LAS VEGAS -- Smash Wii U's third showing at the Evolution World Championship 2017 in Las Vegas was full of surprises, but Saleem "Salem" Akiel Young took the title over top-ranked Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios in the end, which put him over 1,507 other competitors over the course of three days. This marks the American's first Evo win and solidifies his legacy as one of the game's finest.
Despite numerous fan favorites -- such as Evo 2016 champion Elliot "Ally" Carroza-Oyarce and world No. 2 Leonardo "MKLeo" Perez -- falling in the scramble for a coveted finals spot, the Mandalay Bay Arena stage was mostly occupied by familiar faces. Most notably, making repeat appearances in an Evo top eight apart from ZeRo were four others: Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada, Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby, James "VoiD" Makekau-Tyson and Larry "Larry Lurr" Holland.
A heated topic on social media throughout the event was the rise of Bayonetta specialists. These specialists upset several tournament favorites early on, shaking up the bracket for all attendees. Although the character has long been considered a dominant force in the meta game, Salem's victory showed just how powerful the character can be in the right hands.
Alongside Salem, the combined efforts of Bharat "Lima" Chintapall, Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura and Jacob "JK" Johnson eliminated countless hopefuls, populating four of the top 16 with Bayonetta. This has resulted in an unprecedented increase in the character's public perception. It remains to be seen how this development will affect character diversity, but expect to see more of Bayonetta in tournaments soon. All that said, the top eight showcased 10 of Smash Wii U's diverse roster, with no character used by multiple players.
Ken, Japan's Flagbearer
Despite bringing in a record-breaking 44 delegates, only one Japanese powerhouse lived to tell the tale of a top-eight finish: Sonic specialist Kengo "KEN" Suzuk, the country's undisputed top dog.
After making it to the semifinals with a victory over Jason "ANTi" Bates, KEN faced his fellow countryman, Ishiguro "Raito" Tetsuya. Although KEN had struggled with Duck Hunt in the past, he managed to advance to winners quarterfinals, in which he lost against a personal demon in the form of ZeRo. In the losers bracket, he managed another victory over JK's Bayonetta to qualify for the top eight.
KEN's first opponent Sunday was Dabuz, whom he managed to sweep 2-0 despite Sonic's questionable matchup Rosalina. Up next, he fought Salem in a runback from last month's 2GGC: Nairo Saga, in which Salem took a convincing 3-0 victory. This time would be no different, with Salem taking the set 2-0 and ending his run in fifth place. Just like at Nairo Saga, he lost to ZeRo and Salem, the first- and second-place finishers at both events, with a comparatively low placing to show for it. His performance at Evo is commendable nonetheless, as there's no shame in losing to either of those players.
Grand Finals: ZeRo vs. Salem
ZeRo and Salem are notorious for going back-and-forth in sets, so it's no surprise that we saw two five-game series in the grand finals. Having won his rematch vs. Larry Lurr (who was put into the losers bracket earlier), Salem came in with a lot of confidence. However, he also had a smaller margin of error, as he couldn't drop another series. With his trademark patient style, Salem chipped away at ZeRo, and despite losing one game after an early lead, he managed to take the first set.
ZeRo opened Set 2 with a game victory and appeared to have adjusted to Salem's playstyle. Despite this, Salem fired back with a game of his own. The two traded games again, bringing the count to 2-2. In the final game, ZeRo secured a heavy lead, bringing Salem close to a death percent on his second stock before dropping his first. Yet Salem sensed impatience in his seemingly confident opponent. He saw that ZeRo was anxious to close out the match before making a mistake.
Recognizing this weakness, Salem managed to convert a hit into one of his signature "ladder combos." He erased ZeRo's last stock in a matter of seconds, claiming the title of Evo champion in the process.