LUIS “CRUNCH” ROSIAS started formally coaching Hungrybox just a few weeks before his upset over Mang0 at EVO, but he was there on the sidelines far before viewers saw him on their streams. “To be honest, all these things have always kind of felt like team victories to a degree throughout his entire career,” says Crunch. “A lot of success that he's had I've had a very small part in, even before I started coaching him because we started playing together when we were nine years old. He's been my friend, my best friend, since we were in fourth grade or something. So we started playing the game together and we kind of grew up together and Juan learns different match-ups. So to a degree, any success that I have - a lot of it is attributed to him. And likewise, any success he has, even if I wasn't coaching him, is attributed to me because we were training partners since we were 10.”
Although Crunch was partially responsible for developing such “lame” strategies as planking in tandem with Hungrybox, there’s been a distinct change in Hungrybox’s approach to the game since the two started working together. “With ledge planking - we thought it was a crazy, just completely busted idea,” says Hungrybox. “And Luis pretty much brought up the fact that, ‘no this is not broken, it's actually beatable and in some cases makes Puff worse at the match-up because you're taking damage all the time.’ So he said, ‘You know what? The only way to beat this character is by outplaying them in neutral and winning the way you're supposed to win.’ And I agreed and we just did it. And now it feels so good to not only have won as many events as I did, but to have won with a style that I’m comfortable with, a style that I can sleep easy with - knowing that this is not just a gimmick, this is good Melee being played. This is good neutral, these are good options, and I'm outplaying these people fair and square.”
The commitment to playing “good Melee” has manifested itself in a style that Hungrybox feels plays to his strengths - and shores up what weaknesses he has. “I feel like the best players in any sport, you know, there's always a flashy guy, there's always a guy who when playing perfect and guessing correctly is unbeatable,” Hungrybox says. In case it wasn’t clear, he’s not referring to himself. “Because not only are they faster and can apply pressure better than you, they're also guessing correctly, and you're done in that case. You should actually put down the controller like if Mang0’s playing on fire. If he's guessing correctly, no one can actually beat him. But what if I told you that, if you just gave him a situation where no matter what he guessed, even if he guessed the right thing, he wouldn't get much out of it. And it's those safe positions, the idea of playing the match-up knowing fully aware of what your opponent is capable of and respecting it with every millisecond of the match. That's what nets you the victories.” That progression is what’s seen Hungrybox add a new level of discipline to his play, a discipline that’s earned him the name “Clutch-box” for his ability to fully capitalize on comeback opportunities even on the largest stages. And Hungrybox wants to keep pushing Jigglypuff’s game even further: “I feel like we haven't even finished exploring all that you can do,” he says. “Especially with just options of tech chasing and resting and doing more ballsy stuff.”
Crunch has had a huge hand in strengthening Hungrybox’s belief in playing purely reactively instead of relying on other tricks to skate by his matches. “I think he's become a lot more receptive to looking for ways to improve himself and be consistent rather than looking for quick outs,” says Crunch. “When he struggled this year it was because of that. He was going to the ledge camping thing - he was looking for quick easy ways to win rather than being more methodical. In that way I roped off a lot of him. He's become a lot more methodical as a player and a lot more mindful of what he's doing instead of just going on raw instincts.”
Hungrybox has gone on record saying that Crunch’s gameplay analysis is incredibly effective - in his own words, he thinks Crunch is the only player in the state of Florida who can four-stock him. In fact, if you bet Hungrybox whether or not Crunch is going to hit top 100 level going into 2018, he’d accept in an instance. For his part, Crunch is humble about his own gameplay abilities. “I think I am a much better analyst than I'm a player right now,” he says. “I'm trying to improve as a player, but as an analyst, I can really see the game and break it down and pick apart where each player could be improving, or where we’re getting opened up, or where you could be taking leads further.” In fact, Crunch has done a few test drives coaching one of Team Liquid’s other top players, Daniel “ChuDat” Rodriguez, to great success - at DreamHack Montreal, Crunch’s coaching allowed ChuDat to secure a dominating victory over La Luna, a player he had struggled with previously.
I think on a more personal level, knowing Juan as well as I do, having the close bond that we have means that I can call him out on nonsense”CRUNCH ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HUNGRYBOX
But it should come as no surprise that what both Hungrybox and Crunch credit as the basis of their successful partnership is their personal relationship. With a friendship spanning a decade and a half, Crunch is able to provide advice cogent not only to gameplay, but also to factors outside the game. “I feel the personal relationship helps me with Juan,” he says. “[It] helps me really be able to tackle a lot of mentality issues that he has, get him back in the zone if he is out of the zone since I know where to nudge them and prod them to get him back in a good mindset.” However, despite being best friends, the two are almost opposites in personality. “Juan is a very instinctual player, if that makes sense,” Crunch says. “He used to be very superstitious, he used to be like, ‘I need to wear my lucky shoes, I need to do this...’ He would say, ‘Oh, I don't understand what why this thing works sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t - maybe it’s my controller, maybe it’s the way I'm standing.’ He used to have a lot of very superstitious things about him and I'm very much the opposite. I'm very scientific, by the book, or ‘let's break this down so frame by frame.’”
That willingness to clash has been a boon to the two. “I think on a more personal level, knowing Juan as well as I do, having the close bond that we have means that I can call him out on nonsense,” says Crunch. “We have a very honest and open relationship, and I feel that really helps. If he thinks I'm telling him something that's wrong we sit down and talk about it.” One of those moments came at the tournament that Hungrybox says changed his life: EVO 2016.
Although Hungrybox’s appearance at EVO 2016 is most-remembered for his nailbiter two sets against Armada that saw him finally taking home one of Melee’s crown jewels, he in fact suffered an early loss to fellow Floridian Plup in Winners Semis. According to Crunch, the effect that loss had on his mentality almost derailed the tournament completely for Hungrybox. “He just ran off and he was tilting, he was so upset. He was about to throw his controller and was like ‘I can't believe I blew that, etcetera.’” But with Crunch’s help, Hungrybox was able to center himself and move on to a victory that quite literally had him crying with joy.
“I feel like that was the very first time that I was able to sit him down and re-concentrate,” says Crunch. “I was like, ‘here, 'have a coffee, calm down, take a deep breath, this tournament is not over. Stop being stupid, stop giving up.’ I feel like being able to be super harsh to be like, '’you're being stupid right now, get your head back in the game,’ helps. That was the first time he was able to win a tournament through losers.” The ability to cut through to the heart of the problem is one unique to Crunch. Crunch might be one of the only people in the world who could say, in his words, “Dude I’ve been playing you forever, I see all your flaws, there are definitely things that you could be fixing.”
Hungrybox will admit himself that he doesn’t always take criticism well after a career of having to filter out detractors. “I've always been, always a very defensive player,” he says with a chuckle. “And maybe my personality has been pretty defensive, too, when you think about it. Whenever someone makes a bold claim or someone says something horrible about me and about my play style, I've been known to react to it badly.” That makes the fact that Crunch can draw on a lifetime of friendship to give candid advice all the more shocking - and valuable. Crunch provides honesty - something Hungrybox won’t get from a mob.
It also means that Hungrybox always has someone on his side. Crunch knows that that’s just as much a part of his job as being a coach. “When it comes to him not being the favorite player and the crowd cheering against him, me and him are kind of the same,” he says, “where if either of us are playing and we have a crowd that is cheering against us, it really bothers us with the exception of if you have one homie. All you really need is one homie that's just screaming their lungs out. I feel sometimes he just needs to know that there are people out there that they want you to win that, they want to support you, want to see you win. Just focusing on that instead of focusing on all people that don't want you to win, all the haters that don't matter.”
With each other as their support systems, Hungrybox and Crunch have relinquished the need to rely on others for validation. But sometimes you can still see flashes of the wish to be recognized. In November, Hungrybox won Smash Summit 5, ending a streak lasting four summits from Armada. What followed was not the passionate celebration expected. Instead, Hungrybox nodded his head in silence, choked with emotion. And then, as the crowd began to clap, he started crying. “I’m sorry - I’m not used to applause,” he would say in his interview afterwards.
I asked Hungrybox if he saw any future in which a crowd would clap for him. He laughed.
“There's nothing I can do with a Puff that would merit that sort of a reaction from a crowd,” he says. “I'm not saying Puff can't do flashy stuff but when I pick up Puff I'm just - when I see my character on the screen and I know where I am I simply cannot help it. I'm going to play exactly the way I play.”
“WHEN WE WERE KIDS he used to get me in so much trouble.” Crunch laughs. “He’d just go for the really funny, somewhat disruptive things a lot. I got kicked out of multiple places because of him. I got a detention because of him, because he was laughing in class and I was telling him to shut up at a very serious moment, and I got in trouble because a teacher caught me talking or whatever - and I was just telling him to shut up. We used to run around and play hide and seek in stores.”
Of the many things that people find to complain about when it comes to Hungrybox, one that stands out is what some see as grandstanding. He tends towards the dramatic, with long speeches in post-tournament interviews and explosive pop-offs when he wins. It’s a quality Hungrybox himself is well aware of. “When I was younger, I definitely wanted to be in the spotlight,” he says. “I definitely wanted the attention and I wanted to be like, ‘Look at me. Look what I can do. Look at my accomplishments.’” But that desire for attention only exacerbated the negativity sent Hungrybox’s way. A sojourn into the depths of Reddit or Twitter reveals a laundry list of his flaws spouted by those who would rather see him not succeed: he’s attention-hungry; he’s fake; he isn’t nice to his fans.
“I learned that the spotlight is not always nice, too,” Hungrybox says. “When I first got heavy hate, when I was 16 or 17, I wouldn’t attend tournaments because of it. I would actually not go to locals, not go to some regionals because I felt ashamed, I felt scared to confront people face-to-face who didn't like me. I was young, I didn't know to deal, I didn't know how to deal with that much negative attention.” But long gone is the player who is thrown off by those haters. “You get numb to it after a while,” he says. “People look for all sorts of reasons to dissuade me and take me and to bring me down as much as they can, but I think it comes with the job - because I think I have one of the best jobs in the world and no job comes without its flaws. It starts to not faze you at all, to be honest. It just starts to be like bugs on your windshield. You just kind of drive through them and splatter them and they are dead immediately. And it's just like, ‘Okay, that was easy.’”
A statement like that might give the impression that Hungrybox thinks of himself as infallible. But for all his talk that the hate began with his choice of character, he’s under no illusion that he hasn’t contributed to it in his own way. “Maybe when growing up I wasn't the most easy person to get along with and my personality was too abrasive. And maybe I had a lot of growing up to do. Maybe when I was younger and I was a teenager growing up, I would be standoffish or rude or selfish, and I recognized those things because people brought them up to me. I was too dumb to even realize a lot of the things that I was saying or the way I was treating people.” He says this with genuine remorse. “There's a price which comes with that. It's that no matter how long I play this game for, no matter how many things I do at this point, there will always be a very dedicated, and perhaps the most dedicated and the largest group of people, who dislike me and hate me.” As he continues to speak, his tone shifts. “It's not something that you can avoid. It's just something you have to live with and prove wrong every single time, and I get heavy satisfaction from seeing them upset and angry at my wins. I get intense, intense satisfaction.”
Hungrybox takes some time to talk to his fans and sign their souvenirs.Courtesy DreamHack
That final picture isn’t pretty - but it’s the attitude Hungrybox had to adopt to handle the community’s perception of him. At some point, Hungrybox wanted to be like Mang0 - and honestly, who wouldn’t want to be loved like that? For whatever reason, whether playstyle or immaturity, Hungrybox was dealt the opposite hand. The only way around that was to take the position of, as the saying goes, “fuck the haters.” Hungrybox has reconciled himself with the fact that he’ll never be a fan-favorite. “You know, if it keeps people talking about me, if it keeps me relevant and it keeps me being this figure - whether good or bad -- that these people for some reason cannot stop thinking about, and if it's me jogging through their minds every single time they see melee, then I’ll take it. That's fine. For better for worse I'm going to be known for forever. So I'll take it as it is.”
You can still see shades of his desire to be the star, but Hungrybox faces a legacy of distaste that influences even those new to the game through word of mouth alone. That’s why, when Hungrybox wins, there are only a few voices cheering him on - he’s the man the community loves to hate. He also happens to be the best player in the world.
The vitriol has taken its toll, at times. “When you read enough things from people, you start wondering to yourself like,‘ Is this stuff really true like about me, am I really that kind of person?’ You start like doubting who you are, right? You start second-guessing your own personality. And then you see all this, and you’re like, ‘Damn, maybe I actually don't really know who I am, and I don't really know what I've become, and maybe I let my ego get the best of me.’”
That word “ego” is a topic to which Hungrybox is highly sensitive. It’s the general sentiment behind the slings and arrows that are so commonly thrown his way - that Hungrybox’s ego can get the better of him at times. It’s not uncommon when speaking to Hungrybox to hear him defend himself against these jabs. “I can tell you right now,” he says, “when it comes to the way I treat fans, the way I talk to people, the way I treat my friends - I've changed a lot from my past. If people still think they have a right to call me out for being a dick to them in person or treating them in a certain way, I would have to say they're wrong right now. I've made a very conscious effort to actually be a lot more peaceful and a lot more appreciative of people who support what I do.” The reflex to protect himself against more harassment is understandable, given what Hungrybox has dealt with. Defensive is rarely a good look on anyone, but it’s the stance Hungrybox has had to adopt.
But when he shifts the conversation to ego, you can see his walls start to come down. Hungrybox is not one to avoid admitting his faults - but here, it feels more genuine than ever. “Smash, being a top player, it teaches you to not take things for granted,” he says. “If there's one piece of advice I would give to any up-and-comer who happens to be climbing up the ranks, it's just, don't let your ego take you over. Because if you lose control of that and it follows you wherever you go, Melee or pro gaming, not only will hurt you yourself and your career, it'll become something that makes you sad.”
I’m tentative to push him further on this topic, but when I ask him if he’s speaking from personal experience, he speaks candidly and confidently. “I’ve had cases where I've lost friends. I’ve had cases I've alienated people close to me in my life. And there's no greater sadness than losing people because of your own stupidity or your own selfishness. And it's just not worth it at all. It's not worth any-- it's not worth all the money in the world to lose people who are important to you. So that really wakes you up to better yourself and just, like I said not take for granted the things that are in front of you.”
IF YOU WERE to ask Hungrybox if he’s made mistakes in his career, he’d say yes quite readily. In fact, I know it. In an interview with him at EVO 2017, I inquired about a recent statement he had made that he might have approached his career differently if he had a choice. “Yeah, I just would have been less of a dick when I was younger, less cocky,” he said with a half-chuckle. This is not a man who has not thought about the repercussions of his actions - Hungrybox is just tired of the fact that he’s constantly battling a version of himself from the past. “It's like, you think I haven't heard stories of other smashers being less than perfect?” he says. “Of course I have, but no one cares, no one cares. It's this idea that I'm supposed to be this patron saint, this infallible human being, this angel of melee, like no, it's completely the opposite. I am a shithead in a lot of ways, but I'm cognizant of it. I know that I've been stupid when I was like younger and just not the best person. But I make conscious efforts to fix things, and if people still choose to despise me based upon that, then you can't really change that. If people still choose to change to hate you after you're making a conscious effort in changing it, then it's not them hating you for like, ‘Oh, I don't like how he is.’ It’s them hating me like, ‘Well, I don't like how he was. Therefore, I will never change my mind.’"
That’s not to say that he’s perfect now. “I feel he's still a very ‘go first, think later about the repercussions of things’ person,” says Crunch, “but he's gotten a lot better. I feel he's become a lot more conscious of other people.” Hungrybox is a man who, even if he hasn’t taken those changes all the way, is certainly trying. But more than anything, I think Hungrybox just wants to be let his play do the talking. He’s been making an effort to get better, but he bristles at the idea that he needs to become a perfect person before being allowed to relish his success as a player. “Do you really get to choose your own personality?” he asks me. “Do you really get to choose your own play style? No, I don't think anyone really chooses it. It's just what you evolve into.” He’s impassioned here, speaking with more conviction than I’ve heard before. It’s not remorseful, but it’s not bitter either. “Why does a platypus look the way it does? Because nature sets it. I know it sounds weird. I don't think a platypus chose to fucking look like that, weird ass platypus. But then there’s Juan, Hungrybox, sure, he's got a really crazy Jigglypuff. As a guy, he's kind of weird sometimes. But it's really, really difficult to change what you've grown into. But at the same time, I really-- the last thing I want to do is be this person that people love to hate, even though that's the case right now.I'm going to do everything in my power
to be just a winner and be humble. A humble winner from now on.”