so you should be able to earn the rewards that meanies like Twitch and YouTube won’t give you. So you work to earn a coin that has less value than real money but might be worth more if enough people buy into it. That way, once the platform gets super big, you lucky ducks who got in early will have governance over the platform and how it operates! Keep in mind, however, that even before the company was launched there is zero chance you actually will have the most $FCD, as that was already given away by the millions to investors and devs, but yay, democracy!
As I posted earlier, Freshcut is careful not to encourage treating $FCD like it’s an investment or a gambling tool or anything like that. And yet, curiously, they have all these incentives to hold onto the coin rather than just converting it immediately to USD. If you’ve got the rough equivalent of $1300 in $FCD in your wallet, you get extra goodies. Having more $FCD will allegedly let you make significant choices over the future of the plattform. It’s not an “investment,” you can cash out at any time, but it sure sounds good to keep holding out for the number to go up, right? Kind of like…gambling?
Now someone might say “Well, Tanner, obviously this all seems pretty shady, but what does Evo have to do with it? Just because they threw some money in to have their name on the stream doesn’t mean they’re connected!”
That theoretical someone would be right. Except…well, Evo is pretty tied into that coin, actually. In the Republic Crypto sales pitch, Evo is listed as a partner, long before the coin launched. This tracks, since last year’s Evo was using the same app under a different name as a sponsor.
Not only were they advertised on stream and all over the Mandalay Arena during finals
They also had a big cordoned-off section on the west side of the hall for members of the Freshcut Discord to come and meet not only some of the team at…Freschut Interactive Inc.? I think.
Why look, here’s FGC elder luminary and co-founder of Level Up Productions, Alex Valle, showing off the meet and greet section on the floor! Looks like quite a few top players were asked to stop by this place sometime during the weekend.
Level Up seems pretty all in on Freshcut too, considering they officially partnered with them to run from an After Hours Mixer during the event, where top players played exhibition matches and people could, presumably, come and learn what Freshcut was all about.
By all accounts, Evo was essentially meant to be the big kickoff for advertising Freshcut and $FCD, to the tune of being a major reward for Freschut members if they watched it on the app
And if you look at $FCD’s chart on Crypto.com…it appears to have worked! A notable uptick in market price once Freshcut hosted their Twitter Spaces on August 1 regarding their presence at Evo.
As far as useful idiots go, Evo and the FGC have been a pretty good one. The last question I can imagine a person having would be…why? Why would Evo have cause to lend a significant floor space, ad time, and masthead space to this startup? I’m sure they paid their way in, they have quite a bit of it, but there’s got to be more than that, right?
On the Freshcut website, you can view their Lite Paper, links to info hubs about $FCD, and links to their Discord and Twitter. A section at the bottom includes a look at who is leading the project, and who some of the big investment groups are. Even further down lists “Angel Investors,” basically private, high-roller investors who inject some cash into a startup, usually in exchange for a tiny bit of equity and not necessarily a huge return. The list is pretty impressive!
Hang on a second…that one name looks familiar…
Hmm, Endeavor, eh? Where have I heard that before? …Oh!
Needless to say, this is despicable. Web3 crypto schemes are a dime-a-dozen, and this one is no different than even something like the Bored Ape Yacht Club. The fact that Evo would promote something like this to its massive audience of mostly young viewers, having had its parent company pump some money into the startup, should be seen as nothing short of contempt for its audience. Consider what the ask is: hey impressionable gamer, establish a deeply insecure crypto wallet on your browser, convert $25 USD to a stablecoin like Tether that has dubious standing, then purchase this other coin that might be valuable (souce: dude trust me) in the future. Keep participating, keep holding onto the crypto, and one day soon, you may be rewarded by having a say in the future of the app and more ‘value’ than Twitch or YouTube will ever offer you!
But you also might be left holding the bag when Tether or any one of these coins is determined to be a pyramid scheme that is shut down by the SEC. Now remember, if or when that happens, the only people going to be hurt by that are the people who may have been slowly investing time and money into it from, say, having seen an ad from a trusted source like the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, and the poor saps duped into being creators for the platform. And what age of users are we targeting for what is effectively gambling?
…Thirteen!? The gambling age in most states is 21, but now it’s okay for middle schoolers to get in on securities gambling? Really?
Some might find my anger over this a little overstated, and truthfully, I can find a more nuanced approach. Evo is an enormous tournament, one that takes thousands of cogs working together to work. It needs money and lots of it to run at the scale it does, and at that point, I imagine any sponsor willing to throw in a few bucks is fair game. I could see it that way, and have a little sympathy for the position they’re in.
But keep in mind, the tastemakers in the FGC have made abundantly clear the only socially acceptable position on crypto, gambling sponsors, NFT’s, web3, or any related subject: burning, white-hot, seething hatred and denunciation. I remember when Lap-Chi Duong of Canada Cup Gaming decided to get in on the ICO scam bubble of 2018 and made e-Sports Ecosystem coin (ESE) to the resounding laughter and scorn of many. Especially when Canada Cup moved venues as part of an attempt to find promotion for that hunk of junk and had a disastrous tournament.
I also remember the very recent events involving the Ukrainian-based WePlay Esports and the event they ran, Dragon Temple. That event, which was well-received by viewers and participants, was ultimately demolished when one of their sponsors was revealed to be an incredibly shady betting company that was banned in some countries and essentially seemed to be a front for Russian mafia activity. Once again, this received wide denunciation and scorn from the FGC, and it got so heated that, in a rare joint statement, Warner Brothers and Bandai-Namco officially withdrew rights to host their games from WePlay.
The nuances of understanding that there are considerable demons to make deals with on the way to growing to be a major entertainment event were not considered. It was hellfire and brimstone for these enterprises, which are all dismissed as predatory and evil and never worth supporting.
So…what’s the difference with Evo? When confronted with this information, what will the larger communal response be? Admittedly it’s pretty convoluted and complex to navigate – I don’t expect minds to be changed instantly. But I believe that if you really think about it, you will see that what Endeavor is doing by way of Evo is essentially no different than what CCG or WePlay did.
If there isn’t, I can only take fairly uncharitable takeaways from it. Are gambling sponsorships okay when Evo does it but not cool when done by weird and foreign companies like CCG and WePlay? Is taking money, no matter what the cost, deplorable when done by everyone else and when Evo does it’s actually b-b-b-based (hip hop air horn) and GOATed (Vine boom)? Nuance for me and not for thee?
Being a little more serious, I think the biggest sting is simple: a lot of people worked themselves to the bone to put this event on that do not deserve any ounce of scorn. Rick Thiher had an incredibly difficult job of running the two biggest events in the community, and he appears to have done it with flying colors. I’ve done work for the man, you’ll find my name all over the Combo Breaker 2022 attendee program. I wouldn’t do that if there wasn’t some degree of mutual respect and trust. That goes for the Evo staff, the bracket runners, the production people, and everyone who put their best efforts in pulling off an impossible feat.
The fact is that the stupid, greedy decisions of people above the pay grades of all that staff force a moral conundrum that is legitimately difficult to traverse. I’m not one of these losers on Twitter that wants people fired or companies to fold or any of that. I can only make decisions for myself, and given how brutally expensive journeying to Evo is, I will have to make the choice of whether or not I want to attend next year. And truthfully, revelations like the ones I discovered over these past couple weeks will weigh heavily on that decision. I wish it wasn’t so, but that’s how I feel.
But even then, it’s Yin and Yang. For how moody I am about the future going forward for Evo, the future for fighting games is so ridiculously bright. Capcom, often considered the frontmost fighting game developer, appears to be entirely on the ball for Street Fighter 6, which has seen almost universal praise for its colorful style and bold mechanics. Long dormant franchises like Garou: Mark of the Wolves and Samurai Shodown are getting new games and updates, and finally, the war is over: rollback netcode is no longer a luxury item. From Persona 4 Arena Ultimax to Dragonball FighterZ, rollback is being implemented post-launch, a clear sign that even the longest holdouts have finally waved the white flag. A better online experience with a host of new, quality titles is upon us, and it’s wonderful. With that truth, it makes wanting to go through the hassle of attending a major tournament event, which might be expensive and full of diminishing returns in potential payout, an even harder decision, and that’s before factoring in the crypto investments.
So, what’s it going to be? I can only repeat what I said at the beginning: you rarely want family to go away for good, but damn, does the disappointment when they mess up bad cut deep.