“This year I turned 35. 25 years have passed since I started playing Fighting Games, but compared with myself as a child, I’m not doing anything differently. I hope I’m able to continue my foolish way of living, so for this year as well I guess I’ll keep doing my best.’ – Daigo Umehara
Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma announced last week he was going to go full time as a Super Smash Bros Melee professional. This decision came after a long internal dispute. Who he was and who he wanted to be. Hungrybox had two options: He could either have a good full-time job and play Melee as a hobby or he could try to risk it on being a full-time Melee player.
The epiphany moment was when he was talking to his bosses about his schedule.
“I was in a meeting with my bosses. Talking with me about my focus on work,” he said on stream. “Can I have flexibility for Summit? You have to pick Big House 6 or Summit. Okay, I’ll go to Big House. They started talking about business and tears started to well up in my eyes. I remember I couldn’t hear anything; the words were going in one ear and out the other.”
This is the choice many people face both as esports players and in their daily lives. The decision between having a normal stable life and one of unknown potential. The choice between safety and potential glory. Hungrybox was a player who had reached the height of his game. He might not be considered the greatest of all time (that honor belongs to either Joseph “Mango” Marquez or Adam “Armada” Lindgren), but he is still accounted among the 6 Gods of Melee, the best JigglyPuff player by far and one of the few to have ever won EVO. If he had continued to work full-time as an engineer, Hungrybox would have still been known as the most clutch player in Melee’s history.
But was that enough? Is it ever enough? For certain top players, they come to realize that competition and the game are who they are. Long before CS:GO had ever become big, both Wiktor “TaZ” Wojtas and Filip “NEO” Kubski make it sound like there was never a choice. This was always who they were; their fates had already been cast the day they picked up the mouse and played their first game of Counter-Strike. TaZ has famously said (and frequently jokes) he is going to play until he is 40.
Spencer “Hiko” Martin was exactly the same. Long ago he had the choice to stay with his friend on Cloud9 and keep getting a good salary. But he realized Cloud9 wasn’t going to be able to reach the top. So he left to form a dream team, one that could win the Major. And though everything kept crashing around him, he kept trying over and over and over and now he is NA’s most successful player and was the primary impetus to how Liquid eventually got to the semifinals and the finals of the two CS:GO Majors of 2016.
Another recent example is Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou. Before he joined H2K, he also had the choice between money and safety or potential glory. His wasn’t quite as clear, as he had talked about cashing in for a long time and getting paid for his incredible skill. But one tournament with H2K at IEM changed his mind. The synergy was too good; the potential was too much. In his heart of hearts, he was a competitor, so he took the choice that few others have in League and gave up the payday for the chance to be great. After various struggles where he was removed from H2K and then removed from Origen, it looked like his end had come. His gamble had failed. But his replacement on H2K Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek got an injury and that gave him one last chance at glory, one last chance to get the result he was searching for and he is now a semifinalist at worlds.
Hungrybox realized what a risk this was and called it the biggest risk of his life. But after working full time he came to realize an important truth. “I realized after all of this time material things don’t satisfy me,” he said on stream. “The only thing that satisfies me is playing Melee.”’
This sentiment echoes what Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao did all of those years ago when he posted on Team Liquid he was quitting school to become a Dota2 pro. This was at a time when no one knew who he was and no one had ever heard anything about him. But he understood as Hungrybox does now and as others have before him that there is something more to life. That for them, chasing after a dream is worth that risk, even should it fail.
If that choice seems insane to you, at least EternaLEnVy was young and could go back and do his education if everything failed. Lim ‘Nestea’ Jae Duk took the same choice when he was 28. That was at an age years after the usual retirement age in Korea for esports players. And while SC2 was in a much easier field than Brood War, this was a huge risk, but he bet it all and became one of the most beloved champions in SC2’s history.
One of the earlier examples of this was Greg ‘idra’ Fields. He was considered one of the best foreigner players in Brood War and he got the chance to join a KeSPa team. He took it at the end of 2008. Though he never got the results he was ever looking for, he made a choice. He eventually became a sensation in SC2 before quitting that scene as well due to his lack of passion for the game.
Was the choice a mistake? I’m not sure; only idra could answer that. But he won’t have to stay up at night thinking about the what ifs. Wondering what could have been if he had gone for it. And that sentiment was what pushed Hungrybox to go for it.
“I don’t have to deal with fucking wondering what my true potential is going I’m going for it,” Hungrybox said on stream. “Even if I lose, even if I lose tens of thousands of dollars, I need to know. I need to know. I touched the ceiling and I want to stay there.”
For most, life is lived in fear. Fear of what we can do, fear of what others can do to us, what others will think of us, of chances taken and of chances thrown away, of regrets of things we never did or never could do. But we must make a choice and at that moment you will learn what you are.
Hungrybox made that choice and came to learn that above all else, he was a Melee player.