The Evolution Championship Series (Evo) is the largest annual event in the fighting game community and largest LAN event in the world. It had been held every year since 1996 until this year. On Thursday, Evo announced the cancellation of this year’s tournament following sexual misconduct allegations against co-founder and president Joey “MrWizard” Cuellar. It was the culmination of a tumultuous week for Evo.
This year’s tournament was already set to look different before the events of this week led to its cancellation. In May, Evo, like other esports competitions around the world, made the decision to move the tournament online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The tournament would take place across a series of weekends beginning Saturday and ending Aug. 2.
The allegations that came to light this week against Cuellar and others in the fighting game community were the latest in a movement that began in June, when a wave of accusations hit social media from the gaming and esports communities. Victims began speaking up with stories of harassment, assault and bullying by streaming personalities, gaming company employees and esports competitors. Hundreds of accusations were posted online, and a movement began to promote change in the community though a Twitch blackout since it’s the main platform for many streamers and esports competitions.
In the past week, the movement shined a spotlight on the fighting game community and the Super Smash Bros. community in particular, including former NRG Esports Smash competitor Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada, who was accused of having a sexual relationship with a minor. NRG severed ties with Quezada shortly after the allegations became public.
On Wednesday, the first of several allegations of sexual misconduct was levied against Cuellar.
On Thursday, Evo posted on its Twitter account that it would be placing Cuellar on administrative leave pending a third-party investigation.
Cuellar issued the following apology on Twitter on Thursday: “I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt anyone. I was young and reckless and did things I’m not proud of. I have been growing and maturing over the past 20 years, but that doesn’t excuse anything. All I have been trying to do is become a better person. Once again, I’m truly sorry.”
Following Evo’s announcement that it was placing Cuellar on leave, several members of the fighting game community decided that they would not participate in Evo this year, including commentators, competitors and teams.
The most prominent competitor dropping out of the competition was Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, a five-time Evo champion across multiple titles.
Also I won’t be participating any longer in Evo online.
– SonicFox 1312 (@SonicFox) July 2, 2020
“I cannot in good conscience participate in an event with the allegations of one the primary hosts of said event. It just doesn’t sit right with me,” SonicFox told ESPN.
Later in the day, major game developers Capcom (the maker of Street Fighter), NetherRealm (Mortal Kombat) and Bandai Namco (Dragon Ball FighterZ and Tekken) all announced that they would be pulling their games from Evo, with statements expressing solidarity for the victims who had come forward.
We stand in solidarity with those who have spoken out against abuse. We will be pulling MK11 from EVO Online.
– NetherRealm (@NetherRealm) July 2, 2020
Just after 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, Evo officially pulled the plug on this year’s tournament. The organizers also stated that they will be issuing refunds to all players who purchased badges and that they will donate an equal amount to Project HOPE, an international health care organization.
– EVO (@EVO) July 3, 2020
“Progress doesn’t happen overnight or without the bravery of those who speak up against misconduct and injustice. We are shocked and saddened by these events but we are listening and committed to making every change that will be necessary in making Evo a better model for the stronger, safer culture we all seek,” Evo’s statement said.
Evo also announced that Cuellar had been completely removed from his duties with Evo and will no longer be involved in any capacity. Tony Cannon, a current Riot Games developer and also Evo co-founder, will act as CEO.
On Friday, Evo gave the following statement to ESPN: “With all that unfolded yesterday, the entire team is taking the time necessary to reflect, listen, and thoughtfully determine next steps.”