Viewers of Super Smash Bros. Melee pools at Evolution Championship Series 2013 might remember seeing a thin, hoodie-clad teen face off against Joseph "Mang0" Marquez, the tournament's eventual champion.
As the set began, commentator Wynton "Prog" Smith quipped that the backpack-wearing kid was "barely older than the game itself. ... I think he probably had to have his parents sign a permission slip or two."
Two four-stocks and a fist bump later, the 15-year-old unplugged his controller and ambled off the stage. His name? Jack Hoyt. His tag? Crush.
Few could have predicted that he would eventually become one of the best Melee players in the world.
An early start
From an early age, competitive gaming was an integral component of Crush's life.
The Andover, Massachusetts, native resolved to play Melee competitively in 2011 after watching online videos of top-level play; Jeff "SilentSpectre" Leung's infamous victory over Robert "Wobbles" Wright at Mango Juice in March 2009 was one of his biggest inspirations.
He entered his first tournament, a Connecticut local named Hall of Gaming 4. He was 13.
Crush had prior experience in competitive gaming, though: He was considered one of the best Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card game players in the Northeast and had traveled across the country and to Japan for competitions. Over the next few years, Crush continued to attend Melee tournaments, but was unable to dedicate a serious amount of time to improvement.
"I was in middle school and high school, and I was busy," the former cross country runner said. "I played sports, I took the hardest classes, so I didn't have that much free time. I didn't really spend that much time actually playing against other people until 2014."
Although Crush didn't take Melee seriously between 2011 and 2014, he was still able to travel to a number of the period's major tournaments, including Apex 2012, Apex 2013 and EVO 2013. He credited his parents for understanding his passion for competitive gaming.
"If they weren't like that, I probably wouldn't be very good at Melee," Crush said. "I might not even be playing today."
Crush's growth as a Melee player was also nurtured by a local scene that welcomed him despite his younger-than-average age. Tommy "FSBR_Tommy" Fuller, who was 20 when the 13-year-old started showing up to events in Connecticut, was one of Crush's first friends in the competitive Melee scene.
"Within the context of the game itself, nothing was that weird," FSBR_Tommy said of his friend's age. "The short answer is that for people who aren't involved in Smash, I think it was weird for them, but I don't think me or Crush ever felt that weird about it."
The kid could play, and that's all that mattered.
Young, but confident
Crush's natural skill was apparent from the start, FSBR_Tommy said.
"Crush was very fast," he recalled. "I remember he could just do things that you wouldn't have expected someone at his skill level during that period of time to be able to do."
Crush's tech skill was not his only precocious trait. FSBR_Tommy reminisced about the youngster's early confidence and competitive drive. Crush didn't back down from top competition, including William "th0rn" Gardella, one of the best players in New England when Crush got his start.
"He was playing against th0rn at a Mass Madness, and in Game 2 he was down like three stocks to one," FSBR_Tommy said. "I remember Crush said, 'I can do this,' and I was like, 'All right, that's crazy.' I thought, 'This guy's crazy.'"
Although Crush went on to lose that set, the young Fox main was considered a top-15 player in New England by mid-2014, "despite not really having tried that much." But his true come-up was yet to come.
"I didn't really care about winning at all," when he started out, Crush said. "Once 2014 started and there were more tournaments, I started spending more of my Saturdays going into Boston to play."
He competed against Andrew "Dudutsai" Tsai, Matthew "Mattdotzeb" Zaborowski and James "Mafia" Lauerman, the best players in Massachusetts at the time. By the end of 2014, he said, he consistently defeated all of them.
Throughout 2015, Crush's skill level and ranking rose steadily, reflecting his regular local attendance. He continued to travel to nationals as well and earned respectable results, including a 49th-place finish at EVO 2015 and 25th at Super Smash Con. In the summer 2015 New England power rankings created by a panel of top players and tournament organizers, Crush was third, behind only Mafia and David "Zoso" Hughes, the Rhode Island resident long considered the best player in New England.
Though Crush had defeated almost every other top player in New England, he had not been able to overcome Zoso's precise Marth play. Regardless, his national results gained the 17-year-old a spot on the 2015 edition of SSBMRank: 96th in the world.
Though he had conquered his home state by the end of the year and made his way into the national rankings, Crush still didn't have much of a rep outside his region. "Even by the end of 2015, I didn't get to go to enough tournaments ... and nobody cared about the players that [New England] had at the time," he said. "During 2014-2015, I wasn't very well known."
The king of New England
Entering 2016, there were only two New England players left with winning records over Crush: Zoso and Anthony "Slox" Detrès. In June of that year, Big Blue Esports hosted the New England Invitational, a house tournament in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, featuring all of New England's top talent and players who had made the field through a series of qualifiers.
The event's first prize was a flight to EVO.
Although the bracket contained only 16 players, it represented the highest-level Melee play that New England had ever seen; Slox and Zoso were the top seeds. On the tournament's final day, Crush overcame his first demon, defeating Zoso in a tight five-game set before winning a decisive Grand Finals over Mafia. Two months later, he beat Slox for the first time in his career. He hasn't lost to him since.
There was no longer any doubt that Crush was the best player in New England. By the end of 2016, he had gained almost 50 spots on the year-end rankings and made his top-50 debut at 49th.
It was an important year for Crush for reasons outside the game as well: It was the year he started using Twitter. Crush is infamous for his sardonically witty Twitter account, which he uses to poke fun at himself, at other players and at the Melee scene at large.
However, his Twitter following does more than provide laughs.
"Being well-known directly correlates to being good," he said. "It's basically a self-fulfilling prophecy. ... In Melee, everything gets easier for you when people perceive you to be better. You're more likely to get flown out to tournaments. It's gonna be easier for you to travel places. It's easier to practice against the top players. You're going to get seeded higher."
Whether intentionally or not, Crush's popularity on Twitter allowed him to break out of the New England bubble and turned him into a notable name in the worldwide Smash scene.
Crush would tell you that the motivation behind his tweets is far from self-serving, of course.
"I try to tweet to make the world a better place," he said. "I'm just trying to improve the culture of Smash."
Crush's victory at the New England Invitational sent shock waves beyond the borders of his secluded region.
"I'd followed his play," EndGameTV co-founder Erik Jácome said. "His skill and his engaging post-victory interview were enough [for us] to be interested."
In July 2016, EndGameTV co-founder Aiden McCaig offered to fly Crush out to Emerald City IV, a Seattle regional, as a trial run for a potential sponsorship. There, he defeated Griffin "Captain Faceroll" Williams and Theodore "Bladewise" Seybold on his way to a second-place finish.
Still technically ranked 96th in the world, Crush had proved that he was capable of competing on a top-50 level.
Soon after the tournament, McCaig offered him a full sponsorship, and the deal was made official on Nov. 23, 2016. According to Jácome, Crush's obscurity was a factor in the team's decision to sponsor him.
"This was a player who, while only ranked No. 96, had quietly dominated a region while remaining unknown to the outside Smash world," Jácome said. "It only made sense to reach out."
With 2017 around the corner, Crush had unprecedented access to travel funding, major tournaments and, most importantly, other top players with whom to train.
After a 17th-place finish at Genesis 4, he spent the first half of the year traveling to majors such as B.E.A.S.T. 7, DreamHack Austin, Royal Flush and Battle of BC 2, placing no lower than 13th at each. Thanks to wins over players such as Kyle "dizzkidboogie" Athayde and Daniel "ChuDat" Rodriguez, he began to develop a reputation as an Ice Climbers slayer.
These impressive results caused Crush to rocket up to the 23rd spot in the summer 2017 edition of SSBMRank. But the best was yet to come for New England's champion. In the fall, Crush scored his biggest wins yet, defeating Sami "Druggedfox" Muhanna and Justin "Plup" McGrath to finish in second place at Miami's Too Hot to Handle. Shortly afterward, his region voted him into Smash Summit 5, where he took sets off of Johnny "S2J" Kim and Dajuan "Shroomed" McDaniel.
And just last weekend, he capped off his season with an astounding run at Twitch Holiday Bash, where he steamrolled through a gantlet of top players to win the whole event.
These performances have all but ensured a top-20 ranking for Crush and confirmed what many in New England have known for years: Jack Hoyt is truly an elite player, capable of going toe-to-toe with the legends of the game.
There's still room for Crush to improve.
Although his victory over Plup came after the latter's "ascension" in October, Crush has yet to take a set off of one of Melee's traditional gods.
But he's come close.
At The Big House 7, Crush once again ascended to the main stage to duel Mang0. The stakes of this set were much higher than they were at the pair's meeting in Las Vegas: This time, they were battling to qualify for the tournament's top eight. Though Mango would later emerge victorious, the set was a tooth-and-nail battle, with Crush taking one game and nearly edging out another. Against an opponent who had once double four-stocked him, he truly looked like the better player during long stretches of the match.
Throughout 2017, Crush has been on the cusp of breaking into a higher level; wins over the so-called Five Gods and major top-eight finishes have remained tantalizingly just outside his grasp.
In 2018, Crush will look to make the improvements necessary to get to the top, through continued travel and further opportunities to train with the best. Crush's recent accomplishments have drawn the attention of larger sponsors, and things are only looking to get bigger and better for New England's young gun. Crush's plans for 2018, and that defiant confidence, say it all.
"What goes up," he said, "must go up."