The Man Behind the Box: Talking To Liquid Crunch

Last week I got a chance to sit down with his coach, Luis “Liquid Crunch” Rosias: the man who helped the world’s premier Jigglypuff player become its top player.

I got talked to Rosias about his history as a player, his development as a coach, his future plans, as well as the Fox vs. Jigglypuff matchup. The following is a rough transcript of our conversation last Friday, based on a Skype conversation we had, as well as my notes during our talk together.

ANOKH: Why don’t you introduce yourself to our audience first?

LUIS: Sure. My name is Luis Rosias, AKA Liquid Crunch. I’m a coach for Hungrybox on Team Liquid and rising New England Melee Fox main. I am also a software engineer in Maine.

ANOKH: When did you start playing?

LUIS: I started playing Melee around fifth grade when it came out, but just with friends. It wasn’t until I met Juan (Hungrybox) that we played more. We met in school and were casuals back then, but were still competitive with each other.

ANOKH: So were Hungrybox and you kind of like Mango and Lucky in a sense?

LUIS: Yeah – we literally lived about a 10 or 15 minute walk from another. We were from Orlando, Florida: Hunter’s Creek.

ANOKH: How did you both get into competitive Melee?

LUIS: Well, we naturally fell in love with the game. We were both competitive and wanted to get better. After school, we’d play other people every day and at one point were considered the two kings of our school. We got rocked at our first legitimate tournament, but we met what later became our crew: WATO (What are the Oddz).

Originally, when Juan and I joined the crew, they were surprised at how quickly we learned. We were by far the youngest (13 and 14 years old) in the crew and they took us in as the young apprentices. Juan had a lot of support from his parents, which really led him to flourish the natural ability both me and him had. To this day, WATO and his family still support us and cheer us on.

Because of the people in our crew, we got a lot of high-level practice against a variety of characters. We literally had one of everything and also had, at the time, someone many considered to be the best woman Melee player: Legion. Over time, we all got better and so did Hungrybox.

ANOKH: What did you notice that was different about Hungrybox?

LUIS: Juan had a few factors that were beneficial: as a person, he’s always been able to focus and compete in anything he put his mind to. But he also had a ton of support from his parents. He literally had people from WATO over his house like every single day after school.

If he was ever alone, he’d constantly invite people over to play. I guess his need to be around other people and competitive nature brought it out. I mean, I’d always play with him.

ANOKH: Why did you guys love the game so much?

LUIS: I think the thing with Melee is that there’s such a diversity of characters that have different playstyles. For me, I enjoyed playing them – and at one point basically played all the top tiers against Juan. The characters have such different playstyles in expressing yourself.

Melee gives you so much freedom and it’s such a crisp game that allowed us to express our competitiveness. It just so happened that Juan and I were able to be part of a super immersive experience.

I also think the community aspect was such a big deal, since smash is a social thing that you can play with your best friends. We have amazing memories meeting all these people through Melee.

ANOKH: Alright – do you want to talk about the Fox-Puff matchup for a bit or do you want to talk about your history as a player and coach?

LUIS: Whatever you want.

ANOKH: Okay – let’s talk about the matchup you’ve helped Hungrybox revolutionize: Fox vs. Jigglypuff. What do you think each of the top Fox players do correctly in the matchup?

LUIS: To start off, what each of the players do right is slightly different. Each player basically has a different piece of the puzzle when it comes to beating Jigglypuff.

Armada is the easiest to analyze. He’s laser heavy and has a zone control style, whether with shooting lasers or crouch canceling. One thing he does a good job with is controlling center stage or finding a way to get back to center. His biggest strength is that he likes center stage and sticking there.

We saw this at EVO, when he pretty easily defeated Juan on Dreamland in the first grand finals set. Normally the stage is considered good for Puff because it lets her live longer and gives her more space to move, but Armada in particular likes to have a lot of space to laser. He counterpicks to stages like Final Destination and Pokemon Stadium rather than Yoshi’s Story.

ANOKH: So you’re telling me that Dreamland isn’t free for Jigglypuff against Fox? I’m joking, by the way.

LUIS: Well, if you’re a Jigglypuff playing against a slippery, laser-heavy Fox, picking Dreamland can really backfire against you. I think what we’re seeing is that so much of stage counterpicking is dependent on adjusting to the opponent’s playstyle – especially in 2016.

ANOKH: How about a player like Mango then, for comparison?

LUIS: Mango is a lot more in your face. He will be in attack mode and put you under pressure when he wants you to be. That’s why he loves Yoshi’s so much.

Armada very rarely commits to hard approaches and plays the incremental game, not big risks, poking and outmaneuvering you. But Mango goes in, even if Juan is at the ledge. Mango actually has very smart aggression.

ANOKH: And Leffen or Mew2King?

I think Leffen is the best against Juan because he has a combination of both Mango’s and Armada’s strengths. Leffen uses lasers as a way of controlling where Puff wants to go. If you don’t approach as Puff, he’ll laser you all day, but when you approach, he’ll take advantage and attack you. It’s the same reason for why his type of Fox is good against Peach – he abuses the fact that these characters aren’t good at approaching.

Speaking generally, Mew2King plays the matchup pretty passively. He goes into different “modes” in it, like lasering or attacking in different situations, but his playstyle is kind of like that with all his characters. Mew2King will always do what he considers to be optimal in every situation.

ANOKH: So, do you have any thoughts on their weaknesses in the matchup?

LUIS: Well, let’s just say I can’t go into detail, as me and Juan are banking on exploiting their specific problems. I think for now, I’ll have to keep this information as confidential.

ANOKH: Okay, then what do you think Fox’s took for granted in the past that they can’t against Puff now?

LUIS: I think a lot of them try the old Mew2King style where they just laser a lot – and usually what happens is they get hit by a back air. You have to think of lasers as a way of controlling Puff’s movement, but a lot of Fox’s just know they’re supposed to laser and that’s as far as their thought process goes. You have to know what to do after that.

ANOKH: Let’s talk about you as a player then: what are your current goals?

LUIS: My current goal is to be the best player in New England and make Top 32 at nationals.

ANOKH: Whom in New England do you want to beat the most?

LUIS: It’s hard. I want to beat every player that’s beaten me. Before, it would have been Sora, but after the New England Invitational, I’d say literally everyone equally. Mafia, Crush, all the players that have beaten me in tournament. I want to become better than them.

ANOKH: Anyone in the region you hate playing against the most?

LUIS: Probably dudutsai, but I also love playing in a way that I like different playstyles. But his playstyle is extremely passive. When I’m trying to play a quick game, he won’t do anything else. Then again, if I want to play his kind of game, it’s fun.

ANOKH: I once heard a joke during, I think, a Melee It On Me stream that there was a “worst set-up rotation ever” at EVO, between dudutsai, dizzkidboogie and Infinite Numbers or something.

LUIS: That’s actually really funny, but I wouldn’t mind playing against Ice Climbers. I like that matchup a lot as Fox. Although having to wait a long time to play would, understandably, pretty brutal though.

ANOKH: What do you see as your roadblock right now to become a top 100 player?

LUIS: To be honest, I don’t feel like I have a roadblock. As I’ve gotten better as a coach, I now understand what I have to put in. I feel like there’s a clear path for me to understand what I need to get better; to put in the discipline needed to succeed.

I’ve learned how to help Juan, but I learned to help myself. I have weaknesses he doesn’t, but figuring out how his mind works has given me a good perspective on how to improve. There are two smash dreams I have right now: having an all Liquid grand finals with Juan and winning doubles with Juan.

ANOKH: Where do you rank yourself nationally?

LUIS: Right now, probably at the bottom of the Top 100 – like 90-something.

ANOKH: If you had to give one bit of advice for upcoming players, what would it be?

LUIS: The first is basic punish game. You have to hit people hard. Perfect tech skill every day and figure out your true combo setups. If you can’t execute every time you’re not playing the same game.

You also have to understand the core of Melee and play with that mindset. Melee at its core, to quote th0rn, is just movement and responding to/predicting to your enemy’s movement. From reading and baiting to tricking your opponent with movement. The core of Melee is the dance with high level interactions and why it’ll never be solved. Once you start thinking about that, that’s when you’ll realize this game’s potential.

ANOKH: Moving onto your time as a coach, when did you start coaching Hungrybox?

LUIS: He actually never approached me. It was last summer around CEO. Juan was getting rocked, losing to Professor Pro, Lucky, Armada, Mango and Leffen. And he got depressed, saying “I might quit this game, Puff can’t do it.” And even I was beating him pretty consistently in friendlies.

I was like “you’re deluding yourself,” and pointed out obvious flaws in his gameplay. Instead of repeatedly exploiting the same holes that he had, I decided I could close them up. I saw how much potential he had, but also noticed a lot of stupid habits that we could easily remove. I believed we could make it happen. And here we are today.

ANOKH: Without showing your whole hand, how do you guys prepare for each tournament?

LUIS: I’d say it’s a few things:

  • Analysis: watching lots of videos in different matchups and identifying, analyzing player habits in the neutral game.
  • Research aspect of different situations. For example, we wanted to see something like “is it possible for Puff to tech chase regrab” or “rest on reaction” in different scenarios at specific percents, while seeing what worked and what didn’t. We wanted to push the punish game.
  • Practice: it sounds obvious, but we grind out different combo setups in almost any situation we can think of. At this point, it’s muscle memory – very rarely do you see Juan miss something like upthrow > regrab or platform tech chase rests, etc.

ANOKH: What do you think Hungrybox has improved in most in-game?

LUIS: Since I started coaching him, it’s his punish game. I also think my personality kind of rubbed off on him in his play. Juan used to be superstitious about different situations, like believing that smash DI was random, but now he takes a more scientific approach. We’ll never believe something unless we test it out.

ANOKH: Once Hungrybox won EVO, how much did you feel like you had also won?

hungrybox-winning-melee-at-evo-2016
After EVO 2016 Grand Finals, when Hungrybox made history with his first ever EVO title. Photo per Red Bull eSports.

LUIS: A lot. It was the biggest win and best smash moment of my entire career. I literally took this guy who thought Puff couldn’t do it and helped him become the best player in the world in a little over a year.

When we trained, EVO was always this far-off goal, but for winning that to happen now is the highlight of our smash careers. Alone, we could only go so far, but together we got further than we could have ever done otherwise.

ANOKH: How do you see your future in esports as a coach?

LUIS: I really hope it keeps going, that more teams recognize the value of coaching. I think we showed a good job showing that this shit works.

As smash grows and we begin to get LCS-style tournament series, roles like coaches and analysts will be more beneficial and valuable as smash grows. Other esports have this and it’s inevitable with competitive Melee’s infrastructure growing.

ANOKH: Do you ever find it difficult to balance your coaching goals with your individual ones?

LUIS: Sometimes, but very rarely. I think doing this actually helped me a lot as a player, since I tried hard, but didn’t really know how to improve yet. Coaching allowed me to travel a lot and allowed me to play Melee a lot more. Getting to practice against high level opponents also helped me improve a lot.

ANOKH: Do you feel like coaching for players is going to become more and more widespread as Melee’s meta advances?

LUIS: Yes. Without naming names, I already know of other teams looking into getting their own coaches right now. They make a big difference because they give you a second pair of eyes and a dedicated practice partner. Very rarely do you have someone to grind things out with you.

Also, they help in the mental aspect of knowing you well and giving you reassurance. It took a lot from me to get Juan back to a good mentality after his loss to Plup in winners. Sometimes, all you need is someone there to support you.

ANOKH: Do you think there’s a history of what you guys did together – a history of mid-set coaching in high-level Melee?

LUIS: Well, coaching during the set was mostly just having a friend advise you. For example, at Apex 2010, ESAM used to give Juan advice in the middle of a set. Cactuar helped out PPMD at Apex 2013 grand finals, while Leffen sat next to Armada. But that was also more emotional support. I don’t think there was dedicated coaching outside of a tournament back then.

ANOKH: Do you think mid-set coaching gives a player an unfair advantage?

LUIS: I think coaching definitely gives a player an advantage – if it didn’t, we wouldn’t try to do it! Coaching very clearly helps the player. I think if the meta develops to a point where coaching outside the game becomes a frequent and a common thing, then we can accept coaches into the game because it is a team effort from the get go.

A lot of people think of Melee from a solo mentality – and in that environment, it makes sense why people wouldn’t want a coach. But if the meta develops, I can see a wider subset of coaches allowed in mid-game.

Coaching is also good at elevating the level of play – allowing players to adapt quickly and stay in a better mental state. I think if both players in tournament have coaching it’ll elevate the level of a match. Even in Smash 4 we saw that in grand finals at CEO with Zinoto talking to coaches and all that (I think Zero) and Anti talking to Nairo. I think that allowed for better gameplay and for better strategy. In the end, it’s about trying to allow for higher level play and prevent scenarios where players give up mid-set. It’s beneficial from a spectator and competitive standpoint.

ANOKH: At EVO during his set with Shroomed, Hungrybox turned to you and you whispered something in his ear. What did you tell him in that moment before he made the two-game comeback?

LUIS: I just told him specific matchup stuff. Things we had discussed before that I reminded him of.

ANOKH: How weird was it to get interviewed by tafokints after the tournament ended?

LUIS: What do you mean?

ANOKH: Well, tafokints is Mango’s friend and also gives him a good look into what stages work for him and clearly tries to help Mango in a sort-of coaching way. You didn’t feel weird being interviewed by a rival “coach” in a way?

LUIS: I think tafo definitely talks to Mango, but he doesn’t directly work with him the way I do with Juan, so it’s somewhat different. He also has data that’s public and something he can provide to anyone that asks him for it.

ANOKH: How else would you compare your approaches?

LUIS: Well, sometimes I think the system of thinking that can be derived from his statistics should be taken with a large grain of salt.

For example, before DreamHack Winter, Juan had an awful win rate on Battlefield against Fox, but now it might be his best stage in the matchup. If we took that at face value, we would have tried to pick somewhere like Pokemon Stadium, but that would have also been the wrong approach. The stats usually mean that there’s something we should check out and improve on within a stage, rather than assume it’s bad.

The numbers are good for getting ideas, but not necessarily for deriving conclusions.

ANOKH: So, here’s my controversial question of the day: how confident are you if you have to play Prince Abu in bracket?

LUIS: I’m confident enough to where I’d be willing to bet $100 on it! Seriously though, I sometimes think it’s bad for me that I mainly play with Hungrybox.

It sounds silly, but I can forget how to punish stupid things since Juan plays a very safe and smart kind of Puff. I do think it’s beneficial for me to play other Puff players – it’s not only helpful in learning how to play solidly, but also how to exploit openings too.

ANOKH: Anything else you want to say, mention or something that you feel like we’ve missed on?

LUIS: Shoutout to Team Liquid for being supportive and letting me compete, travel, and help Juan.

ANOKH: Thanks, Luis. Best of luck in your smash career as a coach and player!

LUIS: No problem – best of luck writing this and the job hunt!

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