Gaming Literacy: EVO Moment #37, a frame by frame breakdown

In our Gaming Literacy series we're taking a look at relics and moments from gaming past. These are the artifacts and events all gamers should know, whether they be glorious highlights or frightening failures. 

EVO Moment #37. The play of the game. The play of all games. The highlight of highlights. The serene instant that Daigo Umehara–largely considered the best Street Fighter player of all time–fully parried a super from New York’s best, Justin Wong, in Street Fighter III: Third Strike.

It’s one of the few e-sports moments that has been able to creep its way into mainstream internet culture. If you look for EVO Moment #37 online, you are likely to only find video of the glorious parry itself, but there was a whole match filled with high-tier play that led up to this one moment. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, like most people think.

This was planned. This was what Daigo Umehara wanted to happen, and I’ll break down the match to show you how he did it.

Setting The Stage

The first 20 seconds set the tone for most of the match. You’ll see that Justin Wong continually throws out normal attacks while Daigo walks back and forth trying to find his way in. Chun-Li, Wong’s character, has normals with much further range than Ken, Umehara’s character. It’s safest for Wong to try and keep Umehara out, while Umehara wants to keep the pressure on, forcing Wong to guess his mix-ups.

The first attack of the match at 14 seconds shifts things into Wong’s favor. Umehara goes in for a sweep, but Wong uses Chun-Li’s superior normal reach to punish a whiff. Although Umehara goes for it again and lands it, Wong guesses correctly on wake up and jumps Umehara’s standing kick, landing an aerial kick of his own. At this point, Umehara’s Ken is well inside footsie range, so Wong throws him into a corner in order to get some breathing room.

What transpires next might seem familiar to anyone who has kept up with professional Street Fighter V lately. Wong takes the time to teabag Umehara in an attempt to get into his head, but it only serves to make him angry. In fact, the extra time spend teabagging is exactly what turns the match around. Umehara takes advantage of Wong’s lowered defenses to land a quick low kick into shoryu combo, knocking Wong down and allowing Umehara to stay inside footsie range.

Wong attempts to retreat by jumping backward but Umehara chases him across the stage. Wong once again has to deal with Umehara’s pressure until another whiffed sweep sets both of them back into neutral game where Wong has the advantage, but Wong can’t capitalize on it. Eventually, Umehara lands a kick into super combo and decides to play mind-games right back. He taunts Wong, but this serves an important purpose. Taunting with Ken actually increases his attack power slightly, and with Wong at less than half health, this small boost might be exactly what Umehara needs to clinch the match.

Umehara once again keeps the pressure on, cornering Wong and pursuing him when he jumps out. He isn’t landing any combos; rather, he is just getting in small bits of damage here and there. This is a calculated move on Umehara’s part. Wong knows he is at an advantage when playing footsies, so Umehara wants to break Wong’s footsie game. He wants him to start playing sloppy so he can capitalize on it. In fact, he even backs off while Wong is at just a sliver of health, forcing Wong to advance on him if he wants a chance at winning. Keep this in mind, because this is what frames the notorious Evo Moment later in the match.

Umehara’s plan works to his advantage. Wong advances, throws out a sloppy footsie, and Umehara uppercuts for the win.

Mind Games

In the next round we see Wong acting far more aggressively than he did in the first round. He opens the match with a kick to super combo, quickly putting momentum in his favor. Umehara appears to play almost recklessly throughout this round, and he can afford to since he is one round up. He throws out wake-up dragon punches like crazy and gets block punished by Wong twice, taking him down to below half health only about 10 seconds into the match.

Don’t get me wrong, Umehara is trying very hard to win this match. However, he is also doing something else. He is training Wong to be aggressive instead of defensive. If he can convince Wong that he can win by taking to offense, then his Ken will be at the advantage. Time and time again, you see Wong start to get more aggressive in Round 2, and get rewarded for it. Instead of playing calm footsies, he throws out normals over and over again from well inside footsie range. This strategy pays off for Wong, as he takes the match decisively at the 70 second mark.

But Umehara has already won the mind game, because Justin Wong is playing angry.

Against All Odds

As round three starts, we see Daigo switch up his playstyle again. Now he begins the match by backing off. He stays well outside of Wong’s footsie range, but still throws out normals. You might think he would be doing this to build meter, but Umehara’s meter is already at maximum. These attacks are just baits. They are asking Wong to come inside and attack.

This pattern continues for the first ten seconds of the match. In fact, at one point Umehara even stands still at long distance, letting Wong sit there, throw normals, and build meter, making it clear that he will not be coming in to attack.

With a full meter, Justin Wong starts to get greedy. He knows that he can do a lot of damage at once and wants to finish the match quickly. After a whiffed overhead by Daigo, Wong opens the match with a low kick to super combo, that takes off a sizeable chunk of Umehara’s life bar. It also pushes Daigo into a corner.

Daigo eventually gets out, but even then he refuses to advance. He stays well outside of footsie range and forces Wong to come to him. Again, a sloppy normal is punished by a low kick to super combo, and Umehara is suddenly in danger of losing the whole match.

Yet Daigo sticks to his gameplan. He stays out of footsie range and begs Wong to attack him. He starts walking closer to Wong now, making him more likely to throw out a normal, but backs off in time to dodge it. We also see him throw fireballs, the first few of the game, to let Wong know that he cannot rest comfortably at full screen and wait for a time out.

And it is after these few fireball throws that Daigo completely mixes up his strategy again. With only a sliver of life left, he slowly walks Wong into a corner and presses the assault hard. He is sitting on a full meter so he throws out fireballs to keep nearly all of his pokes safe. He reduces Wong to less than half of his life-bar in a mere few seconds with his sudden relentless assault. You can even hear the commentators say this is “rare footage of Daigo actually angry.”

Then Wong gets out, makes a good trade and puts Daigo at literally one pixel of health. Wong and Daigo each have one super stocked. All sanity would say that Daigo should push the offensive.

But he doesn’t. He backs off. This is exactly what he trained Wong to do earlier in the match. With a sliver of health, he is once again telling Wong “come get me.” He’s thrown so many fireballs he’s put Wong in the mindset that he can’t play the ranged game.

And here’s the part that makes this Evo Moment so genius. Wong has meter. All he has to do is make contact with Daigo and he is done for. If he uses a special or super move of any sort and Daigo blocks it, Daigo still loses. A perfectly timed parry, which negates damage in a way a normal block doesn't, would be Daigo's only hope. 

Chun-Li’s fireball is slow and easy to parry, and getting within range of her Lightning Legs opens Wong up to an attack. As things are set up, it appears as if the best option Wong has is to throw out a super. The possible outcomes of this are: A) Daigo blocks and loses, B) Daigo trades and loses, C) Daigo gets lucky and interrupts it with a move without getting hit himself, which puts Wong back into neutral where he is strongest and has the clear time and life advantage, D) Daigo jumps, which once again puts Wong back into neutral, E) Daigo full parries everything but the last hit, which once again puts everything back into neutral, or F) Daigo takes a CRAZY gamble and jumps specifically to parry the last hit of Wong’s super, which might give him an opportunity to punish with a very damaging combo.

Before this, we had rarely seen full parries, especially in competition. All probability seems to be in Wong’s favor, but Daigo practiced just in case this situation came about. Sure enough, Wong throws out the super and Daigo is ready for it. He parries every hit, and uses his last stock of meter to perform a devastating combo, taking the match.

Making History

That’s the story behind EVO Moment #37, a complex web of mind-games, training, and teabagging. This is what high-level play looks like. This is what professional gaming looks like, perfection down to the frame. In a way, this broke through the barrier keeping the public from looking at video games as a serious competition. Anyone can appreciate the tension of this moment. Anyone can appreciate how much these two competitors wanted to win.

And they have. This one moment has been dissected by numerous articles (including this one), been the subject of several interviews, and even had a book written about it. It has been recreated in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Street Fighter V. It’s been integrated into training modes as a specific combo trial. It’s even a mission in Third Strike’s re-release.

Knowing the moment is a critical piece of being an informed gaming fan. It is quite simply the most infamous moment in fighting game history.