It has officially been two weeks since the beginning of the EVO 2022 weekend and since then there has been a lot of coverage relating to EVO directly or in passing. Lately, we checked out the EVO-branded Snack Box Micro, a representation of the future of FGC. Today, however, we'll look at a special pair of Nike Air Force 1s that aren't just connected to the tournament series, but one of the most iconic moments in fighting game history, EVO #37. While its official name is the Air Force 1 Premium 'White Fossil', it has become colloquially known as the "EVO AF1s," so that's what I'll be referring to them as.
Out of the box, the pair of sneakers is encased in a shoe bag with the words "It's Not Over 'Til It's Over" above the iconic Nike "Swoosh" logo. While this can be passed off as a motivational tagline the company is known for with their products, it directly relates to the Aesop that EVO #37 taught. For those unaware, EVO Moment #37 refers to the loser's finals match between Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong in Street Fighter 3: Third Strike during EVO 2004.
EVO was a different beast in 2004 than it would be in 2022 as the FGC as we knew it was of a smaller community than it is now. For years, EVO had taken place in Las Vegas in Mandalay Bay yet once upon a time it was located in Cal Poly, Pomona. What would become the biggest tournament in the world had its humble beginnings at a polytechnic university, which would set the scene for how impactful #37 would be. With only a sliver of health left, Daigo, as Ken, would be on the defensive as a confident Justin, playing Chun-Li, would ready her super.
Chun-Li and Ken are both considered to be one of the best characters in 3rd Strike, each with equal amounts of comeback and cinching potential. Chun-Li's Super Art 2, Hoyokusen, is the preferred Super Art for its insane combo potential on hit, ease of hit confirm, and chip damage as well. With very little health left, Justin Wong was looking for a kill that was guaranteed on hit or block due to its chip damage. This meant that the only way to ensure Daigo's survival was to throw inhibition out the window and parry like his life depended on it.
What made this a spectacle is that including all of the points made above, 3rd Strike's parry system isn't frame perfect, but requires a rhythm that must be kept throughout the duration of the attack. If Daigo dropped the rhythm at any point, he wouldn't be able to defend himself and would eat the Hoyokusen. Not only did he parry the Super Art perfectly, but he was able to parry the final attack while jumping in a way that nets him the advantage. As Chun-Li was still in recovery frames, he was able to get the most optimal damage combo, turn the match around, and win the set to a thunderous uproar.
Despite the name and contrary to popular belief, there is only one "EVO Moment" and the #37 term was coined by Ben Cureton, the announcer who hyped the match, to begin with. The reason behind the "37" specifically was simply because it made those who would come across 'EVO #37' believe there were thirty-six more EVO moments prior to it, thus garnering interest. It became an urban legend in its own right and helped make the EVO event the talk of the gaming circle for years to come.
Almost sixteen years later, the Director of Business Development for EVO, Mark 'Markman' Julio was in talks with Nike themselves to finalize plans for an Air Force 1 to commemorate EVO #37. A known sneakerhead in the FGC, Markman was the perfect person to overlook the project and a representative from Nike would pitch the idea to the company himself. Things were looking to be in motion yet unfortunately, COVID-19's impact would delay the project and nothing would seemingly come from it.
That is, until two years later when a fairly innocuous tweet made by a fan of Justin Wong would get the attention of the man himself. Thus, the domino pieces were kicked and an interesting story was unraveled before our very eyes days before EVO 2022. What was peculiar about the realization of the 'White Fossils' was that no one knew it existed. It didn't have the same fanfare as countless collaborations or inspired releases had from Nike themselves. In an era where every major release is covered in some capacity, things were silent leading up to this point. No one knew about the release of the sneakers nor its existence until this chance encounter.
So, let's break down the sneakers themselves as I was able to purchase a pair myself. The main material of the sneaker is a bone white canvas, with blue soles and white midbox. The swoosh logo and Nike Air logo on the tongue and near the backstay have this cool clashing afterimage of solid white and canvas bone white colors. The tongue, which is the feature of the sneaker, has a series of inputs that, at first, makes no sense to anyone who doesn't play fighting games.
What this seemingly random assortment of arrows and letters means, however, are the inputs Daigo made to cinch his victory over Justin the moment the latter used his Super Art. The fourteen left arrows, seven on each row, represent the rhythmic parrying Daigo did to overcome Chun-Li's Hoyokusen. The up arrow followed by the left arrow indicates the air parry on the final attack of the super, following with a jumping heavy kick followed by a crouching medium kick. That is then canceled into a medium Shoryuken and finally the notion for Ken's chosen super, Shippu Jinraikyaku, to close the set.
The attention to detail, down to the dominating colors of 'Void Blue' and 'Fossil White', are based on EVO's official colors of blue and white. Back to the shoe bag, the quote "It's Not Over 'Til It's Over" most certainly relates to Daigo's perseverance over Justin during that time. It is a saying that dictates the rivalry these two would have in future EVOs where Daigo would win and Justin would have his chances for revenge. Ironically enough, the saying also goes to Markman who wouldn't be able to appreciate the fruits of his labor until the sneakers were in fact in the wild.
While it was a delayed celebration of the FGC, I'd say that with the revival of EVO offline and the return of many tournaments both regional and local, it's still glory days for the community. Personally speaking, when I first met Markman in 2018 during Combo Breaker, I was new to writing about gaming and covering events. He never once looked down upon me and always encouraged me to follow my dreams. Seeing him again in 2022 during EVO and him remembering me made it all the more special.
In the FGC, sometimes you feel like a small fish in a giant pool, but the impressions you leave on people last through generations. EVO #37 marked the catalyst for many fighting game careers and passions. It is something that can continue to be felt to this day and what better way to immortalize it than through a sneaker brought to life by community effort, based on a tournament sent into the stratosphere by community effort? Long live the FGC.