To be a Master: Hungrybox's battle for first and the most important phrase in Melee

by Daniel Rosen May 15 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Dennis Gonzales / theScore esports

For 39 minutes, Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma was in contention to be the best Super Smash Bros. Melee player in the world.

Leading up to his Smash Summit 2 Grand Final set against Adam "Armada" Lindgren, Hungrybox had won five straight tournaments, with two major victories over Armada. Armada and Hungrybox were playing for the most important title in Melee, but Hungrybox forgot the word he wasn't supposed to forget.

He forgot about Roosevelt.

Earlier in the bracket, Armada was absolutely decimated by Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman's Marth in a 3-0 sweep. Armada looked lost against a player who had never beaten him in a best-of-five set and M2K looked unstoppable.

In the other winner's semifinal match, Hungrybox squeezed out a close 3-2 win over Jopseh "Mang0" Marquez. As the match ended, Hungrybox leaped out of his seat, powered by the tension of a 20-minute game, and out into the crowd of fellow players watching the match. He turned back to Mang0 for a fist bump, then to Eric "ESAM" Lew for a hug before looking back to the GameCube, pumping his arms up and down.

It wasn't the last time Hungrybox would pop off at the tournament. Armada climbed his way through the loser's bracket, defeating both M2K and Mang0, to face off against Hungrybox for the title. Armada reset the bracket, but Hungrybox led the second set after the first game. Again, he leaped out of his chair and pumped one fist. He sat down quickly, but he says that was the moment he lost the entire set.

"If you ever see me pop off mid-set or something, it's because I'm very tense and nervous," he told theScore epsorts. "I was doing very well this year by not doing that, but at Summit it happened. It happened because I was nervous and tense because that world title was right there. It was right in front of me and I wanted it for so long. And that was my mistake."

That tensed-up reaction is something Hungrybox says he's working on with the help of Luis "Captain Crunch" Rosias. While plenty of players in Melee have a group of players they can train with, few have the kind of dedicated analysis and coaching role that Crunch can provide. He's the one who helped Hungrybox identify his pop-off problem, and together they've worked on a phrase that encompasses Melee to help Hungrybox win. They settled on "Roosevelt."

"Theodore Roosevelt used to say, 'Speak softly and carry a large stick.' So I never be want to be too extravagant," Hungrybox said. "Now I know. It's not that I shouldn't want the title, but it's more like, I should let the title come to me, rather than always going after it.

"It'll come to you when the time is right, when you've earned it. When you've become a champion."

Related: ​The Battle for Mount Olympus: Armada's hold on the throne of the Five Gods

For years, Hungrybox was known as being something of a heel in Melee. While that spot these days has been supplanted by William "Leffen" Hjelte, Hungrybox is still the player that many love to hate. As the only Jigglypuff among the Top 10 players, his play is singular in its slow pace, campy nature and lack of aggression.

Sure, Jigglypuff eliminates stocks in an instant with Rest — but she has to take too many risks to get there, and Hungrybox has spent years systematically eliminating those risks from his gameplay with safer edge-guards and a stronger neutral game. Right now, his goal is making sure he can keep applying those minute optimizations he's studying with Crunch. Otherwise, 'Puff is dead in the air before she gets started.

"You're gonna get tossed around no matter what, it's just the way it works with guys this fast, especially when you're playing 'Puff," Hbox said. "It no longer becomes 'never get hit.' That's never going to happen. Rather, focus on making the most out of the opportunities you are given. If you can make the most of those, and I know I can, I can get even more opportunities than they can and whoever gets the most opportunities wins the match."

Hungrybox thinks that that kind of optimization is the key to succeeding at Melee in the future. Melee has been around for 13 years without a single patch, and while many think they've already figured out everything there is to know, Hbox believes there's a stage above that.

"When everyone is getting more optimal, it's time to re-optimize," he said. "How do we play optimally against another optimal playstyle? That's very different. You have to critique yourself harder than ever before, you have to sit down and say, 'Man I fucking suck at this,' and accept it.

"It's not about improving big things anymore, because the foundation for the playstyle and matchup has already been set, so right now we work on improving and cutting as many edges as we can. That's what optimizing is. It's the difference between carrying 151 pounds versus 150.5 pounds."

It's more than just mechanics that Hungrybox wants to improve on though. He says he's identified the key differences in each of the top Fox players' styles, but he can't dissect and analyze them in the middle of a match unless he stays calm — unless he forgets the tension and remembers what Crunch has taught him.

"Recently he got a new job, so we haven't been doing it too much the couple past months," Hungrybox said. "It's been pretty recent that we've gotten back to it, actually going over sets and analyzing the stuff. It was after the Summit that we started analyzing again.

"If it works out and I get first, I offered him part of my prize. Just to be fair. He takes time to do that and he should be compensated for that, so if I win first because of that analysis, he deserves part of my prize."

Related: Mang0 defeats Hungrybox to win DreamHack Austin Smash Championship

Hbox says he and Captain Crunch have been working less often recently, but Liquid is starting to fly Crunch out to more tournaments, including the upcoming EVO. But EVO just banned in-set coaching past Top 16, so it'll just be Hbox and his opponent this time, one-on-one, and he needs to remember Roosevelt.

"The thing that helped me... obviously everyone's got their own way of calming down, but I guess when I sit down in a match, you know you're going to come out one of two ways. You win or lose, there's no draw," he said.

"You know that. You look at the person across from you, and I don't think there's a single person in the world that I like and I can't say I haven't beaten them once before. I look at them and I say, 'I have beaten this person once before, so I can do it again,' and as long as I'm playing confidently, I will do it again."

To Hbox's credit, there isn't really anyone left for him to beat, he just needs to prove his consistency. He lost to Mang0 at DreamHack Austin, but he still has a 6-4 set count against him just this year.

The only person he doesn't have a lead over yet is Armada. Armada is the only obstacle between Hungrybox and the title he believes he deserves. Before the Smash Summit 2 Grand Finals, Armada and Hungrybox say they agreed that the winner would be the best player in the world. Hungrybox lost.

But he says it's not over. "I hope if I beat him ... it's not enough to say that I'm the best player, but if I beat him ... it's enough for me to make a statement that says, 'You guys shouldn't call the best player in the world right now,'" he said. "Because I'm making sure that we're not sure who it is yet. I want to put the argument back into the air again."

Hbox said that if he can start swapping back-and-forth victories with Armada, that will be enough to raise doubts about his rival's dominance. "With every tournament they learn more about you, I learn more about them, so it's this very long game of chess and it depends who can adapt better," he said.

Related: Evo 2016 places limitations on coaching during quarterfinals and onward

But again, the key moves in this particular game of chess aren't Armada's. They're Hungrybox's. He has to worry about keeping a clear mindset, about remembering his coaching, about avoiding the tension that keeps him from victory. Hungrybox wants to live in the moment of the match; he wants to forget Hungrybox and just play Melee.

"You have to just love the game over everything," he said. "It's very difficult at times to not get wrapped up in the mentality of hype and 'I'm Hungrybox,' the persona and ego and all that. And it really dragged me down a lot. I don't want to ever go down into that same hole again. I just want to be Juan. Play as Juan, play to enjoy the game and do my best above all.

"As long as you do your absolute best, no one can ask anything more of you. If you lose doing your best, you're fine, that was your best."

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. He still holds out hope for Mr. Game and Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.