HBox and the crab-thrower: Context and the future

If you surf the esports arm of Twitter, you might have noticed a weirder-than-usual hashtag floating around in the code ether. Crabgate was trending if you followed the right people, because of an incident at Smash Major Pound that has caught the attention of many esports writers. Writers from ESPN, VPEsports and other outlets that never usually talk about Smash were keen to weigh in on what might be the most embarrassing moment in 2019, for Melee at least.

Now, you’re probably watching that clip, and the first thing that comes to your mind is ‘how can this only be the most embarrassing moment of 2019? Surely this has to rank up there alongside the all-time worst moments in Smash history, right?’. Sadly, it probably doesn’t even rank in the top ten, but that isn’t the focus of this article. Instead, we’re going to try and add some context, and fill in the gaps for the people who normally watch League of Legends, Overwatch, or other such esports.

History of silence

The final of Pound’s Melee event was contested between Juan ‘HungryBox’ Debiedma and Joseph ‘Mango’ Marquez, two of the gods of American Smash. With the likes of Leffen and Armada, the Swedish legends, taken out of the equation Mango and HBox are arguably the men who have taken the game of Melee to the highest level, with Mango a fan favourite who dominated for years before Armada took his crown. Hungrybox eventually rose to prominence with his low-risk, high-reward Jigglypuff play in the post-Armada era, but had been a contender for years, and often clashed with Mango.

In recent years, Mango has struggled to compete as Melee has become more optimised and his focus has shifted. With a family to support, he has moved toward streaming as his main source of income, and is Melee, if not Smash’s most consistently successful streamer, in large due to his personality as well as his gameplay. It’s fair to say Hungrybox does not enjoy the same level of popularity, as you can tell from the muted reactions to his event wins, although the reasons for that have been misreported.

This is the first contextual error many of the commentators from the outside have made, assuming the fact that HBox plays a less exciting style of Smash, or character, is a factor in this latest incident. While it is fair to say Mango receives more love than the likes of HBox, Armada or other such ‘optimal’ players who focus less on style, the reality is that none of the other ‘lame’ players get an fraction of the abuse HBox does, either at events or online.

Tough at the top, right?

The second, and again entirely understandable error many made was to assume Smash players have a problem with the dominance HBox has exerted over the scene since his Evo loss, which again is simply not a factor. The reality is that the superfans of the other gods are firmly entrenched in their belief that HBox would lose if Mango/Leffen/Plup etc were to play their best, despite the fact only one person has been able to break the world number one in the last twelve months, that being Leffen at Evo.

Also, there have been other periods of domination, and while there was cheering ‘against’ Armada (the ever-original ‘USA’ chants spring to mind) it never approached this level of abuse, even when he was facing Mango. The reality is that there is no ‘god’ of Smash that has ever faced the same level of ire and community dislike as HBox, and with the way Melee is developing there probably never will be. Some of that is about the man, and some of it is about the community, his opponent, and the fact that Melee has never been a scene esports can be truly proud of.

So, why is he the crab magnet, if HBox plays the same character Mango did, and wins less than Armada at the peak of his powers? The answer is complex, and includes a rivalry that has lasted years, some modern social media posts and the constant ball and chain around esports’ neck that is reddit, and in this case the sub that is dedicated to Smash Bros generally, r/smashbros.


In the wake of crabgate, the subreddit mentioned above was flooded with positive posts about HBox, and his celebration stream which saw him enjoying some seafood saw 600 new subscribers to his channel, 200 of which were gifted by his ‘boss’, Liquid CEO Steve ‘112’ Arhancet. In fact, this might have been the most positive press the player has received in some time from the Smash community, which tells you a lot about how he’s normally viewed.

For years, HBox was the subject of disrespect in game, and abuse outside from Mango, Mango’s entourage (made up of less talented players he trains with) and the Smash fan base, much of which you will still find on reddit. A clash of personalities was the main reason, with Mango a free-and-easy, seat of the pants player, and HBox more calculated, professional and at times even cynical in his means of achieving success.

In recent times, that has cooled as Mango has focused on profit, but there have been other incidents that have not helped HBox. A selfie taken in the company of Milo Yiannopoulos didn’t make him many friends in the relatively liberal FGC, and his reaction to the discussion of that incident only made things worse. Other tops players have also commented on his personality flaws, and intimated that there are other skeletons in the HBox closet without ever fully revealing their moral problem with the man.

Don’t throw food

In conclusion then, the reality is that there is a lot more to the crab incident than meets the eye, and it’s vital to put that context in place. Smash fans are used to lame play, and the scene has remained stubbornly amateurish while the rest of esports has moved forward in leaps and bounds, leaving Melee in its own little hole. Time alone and no need to professionalise has led to a culture that accepts many things other games won’t, and we’ve now reached the point where it’s time to turn back.

Sure, commentators from other games may not get the context, and may have overblown the severity of the ‘crime’ (with some claiming the player had been seriously assaulted at the event), but they are 100% right when they say it’s unacceptable. It’s embarrassing to watch, the reaction of HBox himself was a little unedifying, and you also have to realise the implication, that Melee players are so gross you can walk around with raw seafood on you all day at an event and nobody will even notice.

Unfortunately, it may be too late for Melee to join the party and become a real tier-one esport, especially with the way Nintendo treats the community, but there is a lot of space between CSGO and dead games it could still exist in. And for all his faults, it’s frankly ridiculous that anyone could justify the hate HBox receives, meaning the solution to this incident is actually worse than the problem itself, and could kill the game, that being more security at events, and less access to players.

That might seem normal if you come from Dota or CSGO, but Smash events barely operate at breakeven, and few could support the sort of segregation required to protect players from well-aimed arthropods. The current situation, where things go dark for months and then we have negative headlines surfacing in news outlets is only hurting one of the oldest esports around, and will eventually kill it if it isn’t arrested soon.

Image: Team Liquid