The best esports moment of 2016 wasn't a game, or a particular in game moment. No, it was the moment that brought esports to tears at EVO 2016.
Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma is currently the best Super Smash Bros. Melee player in the entire world. This has been an arduous journey for the 23 year old USA native, as he's been competing formally since the age of 14.
In major events, he always had one major opponent he couldn't seem to beat: Adam "Armada" Lindgren from Sweden. Hungrybox just never seemed to be able to defeat Armada in countless event after event. However, on stage at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas for EVO 2016, he finally overcame his toughest task yet and took home the crown after knocking out Armada.
And Hungrybox was immediately overcome by emotion:
Bar none, this is the most emotionally impactful moment of 2016. It was the closest thing esports has had yet to a weeping athlete on the podium hoisting the gold at the Olympics. It was the culmination of years of effort and passion.
These human interest stories reign supreme in sports and esports alike because they transcend the game the athlete represents.
What was the best esports moment of 2015? Another human interest story, the incredible EG.SumaiL, a then 16 year old from Pakistan who joined a USA based team and won The International, becoming the youngest millionaire in esports history.
Those are the moments that bring in casual fans, and sports in general lives and dies on how many casual fans they can bring in.
When fans can relate to the story behind the game, they don't need to play the games themselves. In sports, the vast majority of fans are not people who themselves compete in that sport. They follow because of human interest reasons and the visceral thrill of watching their favorite players, not because they're necessarily a top level competitor player themselves.
Similarly in esports, casual fans can be converted when these stories that bring out so much human emotion.
Hungrybox made a fan that day and got at least this writer to become an avid Smash viewer.
More esports influencing from Knocke: I Watch Way More Hearthstone Than I Admit | Esports Needs a Stat Nerd Invasion | Esports Needs Standardized Rankings for Tournament Seeding