The Evolution Championship Series, commonly known as Evo, is kicking off its 2023 event in Las Vegas on Friday.
The fighting video game tournament is the largest of its kind in the world and attracts global participation, including esports athletes from the Middle East.
More than 9,000 players are taking part in the competition, with the vast majority from the US and Canada. This year, 71 countries are part of the event, up from 60 nations represented in 2022.
Players will compete across eight fighting games, the most popular of which are Street Fighter 6 and Mortal Kombat 11.
The tournament attracts a large number of spectators, who show their support in person and online.
Abu Dhabi team Nasr Esports is represented at the tournament by three participants; Jordanian Amjad "Angrybird" Al-Shalabi, Algerian Adel "Big Bird" Anouche and Abdullatif Hisham from Saudi Arabia.
The National spoke to Al-Shalabi ahead of the start of the tournament.
“I’m so excited to compete in Evo because it’s the first year of Street Fighter 6 and it’s the most prestigious event of fighting games,” he says.
“I have followed Evo since I was a kid, since 2012, and it has always been a dream of mine to compete in it,” Al-Shalabi adds. He is competing in the tournament for the fourth time, and he has his eyes set on the big prize.
Al-Shalabi and his teammate Anouche competed in the Red Bull Kumite competition in July in South Africa, where the latter claimed first place in the Street Fighter 6 competition.
The popularity of esports has grown in the Middle East, with an increasing number of gamers taking the leap to become full-time competitors.
Al-Shalabi says: “The competitive fighting scene in UAE wasn't that big, but after Street Fighter 6 released, we saw a huge increase in the numbers.
“We started doing community gatherings and tournaments to increase those numbers,” he adds.
Evo will run until Sunday, with most of the champions being crowned on the final day.