Any kid who grew up with a Gameboy or watched Pokemon on TV wanted to be the very best. Whether that meant catching them all or winning the toughest battles, Pokemon inspired the imagination of kids around the world.
For some though, this dream is a reality. Pokemon tournaments are held in clubs and as part of larger leagues globally. Nintendo hosts the Video Game Championship (VGC) each year to declare regional, national, and world champions.
Alex Ogloza won the U.S. National Championship last year. Ogloza is as good as they get when it comes to competitive Pokemon play and a pillar in the larger pokemon community.
Ogloza has been playing Pokemon since the beginning of the franchise in 1998. And even when many kids grew out of the fad and into other interests (Yu-Gi-Oh and Beyblade, anyone?), Ogloza never stopped playing Pokemon.
“I had a brother. So no matter if they came out with two games or just one game, we would own them all. We would play together and we also collected the cards. But we did that just kinda at home as opposed to advertising it,” says Ogloza. “It wasn’t the thing to talk about at school. Especially middle school or elementary school.”
After years of being what he calls a “closet player,” he started playing Pokemon at a competitive level when he was 16.
“The first tournament I went to was actually [on] my birthday as a birthday present to myself to stop caring about what other people thought,” says Ogloza.
Ogloza says he was not good at the game at that first tournament. But it was only the beginning of his Pokemon career. Now Ogloza’s success allows him to work full time on his Youtube channel and participate in the Pokemon community as a public figure. His YouTube channel has over 32,000 subscribers and 6 million views. He says winning the 2014 U.S. championship justified all of the time that went into his favourite hobby.
“It was kind of like a reaffirmation that following my own heart was worthwhile all along,” says Ogloza. “Convincing my parents to fly around the U.S. for the past couple years, playing at regionals and stuff: it was all worth it. It all came full circle.”
But to Ogloza, the most important thing is not the success, but the community. He says his Youtube channel probably will not turn into his lifetime career, but it is something he can enjoy now. The people he interacts with online and at various events, are the most important thing in Pokemon.
While Ogloza says communities around other competitive games like League of Legends can be “toxic,” the Pokemon community is friendly and welcoming. It’s not about winning so much as it is about making friends.
“They never built the game to be competitive. That was never the intended value,” says Ogloza.
The Pokemon video games are fraught with random elements meant to level the playing field. Even the best players can lose against much less experienced ones due to random critical hits and paralysis. Players who go into Pokemon with a purely competitive mindset don’t last long. Ogloza says the game is “too frustrating.”
“Don’t go out with the mindset that you’re going to win all the time because the game gets out of control sometimes. You can’t control it 100 per cent, it’s not chess. It’s more like poker. You might be dealt a two and a seven off-set just because your opponent froze you with Blizzard and you never thaw,” says Ogloza. “Get into it because you like Pokemon, not because you want to win events. If you go with that mindset, you’ll meet awesome people.”