Just like Hungrybox in 2016, Armada capped off an impressive spring and summer run with an Evo title. However, after the win, Armada decided to sit out Super Smash Con 2017 and Shine 2017, electing to stay in Europe for smaller events closer to home. Hungrybox, meanwhile, was struggling with the financial burden of owning a new house.
"I was putting too much pressure on myself," he said. "I had purchased a home that I was living in. And then I had to pay the mortgage on that home, so I was trying to make sure that I could play my best and make the most money on tournaments. And I think that pressure just backfired." Hungrybox barely scraped fourth at Smash Con, and took second at DreamHack Atlanta after losing to Plup, a fellow Florida native.
Top-level Melee is often a battle of mental fortitude. Although seven different players have won every notable tournament this year, the matchups between these pros are highly dependent on mindset alone. When Hungrybox lets the immense pressure of competing get to him, he'll make mistakes and get punished. With a character like Jigglypuff, who dies at low percents and needs precise timing for rests, Hungrybox, especially, can suffer from a bad mentality. That's why Crunch, who understands Hungrybox on a deeper level, is such an asset, according to Hungrybox.
"The reason he's my coach is because he knows me unlike any other person, not only to play against, but he knows what to tell me to get my mindset in the right place," he said. "He knows I can get in my own thoughts and emotions sometimes, and he knows how to get me out of it. He was just really good at all these events in doing that."
Although he had Crunch by his side, the financial burden of paying off the mortgage loomed over Hungrybox's shoulder. This pressure bred a must-win mentality, which according to Hungrybox, makes him his own worst enemy. "I knew for a fact that having that pressure, that you HAVE to win, is the worst thing you could do," he remarked.
Hungrybox nearly squandered Armada's August break, if not for an impressive win over Mang0 at Shine. Mang0 was the only "God" at Shine, but the win gave Hungrybox the confidence to push forward. Not long after, Hungrybox moved back in with his parents. "Once that happened, I started winning every event," Hungrybox confidently commented. "The level of dominance only happened after Shine. Shine was the proof to me that I could do it."
With pressures of homeownership relieved, he set his sights on GameTyrant Expo (GTX) 2017, and its $30,000 prize pool. "I put a lot of priority into it," he said. "We always talked about 'GTX! GTX! GTX! This is what matters!' because the money was there. First place got like $12,000. We always prioritize and practice for the events that have the most money." The prize money even drew Armada stateside, making GTX the most stacked event since Evo.
"I wasn't playing that well when I first got there," Juan admitted. Hungrybox and Crunch spent all of their time warming up, hoping to improve Hungrybox's sluggish play. But this practice wasn't enough to best Mew2King in winners’ side. After the loss, Hungrybox slammed his water bottle into the ground in disappointment and Crunch was there to calm him down.
"You've done this before," he said.
"I know I have, but it's not easy by any means," Hungrybox responded.
Hbox played Plup next. Down 1-0 in a five-game set, Juan took a deep breath and got introspective. He thought about his life, and personal struggles at the time. In this moment, he knew not to blame himself if he didn't perform. He kept that in mind and just stayed calm. His goal? To just keep playing until he lost.
"I'm sort of charging up, charging up, charging up," he said. "And the next thing I know I'm playing Armada, I'm smiling the whole time and I'm happy. Once I got to Armada, my mission was accomplished. I knew I was at least playing at my level, which is top two in the world. And once that was the case, I was like 'OK, we're good.'"
Hungrybox and Armada reenacted their Evo 2016 set. Game five. Last stock. Hungrybox poised to overcome his demons.
"[It was a] crazy ass clutch comeback which I shouldn't have won, and I was wondering 'What's going on?'" he remarked. "But I just accepted it for what it was. I moved on. I got the money. It really was crazy. There's no other way of putting it. I have to accept it for what it was and be happy that I won. Big House 7 was the next week and we won that one too!"
Hungrybox won two of the biggest tournaments of the year in back-to-back weeks. He maintained his winning mentality and stayed calm. "Right up until Summit, there was an argument for both myself or Armada being the best," he said. "But my idea, again, was that I can't really stress being the best anymore. That's why I went to as many events as possible, because I wanted to compete. I didn't want to be the best, I just wanted to play."
The weekend of Summit, after hours of practice, Crunch told told Hungrybox he was playing the best he'd ever seen. "I wasn't even going out of my mind, I was just calm and Zen, playing how I knew how to play," he said. "And that was that. I just did what I knew how to do best."
His best tore through a bracket of top Foxes including Mang0 and Leffen, beating them both 3-1 to earn his place in the winners' side of the grand finals.
Once again, Armada and Hungrybox faced off in the tournament's final set. Armada drew first blood, but Hungrybox won the next two games. Armada forced a game five, hoping to reset the bracket and defend his No. 1 rank.
Before the final game, Crunch gave Hungrybox one final reminder about a potential edge guard, the best advice he could've given. "Even during game five versus Armada, it was once again last stock at Summit," a scene Smash fans have gotten accustomed to. "And then I got that edge guard forward air, which is something Crunch had told me right beforehand, 'Make sure you do this edge guard!' That's when it all hit me. 'Oh my God. This has happened.'"
Hungrybox started tearing up. No injury, personal struggle, or in-game mentality could stop him from obtaining something which eluded him three times in the past. At the time he least expected, he said, it was all in his hands. And that was it. Hungrybox was the Smash Summit 5 champion, cementing his reign as the best player in 2017.
"So many crazy situations," he said. "Against Amsa, the Yoshi player, Wizzy almost beating me, all the clutch moments that I had, those all could have been coin flips and gone the other way. But they passed. When it mattered the most, I was able to control myself under pressure."
Although he admits he gets in his own head from time to time, Hungrybox powered through deep brackets from September to November by keeping calm and not focusing on the loss. "If your own best isn't a win, that's not your fault," he said. "That's just everyone else being better than you. But if your own best causes you to win it means you were playing your best. You can't really be upset about that."
In the last few months, no one has been better.