A Zog’s Purpose, Chapter Two: Tweety Bird Bukkake and the Very Angry Daddy

The sun glares down at Muscle Beach, Santa Monica. Rollerskates rattle, valley girls prattle and there’s a fat kid plonked gingerly on a wall. He’s sweating profusely behind emo bangs longer than his penis and is, for some reason, wearing a brown North Face jacket. He’s limply holding a Tweety ice cream, licking at it gauchely like a watched cat does its arsehole.

Tweety was chosen “ironically”, but we all know it was out of desperation. He, too, knows he’s being watched by the cast of Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, and beads of Sunset Yellow E110-dyed perspiration begin to form on his silly little forehead. They drip down and plop onto the ground, giving up. The heat is too much for Tweety: the sun burns, but people’s stares drill deep into his consciousness and he can’t take it. His body heaves from its flimsy skeleton; the bird falls from his perch; Tweety blows this mortal popsicle stand in a cascading money shot of off-white ex-parrot lemony gunk, landing with a slap in the boy’s face and another on the hot ground. This bird has ceased to be. People stare as copious sticky liquid drips off the boy’s chin. It’s a Tweety bird bukkake: that’s all, folks.

 

Curdled cream sticks to skin, time groans to a tunnel-visioned standstill and panic closes in: terror strikes; the boy feels everything. Heat and pain stab; coarse irony beckons; the boy now feels nothing. He’s seen all he needed to see. He gazes forth a thousand-yard stare forged of Agent Orange and pent-up mediocrity; of broken ideals and shuffled-up pissy towels: it’s all over. From this day, things were different.

 

I know because that was me, aged 17, having found one of the most important lessons I’d ever learn. What was it, and how did I find it? Well, you’ll have to read about my 2010 at the Pokémon World Championships.

 

Tweety

Blue Bunny? Looks more like the one from the Brown Bunny

 

Still an aimless pupper of a boy, my goal from the start of 2010 was simple: to not be Pokémon Weevil Underwood. It was a hefty task, but it had to be done. The first thing I did, lame as it sounds, was start choosing my own clothes: Up until this point I had, quite literally, felt too shy to actually profess an opinion on style whatsoever. Having always considered myself a “fat kid” and been well aware of the fact that whatever I was wearing I’d look like shit, it was something I’d consciously avoided. Not just sitting on the metaphorical fence but riding it dispassionately like it was an overweight, married dentist who’d paid me to was, in essence, my whole thing at the time. If you don’t have an opinion on anything you can’t be wrong, right? Yeah, it was dumb and I knew it. So I swapped out my grey polos, went down to Debenham’s (UK Macy’s for poor people) and got my babby’s first moderately-flamboyant dress shirts. The beast was awoken.

 

debenhams

Debenham’s makes an ideal Harrod’s for people from Wigan

 

I started putting more thought and effort into everything I did and opened up to people, and it felt good. I made more friends, went out and did stuff and generally behaved more like a normal person. For the first time in my Pokémon career I actually built some teams with other people. Unfortunately, however, I mostly built with people who weren’t very good at Pokémon and was still preoccupied with my teams looking cool, so none of my strategies actually worked. No joke, my planned counterplay to scarf Kyogre/Hitmontop lead was Zapdos and passho Moltres, both using turn 1 Tailwind. Translator’s note: this was a shit plan more likely to kill the president and win the heart of Jodie Foster than it was to actually do its job.

reagan

 

On top of that, in a format dominated by the completely overpowered Kyogre I still felt the call of the contrarian and seriously tried to instead use self-Me First Mewtwo with Blizzarding Abomasnow, which literally isn’t even possible (it was a simulator bug). I brought a stupid Mewtwo and Ho-Oh team to UK Nationals, where, predictably, I scrubbed out on an autoloss to scarf Kyogre despite knowing full well everybody would be using it. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking: I’d consciously brought something bad and somehow not noticed the problem. In getting too excited about listening to other people, I’d forgotten that not everybody is worth listening to. I spent the rest of Nationals moping around, avoiding uniquely health-hazardous big smelly butt cracks and getting upset at going out in round 2 meanwhile Wobbuffet’s in round 3 and a Hypno named BED TIME is tearing it up in Top Cut of Juniors. There are photographs of this on the big screen, however sadly I am me and appropriately the online copy has been taken down by the FBI and my computer with it on got thrown in a skip by my dad while I was out with Lin feeding apples to pigs.

 

bedtime

artist’s impression

 

So I got home (after nearly being killed by a wayward sheep on the Ripponden dual carriageway), sat down and thought to myself: I’m going to take the best Pokémon in the format, make a team that fits together and beat people with it. I’m going to make a good team and judge it by how much it wins instead of how much I like it. And with that, my Togekiss/LO Kyogre  haban Palkia/quick claw Tyranitar team was born. Immediately I steamrolled it straight into the final of the SkarmBliss open (if you remember this site you are 100% too old) and suddenly found confidence in myself and my new way of thinking. For once in my life, I felt I had what it took and had the evidence to back it up. With that, I somehow managed to talk daddy into taking me and my brother to the Hilton Waikoloa for the Worlds Last Chance Qualifier; my first time competing on the world stage.

 

sg102705.jpg

 

Hawaii was an absolute dream. I accidentally punched a turtle, dined on Froot Loop and pineapple bagels and “Tu me quieres yo, yo me quieren tuuu, tendremos SEXO como la primera vez”-ed with the Spanish and Ray Rizzo into the early hours. These nights of FIESTA! and BAILAR! with the young ENERGYMAN and KEEEEEEEFKAAAAAAAA!!!! would, years later, provide the inspiration for me putting it about at the Carnaval de Tenerife. Indeed, Lion King-holding a chica in a Barcelona jersey and brutally humping her in the streets of Puerto de la Cruz whilst yelling “TORTUGAAAA!!!!!” is a consequent action I will shamefully take to the grave, but at the time hanging with the Spaniards was good clean poo-free fun.

 

lion king sex

“TORTUGAAAAA!!!!”

 

mewithruben

One of these top lads is now a successful, positively shredded stripper. Chicas thirteen, chicas fourteen, chicas fiveteen, is easy. Even abuelas, very very MONSTER! The other is a failed scientist who at that point had only fucked a girl with his toe. (True story)

Bet you can’t guess which is which.

 

By this point, I didn’t even care about the tournament: I was in a real life vapourwave paradise surrounded by great people playing a great game in an atmosphere of pure bliss. Hawaii, like no other place on Earth, is in some kind of permanent Aloha dimension; it’s almost a living theme park. Not like Dubai, which feels like a very theocratic, slave labour-influenced interpretation of the Cars universe, or Dublin’s Temple Bar, which might as well have a big statue of a shrugging leprechaun with his pot of gold: those places are all about the money; Hawaii is the real deal: it’s like nowhere else. Hawaii is the prime habitat of happy, bumbling dads. Everywhere you look, there’s dads. Dads in hats. Grinning dads. Dads sat like dogs in cars. I love Hawaii.

 

boys

we now dem washed-up boiz

 

Sadly, eventually I had to play Pokémon. I got ready for the LCQ down by the pool, helped a fresh-faced young Alex Ogloza (then going by his porn star name, Evan Falco) by lending him my mum’s DS for some trades and eyed up the competition. Lots of big names, plenty of people to look out for. I had nothing but respect for every single person in the running and whilst feeling confident, assumed everyone else there was equally as strong as myself. I breezed into the final round before playing what is, to this day, the most controversial game in my Pokémon career.

 

justgonnasayit

you know what, i’m just gonna say it

 

I won’t go into detail but let’s just say I played  someone who’d been nothing but hyped on Smogon and elsewhere, who I genuinely believed to be a really good player. Accordingly, I played as though against a master, covering for the perfect moves that didn’t come. In hindsight, I should’ve seen it at the time, but it turned out I was in fact playing someone who was stood there stalling several minutes between turns (this was pre-timer) and who didn’t have the slightest idea how to play Pokémon and was, quite literally, clicking random buttons. In fact, the same buttons: this person’s team was (barring sash Abomasnow) made entirely of single-move choice Pokémon, meaning I was predicting my allegedly-strong opponent to make the good moves they didn’t even bring and had, in all seriousness, made myself lose entirely because I respected my opponent. As for why I didn’t notice at the time: firstly, I thought no way would that happen, this is an accomplished player. Secondly, because they were deliberately taking easily five minutes per turn, long enough for my match to be the first to start in the round and one of the last to finish, and long enough for me to forget what their last move was every turn. Whatever way you look at it, that’s unacceptable, and to this day I’m yet to play a more unpleasant opponent.

 

It was seven years ago now, so I’m over it, and in hindsight know it was a good thing since it shocked me out of being so naïve, but at the time I was 17, young, dumb and full of… salty tears so I didn’t take it very well. In fact, I took it horribly. I stomped down the seashore to the nearest Dairy Queen and drowned my sorrows in an extra-large Orange Julius, chugging it straight from the cup. Dad told me to stop being so dramatic, so I scowled at a beautiful horizon. Screw you, dad! You don’t understand the pain!, I thought smugly, glugging more liquidised-orange-Solero obesity. Since that’s what it basically is, right? Multipack of Soleros thrown in a blender? Speaking of pain… Jesus Christ. What is that? I clutched my pudgy stomach. Is this meant to be orange flavour, or Agent Orange flavour? Fucking hell, I’d never known anything like it. My stomach, more like My Lai. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I doubled over, experiencing an internal Apocalypse Now. Losing my sense of vision, my sight went black and I keeled over in pain, hitting the grass with a thud and curling into the foetal position with a thousand-yard stare. “Daniel, stop being a drama queen and get up”. No, thought the fallen soldier Lieutenant Dan, a casualty of an unjust war with a frozen fruit beverage on a faraway Pacific island, sobbing bitch tears by the side of a strip mall. “Get up, stop being a baby”. This is a tragedy. I’m a tragic hero: a brave Gwyneth Paltrow in a world short of vaginal steamers. “Stop being pathetic”. And suddenly I thought… yeah, actually. Yeah, I am being pathetic. What am I even doing? Fuck, I’m literally on a dream holiday, at the other side of the world, haven’t had to pay a penny and here I am crying in a heap on the ground because I lost at a kids’ game and had a bad Orange Julius. I need to get a damn grip. Suddenly everything became clear again and far from feeling upset, I got up from that sweaty grass patch feeling anew. This wasn’t a sad story: it was an origin story, and I wouldn’t let anything get me down. Nothing sad had happened that day, and I wouldn’t hear otherwise. Nothing at all. Well, apart from one thing: there was an actual tragedy that day; later on you should’ve seen my toilet.

Gwyneth-Paltrow

“Vaginal steaming works, damn it! Buy my stuff off Goop” *Coldplay in the background*

alternatively: literally teenage me except slightly better looking

 

Something had clicked inside my head: why am I so shy when I’m a genuinely decent and interesting person? Why do I place so much respect on people I haven’t even met? People who aren’t who others say they are? Why do I believe the hype? I just played someone who wasn’t the Pokémon Master I’d been told they were, who actually couldn’t even play the game. I’d just been shouted and bawled at by an allegedly-“nice guy” for something I hadn’t even done. People are hating on me for, admittedly awkwardly, pointing out an inconvenient truth, that really things weren’t as rosy as they seemed. But honestly, why should I even care what those people think? I sat up in my sunbed at the night-time showing of the Arceus film (splendidly-projected onto a canvas hung between two palm trees) and looked around. I couldn’t believe the sight.

 

pisstowels_edited-1.jpg

rare colorised photograph of the hilton waikoloa (2010)

 

A mop-haired pre-teen boy was stood at the side of the pool, flagrantly pissing down the side of his leg. The toilet was two yards away yet there he is, eyes fixed on Ash and Arceus, cock out in hand, taking a massive slash for all to see. I blink and shake my head, but he’s still there. I look to the right and see a very fat, very bald and very sweaty man in swimming goggles lying on his back. He sits up, inhales a bag of cheese Doritos, burps out Ulysses and then lies back down, patting his belly. Behind him there’s a giant chess set. Some kid tries to shove a bishop up his ass. I look to the left and what do I see but a small boy fucking the life out of a small marble statue of a pony. What the shit? He’s stood there, eyes glazed over, dead to the world but full on going at it. Whose child is this and what has he been watching? I think it can’t get any worse when I look back to piss kid to see him picking every single towel off the unattended sunbeds, draping them over himself and shuffling about in his pee puddle like some kind of piss Klansman before hiding underneath them all in a pile, still watching the movie. For once in my life, I’m lost for words, get up and go to bed defeated. Hail, the rise of the idiots.

 

After witnessing the beauty of Ray’s World Championship win, being part of the night-before-final Mission Control and generally having a wonderful time with wonderful people (Including the single greatest VGC moment of all time: Jesus Ninahaza throwing his arms in the air in disbelief at Ray dodging a rock slide, tumbling backwards off his chair onto the floor), though, it was all I could think about: why are so many people such fucking idiots? Perhaps, then, the worst place in the world for me to go next was exactly where I’d chosen: the great city of Los Angeles.

 

11-07-06_cow_ali

 

I went to Scientology headquarters. I drank a dark green Cowboys and Aliens-flavoured Big Gulp Slurpee. I discovered Minions for the first time. I thought: why is everything so stupid? You mean, all these cars have one person in them? All of them? What the fuck? Why does anyone even drive a car here? Why is everyone so angry all the time? Oh my god we’re at the subway stop for Compton dad can we get off I want to see the hood my boiz NWA came from. “No”? Why not? “It’s too dangerous for you”. Yeah whatever dad. Actually… fucking hell why is that man over there dressed as Neo from the Matrix, not holding the handrail and pretending to bullet-time as the train sets off? I laughed, thinking he was some funny dude, but he glared at me like I’d stuck my dick in his McFlurry. What. Ok dad let’s go and do something normal, let’s go and see a baseball game. So we did that, “The National Pastiiiime!”. Which, apparently, is shouting “Fuck you!” at little kids for supporting the Colorado Rockies, eating mystery meat hotdogs and throwing balloons around for 5 hours while nobody actually watches the (boring) game. I decided to take a break from the jingoistic ball game, and went to the toilet. I didn’t expect to find literal shit smeared all over the walls of Dodger Stadium’s bathroom, but that is what I found. I sighed, and had a wee.

 

(For what it’s worth, Gavin said it’s nowhere near as bad now and I believe him but honest to God that was my experience of Dodger Stadium in 2010)

 

On the bus back from the game, I couldn’t even smile. I just felt completely lost. That the bus doors at one point opened up to, for real, a full-on Jesus impersonator stood, silently, on top of a spotlight at a bus stop, arms in the air, then closed and drove off without a word from anyone on board, I think, says everything. Well, until an old black guy shouted “Y’all, wuz zat Jay-zuz? Ah thought ah wuz trippin’!”. I grinned then, actually. That was really funny. Maybe everything wasn’t so bad. So I decided to go to the beach the day after, and see the famous Santa Monica pier.

 

That, of course, brings us back to the fateful Tweety. See: that Tweety, in its bubblegum bug-eyed glory, had made me realise something. It made me realise: look at me. I’m an idiot too. I’m a big fat idiot and I can laugh at stupid people all I want, but I’m not better than them. In fact, I’m worse than them. I need to actually think about what I’m doing, actually build some logic and actually carry myself with some form of grace and principles. I need to stop just believing what other people tell me and instead believe in myself. I need to stop being a kid and take responsibility for my actions, then go and do something useful.

 

The latter part… that took a while to sink in properly. As for realising my potential as a Pokémon player, though… (you know, the important part)

 

That had just begun.

 

Catch you next time my lil Tweety lickers,

 

It’s 2011, real live nuns slowly fed me melons then I took Beheeyem into the World Finals,

 

-Zog

 

A Zog’s Purpose, Chapter One: 2009, the Origin of a Memer

 

A Zog’s Purpose, Chapter One: the Origin of a Memer

When you’re sixteen and apathetic, not a lot happens. It’s 2009, and Zog is in the bath, shooting a water gun at Bionicles.

Completely uninterested in school and socialising, I was probably what you’d call a “weird kid”. Though I didn’t really have any enemies, I had more lizards than friends, spent my school days making ballistic and/or bladed weapons out of dismantled stationery (which I would hide in my blazer and tie… lol) and, though never causing trouble, I pathologically refused to do anything I’d been told to do, even if it was in my own interests. For this reason, despite getting As in everything I was constantly in detention for not doing homework. My “revision schedule” consisted of fast-forwarding BBC Bitesize tapes to the end (So my dad thought I’d watched them) then loading up Halo 3 Matchmaking: a Cheeto-munching, unkept, beetles at the bedside Rebel Without a Cause.

All I was interested in at school was going home to my dog, my frog and my lizards and doing what I wanted to do. I skipped school to go to Germany on a shopping trip for exotic giant beetles, stayed up every night until 4am playing video games in bed and dropped behind on every leg of the school’s compulsory inter-house cross country race to walk and talk about first-generation 4chan memes with my friend, singlehandedly causing Porter House to lose.

harry-potter-mudkips

 (He incidentally went on to be the guy to introduce DS flashcarts to the English-speaking world and lose Nintendo millions upon millions. LOL)

Teachers either loved me or hated me. My biology teacher; a kind and hulking 65-year-old Kawasaki Ninja-riding naturalist; let me sleep in lessons all the way through A-level, saying I was “the best and most intuitive scientist he’d taught in 35 years”, and “the education system fails me”, so I took that as a license to be lazy. Because of this my chemistry teacher; a droll and monotone man; a grimacing man of bald head, sweat patches and novelty ties, a man from a Dilbert-inflected nightmare, couldn’t stand me. One day he caught me shirking off, discussing Palestinian children’s TV, and yelled in drone in front of the whole class: “Nolan! Being useless again! You’ll never amount to anything!”. I stood up, replied “At least I’ll never be a chemistry teacher”, walked out (in my mind like a badass, in reality more like a dumbass) and never went to another of his lessons again, ending up with a D but my pride intact. In retaliation he set my predicted grade to a U, in a deliberate effort to ruin my university application, because apparently it would’ve been a “waste of time” and I’d be “better off not going”. I will neither confirm nor deny allegations that I got around this by doing a literal Ferris Bueller and hacking into UCAS to change my predicted grades to all As in order to score an interview, banking on acing it into an unconditional offer and pulling it off, but as it stands I am Daniel Nolan, MSc, and the glove didn’t fit.

 

sunglasses kid copy.jpg

 

Thanks to a childhood full of (deliberately) “not fitting in” and stupid people trying to bully me for being different, I didn’t listen to anything negative or challenging anyone said about me. After a certain amount of “Ha ha! Nature boy!”s, you stop caring about the ignorant, and sometimes the kind. My (lovely) English teacher gave me her copy of The Catcher in the Rye and told me she thought I’d “get” it. I read it, loved it and got so scared she’d read my mind I told her I hated it. Stupid, stupid, funny but stupid. The problem is, if you act like that and get defensive, you become obsessed with being “different”, you lose the capacity to deal with real, constructive criticism, and that happened with me . I thought, I’m not a “normie”, the “normies” aren’t on my level, “normies” like football and reality TV, “normies” talk shallow chitchat, they’re unoriginal, they’re below me, therefore anything they want is something I don’t want. It’s the kind of logic that makes perfect sense if you’re 16: when you’re too young to see it’s a gateway drug to wrapping yourself in a blanket and frogposting.

 

comfypepe

 

So it probably comes as no surprise that, as a teenage geek with a love of animals and a severely misplaced sense of pride in being “different”, I was really into shiny hunting. I caught hundreds of shinies. If you could chain it with the Poké Radar, I had it in shiny. Everything I used had to be “legit”, “interesting”, and most importantly it had to be shiny. Didn’t care if it wasn’t as strong as it could be, only if that it was at least passable and shiny. I unironically used a terrible Rash-natured Shuckle in Smogon OU, because it was shiny. I even made it Rash on simulators, I was that proud of my stupid shiny Shuckle I’d caught whilst secretly playing on my brother’s GBA SP in bed at night. I thought I was an absolute pro at Pokémon, so when I saw an advertisement for the first UK Nationals in London (on a Bionicle forum!), I was immediately hyped for what I assumed would be an easy win.

But I was too scared to go on my own. So I started training one of my best friends, Andy (aka Shoe) in how to play competitive Pokémon, despite personifying the Dunning-Kruger effect. Along with some of my other best friends, including Kyle, Jack (The real source of the notorious 2012 toilet sign controversy), Will (Now Hearthstone pro “modernleper”) and Greg (Whose off-hand joke unintentionally caused an infamous UK VGC player to cry, walk away and quit the game) I’d met Andy through the CBBC show BAMZOOKi, which was about a creating robot animals named “zooks” and having them compete against each other. I (As “Sarracenia”) and Andy (As “THEMAGNIFICENTSHOE”) had a unique partnership in that game, he being the best engineer of zooks and me as the most famous at making them look good. Generally Andy would make a strong but homely zook and I’d turn it into a glowing red dragon, kinda like “Pimp My Zook”. He’d make a fast, tubular zook; I’d turn it into a one-eyed penis in a top hat and name it “AlphaKenny1”. I’d make a static block decorated with the “troll face”, he’d hack the zook kit so it broke the world records in everything. We topped all of the online leaderboards with both of those, and it was beautiful. I did the same thing with Greg when he was commissioned to build a house zook for the TV series, turning a black and white cylinder into a “Penguin with the eyes of Konata off Lucky Star” named Penguinchan. It ended up being disqualified from the show because it would’ve humiliated the poor kids competing.

 

(Sadly missing images of these ones due to Majhost being taken down by the FBI, apparently for hosting “pizza” [yikes], so here’s some others)

fire ant

Typical high-end zook design by some soppy Modest Mouse-loving melt

sarrastriker

One of my beauties (those stick legs span around like windmills. impressive)

Spyrokart

Andy put the rest of us to shame by reverse-engineering the whole program and manually coding in his own challenges with C++ (We were all 13/14 at the time)

 

Anyway, obviously, given the fact that Andy was over 9000 times more logical than me in the era of “over 9000” being relevant, he was considerably better than me within a month. I kept playing him and losing but in my opinion it didn’t count because my team was cooler and shiny. Despite practising extensively on NetBattle Supremacy (lol throwback), and losing a lot because my Gravity Rain Dusknoir, Exploding Gengar, Exploding Qwilfish and Aqua Tail Kabutops team was obviously shite. I didn’t learn a thing from testing, and never changed my line-up even slightly. Literally I would lose a game and think “Well that doesn’t count, because Metagross is my team’s weakness”. I was worse at adapting than a floppy disk with dementia. So that is what I brought to Nationals.

 

Floppy_disk_300_dpi.jpg

artist’s impression

 

I was very lucky in having a supportive dad who didn’t mind taking me to London, and a mildly-interested brother who’d packed a laughably bad team centred around Parasect, which I’d assured him was really good. Andy’s hail-room team was, in comparison, absolutely rock-solid. He coasted straight into the final and a paid trip to Worlds in San Diego, coming second after bringing Camerupt into the match because I told him it was “the play”. Yes, that happened even back then. Myself, I made an undeserved Top 16. My brother, he made a child cry. But none of that part was important, and it is well-documented in my video of questionable quality.

The Pokémon scene back in 2009 was, in complete honesty, a Chupa Chups convention. Everybody sucked, with no exceptions. It was a clueless, idyllic time; a competitive Garden of Eden, but with less women. (I kid, there were about 3). I will always remember UK Nationals 2009 not for the Pokémon, but for the fact it was when I first met one of my best friends and chose a direction my life was headed in. I’d been inspired: Andy strolled into a free trip to San Diego, where he came back with such fabled tales as trading his Aipom to “Pokémon Hitler”, meeting Marriland, fighting tough battles against Huy Ha, Mike Suleski and “pro Japanese guys”. Those, and a cool hat.

 

282px-Pokémon_Sunday_TIM

Guess which one?!?! Funny though, actually saw him on an ad in Tokyo the other year

 

Andy had walked into success so easily, and shown me up for an idiot. For the first time in my life, I noticed that actually, I wasn’t very good at something I’d considered myself great at: my shiny hunting, deep knowledge of Pokémon species, their origins, battle tower sets, it all meant nothing. I’d had this self-image of being a unique and special competitive Pokémon master and instantly it’d been shattered. Andy cheekily (and knowing full well the truth of it, the beautiful bastard) joked it was because he was a “main character” and I was “Pokémon Weevil Underwood”, the smarmy, bespactacled, unjustifiably cocky, cheating bug-lover from Yu-Gi-Oh, and oh my God. Fffffffff- he was right. I couldn’t get it out of my head: after all my arrogance and poking fun at people I thought were less intelligent or interesting than me, I’d noticed I’d been really stupid: I had honestly been Pokémon Weevil Underwood.

 

weevilmeweevil

FFFFFFFFFFFFFFF-

 

And with that, things began to change. “Not being Pokémon Weevil Underwood” became my #1 aim in life, and I set straight to it. Thanks, Andy. And thanks for the cool hat.

thanksandy

Next time’s a controversial one: conspiracies, pee-soaked blankets and daddies on the coast of Ula’Ula Island in 2010… and the fat kid gets w o k e

Tarah luv,

-Zog

What’s Wrong With Women in Pokémon? + Curing Toxicity in Gaming (Ft. Wojaks and Pepes)

It’s a tough time for the manosphere. SJWs are infiltrating our games! Meanwhile toxic masculinity is mansplaining an oppressive, cisheteronormative standard upon the playerbase and disempowering diversity. What is even going on?

 

Okay. Firstly, let’s just look at all this sexism controversy calmly and in more than 150 characters at a time. Actually, quite a lot more than 150 characters because, quite frankly, you could write entire books on this subject and still be nowhere close to having it all covered. It’s fiendishly complicated and an absolute semantic minefield, but it’s a topic people need to discuss. This is just a quick summary of a few important points. Anyway:

What’s the problem? It’s that people think there aren’t enough women playing competitive Pokémon, and that the ones who do are often treated badly by male peers. Let’s see how this stacks up.

 

According to recent studies, the majority of gamers are female. Crappy methodology and twisted interpretations aside (No, “the stereotype that female gamers are interested almost exclusively in casual smartphone titles” is not “tested by the data” when said data shows 44% of female gamers have never played on a console), it’s an undeniable fact that lots of women play games. Especially relevant is that lots of women love Pokémon. The majority of Pokémon GO players are female, even. Lots of women own 3DSes, and lots of those own the main series Pokémon games.

So surely you could expect a roughly 50/50 split between men and women in competitive Pokémon, right? And no differences in competitive achievement?

thinking-face

Wrong. Dead wrong. Aside from one genuinely hilarious and contentious exception (The story of which 100% affirms my love of this game and the legendary people I’ve met through it), no woman has ever top cut Worlds in VGC in the highest age division. (Juniors, interestingly, is totally different. Lots of girls playing and lots do well!). If you’re looking at CP rankings, the current global top 100 players are 97% male. 2016’s top 100 are again 98% male. 2015, 99%, 2014, 98% again. Female competitive players are, far from 50/50, firmly in the minority, for whatever reason.

The figures are pretty well-supported by anecdotal evidence. If you scope around the average VGC event, you’re probably looking at something like the first film I ever saw in an empty cinema.

Sausage

That is: dudes. it’s mostly dudes. Mostly dudes, and mostly dorky dudes.

Pokémon has a beautiful community full of the most wonderful people. But let’s be real: in a room full of the corporeal manifestations of Twitch chat posters, at least some of them are gonna be awkward fellas whose interaction with women amounts to “omg, a gril”. Some of these guys will be lonely and “tfw no gf”. Some of them will plainly be idiots: making cringeworthy menstruation “jokes” on a highly public TCG Facebook group. People who do these things are, unquestionably, displaying symptoms of a kind of toxic mindset.

Many would immediately point to the cause of this as being “misogyny” inherent in male-dominated communities; that gaming communities are full of men who hate and fear women, deliberately making it difficult for women to enter videogaming communities. That’s an antagonistic, simplistic assumption.

 

“OMG A GRIL”: the primal scream

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The truth is more complex, but one thing is certain: the people saying these things; the vocal minority, offputting as they may be, have no real power whatsoever. They are the spunk-encrusted tissues in society’s wastepaper basket. They are nothing. The guys typing offensive jibes into Twitch chat aren’t some unassailable menace: they’re a disorganised mess of archetypal 4chan posters, the self-described Wojaks and Pepes, who’ve retreated into video games, a fantasy world where they have some semblance of authority.

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(not my pic lol this is one of 4chan’s own)

The simple fact that these guys spend their time spamming “omg a gril” on Twitch chat should make it abundantly clear that these are aimless oafs desperate for attention and, most importantly, affirmation of their existence. “omg a gril”, sexist jokes, chan culture in general are a primal scream, but its participants aren’t unsalvageable: they’re toxic, but more than anything these nowhere men need help, direction and understanding.

In doing that these people need to be told that their divisive opinions aren’t worth shit. That divisive mentalities aren’t worth shit.

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There is no place in civilised society for divisive rhetoric and mindsets. People who deliberately sow discord and prejudice are literally the worst kinds of people and need to be held accountable for their ideas: they are ridiculous and need to be laughed at. Wilfully ignorant, divisive, “you-can’t-sit-with-us” mindsets (Hereafter referred to as “toxic” mindsets) need to be removed.

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I’m sure this is a point that everybody can agree with, but there’s an aspect that a lot of people forget: a community is only truly inclusive when there’s honesty and an open dialogue.

This is because toxic people can’t be cured by others: they cure themselves through realising accountability, responsibility and maturity, which can be spurred along if somebody makes them question themselves. If you avoid or shun toxic people, they surround themselves with other toxic people within the hobby and it becomes a problem. If healthy people leave or never enter the hobby due to toxic attitudes, the problem becomes further entrenched. The only way to actively combat toxic mindsets is if people stand up against anybody who’s being a dick.

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That means, if you hear some dumbass say “Ha, yes, I’m playing a girl. Free win!”, you call him out on it. You say, “I’m sorry, what did you just say?”. “I’m playing a girl, free win”. “Why would you say that?”. “Cause girls are weak?”. “You’re a moron and I hope you lose”. When this chump then goes and loses, you beat it into him remorselessly, every time you see him, you say “How does it feel being so crap at Pokémon you lost to a girl”, until he accepts responsibility, that there’s nothing wrong with losing to a girl and she’s a rightful Pokémon player just as much as if not moreso than he is. The second he accepts responsibility and apologises for saying that, all is forgiven and you go back to normal. Everybody’s happy. These are the easier cases to deal with.

Some people are truly toxic, and more difficult to handle. For example, when lonely weirdos try to “waifu” real life players (That is, to idolise and idealise them as objects of sexual fantasy) and make them uncomfortable, you call them out on it. You tell them, “These are real people with real lives. They’re normal people. Stop idolising women you don’t know. Who the hell do you think you are, Dante from the Devil May Cry Series?”.

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Granted, they’ll probably not appreciate the pithy literature reference and may respond with “fuck you”, either in a lilting cadence whilst sneering and shifting to one side, like a much less handsome Van Darkholme, or with impotent anger, like Dante from the Devil May Cry Series. At that point, there’s nothing more important for you to do than drill in the unacceptability of holding a toxic, unrequited idolisation of a real person. Make them own their behaviour. Make them individually accountable for their choices. Show them that objectifying someone isn’t something we should accept or tolerate. Whether or not they take responsibility for the incident in question, make them acknowledge that treating people, women or otherwise, as objects, is disrespectful and unpleasant. If they refuse to agree to that, that’s when you should open up the floodgates of ridicule.

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These people need to be told, firmly and fairly, that they need to knock it off, in a figurative as opposed to a literal sense. They are, in both senses of the word, wankers. They need to get out of that jabroni outfit and settle this in the ideological ring, and the objective truth always wins. Remember that when you argue with people who refuse to respect others, it isn’t just a petty squabble. You are literally defending the basis of civil society: the Golden Rule, “treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself”. Fight hard and fight mercilessly, because anyone who consciously disagrees with the Golden Rule is by definition evil. That is, almost literally, the definition of evil. Not even exaggerating: that’s plainly what it is. So you don’t let up on these people. Every time you see them, you make that sinner own those words until they repent. You tell them, “It apologizes for objectifying that lady or it gets the hose again”. You say, “Forsooth! How fare thee in thy quest for thine fair maiden? Doth thee have grabbed a couple of nudes, or doth thee wanna step when thee on the Henny?”. You don’t give them an inch until they apologise, but the second they do all should be forgiven, even if they call you “Reddit: the person”.

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I don’t even have an account!

Always be fair, always be courteous, and if somebody’s being a tosser, verbally cut them down with no remorse. That is, in short, a good way to deal with toxic people. Tough love, in a way. It’s (obviously) not for everybody, but it works. There’s a lot of fine lines to draw, a lot of case-by-case judgment involved, but that’s the way I do it.

Now… that’s enough about one kind of toxic mindset. There’s actually another kind, which receives a lot less attention.

 

 

 

WE’RE ALLLLL IN THIIIS TOGETHEEEER

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People forget that the Pokémon community exists because of something we all have in common: the hobby and love of playing Pokémon. So first of all, anyone who loves Pokémon is allowed to enter: that’s part of being inclusive.

People who choose a hobby choose it because they like it. Maybe they find it interesting, maybe their friends do it and they want to do things with friends, For many people (Including the Wojaks and the Pepes), hobbies and communities, including Pokémon, are a form of escapism from the rest of their lives, and that’s okay. You can disagree personally and think “that isn’t what I would do” but there’s always a reason why people choose to do what they do and whatever the reason is (Provided it isn’t harming anyone), you have to respect people’s choices. It’s irrational and hateful to question why people choose their hobbies.

So for that reason, I’m going to have to slaughter a sacred cow and ask:

 

WHY DOES ANYONE CARE HOW MANY WOMEN PLAY COMPETITIVE POKÉMON?

 

Different people like different things. People play competitive Pokémon because they want to play competitive Pokémon. So what if less women are interested? So long as all the women who genuinely want to play competitive Pokémon are playing competitive Pokémon, Who the fuck cares?!?

Loads of gay people like musicals, a lot of black guys play fighting games. Predominantly women enjoy knitting and it’s mostly old men who play boules. I’ve never seen a body-positivity hobbyist who wasn’t overweight.

Likewise, more men enjoy playing competitive video games.

Is any of this a problem? No!!! Because, I reiterate, who the fuck cares?!?

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The most insidious aspect of this mindset applied to Pokémon is that these guys are looking around events, they’re seeing that whilst there are plenty of Pokémon-loving women present, many aren’t particularly interested in competing, a lot of them are spectators or girlfriends of players who are their to cheer on their partners, and these nutcases (none of whom are actual competitive players) see a problem with people having fun in a way that isn’t competitive. So what if someone prefers the noncompetitive aspects of the game? Are you calling my girlfriend a patsy for enjoying Pokémon Amie more than battling? So long as they aren’t bashing anybody else’s love of the game, there’s nothing wrong with people playing how they want to. We’re all Pokémon fans; we should be united. Whoever you are, if you like Pokémon, we have something in common. Whilst this kind of logic has directly led to me becoming Facebook friends with murderers, robbers and convicted paedophiles, that’s surprisingly healthy. It’s enriching to know such a truly diverse range of people.

Nobody is being harmed (Well, apart from that guy’s mum lol); people are having fun. People are enjoying the hobbies they chose to do. Let people enjoy themselves and do what they want to do, you fun-hating soulless lunatics.

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It’s commentary like this, like the infamous “Woman Comes From Nowhere”, that not only draws attention to the fact that Zoe Lou is, gasp, “omg a gril”, but carries with it the implication that maybe women shouldn’t be playing competitive Pokémon. It takes away her achievement and marginalises her as a minority, some form of outlier. Fuck that. (Worth noting it was Jason Krell’s Kotaku editor who pushed that title, so don’t blame him, but the fact the article exists at all is a telling sign that people found it somehow “controversial” that a female player did well)

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Everyone who plays Pokémon is, above all, a person and a Pokémon player. Whether they’re male, female, gay, straight, trans, a shiny hunter, it doesn’t matter. You could wear jeans from Jacamo, like late season Simpsons, or enjoy spraying (your own) canned cream straight into your mouth. Maybe you keep spiders on your bedside table and your favourite James Bond is Roger Moore (same tbh). It doesn’t matter. Anybody can play Pokémon, and they can play Pokémon however they want to: the only requirement is that you want to do it. There’s no shame in admitting that different demographics of people can tend to enjoy different things; the important part is that you treat everyone equally. Acting like something is wrong, something needs to be said when someone in a minority achieves something is creating a problem where none exists.

You don’t achieve equality if you define people by the things they don’t choose. It is, effectively, accentuating the differences between people: it’s inherently negative, divisive and implacable. Identity politics, essentially the term for caring more about the groups somebody is related to than who they are as an individual, is pure, distilled toxicity.

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Thinking like this, being constantly preoccupied with whether or not somebody is a minority, how “oppressed” they are, how “against the odds” it is for them to “succeed”, is an utterly toxic, debilitating mindset. Valuing people, like objects, through a sick kind of oppression hierarchy. Somewhere, these wild-eyed vultures are circling the internet waiting for the first gay, bipolar Muslim transgender quadraplegic “PoC” Pokémon champion in a wheelchair so they can rake in those sweet, sweet ad revenue clicks. They don’t care about people’s rights; they care about clicks. It’s not being progressive: it’s a demeaning ideology peddled by soulless, greedy people. Promoting that outlook does, quite literally, have its roots as a consumer capitalistic sales technique intended to indoctrinate thick people into dissatisfaction and a search for constant novelty and spending, but that’s an issue for another day.

What’s important is, it’s a shallow, reductive, joyless way of seeing the world. Dogmatic and defeatist, the identity politician is more concerned with labels and conforming to a pre-defined set of parameters than they are actually doing anything. These are, ultimately, people with no individual identity or self-respect. They care more about other people’s opinions than their own. It’s easy to complain that the community is difficult to participate in if you’re more concerned with the ignorance of any small-minded idiots than you are doing a hobby you enjoy. Anybody with backbone would tell those people “I’m sorry but I don’t speak dickhead”, and get on with it.

These guys, the “SJWs” who take it too far and essentially live to be like LOOK AT ME GUYS, I’M A MORAL AND OPEN-MINDED PERSON but I can’t be bothered to do anything useful, the people who buy a red iPod because they think that counts as a good deed, the university LGBT society barring gay men from the board because they’re “already over-supported by mainstream society”, the militant vegans that have a go at people for eating meat but still happily eat egg waffles and Yorkshire puddings, the ones who fly to Colombia to take Instagram selfies with sighing jungle villagers and build a (shit) wall that the locals knock down when they’ve gone home, and these are all just people I personally know. These guys, like the Wojaks and Pepes, are pretty pathetic, weak-willed people. But again, more than anything, they just need some help: their problem is, aside from possibly just being a bit thick, that they lack self-esteem, and maybe don’t know it. They’re not bad people, but a lot of them do being good wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me here, there’s loads of social movements with good messages: that’s the point of democracy. It’s the (all-too-common) slacktivism-type shite that people need to look at more critically. Genuine altruism doesn’t involve changing your Facebook picture, and real feminists don’t complain about manspreading on the subway, they talk about how there’s still places where women can’t vote or drive. This stuff should be obvious, but apparently it’s sacrilege to point it out. It’s genuinely nuts.

Honestly, I could go on about this kind of thing for far too long. I’m no Marxist, but you can’t deny that Guy Debord was right when back in the ’60s he said the 21st century would see lived experience replaced by representation of experience. It takes power away from the people and distorts their narratives from what used to be stories of themselves into stories of their interaction with other people’s consumer products. Completely forgetting computers and the virtual (Which his work predates), he hit that one right on the head. Oh well. Shame the guy was a literal communist, cause he had a real point there. People just get more caught up in the idea of doing something; of what other people are doing, than actually doing things and being their own person. Carhartt are selling out of $300 overalls to 25-year-old metropolitan IT workers, for Christ’s sake. Because apparently people like to look like a manual labourer (at multiple times the cost of if they’d bought the proper gear), but they don’t want to actually be a manual labourer.

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That just about wraps up my brief summary on the two most prevalent toxic mindsets. It’s a complex subject that people don’t tend to think about, but I hope you enjoyed it.

 

In Conclusion:

Is there a problem? Are enough women playing competitive Pokémon?

Yes, there is a problem. It’s a problem that people feel any need to pressure women into playing competitively, as opposed to noncompetitively. In fact, it’s a problem that people do, for whatever reason, disparage anybody who plays noncompetitively as being some kind of weakling. You shouldn’t criticise people who are just playing to have fun: it’s their choice. The only time they should be criticised is if they’re playing competitive with a noncompetitive mindset and wish to improve their results.

Let people have fun, you morons.

Do female players experience sexism, and how do you eradicate it from the game?

Unfortunately, this is real life and fucking idiots do exist and can’t be fully eradicated. What you can do is verbally destroy them when they open their stupid mouths. They’re not evil, honestly. Just uh.. misinformed. So set them straight. Whilst female players might experience some sexism from the odd total moron, I think it’s healthy to see that as a challenge: keep winning and these guys will run away with their very small, very dusty tails between their legs. If it’s an authority figure, fortunately most of us live in a gender-equal society where there’s equal opportunity regulations and ombudsman and if an authority figure does something sexist, you can complain and the fucker will lose their job. Doesn’t apply if it’s the President, though. Sorry Americans. That said, we have a crap one too and she wasn’t even elected. Though she is very “strong and stable”.

How do you combat toxic mindsets in the game?

The biggest underlying issue with toxic mindsets is that they’re caused by low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. If you’re jealous, other-driven, have a lack of agency, you’ll never be successful with anything, let alone Pokémon. Fair enough if you genuinely try and you keep trying and keep getting shot down, but if you’d rather blame your lack of effort on other people, that’s one way to become a loser.

Everybody is capable of achieving something, and let’s be honest: anybody can succeed in life. Different people want different things, but you’re successful if you’re happy. People who criticise a “happy pig” out of some kind of holier-than-thou hard-on are honestly pretty laughable. Like, I enjoy a challenge (the entire reason why I wrote this mindbendingly difficult piece), so I mostly enjoy Pokémon when I’m winning competitively, but it’s wrong to hate on people who aren’t harming anybody.

 

Very obvious but often-forgotten, somewhat soppy moral of the story:

What I’m saying here is, at high risk of being scoffed at: the world would be a better place if everybody would just be nice to each other. “Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself”. Like, that’s basic stuff, but people forget it all the time. “Duh, obviously”. You say you’re nice to people, then you go and use Wide Guard Smeargle… oh no baby… what is you doing…

But it’s all too common to see people being nasty and ignorant. The amount of times I saw anybody who expressed disapproval of Hillary Clinton being equated to firstly Trump supporters and by extension nazis is honestly outrageous. I’ve been called a “white supremacist” for disagreeing when somebody (who, bafflingly, like me also has an MSc and yet still said something this dumb) accused me of, as an English/Irish white person, being responsible for US slavery and suggested I pay reparations. He wasn’t messing about. Just the other week a random old man in the street, unprompted, called me a “faggot” and told me “I hope you’re wearing those clothes for a dare”. Everywhere I go, I see poo left unflushed in the toilet, on the floor, on the walls. People genuinely seem to have been afflicted with the Twitter “hit and run” mentality, they’re too used to the old Trump-style WRONG and disappearing with zero accountability. They’re leaving poo and running and don’t even bother justifying their arguments any more. It’s the ideological equivalent of walking past someone in RuneScape and saying “noob”.

I can laugh about it because I’ve the bulletproof thick skin of a bolshy little knobhead, but honestly, what is wrong with people?

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In all seriousness, just don’t be like that, please. I implore you. I’m sick of seeing poo everywhere.

Please just think independently, live life critically, swear by the Socratic method. Actually listen to people instead of jumping to conclusions (bet some of you did at that title and preview, eh? yeah I did that on purpose). Say what you see and if you think I’m wrong, fucking tell me why. Do some reading, know your philosophy, know your politics. Don’t be afraid to get into deep conversations. Always listen, but defend your principles when you have to. Never hate on anybody who doesn’t hate on others. Live, laugh, love laughing at people who buy live, laugh, love signs. Be friendly, be open, be good to everybody you see.

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Soon as everybody does that we’ll have everlasting world peace. Everyone will be happy, the Israel/Palestine conflict will be resolved, Mexico will be free of drugs. Our toilets will be free of unflushed poo. But most importantly, competitive Pokémon will be free of toxic players.

Ha…

You’re probably better off if, unlike me, you don’t go ahead and call millions of people dumbasses like I did just then,

#sorrynotsorry

-Zog

The Sardonic Hipster’s Guide to Playing to Win (Repost)

Alright, luv? Whatever decisions you’ve made across the span of your lifetime, it’s all led you to here: the Sardonic Hipster’s Guide to Playing to Win: a concise opinion piece on what it means to “play to win” at Pokémon in 2015. Get ready for some harsh truths, special snowflakes. :^)

Live to win! ‘till you die!

If you’re playing to win, there is nothing more to it. You are playing to win: to knock out all four of your opponent’s Pokémon before they do yours. Nothing more, nothing less. And if you want the prizes, winning is the only thing that gets them.

When I’m physically playing Pokémon, winning is all that matters. Is that a healthy mentality? A lot of scrubs-I mean, people- would argue that it isn’t. But I say, yeah, why not? It’s a game, and it’s meant to be played properly. You can argue that playing Pokémon is about meeting people and hanging out with friends, but being honest I’d rather do that, and also win all of my games. Everyone plays their Swiss rounds, but if you win them, you’re coming back for more and getting loads of free stuff, so you might as well put the work in. If you want it hard enough, and you make a lucid, reasoned effort to be, you can and will be a winner.

So, how do you go about playing to win? The last piece I wrote was kind of about that, but in all honesty was mostly an excuse to crack some stupid Pokémon jokes. This time’s more about actually building a team and getting some results. The first place to start is with setting up the right attitude.

Obviously, you can’t win every time. Nobody’s perfect, and you’ll always have competition. What you can do is make yourself more likely to win than other people. There’s a lot to it, but here’s a few basic rules to start off with:

Rule 1: First, learn everything you can about the game.

Pokémon’s an information game. That means you have know all the basics, like your type charts and every common Pokémon’s base stats. Otherwise, you’re only handicapping yourself; losing a game to, say, not knowing Heliolisk’s base Speed is preventable and therefore entirely your fault. Learn how fast everything is and what moves Pokémon can carry. It’ll probably seem overwhelming at first, but play enough and you’ll get used to it. It’s not really that big of an investment once you get into the swing of things. Then, the most crucial step in becoming a high-level player is to know your damage calculations. The very top tier Pokémon players always know how much damage they should be doing. You might have to start out using a calculator, like Nugget Bridge’s lovely own, but if you get enough experience it’ll become easy to estimate damage. Once you know the game’s raw information, you can start getting into how to play with that information.

Rule 2: Be rational.

Are you here to win games, or are you here to go home with nothing? If you’re happy just playing games, that’s okay, do what you like. If you want to win them, then you have to be rational. That means if something isn’t working, accept that it isn’t working. Analyse everything and be sure of every decision you make. Be aware of cognitive biases (as beautifully described in Werford’s article) and be sure you’re playing to the highest level you can. For example, you might, say, sing the praises of Gravity Rain Kabutops, and cite many occasions in which it’s won you games. Fair enough. But be honest: if that’s happening, it isn’t because Gravity Rain Kabutops is good, it’s probably because you’re being vain and want to be known for being different. Which sure, people might talk about it for a few days. Good for you. Since Gravity Rain Kabutops is awful, you’re also not going to win, so I hope losing in Top Cut is worth it for you. Meanwhile, your sensible friend just uses something decent and earns a free trip to Worlds. You getting the gist this was something that happened? Yeah, I had to learn the hard way. When it comes to it, nobody cares about special snowflakes. I’m talking to you, Cryogonal, you snotty-nosed mug.

Rule 3: Be proactive instead of reactive.

Use things you made yourself, trust your own (reasoned) knowledge more than other people’s opinions, and generally be a Pokémon go-getter. “Hay you guiz what item should I use on my Talonflame” never won a tournament; get out and make some decisions, you baby. Think of it this way: if you can’t come up with your own Arcanine’s EV spread, nobody will ever love you. Being proactive also means using strategies that control the game. It’s all well and good packing Wide Guard Aegislash to protect against Charizard’s Heat Wave, but there’s nothing stopping it from just using Overheat and instantly ruining you. Likewise, it might seem like a cool idea to EV your Charizard to survive certain Rock Slides, but you still have to bear in mind Rock Slide will flinch you 30% of the time you survive it, meaning you’re better off just preventing any Rock Slides with, say, a partnered Ice Shard Mamoswine. It’s a typical example of a reactive play (EVing Charizard to survive) being a lesser option to the proactive play, which doesn’t give your opponent a shot at Charizard in the first place. Consciously give your opponent as little a chance as possible. You are Maggie, and they are the miners.

Rule 4: In a tournament, winning is all that matters.

Have I stressed this enough yet? The game doesn’t care what Pokémon you’re using, or if you’re being “fair”. That’s for scrubs, also known as losers. The game only cares about who KOs their opponent’s last Pokémon. So if you’re playing to win, the game’s opinion is the only one that matters. “At least I’m using something different“ – nobody cares. “I got haxed” – unless you’re James Green and went 4-1 to 0-1 after a consecutive 4 Ice Beams and 2 Draco Meteors missed on Brightpowder Garchomp, to this day the most sickening luck to afflict anyone in a VGC National tournament, nobody cares, and the bracket still didn’t care about that, because he lost the game. Play to maximise your odds of winning, and while there will be a minority of cases in which you couldn’t have done anything, learn to identify when you could’ve done better. Be the best you can, and don’t make excuses. Become a sassy Pokémon Spartan with a sweet cape, rippling abs, and a wonderful constipated grimace. It’s the cool thing to do.

Rule 5: Do whatever makes you most likely to win.

This is where things get more complicated. What I’m saying, is, whatever you’re using should be the absolute best, most optimal build you can manage. That means playing everything in your team to its best strengths, and having an answer to whatever you come up against. It might seem cool to run, say, Crunch Kangaskhan, but that’s never going to be the optimal move. For every game you win because you had Crunch, you’ll probably lose two to not having Sucker Punch. Likewise, prediction-based Pokémon like Bisharp, as well as anything with inaccurate moves, will do you in at some point and lose the game. Gimmicks never have won, and in all likelihood never will win, a tournament. You can make Top Cut, definitely, but what’s the point in making it that far if as soon as you get a bad matchup, it’s impossible to win? So don’t be “that guy” who brings a staple remover to a gunfight. You’ll only go 1-8 and ruin Mr Staple’s tiebreaker, his day, and consequently his life.

Rule 6: But don’t forget it’s all only for fun.

Some kids get their kicks shuffling on sticky floors, with a drink in one hand and a slack-jawed stranger in the other. Some people really like knitting, and baking cakes they don’t eat. Others enjoy sitting in a darkened room and typing out quotes from Bane from the newest Batman movie on the internet. Personally, I enjoy wrecking scrubs at video games. Whilst you could probably call my playstyle brutal and nihilistic, it’s also really enjoyable to me, and it works. Excluding one 3-3 at Worlds (editor’s note: and the most recent German Nationals), I’ve missed precisely two Top Cuts in 6 years of playing VGC, and had a great time at the tournaments I have cut. Is this the devious and Byronic dark side of Pokémon? Not really, it’s just game theory, which I happen to think is loads of fun.

“Playing to win” doesn’t make you a monster; an unholy fusion of Lance Armstrong, Don King and Beelzebub, a bicycled beast of twisted hair and gaping maw, clutching at stolen treasure and terrorising the innocent. That’s called poor sportsmanship, or Boris Johnson. Playing to win is looking at every match as a puzzle to be solved, and fighting as hard as you can to have the game say “win”. It’s not aggressive; to be honest, I actually find it pretty relaxing. Whilst your nan’s doing sudokus, I’ll get settled in, get t’ curtains drawn, snuggle up with a cuppa and practise some Pokémon. Then go to Nationals, wreck scrubs, and win a nice holiday. That’s the way to do it. I love this game, and VGC’s a nice hobby.

Anyway, that’s a basic summary of what I think it means to play to win. This year’s format, with its seemingly infinite amount of options, makes it easier than ever for that one weird team to get its lucky matchups all the way into a Top Cut, where it’ll get wrecked by somebody competent using something reliable. So, please, please, if not just for my sake, don’t go running in there with Ancient Power Air Balloon Heatran, or throwing Low Kicks into my Charizard, or spamming endgame Scarf Rock Slides and actually getting the triple flinch, or whatever. I’m fed up of having to put my losses down to best-of-one gimmicks and hax. So hey, think you’ve got what it takes? Play your best and see if you can beat me.

“GROWING the GAME”: What is eSports and is it right for Pokémon?

eSports. Sports with an E: it gets the nerds jumping. I’ve seen more posts about “growing the game” of Pokémon than I have for hot local girls in my area. People want Pokémon to be “eSports”, but nobody seems to know what exactly that means.

In fact, nobody really knows what “eSports” means. It’s a term looser than Tiger Woods, and aside from people taking it to mean large amounts of Dew-glugging probably men playing video games for money, it doesn’t have a proper definition. When people say they want to “grow the game” and be more “eSports”, they mean they want more money invested in VGC: they want more prizes, more advertising, more coverage. The key word is: more. But it’s… more complicated than that. More accurately, people want Pokémon’s competitive scene to look more like one of the traditional “eSports” games. So let’s look at what we have and compare it to some eSports examples: League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Hearthstone.

 

 

Pokémon VGC

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Model: £40 Retail Game

Strategic JRPG Series 1996-

Typical Major Tournament in 2016: Worlds: $46,500 prize pool distributed 1st-16th though all players get a (legitimately sweet) complimentary bag of limited edition merchandise, 106 players with invites earned through an extensive and costly CP system (average day 1 invitee paid ~£100 in entry fees alone and this has increased hugely for the 2017 season). Unlike the others, Pokémon has Junior and Senior divisions which split the budget.

How to Get Started: Raise at least one team of 6 Pokémon through Nature and IV-breeding/raising to lv100 and Hyper Training, EV-training and deciding on a competitive moveset. Playing effectively requires you know type matchups, the effects of hundreds of moves and the stats and types of at least most of the 802 Pokémon, and very little of this is explained ingame. Pokémon stats and move learn data and effect data are exclusively compiled on fan sites. Teams you make are only useful in PvP, whilst most of the game is PvM or collaborative. There are no balance patches. Competitive play is heavily-influenced by RNG with critical hits, misses, added effects, status rolls and speed ties all very relevant.

Pokémon is an extremely popular game series. It is, in fact, the origin of the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, so of course it is. I love Pokémon more than I love Yorkshire Puddings, and if you’re reading this, chances are you do too. Lots of people love Pokémon and lots of people want to “grow the game”. So let’s see where those people get inspiration: the burliest eSport, League of Legends.

 

 

League of Legends

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MOBA (Derived from DOTA, Warcraft 3 fan mod 2003-) 2009-

Model: Free-to-Play (Cosmetic character skins and faster character unlocks available for purchase)

Typical Major Tournament in 2016: Worlds: $6.7 million prize pool, 16 regionally-based teams of signed players who qualify through the continental LCS championships, which in turn has competitors chosen from the ingame Challenger ladder: top 3 Challenger teams at the end of a season play against the previous season’s bottom 3 LCS teams, and the winners join the continental LCS league.

How to Get Started: Free to download, 134 characters to choose from, a selection of which are free each week. Other can be unlocked either through purchase or currency earned through playing. Each character has a fixed moveset and more are added periodically, with regular balance changes. No uncontrollable RNG, limited to critical hits, the power and rate of which you control with item equips.

LoL is, essentially, a lesson in both free-to-play games and eSports done right. To me, it’s the Schindler’s List of gaming: I respect the background and quality of the work, but I have absolutely no interest in playing it. I don’t like MOBAs, don’t have enough time to play it and can’t even load up Overwatch without “Darling stop playing that stupid game! You have real girlfriend, loser, she need attention!” so LoL is a lost cause. It does, all things considered, resemble a 197-minute-black-and-white monument to “this is good and necessary but I’d rather do something else”. Unless you’re single, digitally dextrous (Less likely if you’re single…) and unemployed yet sloshing around in Scrooge McDaddy’s moneybags, I couldn’t recommend you try to go pro in League of Legends.

Being a spectator, however, is excellent: there’s a reason why more people watch League of Legends than play it. We’re talking about a video game that’s filled out the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden. Exceptionally high standards of play combined with the best in official streams (Riot are amazing at organising all this) and even a separate beginner’s stream for Worlds make LoL the benchmark in everything eSports. The downside is that players need to work extremely hard as a team to maintain their skill levels and by necessity are playing under contract with eSports organisations, so don’t actually see a lot of their prize money. Most importantly, however, the rewards are very top-heavy and contracts often exploitative so the teams that don’t come out on top often haemorrhage money and players can go unpaid- but more on this later.

 

 

Counter-Stike: Global Offensive

cs-go

Team FPS Series (Originally a fan mod of Half-Life) 1999-

Model: £11.99 Steam Download, though widely-pirated (Cosmetic weapon skins available for money/trade with other players, and some are worth lots of money)

Typical Major Tournament in 2016: DreamHack: $500,000 prize pool, minimum winnings $2,500, tournament between 8 teams of 5, 6 of which are invited teams of known, signed players, 2 through open qualification ($10pp open entry fee). Tournaments are all organised by eSports associations and aren’t run by Valve.

How to Get Started: Standard FPS setup: guns are unlocked per session through gameplay. You don’t “own” guns, only their cosmetic skins. Game is frequently balanced and updated. Minimal RNG, limited to the spread of inaccurate weapons, which aren’t really viable anyway.

CS:GO, which fortunately isn’t a shooting version of Pokémon Go (That’s called “Walking around East Oakland with Rina), is popular amongst people who like to wear tracksuits, squat, and fall off tall buildings. Young Russian men, spurned by their country’s brutal and unyielding flower-based mating rituals, instead turn to collecting expensive imaginary gun paint. After a mediocre launch, the game began to thrive after the introduction of these skin-based microtransactions and soon people became involved in a huge skin trading network. Before long, websites sprung up where, to boost viewership of matches, players could bet their own skins on matches against an online skin casino, widely promoted by streamers and YouTubers, “growing the game”. All was well and good. Until it wasn’t, when it was revealed that the whole time, videos of big wins were almost all made by the site owners, popular streamers had been paid to show simulated gambling and stay quiet and, basically, the entire thing was rigged and very very evil. Therefore, it turned out that most of the game’s growth was based around a scam designed to extract cash from viewers. This is an important lesson to learn.

Both of the games so far have been minimally-RNG-influenced with an exceptionally high skill ceiling. So, nothing like Pokémon. Where to look next? Hearthstone, of course!

 

 

Hearthstone

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Competitive CCG (Based on the Warcraft universe, 1994-, comparable mechanics to Magic: the Gathering, real life TCG) 2014-

Model: Free-to-Play (Card packs available for non-essential purchase but rotations/adventures are basically a ~£20/year pseudo-subscription fee to be competitive)

Typical Major Tournament in 2016: Worlds: $1m prize pool between 12 players who earn invites based on ingame Legend ladder ranking (Similar to Challenger in League of Legends) and placing in independent (but reporting to Blizzard) open tournaments. Hearthstone’s competitive scene began with independent tournaments which are still frequent and offer >$100,000 prize pools, but their qualification is usually invite-only and based on popularity.

How to Get Started: You begin with basic cards, earned through levelling up each class on the lower ladder. Some of these are good, but it takes time to unlock them all and in order to succeed competitively you need to spend money on at least the current adventure (£13.99/$20 each), since the weekly free packs and daily challenges don’t add up to enough to build a strong collection. Competitive play is heavily-influenced by RNG, even moreso than Pokémon in card draw and uncontrollable card effects, most controversially seen in Yogg-Saron which casts a large number of random spells and can easily turn games in either direction, yet is still seen in high level play (Explained very well here by my good friend Will).

Hearthstone is the closest eSport to Pokémon. Strategic, collectable and RNG-based. That said, compared to Pokémon, on a scale of d e e p to shallow, Pokémon is Evangelion Episode 26 and Hearthstone is Milo Yiannopoulos’ paddling pool, filled with a thin layer of tears.

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Once you’ve got your cards, you’ve got them, and if they change or phase out you get a refund on their crafting cost. Pokémon, meanwhile, you have to train them and each Pokémon can be trained in very different ways. Hearthstone’s only decisionmaking is in what to play and when; Pokémon’s is that and more. Pokémon you can prepare for bad matchups, Hearthstone (unless you’re in a tournament, where you usually bring 5 decks) you just have to pray you don’t get them. So whilst the ladder format is lame and annoying, and takes hours and hours to reach legend, the tournament format is much better and the multiple-deck idea is one that could possibly see use in VGC.

Otherwise, controversy is remarkably similar to that of Pokémon. One somewhat banterous coincidence was that the uproar surrounding Yoshi’s well-intentioned but horribly-crowdfunded Invitational (which has since switched to Geico) was that his proposed structure, in which he would be both organiser and player in an exclusive cash tournament, was very much like this car crash of a Hearthstone tournament, wherein the loved-by-casuals-hated-by-competitors streamer and known viewbotter P4wnyhof, whilst being both player and organiser, deliberately applied tiebreakers and rulings incorrectly so his own team squeaked into the top cut when they shouldn’t have, before being caught and disqualified. Hearthstone even had its own version of the Nugget Bridge Invitational’s infamous “five move Volcarona”, when a semifinalist brought two slightly different builds of the same six Pokémon to switch between according to matchup, and got caught out by viewers, which was equal parts clever, unsportsmanlike and hilarious.

volcarona

So What

The point I’m making is that the reason Pokémon isn’t an eSport is that it was never meant to be one. Whilst Pokémon has a bigger playerbase than any of these games, it was designed as a primarily single-player JRPG with multiplayer functions. The point was the collecting and trading, and sometimes battling with your mates, and to have it simple enough for anyone (i.e. children and grandmas) to play it. There was too much to learn with too few resources for most people to turn competitive, and raising a team was difficult and boring.

Those times are (arguably) over, with competitive being nursed by Game Freak and TPCi more than ever, and that’s wonderful. But the fact remains that the barrier for entry into competitive Pokémon is far too high. Not many take time to learn the specifics of 822 characters and hundreds of moves: when you step back and look at exactly how much information a Pokémon player has to memorise, it’s unsurprising that hardly anyone plays competitive. More importantly, however, is that when it’s on a screen, hardly anyone uninitiated has a clue what’s going on. Ask a parent or grandparent to watch a livestream and they’ll probably have no idea what is happening (Though this has improved drastically since Gen 4’s static sprites and lame animations). Ask a typical Pokémon player what’s happening, meanwhile, and they’ll probably say they don’t care because everyone uses legendaries and it’s unoriginal. Stupid and uninformed? Yes, very. But like it or not, Pokémon games’ core demographic isn’t competitive players: it’s anyone who plays Pokémon, and most of those people aren’t competitive. These people aren’t playing the same game we are: they think of Pokémon as a singleplayer RPG that kids can finish in which you make friends with Pokémon and raise them through the story, and legendaries are strong ’cause they’re rare. And they’re not entirely wrong: it’s just a different, more prevalent side of a huge fanbase. These are the people who are leaving YouTube comments, these are the people who watch shiny hunting, these are the people we need appeal to if we want to “grow the game”.

And if we want to “grow the game”, there needs to be some fundamental changes in how the game works. You might notice something in the games I’ve listed (and there’s many more the same): all of the others were designed from the ground-up to be competitive. Most importantly, the two biggest were derived from officially-annexed fan mods made to reduce barrier to entry and make their respective games more competitive.

Pokémon also has a competitive fan mod: it’s free and it’s called Pokémon Showdown. Nintendo have been sleeping on battle simulators for 15 years now and I’d call it criminal if I didn’t know better: it’s that they don’t know what to do with them. Unlike Blizzard and Valve who knew to find their biggest fans and absorb their ideas for massive profit, Nintendo is a century-old Japanese company run by old men who don’t have a clue how to adapt with the times. You know, the kind of company who thought Miitomo was a good idea. If we’re going to have VGC become eSports we’re going to need an official version of the game dedicated only to battling, with as little barrier to entry as possible and all of the mechanics actually explained, or we’ll keep being stuck with the same relatively small community, being hated on by the myopic and uncompetitive fanbase-at-large who, to reiterate, don’t look Pokémon in the same way a VGC player does. The “legendaries and hacking” debate (See also: dogs barking at fireworks) couldn’t happen in any other game, because the other games don’t have an uncompetitive fanbase.

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So for that reason, we’re not going to see huge changes until the game itself is more accessible, and the casuals understand that they’re watching a competition.

Please Do Not Feed the Daddies

Until then, the main thing to remember is that eSports, like many things, exists to make money. It’s no coincidence that it’s risen in the age of DLC, blind pre-orders and microtransactions. So for the sake of the rest of us, make sure you spend your money sensibly, because, honestly, just don’t be stupid, and whatever you throw money at sets a precedent. If somebody’s putting up a presumptive “$1000 for Sejun to play, yeah, get involved but only with your wallet” type of crowdfunding, please do us all a favour and don’t contribute, or it’ll be everywhere. It’s due this kind of complacency that I had to sell off my literal wall of bespoke reptile tanks to pay for Internationals, ’cause I’m poor and can’t afford this game any more. I got gentrified out by “cool hats”.

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Additionally, eSports is a new field, and has about as much regulation as a South London chicken shop. So players’ legal protection is about as powerful as the Pengest Munch kid… man? (He’s actually my age…). For this reason, none other than the infamous Martin Shkreli, someone who literally causes people to get bankrupted and killed by cat poo, got his mush in the scene, and promptly set about not even paying his players, and getting away with it. Quite ridiculously, the until-then respected organisation and anti-cheat software providers ESEA got caught hijacking users’ computers for bitcoin mining, which is practially a story from an Ancap Smiley meme. There’s even been cases of tournaments being set up that hadn’t actually been paid for, which is literally the minus-animal-people plot of the dreadful Matthew McConaughey-is-a-Simon-Cowell-koala-kill-me-now movie Sing and don’t ask why I’ve watched that. She… made me.

My point here is that eSports is rampant with exploitation and underhanded tactics used to to take your money. Companies know that they’re dealing with, in the most part, young and naive people who think they’re getting into a “dream job” of professional video gaming, so often waste no time in dealing them murderously bad contracts where players aren’t allowed to switch teams (a “noncompete clause”) and have to forfeit all winnings, sometimes to a company that then doesn’t pay out and disappears. Therefore, you should only consider signing up for a team if the contract is reasonable and the company is reputable.

On top of this, no Pokémon player needs a team quite like the other games, since our tournament entry is thankfully open and accessible. This is something we have a lot better than the other games.

And Finally, the Other Issue

VGC has some amazing players and stories. The recent push for “storylines”, however, has met with equal parts ire and agreement.

It’s a good sentiment, but it’s without a doubt that Monk has unintentionally sent out a clarion call for egotism in Pokémon. Amusingly, the example of content he uses is by someone widely-derided in the UK for, amongst other incidents, getting angry at losing round 1 of a PC and saying to his opponent “Do you know who I am?!” (Who by the way is one of the loveliest people in the world and did not know who he was), then demanding the TO give him special treatment because “My fans need content”. This kind of behaviour needs to be laughed at, not endorsed.

On top of that, though we may be in the era of “alternative facts”, there needs to be an effort to make sure storylines are, you know, actually true. I think the most relevant example of this at the moment is in the current “Player Profiles” for the Geico invitational. Most of them are great and show off top players and their stories. Enosh, Sejun, Markus and Alex are all excellent dudes and players I’ve had the pleasure of practising with. Aaron, for all his dopeyness, is a straight up genuine lad and top tier player. His biggest crime is having a geography teacher’s haircut, and possibly not giving Mohsyn “bcaralarm” Bharmalm enough credit for his famous 2013 Worlds team. But then again, Bharm was at the time a crazy kid with a completely irrational fear of people hiding tomatoes in his backpack (Long story) and I already know he’s going to swear at me when he next sees me (So long as his mum isn’t there), so who cares.

Of course, the one I take issue with is the entry for “The Epic Hero”, which has the credibility of a toilet stall penis drawing. I’ve known the guy for 6 years; I don’t have a problem with him personally, but this profile is full of BS. Some of the problems are just funny, like omitting the part where literally everyone, for several months, told him the 2013 team was bad and needed changing. His philosophy of there’s no such thing as losing to luck” is, again, a load of balls. I know that because I’m the one who taught him to play like that. It’s a training aid, not an actual truth. Of course you can lose to luck, it’s Pokémon.

The part I really don’t like is that part of this “storyline” is a blatant character assassination on someone who didn’t really do anything wrong. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that maybe Jon did what he did because he had a reason to. Plus, ironically, Wolfe is the biggest team-scouter of them all and this whole anti-scouting thing is a seething pile of hypocrisy. Nobody should care about scouting. It’s bound to happen over the course of a tournament: people play and people talk. How he has the gall to crusade against anyone when he had Jon’s team scouted at Worlds and has the biggest network of scouts in the game is frankly obscene because, again, Wolfe is the only person who really cares about scouting. Just as those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, perhaps don’t complain about scouting you if you’re the kind of person who goes on your friend’s DS pre-tournament to see their EV spreads then speed-creeps your own to beat them (This being a completely different occasion). At that point, claims of losing sleep over friends “double crossing” you by scouting come off as more comical than factual. If anything, the best narrative to take from this is of a plucky challenger who rose to the top to become the monster he thought he was fighting: a victim of his own hubris. Now that’s a storyline.

Oh well. But it needed saying. Fortunately I know Wolfe, he’s not really a bad guy, more lives in his own alternate universe, and he will learn from it eventually. Let’s just remember to stay sane about “growing the game”.

In Conclusion

 

  • Pokémon isn’t the same as established eSports, and if we want to compete we’ll need a purely competitive version of the game, e.g. an add-on Showdown mode (so it doesn’t conflict with full game sales).

 

  • We need to be careful that we’re actually “growing the game”, not just Scrooge McDaddy’s eSports moneybags.

 

  • Likewise, VGC has a wonderful and diverse selection of players, but peeps need to take care in promoting the right people, not egomaniacs who will ultimately make the community suck.

 

So let’s just keep having fun and see where it goes.

Enjoy your next pee,

-Zog

 

ZOG’S EARLY SEASON REVIEW (COOL HAT EDITION)

2016 IS GONE, and, like Mary Kate and Ashley’s Sweet 16 before it, it will not be remembered favourably. A 49 on Metacritic, best left forgotten in a dusty, stray pube-covered box under your sister’s bed. Forgotten and lain to waste, like Pogs and Harambe. Aside from the inevitably-mentioned rise of Brexit, Trump and John Oliver’s awful gurning mush, more importantly we were faced with the least interesting, most luck-influenced ruleset in the history of the game. With my crew from Walsall, a sheep and a beautiful, portly youth of Iranian heritage (who incidentally provided the original form of the eventual champion’s team on condition of receiving credit for it, which of course did not happen) I braved arson, bullets and an afro-hair-poo-and-allegedly-semen-clogged toilet (NOTHING TO DO WITH ME) in the Oakland “killzone” to make it to Worlds, only to go out on some Peruvian guy triple protecting me and consequently spend most of the remaining week dossing about the Marriott pretending I wasn’t deathly ill  (being heavy with glandular fever in the first place), made worse by getting soaked in San Francisco Bay whilst having Jake take a ridiculous photo of me on a dirty rock.

sanfran

A dose of murky Pacific ocean increased my already high salt concentration from yet again bringing the correct meta call for the top table, but getting matched exclusively with lower record people who happened to have brought my team’s previously-unpopular counters, which is basically story of my VGC life these days. I walked into Day 1 saying “I just need to not play M-Mawile Rayogre or Enosh’s team” and… guess what most of my matchups were. So 5-3 on an impeccably played counterteam, a literal play-by-play mirror except his Xerneas crit mine and then a game 3 triple protect (his only out) against such a horrible schedule is still a performance I’m happy with. Alas, I didn’t get make Day 2 and had to watch a thrown semifinal (second time this has happened!) and a controversial live-on-air fingerblast, then in true contradictory spirit, skipped the final to play Pokémon Go outside, a decision I don’t regret. Though it was pretty much a gigantic waste of time and money and superficially as disappointing as a vegan Christmas, I did have a good time in San Francisco. Maybe I’m a masochist, but it’s probably because the people are genuinely that pleasant to be around. Oh well. At least the game didn’t take long to improve.

GAMEFREAK PULL A SUN AND MOONY

solgaleomooning

I don’t know about you but when I was in school pulling a moony meant getting your bum out. I only ever mooned once, myself, aged 11, out of a hotel window in a game of truth or dare. In the same game one lad dared himself to stick a Haribo footballer up his bum and then eat it, which he then did. Then he did it again. And again. Before long he was full up and decided to simply credit card the rest of them through his buttcrack and put them back under the bed, like a Haribo Barry Bennell. In the morning we came back to our room to find another boy poking out arse-first from under the bed, stuffing his face with the tainted treats. “NO!! MITCHELL!!! STOP!!!” we shouted, attracting the headmaster’s attention. He confiscated the footballers, and I watched, horrified, as the teachers proceeded to eat the rest on the bus home. Tragic.

haribo-footballers_edited-1

On a less tangential note, 2016’s rules improved dramatically upon the release of Sun and Moon. The game became more balanced, and the matchup gimps were sleeping.

Generation 7 eventually hit UK shores on the 23rd of November, giving me an easy idea for my brother’s birthday present and 2 weeks to prepare for the only European tournament worth entering in the entire season. Yeah, great idea, having the 2017 season’s only high CP event happen before it’s even 2017.

So I rushed through Sun in the week after it came out, giving me 7 days to settle down with a cup of tea and a Marks and Spencer’s Triple Chocolate Cookie or 20 and practise on the Battle Spot, which I shambled to the top of like a fat man up a spiral staircase. Sweat dripping, arse chafing, Big Dog jumbo Hawaiian shirt clinging to my back I made it to #1 for an amount of time I can’t actually remember. In around 200 games it felt like I’d seen everything I was likely to see in London and packed up my smalls. The only time I’d lost in the days preceding London was to some idiot with an Aerodactyl who’d decided to repeatedly risk the speed tie with my Tapu Koko and happened to win all 4 of them in a row, Sky Drop picking me up first and dropping me last twice consecutively, when him losing any of those 50/50s resulted in a win for me. “That’s a 1/16 fluke”, I thought. “Hardly going to happen again tomorrow”.

LONDON BAWLING

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So I settled on using my own variants of Tapu Koko, Groundium Garchomp, Figy Muk, Celesteela, Ninetales and my intended Double Duck counter, Specs Raichu. I put Specs on because I wanted to be sure I’d OHKO Golduck with Discharge, from behind Lightningrod, a situation that I hadn’t actually ever come up against. I don’t really know why I prepared so hard for this matchup but it just goes to show what I know about most people: I played 3 Double Duck teams with Togedemaru in them. What.

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Eventually I made it to the Excel and after getting over my flashbacks of Baron Samedi and the obese naked man with socks in his mouth, breakfasted on a Poundland flapjack with a suspicious, slightly salty off-white crusty topping, in preparation for round 1. I played a Double Duck/Togedemaru dude named Decidueye, according to my notes. That’s all it says as his name. “Decidueye”. But he was very nice, and Italian, and I won 2-0 thanks to my stupid Specs Raichu actually coming in useful. A double order of Peking duck, please. My next game I don’t really remember but it was a Spanish guy and I overkill haxed the life out of him. I think I discharge double crit and then para full para’d his Celesteela, which Vs. Tapu Koko Raichu does nothing anyway. My only good luck of the tournament, there, and it was completely unnecessary. Round 3 is Blurrier than a very big house in the country, but I won 2-0.

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My first loss was completely unavoidable. Up until this point (200+ games on Battle Spot, >1900 rating and #1 spot) I hadn’t played a single Pheromosa, let alone with Tapu Lele next to it. Sounds silly now, but I genuinely hadn’t. I’d only been playing on the Battle Spot since Showdown was bugged and didn’t let you target with Tectonic Rage, which given my Garchomp set was obviously a problem. But I’d seen the synergy between them before and led Muk/Garchomp to force the Pheromosa into picking a target and dying to the other. Straight away Pheromosa Hi Jump Kicks and I find out the hard way that apparently, LO HJK KOs Muk in one hit, and to top it off his Lele has a scarf and KOs my Garchomp. Brilliant, but at least now I know. So Game 2 I decide to lead Tapu Koko Raichu to get the jump on his Pheromosa and win the game from there. An idea that would’ve been great had this guy not been using SLOW SCARF LELE deliberately EVed to underspeed Tapu Koko, a decision that most of the time is stupid and makes you lose but in this situation meant I’d managed to get best-of-1ed twice in the same set. So I ended up being 3-1 and determined not to lose again.

aerodactyl

Next round I played a strong Japanese player with a very questionable team. Aerodactyl Garchomp I can agree with, Wacan Berry Wide Guard Celesteela, not so much. Game 1 was very close, and ended Koko vs Koko, speedtie to win. Obviously, I lost the speedtie. Before I begin describing game 2, I will make a point that I’ve noticed a pattern when I play Pokémon. I know the odds on everything, so like to say them out loud. Apparently I jinx myself. As a typical example, I went out of a tournament last year to a certain loveable but badly-hatted sheep person when I was vs his red-HP Whimsicott and Mega Gengar. All I had to do was hit at least one of my icy winds, and I won. I said to Luke, “OK, you have a 1/400 chance to win otherwise it’s mine, good luck”, and now I really wish I hadn’t, because what did my icy wind do but go ahead and miss both Pokémon, a 1/400 probability, making me lose. Remember what I said about the guy deliberately speed tying my Tapu Koko the night before, and happening to win 4 speed ties in a row, all of which he needed? And me saying it wouldn’t happen again? What do you think happened here in game 2? Except this time Aerodactyl won a fifth speed tie to set up Tailwind, and I’m pretty sure the game ended on him winning a Garchomp speed tie. The moral of the story is I shouldn’t run max speed on anything and should just accept that I’m going to lose every speed tie, because apparently this game hates me. At risk of sounding like a salty killjoy, nothing irritates me more than unnecessary low-gain high risk that goes unpunished, and this was no exception. You might win the odd game like that but it doesn’t hold up over a whole tournament: that kind of play doesn’t keep winning. All you’ll do is go x-4 and spoil the chances of anyone you get lucky against. To be quite frank, deliberately and repeatedly going for low-odds plays devalues the game for everybody and makes you a loser, and I’m sick of playing people who belong in the Battle Tower.

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Anyway, round 5 started badly. 3-2 already, he’s Spanish and promptly informs me that until today he’s not even played the game yet, he’s only used Showdown. So I have no idea what this guy’ll be using: he’s on a broken simulator. Expletives. Which, incidentally were heard nearby when this Italian guy went absolutely ham and thumped the table so hard my bottle of Pepsi flew in the air and flopped over like one of them fainting goats. I couldn’t tell exactly what he was saying but my rudimentary Italian made out “cancer”, “die”, “your mother” and a general sense of “I need a therapist”. Apparently it was all over a single Waterfall flinch, but I digress. This set I had my win condition set up nicely, with my fast Muk at full health with Figy berry under Aurora Veil and ready to KO his Marowak and half-health Porygon 2. His only out is if he happens to have fast Marowak, he uses Flare Blitz, and he critical hits me. So I say “Well, it’s a 1/16, let’s roll the dice”. Predictably, it’s max speed Marowak, it uses Flare Blitz, it critical hits me. Now I’m 3-3 and out of cut and my only fiscally responsible shot at a Worlds invite. I’m left wondering why I even bother playing this stupid game. I’m good; I know I’m good. To be playing for this long and not be good would be an absolute joke. I have a positive record vs most of the last Worlds top cut, have trained and built with most of them. I have a shelf of 1st place trophies. I do great anytime other than the important tournaments, where every time I go out to something totally stupid that couldn’t reasonably have been helped. The odds are always so low, yet it always happens when it matters. Why do I even bother? I’m Pokémon Les Dennis, I’m finished.

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Fortunately, that question was answered very quickly by an overwhelmingly pleasant set with Stephen Tan, so relaxed we both forgot who’d won. Genuinely, game 3 finished and we couldn’t actually remember. But I knew my tiebreaker was absolutely horrible and I wasn’t getting any CP even with a 6-3 finish, so for that and being a lovely opponent I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I have about as much knowledge of the final rounds as I do of the whereabouts of Madeleine McCann, but ended up with 5-4, the worst I’ve ever done in a major tournament. I rode out this nadir in the most appropriate way possible: entering the next day’s side tournament and between rounds loitering against a wall in my Supreme trenchcoat and prescription aviators, toting a bag of Haribos and a cocked can of Monster: a card shop Withnail; someone you’d expect to see hiding outside a school playground with an unmarked van and a packet of Smarties.

WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS A MON

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Nobody’s had more Pokémon-related screwups than I have. I’ve lost paid Worlds to a misclick on a sealed game (the guy who won the trip even KNEW HE COULDN’T GO and I had to pay for mine), I’ve lost nationals top cut because I was sexting, because I forgot to put my moves in, and I’ve tripped over and unplugged the TO’s laptop at a PC, losing the tournament bracket. I’ve even been temporarily banned after a poorly-worded Smogon post about my friend taking the UK Nationals toilet sign made it look like it was me, leading to, ironically, only me and my other friend (the two who actually care about Pokémon) getting banned and me having to go to Italy only able to spectate. Obviously, those were all my fault and you can put them down to youth and poor discipline. I’ve learned from those occasions and done my best to improve. Which is why it sucks that excluding 2014, which was entirely my own horndog fault, and 2016, incidentally the format I hated, I haven’t had a single Nationals run since my 2011 Worlds top cut where the planets haven’t aligned and something stupid happened. 2012 I got Sand Veiled 4 times in the same game on 4 ice/dragon attacks, 2013 I got frozen on the first turn of the tournament and then lost when I missed Rock Slide on Kyriakou’s Volcarona twice in a row, 2015 UK I got fully paralysed 8 times out of 8 and then, thanks to my loveable idiot schoolfriend who hacked a level 50 Hydreigon, with 4/6 of my mons weak to rock got repaired against a mono-rock team that’d somehow made 4-2. 2015 Italy I walked in saying “All I need to do is not play Gardevoir-Amoonguss”. Who do I get round 1 but Lajos Woltersdorf, the world’s best Gardevoir-Amoonguss player and only non-Japanese person to cut Worlds that year, still only losing after my Salamence failed to roll the 90% KO on Gardevoir: goodbye Mence and Scrafty. x-2 was when my Kangaskhan lost the tie to a max speed Charizard which proceeded to crit out my specially defensive Shuca Heatran with Focus Blast. Typically unlucky. My third loss? Oh, that was to the tournament staff recording my match result incorrectly and a bug in the software meaning it took 2 rounds for it to show, so it couldn’t be changed. The only thing that went right that day was how after mistaking some cheese for my phone and putting it in my pocket instead (easy done right?), someone was good enough to hand it in and I managed to get it back safe.

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So that’s the story of why I keep playing, really. I want to beat my record, and win the World Championship. I know and love the game and I know I’m capable, but I’ve worse luck at Pokémon than Michael Barrymore has at pool parties. Resigned, I settled down to watch some top cut, wincing at the amount of people I’d beaten recently and what could’ve been (much like Worlds 2016) and generally pretending I’m not a bitter old crone.

I’m kidding (no I’m not), but I had a great time.

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WHAT WE GOT FROM THE EARLY SEASON

  • Maybe the most important lesson was that some top players can’t read or write properly. Yes, removing Pokémon from people’s teams for slightly incorrect teamsheets was a Draconian punishment but come on, it’s not hard. Markus I can understand; you just used the wrong Gastrodon. Edu and Jon, that was dumb. Pyjama Boy putting his timid Marowak in correctly and his timid Salamence as naive, that’s something else. But let’s put it this way: guys, never get a chequebook unless you’re writing them to me.
  • Spell things wrong, get a sanction. Screenpeek repeatedly and get caught, go for it and enjoy the sweet $5k. It’s a little bit ridiculous that this happened, but in my opinion if somebody is a known high-profile screenpeeker the judges should be keeping an eye on them at all times and actually handing out a punishment when they get caught. Nobody’s expecting a Spanish inquisition, but please, do something.
  • Most of us got a Cool Hat™ and a really sweet Raichu pin. I, unfortunately, had my Raichu pin stolen on the tube before I’d even got home, and am genuinely heartbroken about it. I’d still have a complete set of pins from 2013-on but no, somebody nicked it. If anybody knows how I can get another that would be greatly appreciated.
  • People will pay £40 entry fee even when it flagrantly isn’t worth it.
  • On a related note, this year’s tournament structure is a load of bollocks. I will write about this in more depth but as of this year tournaments are the hardest they’ve ever been, reward the lowest amount of points and invites they ever have done, and are the most expensive they have ever been. Whilst monetary prizing has increased by a huge amount- and that’s great- it doesn’t account for the entry cost, and it’s highly unlikely that another Internationals, excluding maybe North America, will hit the Prize kicker of 512. That means the prize payout is nowhere near what’s going in for entry fees. Additionally, and this is the biggest problem: a 500CP bar for Day 1 Worlds is crazy high. Let me illustrate: Last year you could earn a Worlds invite with CP to spare by making top 16 at any Nationals, of which Europe had 3. This year only the winner of Internationals gets enough CP for Day 1. The fact that European Internationals has been and gone within 3 weeks of the game coming out means that it’s now practically impossible to even reach day 1 if you didn’t get CP at London- and that’s a lot of people, since even some 6-3s didn’t get CP. After Leipzig this weekend, there are only 3 remaining European Regionals, and even if one person were to win all three that wouldn’t be enough CP for Day 1. Barring the “wallet warriors” who will pay the ~£1000 necessary to attend another Internationals (which is not even 10 people), few in Europe have a shot a Worlds now and therefore lack any real motive to play the rest of the season, so the circuit is essentially over already. That is a huge mistake.

AND MY NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION

My biggest problem with Pokémon is that I know it so inside-out that I don’t have a clue how newer players think about the game. I have such a bad habit of doing my best to break the metagame and come up with the most logically-perfect most-unlikely-to-lose plays and combinations that I’ve lost touch with how to look at the game in a fresh way, and as a result have ended up losing to “stupid” options like a lucky Focus Blast Charizard that I didn’t even consider the possibility of, because it’s entirely mathematically inferior to Hidden Power Ground.

So I thought – (actually it was Lin’s idea), I should get back into coaching newer players. I decided the best way to do it would be to set up a Patreon through which, if you’d be so kind, I can provide you with unparalleled one-to-one VGC coaching and training, as well as commissioned writing on anything Pokémon you want me to cover.

If you’re interested, here’s the link: https://www.patreon.com/Zoggykins

With luck I’ll be able to save up and afford to stay in the season!

Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you soon! Shoutout to anyone I met at London- you all made it worth doing. Trista, I hope you enjoyed that pee.

The Razz of a New Dawn

RAZZ UP

Here we are, boys and girls.

It’s the start of a new generation. We’ve got a fresh meta, fresh players. Exciting things are happening, and they need solid coverage.

In the past, I’d have written for Nugget Bridge. Unfortunately, however, NB’s past its golden era and now more closely resembles a nugget you’d find in a cat litter box.

We needed something new; something fresh; something juicy. And then it struck me: instead of writing for Nugget Bridge, or indeed anywhere else, why don’t I just have my own blog? Unfiltered, unmoderated, content straight for your perusal, baked right here on my mum’s front room floor, which is my house now. (long story lol. god.)

So it’s the Razz of a new dawn: fruity coverage of a fruity game, from the fruitiest possible man for the job.

Competitive Pokémon’s freshest blog is here, and it’s called the Razz.

Enjoy,

-Zog