Luis “Crunch” Rosias was sitting next to Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma all throughout his DreamHack Winter 2015 Grand Finals set against Adam “Armada” Lindgren. People watching the stream could barely see Crunch, as half of his body was on-camera, but few even knew who he was. And who could blame them? Crunch isn't a Top 100 player — he's currently a Top 10 player in New England — or a name brand, but after the set, Hbox made it clear who the mysterious figure sitting next to him was .
"This is Luis guys," Hbox told D'Ron "D1" Maingrette through in a post-game interview. "This is my coach and my best friend since fifth grade. He made it happen."
"Luis, my coach, he drove up from Orlando to Jacksonville and stayed up for a week and coached me and explained to me and analyzed our matches...I don't have the ability to analyze, but he does."
Eight months later, Liquid has brought Crunch on as their first Smash coach, and has been sending him to tournaments alongside Hungrybox. A player/coach team is not necessarily an unheard of combination in Smash, but Hungrybox and Crunch have proved to be a nearly unstoppable one. After DreamHack, Hbox took first place at Pax Arena, Battle of the Five Gods, Pound 2016, EGLX, Low Tier City 4 and CEO 2016. That’s not to say that there haven’t been stumbles, though. Hbox placed third at Genesis 3, took second at DreamHack Austin and, most notably, 5th-6th at WTFox 2.
But the team is coming back swinging for EVO 2016, and even the tournament’s coaching restrictions won’t stop Crunch from moulding a champion.
At Get On My Level 2016, Crunch and Hbox sat at a table behind the tournament organizers' desk and played the Fox versus Jigglypuff matchup over and over again on a tiny eight-inch CRT television. Hbox placed second at that tournament, but GOML isn't the big show. All that matters is EVO, which Liquid is sending Crunch to as well. However, EVO’s new rule that bans in-set coaching could make his job a lot harder.
In May, EVO tournament organizer Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar announced that coaching would be banned at the tournament past the quarterfinals. During pools, coaching is allowed for up to sixty seconds. if Hungrybox qualifies for the quarterfinals in the Winners’ bracket, he’ll play seven sets, which means he’ll be granted seven minutes of coaching total if he wants it.
Theoretically, the coaching ban speeds up sets, but Crunch can still coach, he just can’t provide the detailed post-game analyses he gave Hbox after every round at DreamHack. Genesis 3 banned in-set coaching, in fact, most tournaments do. But Hungrybox doesn’t necessarily think that having Crunch in his ear all the time is necessary for victory.
“If I have Crunch there it helps somewhat, but not nearly as much as Prince Abu helps [Armada],” Hungrybox told theScore esports. “But it's been a huge difference having him in general, just always giving good advice, always being there for me, always taking the time to work on things.”
Crunch and Hbox may have been friends for years now, but their professional relationship is barely a year old. At CEO 2015, Hungrybox placed fifth, losing 3-0 to Armada and 3-1 to Mang0, but that was just the end of a long run of losses to top Fox players.
"He was getting rocked," Crunch said while laughing. "And that's putting it lightly. He was losing to a lot of the Tier 2 Foxes. He lost to Lucky, he lost to Professor Pro, a lot of these other Foxes were giving him a lot of trouble, and he actually even got to the point where he wasn't sure if Puff could do it.
"It's kind of hard too, because he is the best 'Puff. If he can't do it, no one will be able to."
Crunch says that Hbox approached him afterwards and told him that he was starting to think that Jigglypuff just couldn't beat Fox at the top level. Crunch didn't believe him.
"I've always been able to see his flaws," he said. "So rather than exploit them, I decided to close them up, to fix them. Because I knew he could go a lot further than where he was at then, and I knew there was so much more that Puff could do as a character that he wasn't doing.
"It was after CEO, and we were just playing friendlies and he was honestly saying 'I don't think Puff can do it, I don't know if this is possible for me to do.' And I sat down and said 'No dude, this is 100 percent possible, I already know a few things you can do. Let's grind it out. Let's make science out of this game.. Go frame by frame and push your game as far as it can go.' He kind of lost faith in Puff, and I believed his Puff could do it. I saw that he could do so much more."
But Crunch isn't the only person making waves for changing Melee. At EGLX, Abhishek "Prince Abu" Prabhu was a fixture at the warmup station next to the main stage, playing friendlies with Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman over and over again — Fox vs. 'Puff locked in a constant duel ending only when M2K was called up to the stage for a match.
Prince Abu is the top ranked Jigglypuff player in North America not named Hungrybox. As a result, plenty of players don't have the high-level experience it takes to beat a good Jigglypuff player like Hbox, which is why Armada and Mew2King are always looking to play friendlies against him.
“It's a lack of experience against ‘Puff,” Abu told theScore esports. “A lot of people don't know how to fight her that well, what's safe to do, what's not safe to do, that kind of thing, By playing me, they can get that experience in a context outside of playing Hungrybox in tournament match.
“Not many people play ‘Puff at a high level. In North America, at a big tournament, I'm usually the best candidate for these players to get the experience.”
But Prince Abu’s relationship is a little more symbiotic. Unlike Crunch, he’s not primarily known as a coach and he doesn’t necessarily want to be. Prince Abu is aiming to improve his own game, and the fact that all the top players want to pick his brain for ‘Puff matchup notes means he gets the best practice partners in the world.
“When I play any really good player like Armada, or really any player at the Summit, every time I make a mistake, they punish me for it, so I can tell which habits are bad that I have that might not even know about,” Abu said. “Living in the midwest, the only two players I really train against are Duck and KJH. So sometimes I can't tell if they're punishing me because they know what I'm going to do because we play together all the time, or they're punishing a bad habit of mine. Getting to play different styles of top players helps me improve because it points out what's good that I'm doing and what's bad.
“I get along with Armada really well, I pretty much get along with all the top players. I'm not gonna brag if I win friendlies or anything, I just kind of want to get better, and I think my current skill level is good for them because they can't just run me over. I can even beat some of them. “
Without in-set coaching, Prince Abu’s help on casual setups in between Top 8 matches have been invaluable for some players, but the help he provides is unique and Armada knows it.
“I think some people, they understood this from the wrong angle,” Armada told theScore esports. “Having Prince Abu there is not like a guaranteed win, not having Prince Abu does not mean I'm guaranteed to lose. But of course, if you have no one playing the character, except for Hungrybox and Prince Abu, it's gonna be, at least for me, pretty crucial to warm up and practice in the matchup because Puff doesn't remind me of any character, to be honest.”
Prince Abu aims to one day surpass Hungrybox. He doesn’t work alongside Armada when they warm up together — he studies him and looks to solve the issues in his gameplay. That’s not what happens with Crunch and Hbox.
“A lot of it really comes down to finding the ways the top players are exposing Hungrybox,” Crunch said. “Defining the flaws he has in his play, particularly that they're exposing, as well as what habits they have that we can expose.
“A lot of it is also cleaning up the game. Hungrybox has a lot of bad habits that got him punished consistently, and sometimes when you're playing the game it's really hard to notice it all the time, especially by yourself. So a big part of it is just me pointing out ‘hey, don't approach this way, approach that way because you're getting punished for approaching in this fashion.’
Crunch says the coaching started with the punish game, by asking the question of how Hbox could consistently punish opponents with ‘Puff. It’s where they started focusing on tech-chasing, consistently landing up-throw to up-air, getting closer and closer to one touch leading to one kill.
But there are smaller things too. Crunch says there aren’t too many new things to work on these days — Melee is a 15 year old game after all — but there are little things that escape even the top players, and Crunch says Hbox needed to learn how to properly SDI before DreamHack. It’s those kinds of little things that make Crunch think that more players could benefit from having a coach like him. Not everyone, but certainly a few players.
“I think for a lot of players, they go through phases of learning the game,” Crunch said. “The first step is just learning tech skill, then the second phase is they start trying to copy specific things other players are doing.
“But a lot of the time, these players aren't asking themselves why are these players doing that in this situation? It's not like "oh dash attack is good", it's "dash attack is good in this situation because you're reading this specific movement." Melee at its core is movement, and reading movement and predicting movement. That's all it comes down to in neutral, once the punish game gets taken out of the equation.”
Heading into EVO 2016, Crunch has two major goals. The first one he mentions is that he wants to be the best player in New England. He’s in the Top 10 in the local power rankings, but he knows he can do better. Like Prince Abu, he knows that doing all this analysis and constantly practicing with a top player is improving his own game significantly.
But his second goal is to win EVO. But when Crunch talks about EVO and his role as Hbox’s coach, he never talks in the first or third person. He always talks about "we." For him, they're an inseparable team, working to perfect one person's game through another person's analysis. When Crunch talks about the future, it's isn't Hungrybox winning EVO. It's both of them.
"For me, the goal for this year is to make Hungrybox the best player in the world, he said. "We want to win EVO, we want to get that number one rank because he's yet to get it, and I think we totally can do it."
voDeaniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. He's missed more Tippers than science thought was possible. You can follow him on Twitter.