How a former UF student became a Smash Bros. legend | The Avenue
The very first GENESIS tournament was held in a dimly lit room in Antioch, California. It was a far cry from the Grecian flair of the city’s ancient counterpart, but history would be made there all the same.
The inaugural iteration of the tournament in 2009 was the largest Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament ever at the time, boasting 290 entrants from around the world. Some of those players – like Joseph “Mango” Marquez and Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman – were already established threats in the budding competitive scene, while others flocked to the tournament for the opportunity to prove themselves on the game’s biggest stage.
One of those competitors was Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma, a Melee player from Orlando, Florida. DeBiedma, who plays the character Jigglypuff, had just placed seventh in the Revival of Melee tournament in New York three months before, and he looked to once again test his mettle against elite players like Marquez and Zimmerman.
Hardly anyone knew the name Hungrybox before that first GENESIS tournament, but that day in July would kickstart an era that couldn’t say it enough.
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DeBiedma’s love of gaming began with consoles such as the Gameboy Advance, the Nintendo 64 and the Sega Genesis. He enjoyed platformers and sports games, such as Mario Kart, but there was one particular game he found himself playing with his friends more than any other — Melee. He began with the original Super Smash Bros. game on the Nintendo 64, but he fell in love with the improvements it made upon its successor.
“It just reminded me of a platformer game that I could play against other people, which is really cool,” DeBiedma said. “Melee just has a lot of speed.”
DeBiedma would go to tournaments in Orlando at LAN centers in the UCF area. He and his friends created a group called What Are The Odds, or WATO, and when they weren’t at Melee tournaments, they hosted them at DeBiedma’s house. When he advertised the tournaments, upward of 70 to 80 participants would come to his mom’s house to play Melee.
“That’s where I learned all the matchups, and it was the perfect place to foster growth for a player,” DeBiedma said.
DeBiedma quickly became one of the top players in the state, but his Melee career would take him further. After traveling to New York for Revival of Melee, he flew south to compete in the GENESIS.
That tournament would be different than the last. DeBiedma carved through the bracket to make it to the Top 4 of the tournament on the losers side before suffering defeat at the hands of Marquez in the semifinal round by a score of 3-0.
Although he didn’t win the tournament, the Top 3 placement and the $855 payout delivered a revelation to DeBiedma that Melee could be more than just a side gig.
“I was like, ‘S–t, I might be one of the best players in the world at this,’” DeBiedma said. “And money for those tournaments is obviously nothing huge, but for me at that age, it was a lot of money.”
DeBiedma hit a stride after the breakout performance at GENESIS. He won two major tournaments in CEO (Community Effort Orlando) 2010 and APEX 2010, the latter victory earning him a $1,485 prize pot. He used the money to help save for college, but he was also motivated to aid his mother after his father left their family.
“We were in a pretty low financial state, so anything I could pay for I wanted to help out with,” DeBiedma said. “Smash definitely helped out with that and gave me a lot more incentive to keep playing, especially because I was making more money off it than, like, delivering papers or mowing lawns.”
Four tournaments declared Hungrybox king in 2010, but as his Smash career progressed, the Melee scene would call him a god.
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DeBiedma enrolled at UF in 2011, majoring in chemical engineering. By then, he’d won eight major tournaments and was considered among the Top 5 players in the world.
“Any time there was a local, I would win,” DeBiedma said. “Any time there was a regional event, 99 percent of the time, I won them.”
It wasn’t long before Hungrybox was declared one of the “Five Gods of Melee.” DeBiedma was part of a group of five players that many considered unbeatable in the competitive community. In 2014, DeBiedma officially became sponsored by Team Curse, which rebranded to Team Liquid in 2015.
While DeBiedma was still dominant in Melee, he now had to balance his professional gaming life with his school life. His chemical engineering program lasted four years, and he took classes at UCF and Valencia College during the summer.
During his four years at UF, DeBiedma had a simple system that allowed him to keep himself at the top of his game.
“I made Smash Bros. my reward,” DeBiedma said. “Whenever I wanted to play Smash, I always put my classes first. I actually was unable to enjoy playing Smash on a given weekend unless I had finished my work.”
While the skill gap between him and the rest of his competition was still fairly large, DeBiedma found himself approaching the game differently when he began to play people in the Gainesville Melee scene.
“For the most part, I would just play and beat everyone there, but I noticed over my four years there that players were improving quickly, to the point that I couldn’t just sit back and play however I wanted,” DeBiedma said. “I had to consciously make sure I was playing well.”
DeBiedma competed in numerous high-profile tournaments during his time as a Gator, and though he found success, there were a few tournaments he was unable to win. He competed in the world’s largest and most prestigious fighting game tournament, the Evolution Championship Series, or EVO, and was unable to win it, placing third in 2013 and second the following year.
Before EVO in 2015, DeBiedma lamented to Rosias that he’d seen a decline in his own play and he wasn’t able to compete with the rest of the Five Gods like he used to. Rosias responded with an offer.
“I was like, ‘Dude, I’ve been playing you since I was 12, 13,”’ Rosias said. “I see a lot of flaws in your play. Let me just help you out and see what happens.’”
Rosias began to coach DeBiedma, and though he once again placed second at EVO, Team Liquid was impressed with Rosias’ coaching. A few months later, they flew Rosias out to Sweden where DeBiedma was set to compete at a tournament called DreamHack Winter in order for him to provide coaching while he was there, and DeBiedma ended up winning the tournament and securing a $10,000 prize.
“From there, it became a more formal thing,” Rosias said. “I was like, ‘Okay guys, clearly, this is working.’”
With Rosias as his coach, DeBiedma entered a new era of dominance.
He finally won EVO in 2016, along with numerous other high-profile tournaments. From August 2017 to April 2018, DeBiedma placed first in 12 of the 13 major tournaments he competed in, and he won his hometown tournament in CEO for the fourth time in 2018.
He quit his job as a process engineer at WestRoc in 2017 for a brief period of time to pursue Melee completely, and that was when DeBiedma was able to become No. 1 in the world on the SSBMRank, the definitive Melee ranking system. In 2018, he returned to the workforce to take an IT job in Orlando.
He had cemented his place in gaming history, but there was still work to be done.
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At one time, there were five Gods that ruled over Melee. In 2019, only two remain.
Lindgren retired last year. Zimmerman has taken a break from Melee. Nanney went on hiatus in 2016 and has not returned to competition since. DeBiedma and Marquez are the last of the Gods to still regularly compete in Melee, and DeBiedma is still the No. 1 player in the world.
“I’ve never quit the game,” DeBiedma said. “I never retired, I’ve never taken a break from it.”
DeBiedma has had a very fruitful year. He’s won eight of the 12 major tournaments he’s attended this year, including GENESIS 6 and CEO, but it’s also brought about a large change in his life.
After his victory at CEO, however, DeBiedma announced he would once again pursue eSports full time after Team Liquid renewed his contract.
“Life’s a little too short to try and balancing both things,” DeBiedma said. “Competing Melee is more than anything. More than streaming, more than maintaining a brand, more than tech, more than all of that. Just sitting down, playing the game, and being the best at it. That’s really what I’m here to do, I guess.”