Gaming history is littered with incredible moments: overtime tying goals in the Rocket League championship, the 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 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.
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.
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.
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.