With a swift forward aerial and a grab on the ledge with his trusted Jigglypuff, Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma achieved a 10-year goal, winning the Evolution Championship Series and becoming the best Super Smash Bros. Melee player in the world.
In front of a crowd of 12,000 people, Hungrybox had an incredible loser's bracket run, defeating Johnny "S2J" Kim, rival and fellow god Joseph "Mango" Marquez, friendly hometown foe Justin "Plup" McGrath, and the final boss Adam "Armada" Lindgren, someone he's traded sets with for more than half a year. It's his first Evo win and something he said he'll never forget. For him, it doesn't even feel real.
"I'm gonna wake up any second now," he said. "I know this isn't real. It's just really realistic. It's just the HTC Vive. It's just virtual reality right now. But honest to god, I don't know how to top this. It's almost like the end of an era, because it took me 10 years to get this and four Evos, and I kept giving away free Evos."
Hungrybox said that his motivation to make it through the loser's bracket came after beating Mango, which convinced him that he could beat anyone. Coming into the event, Mango was seen as the tournament favorite, destined to make a run for his third Evo championship.
"I beat S2J, which got me momentum and then when I beat Mango, I thought I could beat anyone in the world," Hungrybox explains. "This was the definition of clutch and I'll never do this again probably. I'll enjoy my one Evo, and I'm gonna put this [trophy] next to me when I'm an old man and have it when I die. This is the most valuable object I will likely ever see in my life."
Facing Mango is something that Hungrybox has done an awful lot of in his career. The two players are rivals, which extends out of the game, trash-talking one another in moments that the community will remember forever. They're polar opposites and foes that have traded wins with one another many times this year.
This time, however, Hungrybox said Mango's play style is what gave him an edge.
"[Mango] was just going super aggressive so I had to do in-set adaptation because I'm used to playing Crunch's Fox and other Foxes, who are more defensive," he said. "And he just hyper-aggressed. I used the first game to figure him out and then in games two and three, I thought he was going in with this crazy style. All I have to do is wait for him to come to me."
Often receiving flack for being "boring" with Jigglypuff, Hungrybox began to edge-guard his opponents in a tunneled pursuit. He'd follow them off stage, and continually hit them until they couldn't get back to the ledge.
These new and exciting tactics in his play style worked against Armada, who was considered last year's best Melee player by a significant margin due to his dominant 2015 and Evo 2015 win. It's not the first time Hungrybox had beaten him, (having done so in November last year at DreamHack Winter); this time, however, glory, gold and bragging rights were amplified at the world's largest fighting game event.
"It's the first time I've ever beaten [Armada] two sets in a row, ever, I think," he said. "It was just a lot of the stuff we had practiced, the clutch factor of the gods, and then just basically a lot of the stuff we grinded out, working against him."
The "we" to Hungrybox doesn't just include training partners; it includes his best friend and now professional coach Luis "Crunch" Rosias, who recently joined Team Liquid. He's the first Smash coach in the history of the game, and has helped Hungrybox for more than a year to improve his play and mindset to take big games when it matters.
"I don't know, [having Crunch] is like have your brother behind your back at all times," he said about his best friend, who he has known since the fifth grade. "You can't fail when he's there. I knew having him around would help out, but I didn't think it'd help out this much. He's the best thing a player could ask for, to be honest."
Hungrybox said that working with a coach requires him to swallow his pride and listen to Crunch's guidance for the better good. "You have to bite your lip and be a little less prideful and tell yourself that maybe I do need that extra mind to help out," he said. "So once you do that, teamwork gets you further than anything, in my opinion."
Hungrybox said that Crunch was instrumental to his Evo win, cheering him up after an early loss to Justin "Plup" McGrath in the winner's semifinals. He explains that each time he won or lost a match, he looked over to Crunch, who was in the bleachers at Mandalay Bay.
"He slaps me back into shape when I'm feeling down, when I'm feeling negative, when I said I probably can't do it like 1,500 times today," Hungrybox said.
Now with his gorgeous glass trophy in hand and a $14,000 check to take home with him, Hungrybox calls his girlfriend and his mom to express his thanks and tell them of the good news. When asked what he'd say to them now, his response is simple, but earnest: "I don't know what I did to deserve you guys, but thank you."