A Conversation With Juggleboy—The Pro Juggler Making Some of Kirby's Best Smash Bros. Content
Nick "Juggleboy" Thomas is a competitive Smash Bros. player and content creator, currently coaching on Metafy and making YouTube videos from the perspective of a Kirby main. And when he's not juggling his opponents, he's juggling things in real life, as a professional juggler who tours nationally and has performed for Comcast, Google, and even ABC's The Gong Show.
It can be hard to find good competitive Kirby guides, but Thomas's tutorials are some of the best. To learn how he keeps so many balls—and pink puffballs—in the air, I reached out to Thomas over email, where we talked about his first experiences with Smash Bros., why he chose Kirby, and what life is like on the professional juggling circuit.
Note: This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity. And yes, the low-hanging juggling puns will stop here, too.
SEAN DOUGLASS: Hi Nick. I really enjoy your Kirby content, and the clips I've seen of your juggling routines are amazing! Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for Kirby Informer. What first got you interested in playing as Kirby in Super Smash Bros.?
NICK THOMAS: I first played Smash 64 at a friend's house when I was six, a tiny bit before Melee came out. One of his older brothers told me how good Kirby's down B move was, and so I tried him out. I instantly fell in love with both the character and the game. Once Melee came out, I saved up all my money for a GameCube so I could play. I put in thousands of hours against CPUs but didn't really improve at all. I mostly just found ways to exploit the AI to beat three level 9 CPUs at once, rarely playing real opponents. I exclusively played Kirby, pretty much refusing to play anyone else.
When Brawl came out, I did pretty much the same thing, just finding clever ways to beat the computer opponents. It wasn't until high school that I discovered the competitive side of the game, towards the end of Brawl's lifespan. A classmate was talking about the game, and I confidently bragged about my skill level, without having any idea that I wasn't actually that good. He challenged me, and when I went to his house to play, I found myself getting beat pretty hard. I had some Kirby tactics to hold my own, but I was definitely outmatched. This player went on to be a very strong Smash Bros. player, eventually being ranked around top ten in my state.
After getting demolished, I went online to try to figure out how to improve. At the time, there weren't as many readily available guides, and I figured my best bet would be to play a top tier. I know now that you don't need to play a top-tier character to have success, especially at a local level, but that information wasn't as out there as it is now. I eventually picked up Diddy Kong, and also played him once Smash 4 was released. But as Kirby received some buffs through various patches, I started to try him out again. I realized how much more I enjoyed playing him compared to Diddy Kong, and I never looked back.
Once Ultimate came out and my YouTube channel started picking up, that really solidified my choice in Kirby. Many beginners came across my videos, and I was really happy to introduce a new generation of players to the character that I grew up with. It was also nice to know that they wouldn't make the same mistakes that I made, spending years playing against computers without actually improving at the game.
SD: What do you consider Kirby's current strengths and weaknesses in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate?
NT: Kirby can really do well against characters that he can get close to. It's up close where he can really shine. So while characters like Ken, Ryu, and Captain Falcon are higher up on the tier list, Kirby can definitely hold his own against them. He also likes to play against fast-falling/larger characters, as his combos work better and at higher percents. His strengths really come down to his fast tilts, so moves like down tilt and up tilt.
He also has pretty strong aerials that have many different uses. For example, Kirby's neutral air can: kill, start and end combos, edgeguard, catch spot dodges, help to break out of combos/juggles, beat out certain projectiles, and much more. He can really struggle against characters that rely on their projectiles, characters that can camp him out, and characters with large moves in general. Characters like Samus and Sonic can be a really rough time for Kirby. This is because Kirby lacks some of the mobility to keep up with these characters, and doesn't have the airspeed to get in and punish some of their moves like other characters can. But a lot of hard matchups can be made slightly easier if Kirby can get the opponent's power. Shulk and Min Min are usually pretty bad for Kirby but become much more manageable with their power.
SD: If you were in charge of Kirby's moveset for the next Smash Bros. entry, what specifically would you do with him? This update could be as simple as a few tweaks, or you could add and remove new moves or mechanics—whatever you'd want Kirby to be like in the next game.
NT: This is a tough question! You always have to be very careful when balancing a game like this, because you never want to make a character too one-dimensional by making a certain aspect too powerful. I personally would love to lean into the moves that are so iconic to Kirby. Giving slight buffs to Kirby's Stone and Hammer would be a welcome addition, and I would love to make Kirby's inhale better to make it a bigger part of his kit. Bringing back the aerial version of Hammer from melee would be fun as well, but I would definitely improve the knockback! But I would love to see some references to some of his newer games for some of his less iconic moves, like his aerials! I think it would be fun to change up his moveset a little, while still keeping the same feel of the character.
One other change that I have wanted to see is when Kirby loses a copy ability from getting hit. I would love for the ability to bounce around the stage as a star like in so many of his games. There are many ways that could be implemented, but I think it could make things a bit more interesting!
SD: As you became a competitive Smash Bros. player, what changed about your thought process during a match? What were you thinking about or focusing on that didn't occur to you when you played casually?
NT: In my opinion, the change from a casual player to a competitive one happens when the shift in attention goes from you to your opponent. When you first start, you have to focus on many things (what button does what, how do I get back to the stage, etc.), but once those become second nature, the shift should start to move to your opponent. Eventually, you should be watching them instead of yourself.
A beginner player may not realize that they keep getting hit by the same move over and over again. Or if they do, they might not realize why. Once you start adapting your playstyle to how your opponent is playing, that's when you will start to improve. A beginner player may not realize that their opponent gets off of the ledge with a get-up attack every time. But once the focus shifts to them, you may start to shield at the ledge, and punish their get-up attack with a move like up smash. But that can only happen once you are able to navigate with your character without thinking too much, allowing you to pay attention to your opponent and question why you are getting hit.
SD: Outside of Smash Bros., do you have a favorite Kirby game?
NT: My favorite Kirby game has to be Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland for the Game Boy Advance. This was my first Kirby game that I ever played, and I loved it. I put in so many hours and absolutely loved the UFO Ability. I also played Kirby Air Ride, but for some reason, I never really figured out how to play it and would mostly just walk around the city.
SD: And lastly, tell us about your career as a professional juggler. What does that look like, and how did you get involved in juggling?
NT: I've actually been juggling since I was about nine years old when my uncle taught me the basics. I started practicing every day when I was around twelve. I would practice juggling about two-to-three hours a day and would even travel to competitions and other juggling events. I just got started with some tutorials online, right when YouTube was getting popular.
The name Juggleboy actually comes from a high school talent show that I did back in ninth grade. The talent show was part of the mock election night for seniors, and after my performance in the talent show, they wanted an encore but didn't know my name. So the crowd just started to chant, "Juggle Boy." It just sort of stuck with me as my stage name and became my gamer tag a bit later. In college, I started working on not only being good at juggling but how to perform on stage and make it entertaining for others. No one just wants to watch someone stand there and juggle for 45 minutes.
Now I perform a comedy juggling show all over the country. I perform at colleges and corporate events but do some local shows, too. I'm generally most busy with juggling in the summer, so when I'm not too busy with that, I try to create and edit my videos. I haven't been as consistent with uploading the last couple of years, but this year I am going to try and create more consistent content, and try to get back into streaming on Twitch!
You can follow Juggleboy's channels on YouTube, as well as find him on Twitter, Patreon, Metafy, and Twitch. His website is https://nickthomasentertainment.com/.