OAKLAND, California -- "F--- you, H-Box," members of the crowd of 3,000 chanted as Juan DeBiedma, the best Super Smash Bros. Melee player in the world, walked onto center stage.
On Sunday, the Paramount Theater, a hall that's held memorable performances spanning decades, from The Temptations to Bob Marley to Alicia Keys, hosted a different kind of audience. Throughout the weekend, Genesis, an annual San Francisco Bay Area esports tournament, hosted more than 4,000 attendees, and on Sunday, the door to becoming the first Smash super-major champion of the year was wide open.
For DeBiedma, known as "Hungrybox," loud and heckling crowds are not new. The Jigglypuff main has become a villain -- critics often complain about his choice of the slow and methodical Pokemon -- in an aging, yet increasingly popular, storyline in the 17-year-old Melee esports scene. For years, Hungrybox, 25, loathed his detractors, but now, nearly 12 years after his first tournament, it's just a part of the gig.
"For those of you who spoke up against the toxicity in the venue: thank you from bottom of my heart," Hungrybox said on Twitter following his victory. "Those chants almost broke me. I had my family here to keep my head up. To keep fighting. I wanted to win more than anything. You are what makes us a community."
Absent from Genesis were many of Hungrybox's long-time peers. Adam "Armada" Lindgren, a three-time Genesis champion and once the best player in the world, stopped competing in Melee singles in September. On Saturday, as a result of scheduling between Melee and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, 2018 Evolution Championship Series winner William "Leffen" Hjelte, the No. 3 player in the world, dropped out of the Melee portion of the event. Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman, a long-time rival of Hungrybox, finished 33rd in Melee after barely practicing that game in favor of playing Ultimate.
As a result, opportunities arose for lower-ranked players.
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On Saturday evening, Hungrybox nearly lost to Johnny "S2J" Kim, and then on Sunday in front of the loud theater audience, barely hung on in two more matches. The first was the winners finals against Justin "Plup" McGrath, who bested Hungrybox at Genesis 5. Plup pushed Hungrybox to the brink, but a frame-perfect input below the Final Destination stage gave the Team Liquid player a narrow victory. Hungrybox leapt from his seat afterward and screamed in celebration.
"The best way to put is that I just let my body take over," Hungrybox said. "In those moments, the cathartic ones where I'm screaming or popping off or it's extremely close, my mind leaves my head and I let my body do whatever it wants to. That's how tense it is for me. When I'm in that last stock situation against Plup or anyone, I just tell myself, 'You've been here before so many times. What's one more going to do to you?'
"I think that winners set should've been his, but I won the coin flip and got the right out there."
Hungrybox stumbled against Jeffrey "Axe" Williamson as well. Axe, who has been one of the best Melee players in the world for years, played better than ever on Sunday. The Tempo Storm pro beat Plup in the losers finals and nearly bested Hungrybox, a player Axe hasn't won against since June 2014.
"You can't sleep anymore on anyone," Hungrybox said. "The skill gap is closing. Axe gave me one hell of a scare, as did Plup. You can tell how close it's getting. I kept patient and played my game."
In the last eight months -- in part because of Armada stepping back, Ultimate's release in December and the rise of fresher faces like Zain "Zain" Naghmi -- Super Smash Bros. Melee has been given a breath of fresh air. The era of the "Five Gods," comprised of Hungrybox, Armada, Mew2King, Joseph "Mang0" Marquez and Kevin "PPMD" Nanney, has long carried the game's esports arc, but that time is over. Whether Leffen, Plup, Axe or Zain, the players Hungrybox calls "the demi-Gods" are stepping up.
For Hungrybox, it's presented a new and refreshing challenge.
"I don't get burned out," he said.
Despite 12 years of competing in Melee, Hungrybox feels there's something new to learn in the game all the time. That showed Sunday in his first match of the day against Kevin "PewPewU" Toy, where twice he used Jigglypuff's "Sing" ability to PewPewU's character to sleep and finish it off with a forward-Smash attack. Hungrybox has not used the combo frequently in the past, but it is a common Jigglypuff maneuver in Ultimate. Now, apparently, it works in Melee, too.
The man behind the controller, the 25-year-old with a bushy beard and narrow focus, has changed as well. During the latter half of 2017, following the end to a long-term relationship, Hungrybox found himself drinking in excess and hitting a slump while simultaneously putting together one of the best streaks of his professional Smash career.
Now, just over a year later, Hungrybox has found consistency in life outside of the game and is playing even better inside of it as a result. He now owns a home in Florida and works a separate full-time job after a long period of focusing slowly on his esports career.
"The world isn't just Smash," he said. "There's more to it. You shouldn't limit yourself to putting all your eggs in that basket. It definitely acts as a safety net. At tournaments, you can just wild out and play the best you can and know there's a safety to catch you."