When It Comes to the Crunch
October 25 2016
Super Smash Brothers Melee is one of the remaining competitive single player games in esports. Along with FGC titles such as Street Fighter or Guilty Gear, Melee is a competition of execution, mind games, and man to man combat. Team Liquid’s very own Luis “Crunch” Rosias however, has a different viewpoint on the title, which has been expanding at an incredible rate over the past several years.
“For the longest time melee has been a very single player game. It's always just been a 'me myself and I against the world' type of thing, but I feel like as we progress as a community you kinda see partnerships start to form.”
As the first official Melee coach, Crunch is the man behind the camera giving guidance to Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma in the most successful of all these partnerships thus far. Hungrybox is arguably the number one Melee player in the world right now, and after coming off a first place finish at EVO this year, Crunch is feeling hopeful about their future as a duo.
“I think we had a really, really good 2016. I feel like we've been pretty much on the come up since we started doing this, so obviously it takes time; like it will still take time and effort from both of us working together, to keep seeing results. But I think at the rate that we're growing and improving I think we can do it. Before, our major goal was to get rank 1 in the world with EVO and we accomplished that way sooner than we thought we would […] like we obviously did our best to prepare for it but it wasn't an outcome we expected. We were ready for the long game. So I feel we're kinda ahead of the long game we predicted for ourselves.”
When the two started working together, Hbox was struggling with his game. Under the weight of Fox (the widely accepted best character in SSBM), Hbox felt that Jigglypuff (his only choice of character) simply didn’t have what it takes to compete at the highest level, to a point where he even considered retiring from competition. Crunch sees the improvement from that point until now as a direct outcome of their hard work together.
“The start of the coaching thing was after CEO 2015 where he was kinda getting rocked at the time. He had just lost to Professor Pro and Lucky, he had gotten demolished by Mango, Armada and Leffen, and he came up to me after this and he said, ‘Dude, I think I might retire, I don't think Puff can do it—Fox is too good.’ At the time I could clearly see the flaws in his play because I had known him his entire life, and I'm like, 'I don't think so Juan, I'm pretty sure you can do it. I'm pretty sure Puff can do it, we just have to clean it up.’”
While this is easier said than done, Crunch found confidence in his connection with Hbox both inside and outside of the game. The two had been lifelong friends, and even rivals at a point through middle school when they were first introduced to the game.
“Juan and I started playing at the same time back in middle school [and] we were the best in our school. We were crazy rivals, we would just go and play Melee for eight hours, maybe play some ping pong, then back to Melee. We were just really competitive with each other so I've seen his Puff evolve and I know it better than anyone.”
Herein lies one of the strongest aspects of Crunch and Hbox’s working relationship: Crunch’s affinity to the strongest Puff in the world. Not only has Crunch watched Hbox’s entire growth as a player firsthand, he has picked apart and analyzed hundreds of hours of his game footage. Crunch understands Hbox as he is within the game. His habits, his tricks, his exploits—all of these things make up Hbox’s competitive presence, and in many ways are a product of Crunch’s design.
“When we start out we'll watch VODs and see: which ways are you approaching that's getting punished, which ways are you opening up. We look at things like that and try to work those out and figure out what we can do instead. We look for what is safe, what will work every time. It's the same thing with punishes. When you missed this edge guard here and they came back and won, what happened? Or when you were in the middle of a combo here and you drop something, they hit you back and they got the stock—why? It really is about cleaning up the game and finding the stuff that always works. And that's why I like the platform tech chasing he does now, and the edge guarding is so much better. That’s why we started to think about the techniques that are guaranteed to work every time.”
Crunch’s role as a coach goes beyond in-game polishing, however. Melee is a game that is highly demanding both technically and mentally, all at a blistering pace. If two top players are battling it out it often comes down to who is in the better state at that time, or who can play at a higher percentage of their possible skill. This is an incredibly hard thing not only to achieve but maintain over the course of a weekend. Players have to contend with tournament schedules running for 12+ hour days, little sleep, and stressful conditions. This forces Crunch to place a high priority on his mental and out-of-game training for Hbox.
“I think [mental coaching] has been really, really important especially leading up to EVO. I think Juan does really well when he's an underdog, but it was really hard for him when he got close to being number one because he's wanted it for so long. It's like he was desperate. So you could see it in his play. As soon as he got closer he started going for these desperation edge guards and just wanted to finish it. All of these thoughts were kind of jumbling in his mind and you really can’t do that when you're playing Melee. You have to be patient, calm and calculated. You almost have to be thinking about nothing so you don’t get hindered from playing the best that you can by every thought that comes into your mind like 'Oh what are people gonna think'. So I feel like I've had to read up a lot on sports psychology and things like that. To really kinda try and get him to perform even when there is a lot of pressure from both himself and from all the fans.”
On top of Crunch’s need to keep Hungrybox functioning at his best, he himself is familiar with the high emotions that come with the competition. As a duo that has put so much time and effort into their craft, Crunch feels just as responsible for the outcome as Hbox himself.
“If he doesn't perform well, or he's missing a lot of stuff that we had talked about or worked on, I feel responsible too. I feel like it really is a team effort. When he won EVO we were both popping off and pretty much almost in tears; it's definitely a group thing because it's something we've been working on together this whole time. If he loses I feel like it's my fault and there's something I could have done better, and when he wins it's like 'Yes, we did it!’”
Looking to the future, Crunch anticipates a need for organized coaching as the infrastructure in Smash increases. The game has grown at unprecedented rates within the past five years, from the huge popularity of The Smash Documentary to the first teams that began to pick up top players. Beyond just its heightened production and entry into esports, the competition in Smash is as breakneck as ever with players able to dedicate their entire lives to improving thanks to sponsorships and team support—coaching is the logical progression.
“I feel like as a sport develops and things get more and more competitive you take every advantage that you can. Some people are lucky to live in an amazing Smash region like SoCal, and they have all those resources. Other people, like Armada, have to practice on their own because they don’t have as many resources. When you’re trying to be the best, you take every possible advantage you can get. It’s a game of inches, and one small advantage can make or break a title challenge. So I think as esports keeps growing and getting bigger, people will begin to see the value of coaches and teams will start including coaches more and more. It’s another advantage that can help a player succeed, and I feel like Juan and I have done a good job at showing how effective it can be.”
With a laugh, Crunch remarks on the changes in the community. They've come a long way; from all day Melee and ping pong sessions with his middle school rival, to the Las Vegas Convention Center at EVO 2016 with his teammate and best friend, surrounded by screaming fans. Even after such a strong year, there’s more to come from Liquid Smash’s dynamic duo, and after Hbox’s decision to leave his job and pursue Melee full time, the bar has been set even higher for CrunchBox.
“In the year 20XX every top player has a coach and an analyst. Hopefully that's the way it keeps going, Smash keeps growing, and someday that can happen.”
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