Photo Credit: Matt Demers via Flickr. CC BY 2.0 , modified for cropping


by Dylan “OMD” St. Clair

Wavedash to center-stage, followed by a forward tilt. Lucky is late to put up his shield, pressing one of the top triggers, but releases the button, which drops his blue shield. The red shield pops up for a glimmer, but is interrupted by an Up Special when Lucky puts himself in an unsafe situation. Lucky falls to the top platform and Hugo “Hugs” Gonzalez lands on the platform to the right. Hugs rushes to center-stage again while Lucky stands back up above.

They’re back to eye-level and Lucky throws out a back air to pressure Hugs’ adventitious position. He counters with a wavedash back and a down tilt, which is safe after Lucky dashes away to avoid it. Lucky jumps over Hugs, who stands holding shield, and back airs again, this time high on the shield. Lucky dashes around Hugs, without attacking, a mode of shield pressure that the players of Norwalk, California have used before. Hugs sees the opportunity and uses an Up Special out of shield again to punish the dashing.

All that happened in nine seconds. These are the micro-situations that Hugs creates and thrives in.

Hugs has been playing Super Smash Bros since 2004, where he has been known around the Melee community since the early days. Hugs was a consistent threat to place in the Top 10 during the heyday of MLG. At the original Evo Championship in 2007, Hugs placed second, ahead of Mango (now one of the Melee gods) and just behind Ken, who is deemed ‘The King of Smash’ because of his reign prior to Brawl’s release.

Hugs isn’t the type of player to rush you down the entire game, like Mango or Lucky both do. He isn’t looking to kill off of one touch like Mew2King or Armada. His game is methodical both in his actions and how he breaks down his opponents.

“My origins in that focus came from playing the way I felt like and trying to outsmart people,” Hugs says on the birth of his neutral-centric style. “I pretty much accidentally came up with a lot of the fundamentals of the neutral game. I’m not saying I made them up, but it carried me from 2004 to 2010 when I needed to update my game.”

Hugo’s style

Spacing, zoning and positioning are commonplace in the larger Fighting Game Community, but it wasn’t something the Smash community was grasping back in 2009.

“I was doing positioning before we had a word for it. I made up a thread on Brawl called ‘Zoning,’ that’s what it was called before it was called positioning. The whole community made fun of me. It was like ‘Uhh, you mean standing somewhere where you don’t get hit? Hahaha.’ I was doing it for a long time, but I accidentally came up with the neutral game the way I play right now and it’s something I’ve been developing ever since.”

So that begs the question: what is the neutral game based on Hugs description? His ‘zoning’ thread from 2009 has the answer in the introduction, as well as later in his post.

“A zone can be good, bad or neutral, and depends on many variables,” he blogged on what is now Nintendo Dojo. “A zone in this blog isn’t so much a metaphorical sense of doing well; like feeling you are ‘In the zone.’ I don’t mean it that way. I actually mean it in a special way; literally the space you occupy with your character. In more specific terms, spacing is for the actual combat, zoning is what creates the opportunity for that combat to take place. You can be great at the actual combat, but if you place yourself in a zone where your entire battle is essentially done at a disadvantage, you are setting yourself up for failure.”

But Hugs isn’t the only player that is known for a neutral-centric style. When asked about similar styles, his only answer was Evil Genius’ PPMD.

“I focus on positioning, he focuses more on his moveset to shut down and cover options,” Hugs says when comparing his neutral to the neutral of PPMD. “I’m more ‘I’m hard to hit where I’m standing, you’re easy to hit where I’m standing, so that’s where I want to be.’ PP’s always been more ‘I’m going to shoot a laser. I’m going to do a very low [neutral air] to cover this, that, and be able to react to the roll.’”

The Neutral Start

Hugs is also one of the players that is connected with asking for a neutral start, which is where both players agree to stand on either side of the stage and wait for an agreed-on time instead of starting when the game’s announcer says “Go!”. It’s an agreement made so neither player is forced into a disadvantageous situation from the get-go, as seen by this example from Leffen.

“That just came because there’s no reason for me to take 40 damage because I started in a bad spot,” Hugs says with a half chuckle. “As a Samus player, whatever is within the rules for me to hang with these better characters, I’m going to take it.”

Back in January, the Genesis Tournament Staff made the decision to ban neutral starts,

“It was horrible and stubborn,” Hugs says about the decision. “They meant for it to preserve the stream-viewing experience, and their rule just [messed] it up more. Chillindude and I ended up turning on two computers to see where everyone spawns (as seen below). So there’s a Kirby, a Game & Watch, a Fox and a Samus on screen. And then we have to press start and restart so we know where we start. Then we switch controllers. Then the streamer has to switch names under the ports. It was just a mess and was just stubborn. Hopefully they’ll change their minds.”

The Stream

And now, after all the time spent playing the game, Hugs has garnered a new audience through the use of Twitch. As Hugs will let you know, both in person and on his stream, his viewership is gaining popularity in 2016.

“The support has been incredible,” Hugs says about the reception he has received since picking up the streaming life again. “I have fun doing it, which is becoming evident to my viewers, so they’re having fun with me. The fastest growing Melee stream on Twitch. Hopefully one day we’ll somewhere close to Mango numbers so this can be a living.”

As for the rest of Hugs’ career, he has no plans of leaving the community any time soon.

“I’m going to playing until I’m 45 or something. Until it gets creepy,” he chuckles. “And then when that’s done, I hope Smash is big enough for me to have a place in it, whether I’m playing or not.”