Interview with HugS on his road to joining Team Dignitas
Fri 9th Feb 2018 - 7:51pm
On January 12th, 2018, Team Dignitas revealed that Hugo “HugS” Gonzalez was going to be their first player pick up in the Smash Melee community. Hugo is a Super Smash Bros Melee player and we want to welcome him to the family and thought you might want to get to know him more as a player and as a person!
Let’s start with the basics, who is Hugo Gonzalez? What makes you different from other Smash players?
HugS: What differentiates me, I think, is that I have a pretty loyal fanbase and following from my stream. I put my personality out there more than most smashers do; even though Smash, in general, has a whole lot of personalities and I think that’s what makes our game amazing. I think I’ve cultivated a brand where I can do that more than other people.
If a newbie asked you who you play and why, instead of Fox for example, what would you say?
HugS: So I play Samus - I’d say Samus is a popular character, however she is not successful in the tournament scene. There are only two that exist in the top 100, which is myself and Duck, which is an all time low. So the ones that were good are just disappearing or getting beat out and replaced by better players. It’s a hard character to have at the top, but she’s popular ‘cause everyone loves Metroid, love Samus, shootin’ missiles, shootin’ charge shots, she’s popular, it’s just kind of hard to be good with her. If Samus was a better character, she’d be more popular than Marth, Peach, etc. Relative to how hard she is to succeed with, she’s pretty popular at the low levels, for sure.
What if someone added Zero Suit Samus to the game? Do you think she’d be more popular?
HugS: If she was good! I personally never really liked Zero Suit’s style in Brawl or Smash 4, even though it’s Samus, she’s still my girl, it just doesn’t feel the same. She wasn’t a playable character other than Smash, so I don’t relate to her. It’s just like, “oh cool, you’re this thing that I’ve never played before, but Samus I’ve played Samus.”
How did communications start with Team Dignitas? Who made the first move?
HugS: It came up at EVO, I was introduced to AJ who works at Team Dignitas, and he seemed very interested in a Smash player. I didn’t do so well at this EVO, but Lucky, my previous teammate, got 5th. So I was thinking of how to include my friend, who did well, and myself, who can offer more outside of my performances, into a package deal. I guess they liked the idea because they ended up signing us both. I’m glad he (ODEE) made the investment, I know it’s not like League, but I think our fanbase is still pretty wild. I’ve been told the reaction over this has been huge for social media.
I’d have to agree; it’s definitely a different community. Smash fans seem very loyal to the players as an individual - with or without a team.
HugS: Yeah, it’s more like the NBA or something, if your team is doing bad, you still stick with them, you’re still a fan of the team. Which is like Smash, if I do bad I hope people are still going to stick with me until I do well again.
I hope that fans learn about you and the Smash scene through your connection with Team Dignitas and help the scene grow, and I also hope that those who support you learn about Team Dignitas and become fans!
Before getting into the scene, when did you start learning the advanced mechanics that make Smash a competitive high skill game?
HugS: So I started with Smash 64 and Melee. I didn’t know anything advanced. I had seen a couple videos and I saw they were doing some new stuff, like wave-dashing and L-canceling. I didn’t think it was that useful, but that I should learn it just to compete. I went to my first tournament and got bodied, and I realized to keep up with these guys I had to learn what they were learning. To be honest, back then, while there were certain things to learn, it wasn’t nearly as technical as it is now. So now there’s just constantly new things being learned. Maybe, it’s not so much a brand new technique, but a new application of the technique that we know. So I wouldn’t say that there was a specific moment that I decided to learn all this. It was if I wanted to compete, I had to apply this new information to keep up with these people.
In that case, you went to your first tournament, you saw these new applications, did you decide at that moment that you wanted to become a professional or did that just develop as time went on?
HugS: When I was first approached about going to a tourney by my brother (played at home, beat people in high school) I already thought I was the best player in the world. I was more serious about being a Counter-Strike [1.6] player and that’s what I wanted to do. My brother googled “Smash tournaments”, back then it was a novel idea and wasn’t common, and found a tournament in Orange County at Ken’s house - who was the best player at the time. My brother was begging me to go but I just told him “why, there’s no point, I’m already better at everyone, it doesn’t matter”.
He convinced me to go to just win it, I’ll just go to his place, beat the best player in the world, win $10,000 at a random house tournament, and never go to another tournament. But, I ended up losing to a random guy first round, and then his 14 year-old sister beat me down in loser’s while the best player in the world watched on the couch. I was like “holy sh*t, that was embarrassing.” and we were driving home, essentially said we weren’t going out like that, we gotta come back. I already had a huge ego, and I had to learn what they know and show them that I’m better than they are. So after that, I found local friends, kept playing, and it sucked me in. The competitive nature stemmed from the idea that I didn’t want to lose.
What kind of help did you have when you first started?
HugS: Well, I didn’t have any player like a “big brother” or anything going into the scene. I just went with my brother to events and got talking to the right people. They were friendly, just like the Smash community is now; when I had questions. They would have answers. They would tell me I had potential, but I already felt like I should be better than a majority of people here if I had potential. Ego aside, they were really welcoming, I made friends and would play at their houses, or they’d play at mine.
I didn’t go in with a known player, and no one really took me under their wing, I just knew enough good players to play with and was able to play with them and just go to a bunch of events to learn. It’s a big thing that a lot of players need to do, they want to get better but they’re not going to events and meeting people. They’re just going, playing, and then going home. I talk to people about their thoughts on the game, play with a variety of people, and that’s how I learn.
Was there a first victory against someone that you felt really accomplished about?
HugS: This is a new question... my first proud win... I was happy about a lot of wins early on, obviously, but I would say one of the two definite ones would be this guy named Arash, a Jigglypuff player who was part of Ken’s like “elite crew”, like the Ginyu Force of Smash. I beat him, and I was thinking “oh sh*t maybe they’ll recruit me”. That was my first solid, higher up win, and I was pretty proud of that.
Now, there’s this other guy I played against, about 6 months later after I started playing, who beat me at my very first tournament in winner’s bracket. I played him again in another tournament months later, and I 4-stocked him pretty bad, and I asked him “Do you remember me?! You knocked me out of my first tournament.” I don’t know if he was impressed or salty about it, but I was pretty happy about it since he beat me at my first tournament and I turned around months later and ended up 4-stocking him.
That’s like an intense revenge scene in a movie! “Do you even remember what you did to me!”
HugS: [Laughs] Yeah, like one of those where they don’t even care to remember you or know who you are.
Now those were early on. Was there anyone you really wanted to beat or match up to?
HugS: It’s a little hard to answer that question, because, coming up as a player trying to get good, you’re not really limited on your targets, you’re just trying to be better. That includes a lot of people you’re trying to beat, like DA Wes, who was the best Samus player at the time. I just wanted to be better than him. I wanted to beat Ken, who I didn’t beat until like Smash’s renaissance in 2013, so I never beat him back in those days. Then there were other really good players that I wanted to beat, but those were the top two.
Is there anything you feel like you haven’t learned or achieved yet? Besides first place. Or do you think your cup is already full?
HugS: Oh no, I don’t think I’d be playing Smash if I felt my cup was full. Back in 2007, I would talk about really wanting to win a national, and I said that if I did, I would retire. At EVO 2007 I almost did, and maybe it was a blessing that I lost in grand finals, but I got 2nd, and I didn’t quit after that. But if I had won, maybe I just would’ve left and never ended up where I am now, so I guess things work out. That’s still something I would want, though.
In terms of things I haven’t learned, I have a log, that I constantly update, about what I know I’m not good at. That’s why this game is never boring to me, I definitely know that I could be better. It’s just either time or effort, but a lot of techniques, discipline, or strategies that I haven’t learned yet that I have to implement. It’s not out of laziness, there’s just so much to learn in this game that you can’t just decide to learn it one day - it has to be continuous and there are a lot of different situations, match-ups, and player style. Wavedashing is easy to learn, but if you don’t know how to wavedash, when, how far, then it’s kind of useless to you. It’s like that times ten with every technique in the game.
What is your prep routine for a local tournament and a larger scale one?
HugS: I practice every day in general. Do drills, play on netplay, but for locals, specifically, I don’t play on the day of. I may do few drills to warm my hands up and then I show up and use the gameplay of that tournament as practice. Some are not ones I feel I need to win, similar to a practice test for the real thing. Generally, my routine for a local doesn’t change much.
At a big tournament, I will be concerned with sleep, how I eat, how I work out leading up to it - I never work out during events because I don’t want my muscles to be blown out. The difference between the two is more about how I handle my body on the days leading up to the tournament, the practice is about the same.
Here’s a question that almost every pro-gamer has to reflect on: how do your parents feel about this choice in career?
HugS: At first they didn’t necessarily hate it, but they didn’t get it. I’ve been wanting to do this since I was 18, and I brought it up to them at that point. I told them, look, I can win $50 at this tournament and win two a week and make $100, I don’t need that much money. Though, that’s not how life works so I was glad I didn’t jump into that at that point.
Later, when I was at the corporate accounting job, and I wanted to quit, it wasn’t so much that they understood what Smash was, it was more that they saw how I was suffering at this job. They told me to do whatever I wanted to do because they didn’t want to see me like that anymore. They still didn’t get that I could make a living off of it until my stream started doing well. With this I have a car, insurance payments, and I have never really asked for anything, and they saw that I could support myself this way and started respecting it and becoming fans. My brother’s shown them tournaments I’ve been in and they watched Genesis Top 8 and saw how much the crowd likes the game, so they’re getting it now.
Since your brother has been there since the beginning, how does he feel about it?!
HugS: My brother is probably my number one supporter, adviser... everything about him helps me in Smash. He was very excited to see me make Top 8, you can see him in the video and he’s practically crying.
What kind of effect does signing with Team Dignitas have on you mentally, continuing on?
HugS: I’ve been wanting to sign with a team for a while, playing for myself is cool and awesome, but when I have a team behind me, it provides a different kind of motivation to get better. I knew that once I had a team, I would take everything to the next level, and be compensated for it. It would be rough to put in a lot of time practicing and see nothing from it. Now I’m a professional, I have to take it more serious, put in the several hours of practice a day. I started doing that, and it just felt like I was playing for others now, instead of myself.
Does being signed with a top org feel like a worry has been lifted from your shoulders, or does it put a little bit more worry on it, or about the same?
HugS: I’d say it’s about the same, only because I didn’t jump into this career to not take care of myself. I’ve been building my stream for that exact purpose, that if I don’t get a sponsor, I could still do fine. I’ve been sponsorless for about six months. It’s a nice bonus, it helps with a lot of everyday security. It doesn’t bring any kind of relief, so to speak, it’s now how I look at it. If I was that stressed, and that worried, I would’ve just been losing because every event would mean that much more to me. You can’t look at events like dollar signs, or things like that, that’s how you lose.
What are your biggest goals with Team Dignitas that you didn’t think of with other teams?
HugS: That would be to grow my brand. Team Dignitas is a great platform to promote my personality to a level where people learn about me, grow with me, and become HugS fans, and hopefully become Dig fans. What I mainly thought about with Dig was that they have the means to help, not just pay me and fly me to tournaments, but to help grow the HugS brand. I’m really excited about it, I didn’t want a team for a paycheck, I wanted a team that could help me grow.
How did you feel going into Genesis? As it was a few days after it was announced that you joined Dig.
HugS: Going into Genesis, I was extremely nervous because... if I get [f***ed] up, then I’ve got some explaining to do. A big fear with going with a Tier-1 org is that you have to perform. I kind of just wanted to tell Team Dignitas that “hey I’m pretty good, I’m not a bad player at all, but I also do amazing content, and I have a great fanbase. I’ll be really good for the brand that way, and still do pretty good at tournaments, not like Top 8 at Genesis good, but I’ll do pretty good.” and that’s kind of how I was seeing it.
I’d hit like Top 24, maybe Top 16, and that’ll be a good tournament for me, ‘cause I’m not hitting Top 8. As the day progressed, I just kept going for the next placing, as soon as I hit Top 24 I said I’ll just see what happens. My opponent was Syrox, and I beat him in losers, now I’m in Top 16, now they’re (Team Dignitas) is very happy. Then I played Duck, and he’s beaten me like the last three times, so I tried my best and beat him too...I’m like oh sh*t now I’m one away from Top 8.
Now I’m thinking, I can actually bring Top 8 home, and it’s been a dream of mine, especially on my birthday. As soon as I beat Duck, my change in demeanor was instant, I turned into a killer. I had my brother and my friend, Marco, walk with me and listened to what I had to say before my next match. One of the thoughts was, I’ve already done well for the day, I’ve played my best, I don’t have to worry about that. Number two, if Amsa beats me, then he absolutely deserves it. I’m playing great, but I don’t own Top 8, I have to earn it, I have to make it mine. So, if he plays better than me, he didn’t take anything away from me, he just earned it before I did, and that’s okay. That’s the big difference between how I approached it compared to EVO 2015, when I felt like Top 8 was mine, and ChuDat beat me and I didn’t make it.
So my initial thought was to make Team Dignitas happy, don’t make them sad, and then after it turned into “you can make them very happy”.
Now, think present, how does it feel have gotten Top 8 at a huge tournament?
HugS: All the things put together, makes it seem like the most surreal or fake story. It was national hug day, it was my birthday, it was the first time Samus ever made Top 8 in a super major, it was my first tournament under a new organization, and I made it with Lucky, so I made it in with my friend. So all these things, and the last game happened right when it struck midnight, into my birthday on Sunday. I can’t think of how it could’ve been any better. It hasn’t hit me, and it probably won’t until I get messed up at a future tournament, back into reality and go “oh damn, that’s what that feels like”.
Speaking of growing, compare Smash now to when you first started. Did you think Smash would be as big as it is now, or is it about where you thought it would be?
HugS: No, I thought it would die in 2011. I didn’t think it would be anywhere near where it is now. Comparing the two, obviously, current day, everything is bigger. You have people making a living off of it, you have people getting salaries, traveling. The traveling is way different now; I was happy to go to three events in a year in 2007, now it’s like three a month, is the norm. Typically, I could hit four a month during the summer and fall; all of that has changed. One of the changes I’m most happy about is our culture in terms of how we treat people and how we take competing.
Two things, first: because our game, at one point, was concerned with including people, we kind of learned that we can’t just be dickheads to everybody. We had to get it together and it started with Scar, Milktea, and a few others saying we had to be better to women, better to people with different backgrounds. Through Smash, I’ve learned how to be a better person, ‘cause without Smash, I don’t think I would’ve learned the social structure to be a better person and how to treat people. It’s a very progressive community.
As far as playing goes, back in the day, we used to brag about how little we practiced and how naturally talented we were. If someone were to come around who practiced a lot, like Mew2King when he first came around, he would just be made fun of and called a nerd, “who cares if he beats us”. Except, he would keep winning and eventually we, as a community, was like “maybe we should start practicing if we want to beat this guy”. I think that was his biggest impact on the game, and it changed how we looked at competing.
Smash seems to have a lot of travel involved, for those who haven’t experienced a fighting-game tournament or event, which one is the best and why? What is the best part about being in that community?
HugS: So, I don’t want to say any one tournament is better than another because they’re all good for different reasons. EVO is fun because of the experience you have with friends since it’s in Las Vegas. Rolling up to a table, forty people deep, is so much fun. Then you have a tournament like Big House or Genesis where the tournament, itself, is so well run and the matches are hype, and everything’s run perfectly - so it’s a beautiful tournament experience. I would say the one with the best of both worlds is Shine in Boston.
It’s in a beautiful city, the tournament is run amazingly, they book an after party so you don’t need to worry about it. I would argue that if anyone wants to go to any one tournament to check out for the first time, I’d say Genesis or Shine, make EVO your second one. After having traveled so much, I’d say the best place I’ve been to is Dreamhack in Montreal. Montreal is one of the few that I’d actually move to, I don’t even know if I’d move to Hawaii, but Montreal is great.
You were talking about quitting your job for some time before fully committing to Smash. How hard was it to quit your stable job to pursue a full-time career in gaming?
HugS: When I decided to quit, there were a couple moments where I was really frustrated with my job and that got the ball rolling. It was still hard because I didn’t have any money saved, I still had to help my parents. It just came down to me having to suck it up, and saying I don’t have money, I don't have a plan, but I just need to get out of this job. I find that you don’t usually make things happen until you put yourself into a position of discomfort, at least for me. So I knew I wasn’t going to take streaming seriously or the game seriously, unless I was put into that position.
I told myself "F*** it Hugo, I trust you, go make something happen," and it worked out. I had a less time-consuming job in between fully quitting, but I told myself that as soon as I saw my skill stagnating, I would quit entirely. That happened around 2016, told myself that it was time to move on and go full time Smash.
What would you say to someone who wants to get into the Smash Melee scene?
HugS: I would say that it’s an extremely hard game. If you’re not a prodigy, it’ll take you like, at least, four years, to make Top 100. There are going to be times where you’re going to feel like you’re really good and then someone is going to stomp you into the ground and you’re going to question everything about yourself and what you’ve done the past couple years. It still happens even at my level. My advice is make sure you love it, make sure you love learning, make sure you’re not afraid to fail, and enjoy the journey of becoming better and discovering what you’re capable of. That’s what I love the most about it. Discovering what I’m actually capable of doing. So far, I’m very happy.
The winnings of Smash aren’t as much as other tournaments, say like League. How else did you keep yourself afloat?
HugS: I realized, when I quit, that I wouldn’t be able to rely solely on Smash. I would have to have a lot of different avenues of income. I sell myself on Twitch. Haha, sounds bad. I was doing Twitch, so I’d have that income, donations, and then I would have winnings and then a sponsor. At some point I had an endorsement deal with a company, so I’d find different ways to put everything together to come up with an income that was somewhat close to what I used to make at my job. Now, my stream has grown, and the sponsors, I’m doing just as well, if not better.
So you mentioned having a successful stream. What do you do to differentiate yourself from other streamers or Smash players?
HugS: The quick answer is that I get lit on my stream, but that’s not the secret sauce. The way that I started it was doing match analysis, but at a certain point it just felt like more work. I’d leave work, come home, and do more work. So one day I decided, I’m going to come home from work, crack a beer, and I’m just going to talk, talk to everyone like they’re my friends at a bar. Everyone’s laughing, having a good time, and we’ll come back the next day - it’s just being myself and talking about whatever and I kept going with it. I think the reason my stream sets itself apart from other streams is that I’m the only one who can do a Hugo stream, cause it’s literally just me.
Alright, beer, alcohol, everyone’s favorite subject. So for all brew fans and your sub pub (Hugo’s subs), what is your favorite type of beer, favorite beer, and your favorite brewery?
HugS: My favorite beer is a beer that only comes out like two weeks out of the year when it’s in season in Oregon. It’s from Hood River, it’s a Peach Saison. They’re called farmhouse ales. it’s supposed to be a refreshing beer to have out in the fields while farmers work.
My favorite types of beer are coffee IPAs. It’s hard to find a good one. I’m really picky about beers though. An IPA has to be bottled or canned decently recent or I can’t drink it; each beer having its relative date.
Now my favorite brewery, seeing as IPA is one of my favorite styles and this place has some of the best IPAs, and the place itself is cool, I would say El Segundo Brewing Company. Everything they bottle and have is just very good.
Ah a 4.5 on Yelp, looks like a must-visit place! So you said your aim is to get better, you’re essentially going against yourself, but who is at the top of your list to beat?
HugS: I have demons... obviously the person I’d want to beat the most is Armada, because no one outside of the top 6 has beat him in 8 years, and no one has ever done it in a 3 out of 5. So that’s just a goal that a lot of players have to beat that kind of person. One of my personal demons that, for some reason, I keep losing to is Bladewise and ChuDat. I’ve never beaten ChuDat in my life, and there’s always been a one sided rivalry where he doesn’t even worry about me and I just want to beat him. I was supposed to play him at Genesis, but he lost before he could play me and in the end we didn’t run into each other. I definitely want to beat that guy, he’s probably my #1 to beat.
As one with big dreams to push yourself to achieve higher goals. What is the one thing you’d change about how the scene is currently?
HugS: I think the easiest thing I can think of is Nintendo being more involved in the scene and wanting to help it grow like Riot does. I mean there are pros and cons, a balance, because we get to operate in a more independent way instead of being under a thumb like a lot of games. But, I would like more involvement from Nintendo so players could make a better living off of it and bring it to new audiences that would definitely love it.
On that note, do you have any closing statements or people you’d like to thank?
HugS: I’d just like to thank my brother, Team Dignitas for supporting me, and the sub pub.
Thank you to Hugo for taking the time to do the interview with me, we'd also like to thank our sponsors Mountain Dew, Alienware, Buffalo Wildwings, HyperX, Meta Threads, and Western Digital. I’d also like to thank my writing mentor, Matt Demers! Hope you enjoyed reading the interview as much as I liked conducting it!