You just quit your job to go full time in Melee. How has your experience been full time?
It’s been good. I’ve been to two tournaments so far – Canada Cup and Summit – and it went great. I got second at both of those. This stream has been going pretty well, I’ve been getting way more subscribers and viewers. It’s just about making sure that I keep my fans entertained and that I keep my brand maintained. I actually just got nominated for two awards, from the Gamer Awards and the Esports Industry Awards, which has been really neat. I got invited to both, so I get to go to London and LA for those events. So tomorrow is actually when I leave for London with my girlfriend, where I’ll spend about 4 or 5 days in England and then a few days in Sweden for Dreamhack.
What was the decision like to quit and go full-time? You had always been adamant about Smash not being your entire life – you had school and then your career – and Melee was also just a part of that entirety. And now, Smash is your whole life.
I just kind of thought about it and realized that like, I have my degree and I was so worried about. I have this bad habit of always seeing the grass is greener on the other side. I’ll be doing one thing and wanting another, but as soon as I switch, I realize that the other was better. And then my first few days, I started to feel that again. So now I’m finding a way to fill my time with both things, Melee and other things. I’m really focusing on trying to learn programming. I realized I could live off of Melee easily and pursue other things, so I always stay busy. I’m playing a lot of PAL with my friend Danny right now in preparation for Dreamhack. I can’t really play serious melee onstream, since I have a hard time focusing while entertaining, so I do that offstream. Also, with Crunch living in Maine, it’s made it difficult.
Did you have any concerns with your ability to balance work and Melee? After your Evo victory, you started to tail off, with co-incided with going into the work world. You bottomed out with Shine and Big House
Well the thing is… I’ve always been able to balance work and Smash. But the program that I was in required me to stay in Alabama for six months. I really didn’t want to do that. I was worried that I would miss out on cool opportunities that Smash could give me. So, I wanted to make sure that I enjoyed this time. Going to Dreamhack, going to these award shows, just going to all of these different events. The moment I moved to Alabama, was when it started going downhill. As I was packing to leave, I got second place to Mango at SSC. It wasn’t a huge upset, he’s a fantastic player obviously, but it was the start. After I moved, I just realized, I wasn’t really actively playing Melee anymore. I didn’t have anyone to play. I had a bad internet connection, so I couldn’t play netplay. So my results started dropping, even as I worked to circumvent that. I flew out Crunch to practice with me, but it was still just so difficult to practice. We were playing, but the usual level that I play at, that I need to play at when we practice, just wasn’t there. The practice was backfiring. It was like going into a super intense workout regimen without first getting a base level of fitness. My mindset was off. But the moment I quit my job, I started placing well again, I started playing well again. It was interesting how it all worked. But I think I made the right call. I’m always thinking about the future, always thinking about security. The money from Smash is fine right now, thankfully, as a result of some new sponsorships that I’m working on. And I also see this as a potential way to open new doors, to network with people within the community.
How much value has Luis been for you over the past year? We’ve really seen you manage staying on top, despite the reality of your existence being you against the world.
You know, that’s the way it’s been for a while now. I always have to play on top of my game. It’s so crazy, to compare how I looked at the game five years ago, versus how I look at the game now. It’s all coming down to these incredibly minute details now. You have to jump cancel every grab, you have to make sure you edge cancel and l cancel everything. SDI has to be perfect. You have to embrace the idea of yomi, being one step of someone else’s one step ahead. You have to play top players constantly to get used to what they do, when they get used to you doing when you get used to them, and so on. It’s just that everyone is getting better and better every day. Foxes don’t mess up tech skill anymore, they don’t miss a shine after nairing your shield. You have to give everyone so much respect. You need to constantly get a new outlook on the game. That’s actually big part of my current decision making process. I was considering maybe doing some programming bootcamp courses. It was really great, but I couldn’t do it because it would require me to skip tournaments. The whole reason why I quit my job was to go to tournaments to stay fresh.
So when you do your review sessions, do you focus on specific tech that you have to grind before a weekend, or is it more focused on “What habits do I have against these players, what habits do they have against me?”
I think the main issue is that… So Crunch will be watching my sets and he’ll just give me brief notes about habits. But a lot of it is on me. I need to stay up to date on my practice, I need to be playing at a high level, I need to be seeing my habits, in order for his advice to work. His advice puts me up to level ten, the peak of my ability. But in order for that advice to push me there, I need to already be at level eight or nine, going into the weekend. I need to have that consistent high level of play. So, he pushes me in that sense. So when I’m playing with Danny this week, it’s to get myself to that level so I can use his advice. And now that I know that… I look back the form I had at Evo, and then I look at how I’m playing now, and the form I have these days is a LOT better than how I was playing even at Evo. I’m excited, because I feel like this might push me to a whole new peak all over again. Crunch helps me make sure that my peaks are over everyone else’s. That’s why, when I fly to London, I’m gonna meet with Luis there, we’re going to go to Kickstart and then we’re going to bootcamp with what I’ve learned. A lot of the focus this time will be on PAL. His coaching will be really valuable to keep me focused and stay on top of my game while we’re there.
Dreamhack is a big tournament for you, because it was where you broke this second place plateau. As soon as you won Dreamhack, it kind of opened the floodgates: First at Five Gods, first at Pound, first at Evo. Does that give this tournament more gravity than others for you
Yeah, and I’m really excited to be going back into it. Even with two second place finishes, I’m erally excited to be going back. I lost to Armada at Canada Cup and Summit, but they were close sets. At Canada, we were pretty even. So, I’m really focused on making sure that I do everything right in Sweden. It for sure means a lot to me. I really want to prove people’s belief that I am, for sure, the best player in the world when it comes to PAL. I see the check in my room and it just all comes back to me, to think about what that win meant for me. It launched 2016, which, if we erase the time when I was in Alabama, was by far my best year ever. The resume from that year is very, very good. It’s unfortunate that my year was kind of smeared by those finishes at Big House and Shine, but I’m confident that I make great things happen at Dreamhack.
It’s a really great test for me, for my mindset. In Melee, no matter what the characters are, no matter what the stage is, you will get outsmarted at a point in a best of five set. And so, you have to choose between the thoughts of “F*ck, I can’t believe that, he’s not even good, he’s just lucky” and get frustrated OR, you nod your head and say “That was good. I’m playing a smart guy, a good player, and I have to push myself to play better.” It’s surprising how you can get tilted across an entire set over a single error. I’ve really been working on that and I think it’ll show.
So let’s roll it back. You achieved every fighting game player’s goal of winning Evo. What has that win meant for you, now that you’ve had time to reflect on your victory?
I mean… for the time being, until the next time I win it, the best and biggest moment of my life. I did it while I had a full time job, which was a big thing for me personally, top prove to myself that I could reach that balance. There were so many things leading up to it. I got lucky with my boss allowing me to go, I got lucky with living in a Smash house for several months. I was in Georgia for a rotation and I just happened to live in a house with a bunch of Smashers, and it was amazing to see how much better I got by just being able to play Melee every single day. All of a sudden, I had a boss who was totally willing to help me change a schedule to go to tournaments and get the best practice possible.
So let’s talk about your fanbase. Having a dedicated fanbase is a bit of a rarity in the FGC, where most people are fans of the game first, and a player second. But with Hungrybox Hell and the HFam, you have this really strong group of supporters. What impact has that had on you?
It’s a great feeling. At any given time, I can have a thousand subscribers to my stream, a thousand people who want to watch me play. I have this support base. No matter what I do at tournaments, if I play a campy style, if I’m hanging out on the ledge, I don’t have the entire world railing on me. Instead, yeah, there are people mad t me, but there are plenty of people who are excited to see that. It’s great to have people who enjoy me, enjoy my personality. I’ve been working to get my real brand out there. A lot of people have these misconceptions about me, that have been fabricated over the years. And so it’s nice to be able to get out the real me, this kinda weird guy that people can relate to, out in public. I’m super appreciative of the whole thing. I love connecting with my fans, keeping them updated on my life, and I want them to be involved. I want them to think of me as a friend, not just as someone to look up to. And it’s actually funny. People say that they look up to me, but in some ways, I look up to them. They’re able to look over flaws, look over the times I do things wrong, it inspires me. It inspires me to be a better person. I love being able to give back to them. And a lot of my fanbase came from the Evo win, from me getting my name out in public in a big way. And then they were huge through the success afterwards and even when I did poorly.
What are your plans for next year? What are you hoping to do at tournaments, on your stream, in esports as a whole?
Huh. Basically, next year, I just want to continue my reign as the number one player in the world. A s a personal goal I’ve set for my stream, I’d really like to stay at over a thousand subscribers at all times, which will be a grind. And then I want to become more of a brand throughout the Nintendo gaming world. Not the whole gaming world, but just Nintendo titles for now. Probably won’t be playing competitively, but I want to be involved. It’ll be nice to get my name out there to a wider audience. I really want to make sure that I can reach out to more sponsors at get involved with maybe some personal sponsorships with younger, smaller companies. Smash is a great investment, since it’s so cheap but reaches so many people, so I think I could really work with something there. And then I just want to keep working on Melee. I’m focusing on embracing the life I’ve got. I used to reluctantly accept it but now I’m taking it for what it is. I want to keep inspiring people. It’s a funny role that I’ve been dropped in to, but I’m embracing the whole thing. When you get an opportunity like this, there’s no reason not to do that. You need to take the opportunity, rather than let it pass and always be left wondering “What if?” You know, I would be sitting at my desk, day in and day out and like… I always wondered what it would be like to be a rockstar. To travel the world, perform on stage in front of the crowd, just that whole life. And well, I’m not a musician, but I can play Puff pretty well. So in this weird, strange way, I can have that dream. It’s awesome to be able to say that I did this thing that no one else got to do.