Team Liquid's Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma spent much of 2015 struggling to find his footing. He took first at Paragon Orlando, the first major tournament of the year, but couldn't quite make it back to first place. He always landed in the Top 8, but fell just shy of what it took to win it all. Now, coming off of his second tournament win of 2015 at MLG Finals, Hungrybox spoke with theScore eSports about the Fox-Puff matchup, his next goal as a player and who he thinks can win Smash Summit.
MLG was your first major tournament win since Paragon Orlando in January, you certainly haven't faltered since then, but how does it feel to get first at a major tournament again?
I mean honestly, it felt amazing, but at the same time, there wasn't much of the competition there that I'm used to, so I felt that I had to win there. It was more of that good status quo, more of that good potential best player in America title, but at the same time if I lost it would have been really really bad for me in my eyes and my performance, since Mew2King had defeated me at Paragon LA. But it was really good. I think I'm not practicing as much as I used to, but I'm unlocking other levels of my mind. It's weird how it works but there's been studies done on the fact that if you stimulate other parts of your mind — in my case, I excel at doing mathematical stuff at work — it helps stimulate other sections of your mind too. I felt like that is somehow helping me out, performing well. Hopefully I can keep it up. MLG gave me the sensation I needed, because now I know what it feels like to win — even though it's not a highly merited win, because the competition wasn't there — it was still an official win. It was an official tournament with a lot of good players there, with a nice trophy, and that sensation is what I needed to wake me up. I think I'm gonna do pretty well after that.
Do you find yourself still improving then, if you can't practice as much?
The thing is, I won't have anyone to play around me now. My one source of practice on a CRT was a guy named Gage. He is the best player in Jacksonville, where I live currently. But now he's in the military, and I can't play him anymore. Currently I have no way of practicing apart from netplay, so that'd been my one saving grace, and even though it's not really great practice due to the amount of inevitable lag, it's still good to maintain an understanding of the game, the physics of the game, and sort of figure out what the best thing to do is. I have a set-up here in my apartment on a big fat CRT which I occasionally use. But it's cool, because I can still go to a tournament as long as I warm up for two hours beforehand. My mind seems to do the rest. I figure it out, it's hard to explain, but it seems to work so far.
It was also the first MLG Smash tournament in over a year. After your performance at MLG Anaheim in 2014, how did it feel coming back to win?
I would say that I wasn't playing well at MLG by any means. I wasn't playing well at all, but neither was Mew2King, I don't think. I just happened to be playing a little better than he was. I needed more practice before MLG. I think I might have just gotten lucky. I definitely need that training partner. My friends, Crunch and Gage, are the two guys I always play before tournaments. I was playing UUAA, I was playing him for hours and hours and hours during Big House 5, and we were testing out everything, we were theorizing, it's a matter of how much time can I put into dedicating warm up. People think because I play Puff it's not the same thing, but it really is. You need to definitely understand the dynamic of the Fox-Puff matchup. That's the only matchup I care about at this point, I've nailed all the other matchups and unless someone surprises me at some point in the future, that's what I believe for now.
Playing Puff, what considerations do you have going into that matchup? What's the difference for you in playing against, say, M2K's Fox and Armada's Fox?
It's a completely 100 percent different Fox style. The punish game is similar due to the physics of Fox. Each Fox player has different DI, different mix-ups, different ways of approaching Puff, whether or not they camp, whether or not they up-tilt in certain situations, whether or not they can hit the Up-Throw Up-Air without me SDIing. You see instantly when M2K jabs me, he waits for a second, then grabs me, trying to predict my DI, then goes for the Up-Throw Up-Air, so it's difficult for me to SDI his hits. Whereas with Mango, it's easier for me to SDI his hits, because he's more die-hard, going really fast. These things, they might not seem huge, but to me, it's like literally playing different characters. My goal is to understand that matchup perfectly enough, where I can apply my learning to every single matchup and never lose again. My goal is to go to a tournament against a Fox player, Armada, Leffen, Mew2King, Mango, anyone, and never lose to a Fox ever again. Not a single match. That's my next goal.
At Big House 5, it looked like you started to understand and adapt to Armada's Fox. Did you pick something up there?
Yeah. Don't edgecamp. Play the neutral, play aggressive. That completely worked. Big House 5 was so much a repeat of EVO, it was kind of scary, I lost to Armada pretty solidly in winners', I came back in grands, I almost took the first set and then I lost it. You know, it's just, 'Okay, camping didn't work, no camping works better.' Against Mango, the patient strategy did work, so it's clear to me that certain things are working, but my goal is stay away from the edgecamp. It's more of a gimmick strategy but against Fox, at top level, I feel like you might need to do it. We're trying to figure it out, me and Crunch, we keep theorizing and understanding whether or not it's necessary at top level to retreat to the edge at high percent when you have the lead. I think it's a great strategy, you just have to be patient.
At MLG you also played against Prince Abu, another Puff main, do you feel comfortable in the mirror match?
It's pretty annoying. But like I said, it's like ... jury duty, or getting a colonoscopy. It's one of those things you gotta do. It's gonna happen eventually, you gotta do it man. If you're good with it, you're good with it, and I'm not afraid of that matchup. If you're patient and understand what you're doing you'll win. I think the fact that I jump with up gives me an edge over every other Puff, I can move faster and attack faster, so I'm always going to edge them out.
What do you think of the way Melee has exploded over the last little bit? Do you think this growth period can last?
Yeah. I mean, I'm hoping it'll last as long as it can. Obviously it's getting to the point where there's almost too many tournaments now. I can't attend Summit for instance due to work, but had they given me further notice, like DreamHack notice, they announced their stuff months and months before. But these guys announced one month ahead, and I couldn't get time off from work. More importantly I had plans with my girlfriend already. But you know, I'm not the only one in that category, people make plans all the time. If you're gonna have this many tournaments with pot bonuses this serious, you've got to announce them hella ahead of time. I don't want to miss tournaments, but sometimes you have to, especially with a full-time job it's not always possible. But I hope it goes as long as possible, I hope it continues to grow, and it's sick that I can be part of a community where I can make a half living. It's a living if you're really good, off of just tournament winnings. I'm glad we're finally getting there, because Melee, with the hype it brings, and the audience it attracts, deserves at least $10,000 minimum pot bonuses for every national.
You've played in a few Smash 4 tournaments, what do you think about that game?
I hate it. But I love watching it. It's weird, I love watching that game. It's very easy to watch, you can follow it pretty easily and it always surprises me, because a lot of players, ZeRo, Nairo, ESAM, they all do crazy stuff and I never expect it. It's really cool to watch, but when I play it, I was trying to be the best Puff, and I think I was for a little while, by default. There's a guy named Surrender who is apparently pretty good but I've never seen him. I thought at CEO when I got all those Rests, I was sort of making a statement. But Doubles is a whole different thing. In Singles, I feel like Puff is complete garbage. I think she's horrible, and I think they did a horrible job with Puff. But they did a pretty good job with everyone else.
Do you think there's a character at the bottom of the tier list, waiting for something new to be discovered before they can explode on to the scene, or is that part of Melee set?
No... Well, Melee has this really cool aspect to it where it has such an insane depth to it, that people continue to find things until the end of CRTs existing. We've seen the amount of depth it has, because we have TAS now, we see exactly how fast the game can go, but no one's ever going to reach that, we're just gonna get closer and closer. It's like that thing in Breaking Bad where Walter White, he had to hit that 98 percent purity, but to hit that 99 percent purity, it made such a difference to get there. That's where we're at now, we've sort of gone on this experience curve, where I think you can model it as ln(x) I think? It's leveling off over time. We got really good pretty fast, we started discovering stuff, and then this whole influx of skill came out of nowhere, and we're currently leveling off. Every once in awhile new things are discovered, V-Cancelling, or invisible ceiling stuff, options for SDI, those are the itty-bitty bits that create big differences in matchups. But they're not groundbreaking. It's not like we're discovering wavedashing, which completely changed the meta and the tier list, we're discovering small things. But now it's more about the neutral, and understanding yourself as a player, rather than the all-in mechanics that literally can offer in terms of what was physically programmed in. Now it's more of how do you program yourself to play this game? It's understanding yourself in the neutral.
What then is the hardest thing a new player would have to master, of all those things?
The hardest thing to master, well, it's all character dependent. There are 26 ways to play Melee. One of them is called Fox, one of them is called Falco, one is called Puff. Depending on which version of Melee you play, you have to focus on different things, and matchups are always important. But for instance you're playing Fox, you can't play without having tech skill. You have to grind the tech skill and practice all those things. Then there's Puff. If you have tech skill that's cool and all, but if you play Puff, and you're not sure about a certain matchup, you're gonna die. You need to understand matchups with Puff. The most important thing with Puff is matchups, the rest setups, the physics of each character. It's funny, you can play Puff by yourself, no computers, just you by yourself, and you can practice edge cancels and options and other things, and that's cool and all, but Puff doesn't rely on that nearly as much as matchup knowledge. It's different for every character, but there's lots of tools and guides online to get you on that path.
Since you're not going to Summit, who do you think wins that tournament?
Armada. There's not even a doubt. Believe it or not, if it's not Armada, I'm gonna say Doctor PeePee. I think out of nowhere if he figures out what's happening, he's gonna make some magic happen. Apart from that, I don't see Mango or Mew2King beating Armada. After Armada winning, after PP winning, I think the third best chance might be an upset, a guy like Plup. If he plays out of his mind — he might be a little burned out, I don't know.
How do you feel going into DreamHack? How big is it for you?
DreamHack is a very big deal. In terms of size, it's probably the biggest tournament in Europe of all time. But also Armada is going to Summit, which has a $31,000 pot, and he's also going to this Norwegian tournament the week before DreamHack which has a $10,000 pot, and Sweden which has a $30,000 pot. Armada is currently the best player in the world, and unless I or someone else can stop him, he's gonna be getting quite a fortune in this next month. I need to stop him at DreamHack, which is gonna be with PAL versions of Melee, where Fox is slightly worse, so I'm very optimistic. But you never know! I've never played on PAL, so I could be setting myself up for massive failure, but there's only one way to find out.
Did you watch any of DreamHack London to get an idea of how European Smash players plays?
I watched it, and it's just, not too different. They have different approaches and all that, but I've played almost all the top European players at this point, I've played against Armada many times, Leffen many times, Ice multiple times. Those are the top three that come to mind. Overtriforce as well, but I'm not sure if he's as high-ranked. Armada and Leffen are two outliers, but below that is just different styles of Fox, different ways to approach. They have very good players, but so does the United States. One of the most unique things is just how different every region is in terms of how they play, so to me, Europe is just another region and just another series of players to master.
Where do you think Melee needs to go next?
Next for Melee as a movement is that we've got to go even more eSports man. We're already halfway there. We need to have Nintendo get their fingers involved, we need to have big-name companies making seasonal events with seasons and ladders. It sounds weird, but we need more corporations involved. The word corporate has a bad connotation, by corporate I mean people with power, them getting involved and making Melee more of an official thing. Like, if you look at it from one perspective, it's a beautiful grassroots thing. Lots of friendships intertwined there, the game's phenomenal, I have many memories associated with it. But in this day and age, it's also a source of entertainment, Melee is a spectator sport and many people tune in to it, more and more each day, and there's some serious work that can be done.
What about you? What's next for you in your path as a Melee champion?
I'm a Melee champion, sure, but want to be the absolute best, at least for a period of time. I want to continue getting first. I'm tired of almost sneaking up there. I just want to master this game, I want to master the craft, I want to master the Fox matchup more than anything else. I want to be the upset, be the outlier to this game. Maybe not need, because a lot of people don't like watching me play, but for myself, I want prove that putting years and years into this one matchup, well, many matchups, but specifically this one matchup, eventually will pay off. I want that. I want to taste that victory. The feeling of knowing right now, today in this very day and age, I have bested everyone in the world at something. At a video game that I love and admire, and a game that's given so much to me. I want to excel at it and be at my pinnacle, and I want to know what it feels like at least once in my life to do that.
Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore eSports. He doesn't actually think Puff is that bad in Smash 4, but who is he to disagree with the Grand Master of Puff. You can follow him on Twitter.