Thousands of steely-eyed players will bring their skills to Las Vegas this weekend to look for their opponents’ weakness and maybe win some money — and they’re not participating in the World Series of Poker.
The Evolution Championship Series, Evo for short, brings together video gamers from around the world to compete in fighting-style games. The annual event, which is being held at Mandalay Bay, attracted 14,000 competitors last year and paid nearly $300,000 in prizes.
One player making the pilgrimage to the tournament is Jirard Khalil, known as “The Completionist” on YouTube, where his That One Video Gamer channel has nearly 800,000 subscribers.
The nickname The Completionist stems from Khalil’s weekly series, in which he chooses one game and offers advice and humor as he completes every possible in-game task in three to four days.
You are a star in the gaming world, but those outside that world may not be familiar with what you do. Give us a rundown:
Khalil: I’m the creator of a YouTube channel called That One Video Gamer and the show is The Completionist. Every week, it’s man versus game. I have seven days to take a game, beat it 100 percent, find any Easter eggs or secrets that may not have been discovered yet, find production notes, reach out to developers and see if they can clear up some things. It’s really a television show in the way that we’ve created it.
I am also a producer of a Pokemon channel called The National Dex, which basically like Bill Nye for Pokemon. Where they take a real serious look at how the Nintendo Corporation and the Pokemon company has created these cute little monsters and their origins and the influences and how to train them, how to catch them.
Many people don’t consider working in gaming as a “real job.” What do you say to that?
I think the biggest thing is to look immediately amongst who is around you to see who's involved in that. When I was taking the Uber to the studio, I was talking to the Uber driver and she said her son is a gamer but she doesn’t understand it. I told her that I’m a YouTuber and do video game content. She lit up and said that is what her son liked. I think that’s a good stepping off point really seeing who around you are in to the things that you may not be into.
I travel 15 times a year to meet thousands of people at different tournaments and events. And I’m almost like a celebrity. I walk into the room and they’re taking photos and asking for autographs and that’s incredible. And I love that. But if I walk to 7-Eleven, nobody is going to know that’s me. No one is going to care because they think I’m just some random dude who kind of looks a little homeless.
There are a lot of video game tournament but tell us about EVO and what sets it apart?
The best way I can describe it is EVO is essentially the fighting game championship Super Bowl. It’s where the best of the best of the best travel from all over the world. It’s kind of snowballed into this grandiose event.
It’s become this massive platform for people who have never played games before come together and learn how to play. It is always interesting because every year there’s that Cinderella story of a random dude from a random part of the world showed up with a weird controller that no one has ever heard of who swept the tournament. Or played the game with certain characters who are considered awful. It is really a story telling event of the fighting game community coming together to play all these games.
What is your event?
This year I’m competing in Tekken 7, Street Fighter and Super Smash Brothers.
The biggest one that everyone is paying attention to the most is usually Street Fighter. It’s the game that brought everyone into the fighting game scene, to begin with. The legacy of Street Fighter has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. And it is the last game that takes place at EVO on the main stage. It’s the game that everyone is very, very excited to see.
What is cool to see is that while Street Fighter is the pinnacle game in the past 10 – 15 years we’ve seen the rise of other fighting games that no one thought would be a thing Marvel vs. Capcom, Super Smash Brothers, Guilty Gear – it’s becoming this really big robust industry that only just gets deeper and bigger every single year.
How have fared in past competitions?
I’m not very good at fighting games is what I’ve learned. I put in a lot of time – not as much time as the professional players who are into the scene are. Because they’re touring every single week, competitions everywhere that takes a lot of commitment and a lot of time and unfortunately, I don’t have all of the time in the world to become a fighting game aficionado but as an enthusiast who loves the fighting game community it is something I have to support whether I’m good at it or not.
What makes Las Vegas a good place for esports?
It’s becoming more and more a centralized hub, especially for the e-sports scene, because I think that is the big thing. Everyone wants e-sports to succeed they want it to be a real thing. In Vegas, it is being treated like a real thing. I think because those relationships been so embraced over the past few years. It might be because a lot of the hotels in Vegas have massive grand ballrooms that can seat several thousand people in a way that it’s not going to impede any of the foot traffic that is happening in the hotel.
Conventions like this can be stressful, but how does it compare to the stress of producing gaming videos for YouTube?
Let me be clear as a YouTuber in my field specifically I’m a mad man. I’m insane. I should not be doing what I do. From a financial perspective, from a physical perspective, from a mental perspective, from a personal perspective, no one should be doing what I’m doing. I do what I do because not only have I found a niche audience but I’ve found one that is learning and growing along with me in the journey. They’ve really given me a life that I’m very thankful for in my YouTube success.
It is something I never forget about and I think that’s what keeps me so committed.
Do you really get that stressed out playing these games?
The stress is very real. I actually think that I down play my stress a lot on the show because I don’t think that anyone wants a gift from Santa Claus knowing that Santa Claus have is a mental breakdown showing up down their chimney with the gifts.
I have to just have to suck it up and do it. But there is definitely a huge amount of stress that goes unspoken. I just don’t like to complain like that.
There are episodes where it will be 11 a.m. on Friday. I haven’t slept in three days and the game is still not done and the episode comes out in two hours. I’m sitting there beating my head against the wall trying to get past this one jump or this one level or this one area. And I don’t know if I can actually do it then I do it and the video comes out.
Five Nights at Freddy’s for instance, those games affected me so badly that I had to go get a therapist to kind of mend myself away from the amount of physical stress I was going under.
Along with playing and critiquing video games and tending to his media empire, Khalil also performs in the boy band Big Bad Bosses. Its members take the personas of video game villains, and Khalil portrays Bowser, nicknamed “Big Bow,” from the Mario series.
Jirard Khalil, video game expert and YouTube star