A defining chapter in Team Liquid’s Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma’s legacy was about to be written. He was considered a “god” of Super Smash Bros. Melee but never the best — a great player who was never able to win the big one at the Evolution Championship Series (Evo). When Melee first came back into the circuit in 2013, Hungrybox finished an admirable third place, while archrival Joseph “Mango” Marquez took home the grand prize. The next year, it was the same story told once more: Hungrybox lost to Mango, this time in the grand finals.
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Evo Melee top eight preview: seven Americans and one Swede
On Sunday, the Super Smash Bros. Melee’s top eight will duke it out for the title of Evo champion. Seven worthy Americans challenge Armada, the reigning champion. Here’s what they’re all about.
Mango was on his way to becoming known as the greatest Melee player of all time and achieving his “3vo” title for a third consecutive Evo trophy. Hungrybox, a consistent top-four finisher, was his villainous foil, playing the role of Wile E. Coyote to Mango’s Road Runner. Hungrybox’s style also didn’t lend himself to cheers from the fans, as his defensive, fluttery approach to his main Jigglypuff was seen as the antithesis of Melee’s spirit. Mango, by contrast, channeled that spirit; he was brash, had a huge personality and enjoyed a flashy, aggressive style.
Last year, Sweden’s Adam “Armada” Lindgren took home his first championship, and Hungrybox had to watch from the main stage as the world champion mantle shifted from the fun-loving Mango to the calculating, intellectual Swede. Two straight losses in the Evo finals to polar opposite personalities, and Hungrybox wasn’t the crowd favorite in either final; even in front of Hungrybox’s home crowd against a player from overseas, Armada garnered louder cheers due to his more attractive style of play.
Flash-forward to 2016: the year of Hungrybox. He has won various major tournaments, played a more up-tempo style with his Jigglypuff and came into Evolution as one of the major favorites to win it all — alongside Mango and Armada. Regardless of how many titles he had won before this weekend, it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t finish first. This competition was everything in terms of Hungrybox’s legacy as a professional player.
Mango wanted his “3vo.” Armada wanted his back-to-back championships. For Hungrybox, this was more than just wanting something: He needed gold. Without it, he would just be the guy who constantly fell at the final hurdle to his rivals.
When the top eight began at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Sunday, it seemed like the past would repeat itself. In the winners’ bracket of the final eight competitors, Hungrybox lost in the first round to his former doubles partner, Panda Global’s Justin “Plup” McGrath, in a major upset. Hungrybox’s usual technical Jigglypluff play did nothing against Plup’s Sheik, and the perennial finalist was sent to the lower bracket to fight his way through for a chance to win the Evolution championship.
That is where his marathon run through the competition began, first knocking out Tempo Storm’s Johnny “S2J” Kim in straight sets before meeting Mango in the next round. Although Mango, the two-time champion of Evo, was able to take the first game of the series, Hungrybox fought back on Battlefield and Pokemon Stadium against Mango’s Fox to eliminate him from the tournament. After defeating the nemesis who had disposed of him two years ago in his first Evolution final, he found himself in a rematch against Plup. This time around it was Hungrybox who would take the win, with Team Liquid’s ace once again dropping the first stage before roaring back to take the series 3-1.
It would be three straight finals for Hungrybox — and one best-of-five loss away from going down as the “Silver King” of Evolution: the player who had lost on the grand stage three years in a row. Armada, already sitting in the finals without dropping a match, was ready to inscribe his name in the history books alongside Mango as the second player to take consecutive championships in Las Vegas.
At first, the finals seemed to be going Hungrybox’s way. The first two sets quickly went over to the American player, and he was one stage away from getting a reset on the bracket to force a single best-of-five to determine the champion. Bu, just as it felt like the momentum was on Hungrybox’s side, everything fell apart: Armada started playing more methodically, and by the time the fourth map came to an end, the Swedish champion was on the verge of four-stocking the challenger.
On his last life, with his tournament run on the line, Hungrybox’s back was pushed firmly against the wall. Then, in what can only be described as one of the greatest reversals in Evolution history, the Florida native came back at over 100 percent of damage to blast Armada’s Fox off the stage and reset the bracket. Hungrybox, not knowing how to contain himself, leaped up from his chair, threw his hands over his head in disbelief and then rushed right back as he realized he had no time to waste before going into the ultimate best-of-five series.
Hungrybox came back in the final series for the third time on the night after dropping the first stage, and it would end in another 3-2 result, with Hungrybox taking Armada’s crown after final map Pokemon Stadium. The next time up from his chair Hungrybox didn’t need to think about anything, his mind blank and heart filled with nothing but pure joy as the crowd cheered.
Tears filled his eyes as Hungrybox received the trophy that had eluded him for years. For in the final moments that were going to define his legacy as a pro gamer, he had pulled through. He took his revenge against the player who had sent him to the losers’ bracket, and he defeated the two players who beat him in previous Evolution finals.
Because of his heroics on Sunday night, Hungrybox is now the best in the world. And for at least one night, he can stand in the center of the Melee universe as cheers rain down around him, smiling because his legacy will be cemented in gold, not silver.