Road to Evo: Mango's back, and determined to win his third trophy

Coming off of a solid win at WTFox 2, Cloud9's Joseph "Mango" Marquez has his eyes set on one thing: the 3v0, or his coveted third Evolution Championship Series (Evo) trophy.

Evo welcomed back Super Smash Brothers Melee in 2013 after its community won a donation drive. The annual tournament presents the largest stage that fighting games have to offer, and Mango seized the opportunity to win his first Evo trophy. A year later, he repeated his championship run by winning another trophy.

2015 started slowly for Mango, who had several questionable performances until Mother's Day, when he went on a massive losers bracket run to win Press Start. Flash-forward to Evo 2015, where Mango yet again had an early start in losers after losing to Justin "Plup" McGrath. He made it to the final day after a nail-biting set against Sami "Druggedfox" Muhanna. Despite the close calls, the story felt familiar. He ran through losers at Evo 2013 and had made several long losers runs in the past. Victory was not out of reach for him.

The final day progressed as expected; Mango made quick work of Daniel "ChuDat" Rodriguez and his next opponent would be none other than Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma. Things looked smooth as Mango took game one and had the lead in game two, but Hungrybox persevered to snatch the game away from Mango. Even with the loss, Mango still had a coveted counter-pick stage in Yoshi's Story, ideal for killing Hungrybox's Jigglypuff at low percentages.

With an early grab, Mango looked to convert into an up-air, but instead fell off the edge for an early self-destruct. This early deficit exploded into a larger one as Mango fell to another self-inflicted death. The lead had become too large to overcome and the storybook ending that Mango was looking for came to a screeching halt in the form of a painful fifth place finish.

After the awards ceremony, he quickly faded into the background in Vegas, disguised in a pair of jeans, a button-up shirt, and sunglasses, a far cry from his usual beanie, Cloud9 shirt, and shorts. No one recognized him for hours as he grieved for his failure.

A lot has happened since then. He's had his low points, like when he finished 17th at HTC Throwdown, but he's begun to find his groove and also regain his competitive drive to be the best.

"Last year [in 2015], I didn't see the fire in him. He was complacent. But this year I see it. He's angry and wants to win. I haven't seen this Mango in over two years," said Monica Noriega, Mango's mother.

On the other side of the console, his rivals have improved significantly from 2014 and Mango recognizes the respect that he now owes them. He stated that he's inviting several of southern California's top players to his house for extended practice. Along with the usual Norwalk partners such as Joey "Lucky" Aldama and Johnny "s2j" Kim, Mango is inviting other top players such as Weston "Westballz" Dennis and Hugo "HugS" Gonzalez.

Even with a fantastic victory at WTFox 2, Mango knows that he needs to do everything possible to win, even if it means adjusting his lifestyle habits. To prepare physically, he has reduced his consumption of alcohol and started maintaining a better sleeping schedule. The regrets of Evo 2015 still linger in the back of his mind. On a family outing, his mother reminisced over Mango's younger years.

"Even when he was a little kid, he only wanted to win. He'd get angry if he didn't, even if he placed second," she said.

To Mango, it's either win or bust. Second place is a failure. Sure, that amount of pressure could be self-destructive, but it's that same mindset that pushed Mango into winning his first two Evo trophies.

A year ago, he felt lost in a meta that seemed to surpass him with constant optimization in gameplay from the Swedes and Hungrybox. Now, he believes that he has figured out the meta through fine-tuning his pacing of aggressive and passive play. If he can find the right frame of mind to reach top eight, he believes that he can take the whole thing. It's up to him to maximize those chances.

During Evo weekend on July 15-17, you're not going to see Mango partying late at night in a hotel room. You're not going to see him eating hamburgers and fries like a normal gamer would. Instead, he'll be in bed at a reasonable hour and he'll be eating a balanced breakfast comprised of yogurt and fruits. It's all business from here until Sunday night, when he hopefully wins his third Evo trophy in front of the huge audience at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.