Hungrybox: Melee's top dog and his doubters
Few, if any player in esports sparks as much heated debate as the winner of Beyond the Summit’s latest Melee tournament, Juan ‘Hungrybox’ DeBiedma. The Jigglypuff main and world number one has long been a divisive figure in the scene for reasons away from the game, but his ascension to world’s best in 2018 has brought comment and contention to conversations about the game from California to Gothenburg - and a few places in between - given the relatively niche nature of the scene. Anyway…
Now, as long as your definition of the top-ranked player is the most successful player, which is the only sane way to construct a ranking, there can be little argument about the Team Liquid star’s place as 2018’s best. This year alone he has won nine different events, including The Big House 8, Smash Summit 7 and CEO, all of which are as big as it gets in Melee, with Summit 6 and Evo the only times he’s not made top three at a major event he attends.
However, there are still people who will say he isn’t the best in the world, and certainly not the greatest of all time, with various caveats and qualifiers to back their arguments up and there are some ways in which they are correct. Wins are the only sane way to really have your rankings work, so how is it fair to say Hungrybox might still not be the best in the game, if all he does is win?
Questions about his character
One of the main things that people love to level at Hungrybox as a reason for his success, or rather as justification for devaluing it, is that he plays Jigglypuff. The character, based on a Pokemon, is one of the best and most effective in the game, but also has a significantly lower level of difficulty when it comes to execution than other top characters, and specifically Fox, the best in the game. The argument therefore becomes that Hungrybox is carried by his character, which is obviously false.
Now, that is not entirely incorrect, but it also is pretty much totally wrong. It is fair to say that ‘Clutchbox’, as some of his fans call him, is one of the most reliable players under extreme pressure, a reputation he has built over the year by performing in such situations. Much of that actually comes down to making fewer errors than his opponents, something his character makes possible due to that lower execution barrier, but not all of it for sure.
The fact is that Hungrybox has more will to win that anyone in the top ten today, with the retirement earlier this year of Adam ‘Armada’ Lindgren having stripped the scene of its fiercest competitor, and many would say the greatest to ever do it. The players rivalling Hungrybox today are either motivationally burned out or distracted by others things for the most part, while Team Liquid’s Smash deity is laser-focused on being number one in Melee and that alone.
So yes, there are advantages that come with playing Puff, although they are outweighed by the disadvantages on a technical level by those that come with playing Fox. The cold truth of the matter is that every player can pick Puff and, in doing so, Hungrybox has taken the character beyond the bounds of what anyone imagined possible. At that point, it’s hard to say he has anything easy at all.
If you want to make an argument for Hungrbox not being the best in the world, it has to come down to context, and can only really exist on a theoretical level. While he has dominated the entirety of 2018, if taken as a whole, there have been moments when he has been utterly outplayed and dominated, mainly by William ‘Leffen’ Hjelte, a Fox main who represents TSM.
Sadly for TSM’s plan to dominate Melee, Leffen has also taken on the herculean task of being an elite player in a totally different game this year, when Melee is already considered too technical and hard to play by most FGC legends as it is. His foray into Dragon Ball FighterZ has not been as successful as he would have hoped, with a top-20 position in the world his, but not the same success he’s enjoyed in Melee, and it has surely affected his focus at times.
With Armada gone and Joseph ‘Mang0’ Marquez dividing his focus between stream and competing, it has come down to Leffen, alongside new legends like Justin ‘plup’ McGrath and Zain ‘Zain’ Naghmi, to halt the Hungrybox run. At times when Leffen has been focused on Melee, such as Evo finals, it has been clear he has the highest ceiling of any player in the world, maybe ever, but equally he underperformed at Summit and numerous other events, leaving the path clear for the Puff main to hoover up titles.
Still the best
The fact is, that if you want to say who the best player in 2018 has been for Melee, then Hungrybox is the only person you can credibly make an argument for without adding caveats, which is all that needs to be said. A deeper understanding of the game itself is required to go beyond that point, and is worth very little, as the only thing anyone is going to remember is who won what, and not how they did it, or who they beat.
It is perfectly legitimate to dislike the way he plays, of course, but that shows a misunderstanding of competition, too, and suggests you might be better off watching combo videos than tournaments in future. However you want to spin it, though, Hungrybox was already the best player of 2018 pre-Summit, and has only cemented his place atop the rankings with another win in what has been an incredible year.
Picture: BTSSmash / Twitter