Gaming history is littered with incredible moments: overtime tying goals in the Rocket League championshipthe one shot Deagle ace, that time your teammate actually took your advice. But some plays reach a status beyond incredible and go down in gaming history forever. Esports tournaments keep increasing, and while many plays are impressive, few become touchstones within the game's community. Every year a play or two will put someone on the map, and once every few years, a play will go massively viral. Still, only a handful of times has a play been so undeniably impressive that it defines competitive gaming as a whole, wowing players of all games and even non-gamers. 

For fighting game players and esports enthusiasts, Moment 37 is in this elite class. Possibly the most famous esports play of all time, the incredible nine seconds of video has been the subject of countless articles, videos, and even an entire book.

Evo Moment 37: One of the most famous moments in competitive gaming history

Glenn Craven

So if any non-gamers out there think a whole article is a bit much, this could have been longer!

Evo Moment 37 comes to us from the prestigious Evolution (EVO) fighting game tournament, for years the largest and most respected tournament in the fighting game world. EVO hosts events for the most competitive fighting games, from couch classics like Smash Bros Melee to obscure fighting games that no one in their right mind would play, like Smash Bros 4. Around the world, people who run the cabinets at their local arcades and trounce their friends flawlessly time and again dream of becoming good enough to compete on EVO's stage in front of a roaring crowd of fighting game fanatics.

In 2004, two players with incredible skill had gained international renown even though their fighting styles were diametrically opposed. 

At the time, Justin Wong, or JWong, was an American who'd made a name for himself by winning a previous EVO championship in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. JWong played a conservative, defensive style, just slightly more aggressive than fully turtling in the corner. It's worth noting that the buzz about JWong wasn't a flash-in-the-pan kind of moment. After Moment 37, JWong would go on to win a record nine EVO tournaments and become synonymous with fighting games. In late August of this year, JWong was awarded an Esports Lifetime Achievement Award … so when I say believe the hype, I mean believe the hype.

Justin Wong

Édouard Hue

Most players don't live long enough for a Lifetime Achievement Award due to all the physical trauma.

The other rising star was Daigo Umehara, a Japanese player who'd exploded into the Western scene in a "Japan vs. USA" tournament the previous year. Not only was Umehara undefeated in his game of choice, but he finished every round with the same move: styling on opponents who were considered the best the West had to offer. Umehara's playstyle could not be more unlike JWong's. Instead of measured patience and looking for openings, Umehara brought unrelenting aggression to his matches and took his opponents apart with his incredible technical skill and timing. His ferocity had earned him the nickname "The Beast." And remember when I said that JWong deserved the hype and went on to get a lifetime achievement award this year? Yeah, well, Umehara got his last year.

Daigo Umehara at Capcom Cup

Shino Imao

Here he is, doing a poor job of showing off which drink sponsors him. 

At the time, these two were the cool kids on the block, and everyone wanted to see their match. In retrospect, knowing they go on to win a combined 15 EVOs, two lifetime achievement awards, and dominate the competitive tournament scene for the next decade … well, it's not that surprising that we're still writing about their match over 17 years later.

During EVO 2004's Street Fighter 3: Third Strike tournament (a celebration of Street Fighter having finally defeated the number two), Wong and Umehara both fell into the losers bracket and started working their way through it. Excitement was in the air as players started to believe they might really see the matchup they'd wondered about: Could Wong hold off Umehara, or would the Beast prove too much? When they both advanced to the top of the losers bracket, they filled every seat in the room with tense fans.

A double-elimination bracket from the 2004 National Science Bowl

Aerion/Wiki Commons

In case you didn't know: Win the loser bracket, and you're in the top two for the whole tournament, not just the best of the losers. 

As always, the match was best of three, and Umehara started off strong by demolishing Wong in the first round. Wong, however, is a quick learner and took round two in his methodical way. The room buzzed as the final round started, but no one could have anticipated that they were about to witness the greatest moment in competitive gaming history. 

To appreciate Moment 37, you need to understand a little bit about damage in fighting games and defense in Third Strike. Obviously, in all fighting games, you're trying to use your moves to damage your opponent. If you know your opponent is going to hit you, then you can hold back on your stick and block their attack. In Third Strike, the game Umehara and Wong faced off in, blocking an attack doesn't stop all of that attack's damage as a small amount, called "chip damage," will still get through. 

However, Third Strike does have a way to take absolutely no damage from an incoming attack, and that's to parry. When you're blocking, your timing doesn't need to be too precise; as long as you're holding the stick back when you're hit, you'll block it. On the other hand, parrying requires moving towards your opponent, not back, and has incredibly precise timing. To perfectly parry in Third Strike, you only have about six frames to work with -- 1/10th of a second.

Third Strike parry

Capcom

How this stops scythe-feet is a mystery only answered by the sacred “Shut up, nerd” technique.

Anyways, round three. Ready? Fight!

In the final round, Wong (playing as Chun-Li) quickly gained the upper hand, bringing Umehara (playing as Ken) down to half health, then even lower, while keeping himself mostly intact. With only 31 seconds left in the round, Umehara's bar was reduced to a sliver of health so small that even chip damage would kill Umehara at this point. Even if Umehara blocked the next attack Wong threw at him, he'd still lose. Knowing this, Wong moved in, using a 15-hit super move for a bit of overkill.

For any human, it's game over. You put the controller down, shake your opponent's hand, and hope to take them down next year. But Umehara isn't just a human. According to the Japanese media at the time, he was "the god of 2-D fighters," and he proved it right here. In nine stunning seconds of gameplay, Daigo perfectly parries all 15 hits of Wong's super, taking absolutely no damage, at times ducking and jumping in order to catch the next attack in the chain. By the sixth perfect parry in a row, the crowd is roaring. Half that many parries in a row is borderline unheard of. Fifteen? Fifteen is how you become a god:

But Umehara wasn't done. After doing the impossible, the Beast gained an advantage. By parrying all of the attacks, Umehara gained a few frames (each frame being 1/60th of a second) in which his opponent couldn't act, and he could. Umehara took the few frames advantage this insane display earned him to catch Wong in his own combo. The crowd wasn't just roaring now; they were screaming. Finally, Umehara juggled Wong across the stage and finished him off with a super of his own. By the time the final KO was on the screen, the whole crowd was on their feet. The caster for the match, who was calmly commentating less than a second ago, was yelling, "It's madness! It's unadulterated madness!"

At the end of the day, when the Mountain Dew and adrenaline had worn off, one of the EVO staff was asked to put together a highlight reel. Knowing that this was a moment that would become legendary, they titled the video "EVO Moment #37" to make people think it was one of many such moments and inspire people to come to EVO 2005. But almost two decades later, this remains the #1 moment in fighting game history, an undeniable testament to the prowess and skill these games require.

EVO

Even though it was in this ugly basement, and tournaments today are in goddam disco stadiums. 

Although Moment 37's legendary status is almost untouched and certainly the first gaming moment to go viral, other plays have entered the same elite strata. Plays like xPeke's backdoor in Katowice 2013, Boxer's Bunker Rush, the Melee Wombo Combo, and Faker's takedown of Ryu immortalized players' legacies and cemented wins that seemed impossible across all kinds of competitive games. By now, these are the plays that everyone dreams of witnessing when they turn on their favorite esports tournament, and every few years, we're rewarded with another gem.

But Moment 37 has been immortalized in one way no other play has. In 2012 Capcom released a downloadable online version of Street Fighter 3: Third Strike that included a new training option: the Daigo Parry. Players around the world could put themselves in exactly the same position Umehara was in and see if, even without the pressure and knowing what was coming, they could go toe to toe with The Beast.

Top Image: Capcom

 

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