When it comes to the Fincastle Pokemon Gym’s gym leader challenges, there are two things that we promise to those who attempt them. The first is that we will not take it easy on you. We have never embraced the “trophies for everyone” mentality that has spoiled many once-competitive arenas. We take this approach because we know how truly competitive the real world is and have witnessed the effects of not expecting individuals to always put forth their best efforts. Now, with that being said, we know that Pokemon is a “kids” game and that it was created as a fun hobby. Whether you choose to play for fun or tackle the competitive side of the game is up to you. While open play at the Gym is for fun… gym leader challenges are a sound introduction to competitive play. The second promise is that win or lose, we will always help our trainers learn how to improve, if they so desire. Whether it is an improvement to a deck or to a trainer’s play-style or decision-making, we have the combined insight of three gym leaders with a massive amount of championship level experience (6 World’s invites, a Top 16 and Top 32 at the National Championships, multiple Regional championship titles and Top 16 finishes, VA, NC and MD State Championships, more City, Cup, Battle Roads and League Championships titles that we can account for without some research). That is all bolstered by one of the best judges and organizers in all of organized play. If you can find another place in the country that offers that kind of support for its players, we would be surprised if it was not something you had to pay for.
We say all of that to preface the story of the trainer we are featuring today. Like many kids his age, William W sought out our league because of an interest in the card collection he was building. He came to our league with minimal knowledge of the TCG. Much like many young players, his early attempts at deck building were pretty messy. His first decks featured too many pokemon (in both quantity and type), too much energy and little-to-no Trainer card support. William played in some league challenges and tried a few gym leader challenges and got his first glimpses of the differences between fun decks and competitive ones, as most of those early games resulted in 6-0 prize count losses. That is usually the point at which a player either turns away from the game, as they aren’t conditioned to accept things not going their way, or the point when they see what they could achieve if they dig a little deeper. William chose to get his shovel and go to work.
William tried his hand against all four gym leaders, getting a sample of what the different decks were like and what is was like to play against the different leaders. After a handful of unsuccessful attempts for badges, he made a smart choice that is often hard for young players to make. Many younger players, especially as their card collection grows, cannot resist the urge to pull their newest cards out of their binder and make a new deck. What they get as they make a new deck week after week after week, is a series of decks that they have little experience with and that have major consistency issues. William decided to focus on building one strong deck and then use it pursue the leaders that sported its weakness. William started with a deck centered on Fighting-type energy. As he cut the waste out of the pokemon line, he found room for more support cards and some “Strong” energies and he began to beat other trainers at the Gym.
William also has stepped out of the confines of the Gym, to try his hand in the real world of competitive play. He has attended a couple of League Cups (which replaced the old City Championship tournaments) and the recent Charlotte Regional Championship. What he discovered at those events is what we were referring to earlier in this article… that this part of the real world can be brutal. Several years ago, players (who played at all events for free) began demanding better prizes for their efforts. Play!Pokemon responded by offering better prizes if players would accept paying entry fees for events. Players accepted, prizes increased and the TCG format exploded. Regional tournaments that once drew 300 players now draw over 1000. $1000 and $2000 scholarships have given way to $5000 and $10,000 cash prizes, paid travel to international tournaments, event specific merchandise like deck boxes and playmats and booster packs paid out to the top 64 spots.
Young players that used to learn at home with the aid of an older sibling or an interested parent, now receive professional training from paid coaches and seek insight from pay-to-join websites that are run by groups of experienced Master-age players. Players that pursue the tournament circuit year-round are embracing a schedule that is akin to those in travel sports. Unfortunately for those sports families, only about 2% of them (over 7 million kids) will ever see any financial return if they are lucky enough to land a scholarship. We don’t know the exact number, but we estimate that there are 20, 000 – 30,000 Pokemon TCG players worldwide, the majority of which are Masters. The money laid down on sports in that pursuit is about four times the cost of playing the TCG (average sports family spends over $12,000 per year, per child, starting around grade 6). Competitive pokemon players may not win prize money equal to the cost of four years of college (although some we know already have), but they also will not spend anywhere near as much.
Adding to the fact that the competition level in the TCG has skyrocketed worldwide in the last few years, the east coast has always been and remains to be the most competitive area for pokemon in the US (perhaps in world, behind Japan). It is a difficult and large world to step into at the moment and one where you are going to take some lumps. William had a tough time at these events, much like we did years ago in our first few tournaments (and still do from time to time).
As William continued to refine his deck, he exclusively targeted Gym Leader Marthe and her Lightning-type deck, which was another smart move (although, not necessarily an easy one, as it features one of the only GX’s in the game with NO weakness). Testing against the same deck gave him a measuring post of the progress he was making with his deck. William knew he was making some headway as in the latter half of his 10 attempts against the deck, he was either taking one of the best 2-of-3 games in a challenge, or at least coming close in most games. This past Sunday, William finally broke through.
In their first game, William set up quickly and swept through Gym Leader Marthe’s Lightning-types rather quickly. Winning the first game always is a nice advantage, as it leaves you with two more chances to take the match. William needed those chances, as Marthe turned the tables on him in game 2. Marthe continually hit him with the special condition, “Paralyzed”, from Raichu as she wore down different targets. She closed the game out with a”Flying Flip” from Tapu Koko, taking three prizes at once. In the final game, William used Lycanroc GX‘s ability, “Bloodthirsty Eyes”, to catch whichever pokemon Marthe attached energy to, knocking them out before they could become threats. William took game 3 and the match.
William is the 32nd different trainer to earn a badge at the Gym and only the 2nd to beat Marthe in her last 23 challenges. We recognize that the win did not redefine the boundaries of reality. However, it was hard-earned by William and the gym leaders are proud of the effort that he put into its pursuit. What’s more important to us, is that he took the advice we offered and in addition to improving his deck, improved how he plays. He has learned how to slow down, evaluate the game he is in and make plays that help set up future turns, rather than jumping straight to the obvious play during his turns. William has learned how to stay calmer and not get over-excited when things go his way. More importantly, he has learned to not give up and how to continue to look for a way to win in games that do not go as well. Can he still improve? Absolutely. There is always room for that. However, the Fincastle Gym Leaders know when it’s time to stop and acknowledge a little hard work. Great job, William! Welcome to the Wall of Fame!
We will get to work immediately on a new Lightning-type gym deck. It may or may not be ready by this Sunday. We will have all of the other decks ready, so ask a gym leader when you are ready to challenge one. See you this Sunday at the Gym!
TCG Gym Badges Earned (aka, The Wall of Fame):
- Austin W – Steel, Grass
- Tyler D – Lightning, Steel, Grass
- Chris L – Lightning, Fire, Grass, Steel, Psychic
- James H – Psychic, Steel
- Tessa Y – Fire, Psychic, Grass, Lightning
- Angela Y – Lightning, Fighting, Psychic
- Dustin F – Psychic
- Brycen F – Psychic, Lightning, Fire, Grass, Darkness, Steel
- Troy B – Lightning, Psychic
- Jordan L – Grass
- Hunter H – Grass, Darkness, Steel, Lightning, Psychic, Fighting, Water, Fire and Dragon
- Kelli B – Fire
- Eli T – Grass
- Isaac B – Steel
- Jeff D – Psychic, Fire
- Jacob A – Steel
- Alex D – Lightning, Grass
- Jacob V – Dragon
- Alan G – Fire
- Ryan N – Psychic
- Wesley H – Fire
- Alex T – Grass
- Rob C – Psychic, Water, Lightning
- Dean E – Grass, Fire
- Robbie F – Lightning, Grass, Psychic, Darkness, Water
- Nathan S – Dragon
- Davis N – Lightning
- Eddie R – Grass
- Anna R – Grass, Steel
- Noah S – Grass
- Daniel S – Grass
- William W – Lightning
*players in BOLD have won all 9 badges