Submit

Everybody Hates Jigglypuff

Aug 3 2018
Photo by
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by
Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports
Hungrybox
Team Liquid
Aug 3 2018
A

lright, so here’s why people hate Jigglypuff.

Super Smash Bros. Melee is a game about aggression. You’ll watch Fox slide around the floor and combo opponents at incredible speeds. You’ll see Sheik make impossible maneuvers around platforms. You’ll see Falcon land these ridiculous, arena-deafening combos before launching his opponent into the stratosphere.

Jigglypuff, though? Jigglypuff is different.

For starters, she’s defensive. She lets the game come to her. She baits and she punishes. She also has a move called “Rest” that puts other characters in stasis, a mechanic that has tilted more Melee players than any other. All of it combines to make Jigglypuff pretty unpopular. Some would even say a cheesy character. And you know what? That’s exactly why I fell in love with her.

My name is Juan (Hungrybox) DeBiedma, and I’m the No. 1–ranked Melee player in the world. Lately it feels like I’ve been playing the villain. People don’t like it when I pop off after victories, especially when they come via Jigglypuff, and they definitely don’t like the methods I use to win tournaments. But that doesn’t matter to me. Every story needs a bad guy. In some ways, the role suits me nicely. After all, as far as I’m concerned, my destiny has already been written.

Melee first debuted on the EVO main-stage in 2013. In the years since, Mang0 and Armada have each won two championships. I won my only title in 2016. Competing against those two is the story of my entire professional Melee career. I have played them over and over and over again, and it has bred a certain kind of twisted intimacy. I wouldn’t necessarily call them my friends, but at the same time, I probably know Mang0’s Fox better than I know myself. Yeah, that might sound weird, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Over the last decade or so we’ve helped to turn Melee into one of the biggest esports in the world. Heading into EVO 2018 next month, I can honestly say that I’m satisfied with what we’ve built. But there’s no way I’m leaving Vegas without that title.

Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

It’s difficult to explain what makes Melee unique to someone who doesn’t follow esports, but I’m going to give it a shot.

The publishers of League of Legends and Counter-Strike bankroll huge tournaments and professional leagues for their players. But that was never the deal in Smash. This community is grassroots and our tournaments were always completely self-funded, propped up exclusively by maniacs who are in love with this game. That was how I found my way into it — long before people called me Hungrybox — when I was just an immigrant kid living in Orlando. Of course, I had been a fan of the original Smash Bros., but when Melee came out, it was like an entirely different world. My friends and I spent almost as much time marveling at how great the game was as we did playing it. The speed, the smoothness, the controls — it was incredible. Of course, I never had any intention of going pro. That was the furthest thing from my mind. My motivation was probably similar to that of a lot of esports stars’: I just wanted to beat my friends, over and over again.

And I did, but as time went on and I started winning against my friends more consistently, I caught myself getting a little more dreamy. Man, maybe I could take this to the next level? So I did what any idiot preteen would do — I googled “Melee tournaments Orlando.” That’s where I found Gigabits, a community that runs Smash brackets all over the country. Gigabits hosted a monthly tournament at a local LAN gaming center near the University of Central Florida that was attracting the top players from all over the state. I had no idea how good I actually was, and this seemed like the easiest way to find out. So I signed up and started training. Little did I know I was walking into the start of my competitive career. Things were never going to be the same.

I didn’t win my first few times at Gigabits. Actually, I got destroyed. Seriously, I hope there’s no tape lying around because it would show me losing so badly. Not to mention the amount of complaining I would do after I lost. But honestly, it was probably some of the most valuable experience I ever got. To this day, those losses at Gigabits are probably the worst I’ve ever taken — but I still loved every minute of it. I think as much as anything else, that’s what hooked me. Even when I lost, there was nothing more fun than playing Melee. I think that’s what people who truly love it understand better than anyone else.

My experience that first day changed my life forever. Even though I lost, I’d never experienced that kind of energy before. It was surreal that this thing I had only ever done with my friends was actually so much bigger. I’d never experienced anything like that before, and I’ve been chasing that same energy ever since. Melee has taken me around the world and all the way to EVO -— but those early tournaments were some of the best experiences of my career. I’ll always be thankful for how they blessed me.

Courtesy of Hungrybox

But while I was bad, I was never the worst player at Gigabits. I never came in last place. And over time I started to make these little incremental improvements in my game. But I’d say the biggest turning point for me was meeting another Melee player named Hiroshi. He was an everyday Smasher I’d see at Gigabits, and he had knocked me out in the past. One day, after school, I went over to Wendy’s for dinner (because Wendy’s is great) and who happened to be managing the Wendy’s that day? Yep, it was Hiroshi.

We looked at each other, flabbergasted to see one another in this foreign but also very familiar setting. “What are you doing here?” he asked me. The only way I could think to respond was, “Well, uh, what are you doing here?” Can’t exactly remember what happened next … I probably just ordered. But that encounter sparked a pretty cool friendship. Not long after, Hiroshi started coming over to my house every Friday to play Melee. It was a ritual for us. We honed our talent on each other’s skills, and we were able to really learn the crucial matchups in the game. For instance: Hiroshi is a Sheik main, and you better believe that the countless weekends we spent playing against each other helped me learn every wrinkle of that character’s strengths and weaknesses. Being forced to hone in on tiny details in order to win elevated everything about my game. Not long after, tournament victories started to come.

When I was about 15 I finished top three in a tournament for the first time. That was great. I then proceeded to get third place in each of the next seven local tournaments I entered. That was more than a little frustrating because finishing third place that many times in a row is a pretty big tease.  But despite what I called my “third-place curse,” something crazy happened: I actually started to make some money. Of course, I’m not talking big bucks — $20 here, $30 there — but as a teenager the idea of making any money playing Melee was like a dream. It got my mom off my case about getting a summer job because, Hey, I was probably pulling in the same amount I would have if I’d been delivering papers around the neighborhood.

Rafael Suanes/USA TODAY Sports

In 2018 esports is a billion dollar industry, with all sorts of amenities and guaranteed contracts, but when I was coming up it was basically the Wild West. Our arenas were a mall, or a game store, or a student union. It definitely wasn’t glamorous — random people might pop in and think, What in the hell are these guys doing? But at the same time, I have a lot of love for that time in my life. Everyone in Melee was playing with nothing but their heart. Nobody knew about the advanced meta we have today. You just kind of ran in, hit all your buttons and hoped for the best.

After a couple of years of grinding and learning, I got first place at Apex 2010, where I won the grand prize of $1,485. I was 17. That felt like a crazy amount of money to get all at once. It’s funny, when you look back on the results of that Apex, it was me, Armada, and Mew2King in the top three. I guess the more things change the more they stay the same. Regardless, that was the first time it truly crossed my mind that, “Wow, maybe I really could do this professionally.”

Like I said, there wasn’t a lot of money or corporate sponsorships in Melee during the early years. It’s different now, of course. I’m signed to Team Liquid, Mang0 is on Cloud9, Mew2King is on Echo Fox and Armada is with Alliance. But back in the day, us Smashers had to organize their own tournaments and raise their own prize pools because we were the black sheep of the fighting-game community. Guys who played more “serious” fighting games, like Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom, considered us to be these annoying, ignorant youngsters who were butting in on their space. They couldn’t understand how we could take this “kids game” so seriously. Because of that, Melee was always left off of the schedule for EVO. That was an insult. EVO is the most prestigious fighting-game festival in the world, and we were being told that we didn’t belong.

And look, I kind of get it. At that time, Melee players were generally a lot younger than the Street Fighter clan. We were also playing a Nintendo game, with characters like Mario, Link, and Samus. (As a Jigglypuff main, I can understand why, if you grew up playing Ken and Ryu, you might look at us a little suspiciously.) I think our biggest barrier was that we weren’t able to fully translate what makes our game great to people who hadn’t grown up playing it. Thankfully that didn’t matter too much to us Melee players because we were content to do our own thing. They were right, we were different, but that was something worth celebrating. It’s an attitude we worked hard for, and it made us self-reliant — I’ve never seen the Melee community hit an obstacle it couldn’t handle.

But in 2013, everything changed. The EVO organizers decided to open up one of the slots on the main-stage schedule to a game selected by a vote of fans/gamers. The way you voted was by making donations in the name of a particular game to a breast cancer charity. Melee fans being Melee fans, they absolutely stuffed the ballot box, raising $94,000 and finishing in first place by a mile. That was huge. For the first time, we were going to get a shot to impress alongside the big boys —  including Capcom, SNK, and NetherRealm — on the grandest stage of them all. I never had a doubt that we’d raise the most money — all Smashers ever need is an opportunity, and we sure as hell weren’t gonna let this one slip. The reaction from the rest of the fighting-game fans was hilarious. They were like, “Wow, those crazy kids actually pulled it off.”

Melee is a beautiful game when it’s played on the highest level. It’s so precise, so unpredictable — playing at the top level is almost like playing jazz.

Of course, nobody could’ve predicted what came next. A week before EVO 2013, a week before Melee was finally going to take its rightful place among the top fighting games in esports, Nintendo denied the EVO organizers permission to stream the game at the tournament. To this day it is one of the most boneheaded decisions ever made by a major gaming publisher — especially one like Nintendo, which should’ve at least had a basic understanding of esports and live competition. What was there to gain by not letting your game be played at EVO? Why would you spurn such a passionate global community? One that worked incredibly hard to get there? Yes, this was back in the early days of live-streaming, when companies were more wary about their copyrighted material being beamed out to a global audience on the Internet. But even so, the patience of Melee fans was running thin. We had spent a decade traveling around the country on our own dime and buying into tournaments just so the winners could get a decent payday, and this is how you respond?

For a few days there, the other Melee pros and I were heartbroken. Thankfully, the community rallied. We petitioned, and complained and bargained endlessly and kicked up enough of a backlash to convince Nintendo to change its decision. Like I said, you can never, ever count out Melee fans. It ended up being the most crucial campaign in the history of the competitive scene, because EVO 2013 became the moment when Melee truly crossed over. We were no longer elementary school brats in the eyes of the gaming world. Instead, our fellow gamers finally realized that we deserved to be there. Melee is a beautiful game when it’s played on the highest level. It’s so precise, so unpredictable — playing at the top level is almost like playing jazz. It was so rewarding to show that off. The tournament itself was super dramatic, too. You saw Wobbles go on an insane Cinderella run. You saw Armada come out of retirement to get fourth place. You saw a classic Mang0 performance, where he annihilated everyone from the loser’s bracket on his way to the grand finals — even if you didn’t know what was going on, it was spectator candy. I finished in third place, and when I left Vegas after the tournament was over I knew that our scene was never going to be the same.

Sure enough, Melee was invited back to EVO in 2014, but this time there was no pledge drive required. That tournament set the record for most registrants to a Melee bracket, with 970. We had finally made it.

So here I am, at the age of 25, gearing up for my fifth straight EVO. In some ways, a lot of stuff is the same — I’m still playing a GameCube game on an old CRT TV, and guys like Mang0, Armada, Leffen and Mew2King are still standing in my way. Of course, there are some big differences as well. We’re all paid better. My mom isn’t worried about me. I’m now making a lot more money than I would be delivering papers. But the most important thing hasn’t changed at all. I still feel the exact same passion I did for this game when I was a 15-year-old kid who was just getting his feet wet in competition.

In one way or another, as an active player, or a coach, or a manager — or even as a fan — I plan on being a part of the Smash scene for the rest of my life. I know full well that when I’m on my deathbed, I’ll be thinking about what this game has given to me. I’m still competitive, but when you’ve been around Melee for as long as I have, you tend to get a little bit reflective.

It was this community that set up my first tournaments when I was a kid in Orlando. It was this community that built Apex and Genesis with no monetary assistance from Nintendo. It was this community that made sure I had a place to get better. It was this community that was so creative and inventive when the rest of the FGC sealed off our access points. And it was this community that jumped at the chance when the floodgates finally opened in 2013. I can never fully express my gratitude for that. It’s esports at its best. I hope we’re an example for every other scene that’s struggling for recognition.

Of course this event isn’t all about nostalgia for me. There’s no way me and Jigglypuff can leave EVO this year without winning my second championship and officially drawing even with Mang0 and Armada. That simply wouldn’t be right. This is Melee, after all. There’s always a storybook ending.

Hungrybox
Team Liquid