The best statement to describe Juan “Hungrybox“ Debiedma’s career would be: “The chase for respect.” Hungrybox is widely renowned as one of the five “gods” of Super Smash Bros Melee along with Joseph “Mango” Marquez, Adam “Armada“ Lindgren, Kevin “PPMD“ Nanney and Jason “Mew2King“ Zimmerman. They along with the God Slayer, William “Leffen“ Hjelte, came to dominate the entire Melee scene, and no other Melee player has won a tournament when they have all been present.
Yet among the six of them, Hungrybox has always had a contentious relationship, whether between himself and the community or himself and the other gods. This was due to both personality clashes and his play style. His rivalry with Mango has been well documented and only came to an end when community members forced them to sit down and hash it out. It was at that time they admitted each had something the other was envious of. Hungrybox had a successful life outside of Melee that Mango could never have, and Mango had proven his skill as superior to Hungrybox in Melee.
All of that was only exacerbated by the fact that Hungrybox mains Jigglypuff, which has the reputation of being a boring character to watch and one many thought was a gimmick. Mango was the first to initially prove that wrong as he started his career as a Jigglypuff before switching to Fox and Falco. Hungrybox took the character and evolved it into an entirely different being, much in the same way Armada did with Peach. Many are stuck in the ways he used to play when he was a passive player who preyed on mistakes. Simply put, though, Hungrybox does whatever he thinks will give him the highest chance of victory. And once it was clear that his defensive ledge camping ways were in fact inferior, he switched into a much more active and aggressive game. The fact that Hungrybox is the only successful top-tier Jigglypuff main in the world shows that there was something different, something special about his play. It could be respected, but it was never loved.
Yet all of that was background noise to the real pain of Hungrybox’s legacy, which is the silver. His entire career until near the end of 2015 has been paved by second and third places with a rare gold. By the time Leffen had entered into Godhood, many questioned Hungrybox’s place in it. All of the others had times of domination or a sweep of victories. Hungrybox was incredibly consistent, but he had the big wins and in the clutch; he’d lose the biggest finals to his rivals. He lost twice to Mango at EVO in 2013 and 2014 and once to Armada in 2015. There was something missing in his game, and before his father passed he told Hungrybox, “You’ll never be the best, you’ll be good, but never the best.”
A damning statement from a family member you’d expect to support you can be difficult, but for Hungrybox it was another trial. Another person he’d have to prove wrong. It was time for a triumphant march to the top.
It all started at DreamHack Winter 2015, where he got revenge on Armada and Leffen for shutting out all of the American players from winning the major events. He then went on to win Pax, Battle of the Five Gods and Pound. By the time he met Armada again at Smash Summit 2, both agreed that he was only one victory away from taking over Armada’s place at No. 1. It was not to be, as Armada clutched it out over him that time and kept the throne as 2016’s best Melee player.
Yet that all finally changed at EVO 2016. Hungrybox had a history of performing well at EVO, but he had never won one. In 2013, he was eliminated by Mango in third. In 2014, he was eliminated by Mango again, that time in the finals. In 2015, he met Armada in the finals where he was again fell short. Hungrybox had come far through the end of 2015 to the first half of 2016. But this was the real test; this was the tournament that would make him the best in the world.
And he did it. He eliminated Mango and faced Armada in the finals. It was a tense double set 10-game extravaganza, as they threw everything at each other. It was here in this grand finals that I came to understand what made Hungrybox different from the other Gods of Melee. Mango is a mercurial spirit who can destroy anyone or buster out in any given tournament. Armada is the most consistent player in Melee and will always give you a nine out of 10 performance at his worst. PPMD is a hermit, but when he comes down he can play some of the cleanest and technical melee of anyone. Leffen is the most ambitious and combines technical perfection with great reads. Mew2King is seeking the perfect self in Melee, where his technical perfection, reads and emotions coalesce as one to the self he imagines he can be, should be.
So what is Hungrybox’s strength? It is that he is the most clutch of them all. His play style and character almost demand it. Hungrybox can zero to rest every other player. At the same time, every other player only needs one combo and one hit to take him out of the game. Watching Hungrybox play against the other gods is now like watching a knife fight. Now that the passive play has been found out, both sides have to constantly pick at and go in for the kill. And one misstep, one mistake can lead to death. In this arena, Hungrybox has proven to be the most clutch. He doesn’t win them all, but in the big ones, in the fifth game, last stock situations, Hungrybox has proven he is unshakeable. When the bomb is counting down, Hungrybox is the man you want to cut the wire. No amount of pressure gets to him; it seems to only strengthen him. That trait is what got Hungrybox to reset the bracket against Armada, and it is what got Hungrybox to win the 10th game in the set.
Hungrybox has done it. He’s beaten his demons, he’s gained the respect of his fans and his peers. He’s won the tournament and now he has won EVO, the biggest tournament of them all. One of three gods to do it and the fourth player overall. And with that victory he has cemented himself as the best Melee player in the world, and this EVO stands as a testament to all of his pain, struggle and hard work.
Cover photo: Screenshot