Sorry guys, I have a big English paper due on Friday so I haven't been able to write any the last few days. I have, however, started on my own interview with questions you guys asked... Brendan's in it too! (It's basically a group Q/A. If you have any questions for Brendan, please PM them to me as well as questions you would like to ask me.) This one is really long, and is at 2,000+ words long already. I promise at least 3/4 articles this weekend, stay tuned!
Excellent, it'll be nice to learn about other players and their opinions. Of course, I've gone to 4 regionals and lost every one, so it's fun reading about you guys and trying not to feel sorry about myself... I've always enjoyed the cheerleader role anyways. I'm sure it'll be lots of fun to read all about everyone you interview.
2011 Regionals: Medal, 3DS, $300 travel allowance, invitation to compete at the National Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Biography and History
Although still relatively new to the competitive scene, Jenny “Solace” Berman is well known for her contributions as a moderator, tutor for Smogon's very own Battle 202 program, and for all the work she does writing analyses for VGC 2012. 2011 was Jenny's first year of competitive play, where she made an explosive finish by placing 2nd at the North East Regional Championships in the Seniors division, losing to Jonathan “Superpokemon67” Hiller in the finals. Their match can be viewed here. Having moved up from the Seniors division into the Masters division, this year is a transitional year for Jenny. She attended the Rhode Island Fall Regionals a few months ago, and finished with a solid record of 4-2. She is a creative player and competitors should be on the lookout should they face her in upcoming tournaments!
Fun Fact: Before Solace was known as a female trainer amongst her peers, she kept her gender a secret. Her gender soon came into question on an episode of Smogcast #11 when Smogoners questioned if she was really a guy. You can watch all 8 videos here.
Thanks for dropping by for an interview with VGC Spotlight Jenny. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the readers?
I’m Jenny, known here as Solace. I’m 16 and a sophomore in high school and I play Pokemon. I am a Moderator here on Smogon in the Global Battle Union forum and the forum for VGC analyses to help keep things running smoothly for all players. I also tutor for Battling 202.
How did you get introduced to VGC and competitive battling?
Well, a while back when I was like 12, I remember reading about VGS 2008 on the Pokemon site. My parents wouldn’t take me though and so I kind of gave up on the idea of real life Pokemon for a while. But I found a few competitive communities and got into singles for a while in 2009 around the time Platinum came out
In 2011 I had read the rules for VGC and thought it seemed fun. I read some people's posts and ended up practicing on Pokemon Online with some really awful team. Eventually after viewing the good players I was able to get a good team going. I also signed up for SPL and got picked up because I was friendly with people on the team. Even though I didn't do too well, with a finishing record of 2-2, I got to build teams with Smogon user mattj who had done well in years past, as well as play against players who really knew what they were doing. I guess I picked it up by copying what worked and then tweaking it to my own style
Wow, it seems like you flowed right into competitive play without much trouble! What is the VGC environment like for you now that you have aged up and have experienced both the Seniors and Masters division?
In Seniors, I found that all my matches before the finalist lounge at the Newark Regionals were pretty easy to be honest. My team was an auto-pilot kind of idea that I pretty much made the same moves without thinking much aside from making sure I didn’t mess up team preview. However once I got in the finalists lounge there were a ton of younger Smogoners there so it was definitely a lot harder afterwards. I know my top 8 match I ended up haxing my opponent Cypher and in real life hax is the worst ;_;. I I managed to finish 2nd and get money to attend Nationals, but unfortunately I couldn't attend Nationals that year due to other conflicts.. I feel like I would have done pretty well though had I gone since I had time to practice with a lot of new friends I made playing VGC.
Now, Masters is a TOTALLY different environment since everyone knows what they are doing. I think I did pretty well at the recent fall Regionals, coming back from some bad luck and an 0-2 record to finish with an overall record of 4-2. I definitely underestimated the competition and will (hopefully) be more prepared this coming April at Philadelphia.
Seeing as how you have participated at at Regionals along the East Coast, who are some players people should look out for from the East Coast?
In Masters, its definitely Charzaro who totally shocked everyone and won the regional. Human has always been a solid player. dtrain and TTS have been playing for a while and are really great. There's also muffinhead whose really shown that he's a top player this year. Oh, and obviously Bluecookies, 2 time world champion! There are probably so many people I’m forgetting. The East Coast is really good at Pokemon haha!
Cybertron and iss are great players in the Seniors division with Hitmonrocker who has qualified for Worlds and Nationals in years past. And of course, there is Babbytron who is unstoppable!!!
That’s quite a list! Now tell us what kind of teams did you use for (2011 & 2012)? What worked? What failed?
Well, at the 2011 Regional, I used a team that worked pretty well against Trick Room and Tailwind that were both common strategies, although it was unfortunately very Sucker Punch weak :X When I thought I was still going to Nationals I had built a team that worked well against other seniors I had played and used some not so standard things like Carracosta and Cobalion. For NPA (National Pokemon Association) I used a team with Sawk and other Pokemon that beat Terrakion and Amoonguss because those two Pokemon pretty much became the meta.
For the 2012 season I used an anti-weather team with Lickilicky which unfortunately didn’t work out so well because I only played 1 weather team but I also focused on using a team with a strong offense that would capitalize the lack of weather and used Focus Sash Chandelure to stop trick room or set it up if necessary, which was always one of my favorite 2011 sets. It was a pretty good team but I think I tried too hard to counter a meta that wasn’t there yet so it was definitely a learning experience
So tell me about your experience at Regionals (2011 & 2012)? What was it like meeting Smogoners within the East Coast?
Well in 2011 I didn’t really get to hang out that much since I was playing like the entire time but while on line I got to meet Human and Rukario who were really awesome. Then, during the break, I met a few Masters who had shown up early. It wasn’t as much fun since I had to leave early though.
In 2012 since the time was all messed up I got there early and got to hang out with a lot of people I had been friendly with on IRC for a while like Unreality, Tennisace, dtrain, Human, and Charzaro as well as a bunch of other people I’m forgetting, along with some new people I hadn’t really gotten to know very well beforehand but were great to hang out with.
Yeah, getting to meet people who share the same hobby is always great! Seeing as how Spring Regionals is only a couple months away, how have you been preparing for it What do you have to say about America changing their Regionals format?
I’ve been playing a lot on PO under probably one of a billion alts and playing on the GBU a lot too to keep up with both metagames. I’ve also been playing with my friends who are a great help and at this point I’ve just been joking around with teams but then keeping what works. I like to have a lot of options and I’m definitely deviating from the standard teams that are so common since there are so many under appreciated Pokemon.
I’m glad America changed their format for VGC. It helped me after losing two matches in the beginning to not be totally out of the tournament having spent so much time getting to Rhode Island and I think it gives people room for a mistake without ruining their chances entirely. A top cut would be a great addition in the future though!
I 100% agree about adding a top cut for future Regionals. It’s unfortunate for players who finish with a X-1 rating and miss out on prizes just because of their opponents win percentage. A top cut would definitely solve that. So, what do you do outside of Pokemon? And why are there so few girls who play Pokemon competitively?
Outside of Pokemon I play tennis and other games, I love watching Glee and also do some computer art and do schoolwork in order to make sure I get good grades for Indiana :D
I think overall Pokemon is deemed as a game for boys and competitive Pokemon and the internet just end up making the player-base even smaller although there are a lot of girls who play VGC!
Well, good luck at the upcoming Regionals! Do you have any closing words you would like to add?
HAWAII OR BUST
Everyone should go to a VGC if they can, its a great experience :D
"HAWAII OR BUST" This was what I said last year when moving to Hawaii xD, Great reads Cybertron and dtrain!! It's really cool of you guys to do these articles on your own spare time, keep up the good work :D
The Rise of the Zheng Dynasty I'm going to warn you right away this is a lot to read. I pretty much included every little detail from VGC for the past few years, so be cautioned as you read!
2008: Top 4 Regionals, Top 32 Worlds
2010: Top 4 Regionals, 17th Place Nationals
2011: 1st Place Regionals, 1st Place Nationals, 17th Place Worlds
2012: 2nd Place RI Regionals, 3rd Place PA Regionals
Brendan 2010: 4th Place Regionals, 26th Nationals
2011: 1st Place Regionals, 2nd Place Nationals, 3rd Place Worlds
2012: 1st Place RI Regionals (in both VGC and TCG), 1st Place PA Regionals
Aaron 2008 Qualifier: Invitation and trip for five days to compete at the World Championships in Orlando, Florida
2010 Regionals: DSi, $600, invitation to compete at Nationals
2011 Regionals: 3DS, medal, invitation and trip to compete at the National Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana
2011 Nationals: Medal, 3DS, Invitation and trip to Worlds in San Diego, California
2012 Regionals: Medal, $600, Round 1 & 2 Bye at Nationals
Brendan 2010 Regionals: DSi, $600, Invitation to compete at Nationals
2011 Regionals: 3DS, medal, invitation and trip to compete at the National Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana
2011 Nationals: Medal, 3DS, Invitation and trip to Worlds in San Diego, California
2011 Worlds: 3DS, various Worlds exclusive items
2012 Regional: Medal, trip to compete at the National Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana, Round 1 & 2 Bye at Nationals.
(Auto)Biography and History
I know, I know, it's probably really weird that I'm writing about myself for today's article, but why not? Anyway, Aaron "Cybertron" Zheng (that's me!) started playing VGC when it started in 2008, introduced to it by my good friend Dan/dtrain. I attended the Qualifiers at New York that summer, having already qualified for the TCG World Championships through a ranking invite (I received the very last ranking invite for TCG and barely made the cut off). I think my team used something that ended up just abusing Kingdra and Vaporeon with Surf and Water Absorb. I somehow managed to finish in the Top 4, losing to Mychael Bryan and got a free trip to Florida for the VGS World Championships. To be honest, I really wanted to play the TCG since it was my last year as a Junior and I felt that I had a lot of potential in it. However, after several emails with Pokemon, I was told I could only get the free trip for VGS, so I ended up choosing VGS since I really didn't like the idea of spending $1000+ out of my parents' pocket just for Pokemon. I used a team that had Typhlosion/Vaporeon at Worlds, and the strategy was to use Icy Wind/Protect T1, then spam Eruption. At Worlds, my round 1 opponent lead with Ludicolo and Jolteon and used Fake Out on my Typhlosion and Thunder on my Vaporeon. He managed to get a critical hit on my Vaporeon with Thunder without Rain, and I was eliminated because of that. The game didn't even take more than 5 minutes, and my first Worlds was run. I was pretty bitter, because I could have easily played the TCG (which eventual quarter finalist Dylan Bryan did, losing Round 1 of VGS and playing TCG) but, as a Junior, I didn't really argue against Pokemon's decision. Regardless, I learned a lot and had a ton of fun at my first world championship, and knew that I would take VGC a lot more seriously in the future years.
As VGC 2009 approached closer and closer, I decided I wanted to get my brother, Brendan "Babbytron" Zheng (who was 6 at the time) into playing as well. I built Paul "makiri" Hornak's winning Phoenix team for Regionals and was incredibly confident that I would do well, and I gave Brendan a Hail team that basically spammed Abomasnow/Froslass's Blizzard. Unfortunately, neither of us were chosen to compete and that was probably the most disappointing experience of VGC I've ever had, next to my 17th place finish at Nationals in 2010. I was honestly so sure I would do well, especially watching from the sidelines, seeing all these bad teams making it through round by round. I wanted to try again though, so I convinced my parents to take me to Nationals in St. Louis. Unfortunately, my flight was rained out the day before the tournament and I didn't even get a chance to compete. I ended my VGC 2009 season with an official record of 0-0.
I knew that VGC 2010 was finally my chance to shine and make my name a bit more known. I saw a team that a Japanese player named Misa was using and knew I wanted to use it for my Regionals. It consisted of Smeargle, Dialga, Kyogre, and Abomasnow. The strategy was to set up Trick Room with Dialga with Smeargle's help, and hammer the opponent with Kyogre's Water Spout and Abomasnow's Blizzard. I built the team on my game, and ended up winning the Smogon VGC 2010 Wi-Fi tournament, beating Expert Evan in the finals. I knew it was an incredible team with a lot of potential. I tested it mainly against friends and though battles on Wi-Fi, and never even knew PO existed. At Regionals, I finished out of 4th out of 768 competitors in the Seniors division, which back then consisted of anyone who was 12 or older. I barely made the cut off by a few months, and was pretty much the youngest competitor in the whole tournament. After a grueling eight rounds, I was defeated by Smogon member aamato, who used Paul's TopOgre team against me. The battle was going great for me and I had a lot of momentum, especially when my Kyogre got a critical hit on his Kyogre while Trick Room was up. I was almost sure I had the battle won, but the turn after, his Abomasnow returned with a critical hit on my Kyogre. In the end, it was my Abomasnow against his Kyogre, locked into Thunder, and Palkia. I decided to use Blizzard while the rain was up because I got overconfident (Had I used Ice Shard on the Palkia, I probably would have won) and Blizzard missed both of his Pokemon, and I was eliminated. It was still a really great run though, and 4th out of 768 people is a pretty cool thing to brag about, especially when most of the other competitors are twice your age. I gave my brother an Abomasnow/Mewtwo team, which was designed to spam Blizzard, with Kyogre and Hitmontop in the back. He managed to finish 3rd out of around 400 Juniors, having lost to the eventual winner because he misplayed horribly in his game. It was a really incredible experience, finishing 3rd and 4th at the largest Regional in America, and I was really pumped for Nationals. Brendan's performance surprised me to be honest, considering I gave him the team 10 days before the tournament and he barely knew how to do anything.
Nationals 2010 was such an incredible, but bittersweet, experience for me. Having won a combined total of $1200 from Regionals, plus around $150 more from selling one of the DSi's we won, we flew to Indianapolis and found a nice hotel just a mile away all for around $1000. I decided that I would use the same team and Brendan should stick with his team too, considering there were only two weeks between our Regionals (the last one) and Nationals. I felt that my team was good enough to beat TopOgre, which was the most common team that time, and that Brendan's was simple enough for a Juniors metagame. I managed to meet a lot of Smogon users the day before the competition, and to be honestly, it was quite overwhelming. Since there were only two other kids at Nationals 2010 even around my age (JRank and David Arnold), it was a bit uncomfortable at first, being in a room with around 20 adults, especially considering I barely knew anyone else in there. It got a lot better, and I didn't talk too much to many people, but it was really nice to finally meet so many renowned Pokemon players in real life. The competition itself honestly sucked though. I started off 4-0, winning against dtrain and Kongler early on, and knew that I only needed to win 1 more game to qualify for Worlds. I then lost against BadIntent, who had an exact counter team to mine (that had Blissey: I had no physical sweepers). I played eventual National Champion Wesley Morioka in the 6th round, and lost because I forgot about Raquaza's Air Lock and used Blizzard... of course, it didn't hit Raquaza. And in the last round, Smogon member TTS (also the 2010 Newark Seniors Champion) crushed me with Encore Infernape and Substitute Palkia. I finished with a 4-3 record, but I was pretty hopeful that I would make it into maybe as the 15th/16th seed... I finished 17th, just 1 short of a Worlds invite. Although I would have lost against BadIntent if I was seeded 16th, it was still pretty disappointing and to be honest, I was really disappointed. Brendan finished 3-3, and somehow beat both Grace Arnold and another eventual Worlds qualifier in the 1st two matches. He lost to someone who was then DQed in the 6th round, and lost any chance of winning a Worlds Invitation. It was our fault for not asking for a hack check, and it was really disappointing. I think that we didn't do as well in VGC 2010 because neither of us knew how to predict/play with our teams too well, unlike VGC 2011. Although we had to watch Worlds from the sidelines, it was an incredible experience and I knew I was ready for VGC 2011.
VGC 2011 was an incredible year for both of us. Now we're up to this year - 2011. (PS: A lot of this is just repeating what I said in my Regionals/Nationals warstory!) I started practicing under the VGC rules way later than everyone else, maybe only a month before tournaments started throughout America. I ended up using a Tailwind team, which consisted of Tornadus, Terrakion, Chandelure, Jellicent, Amoonguss, and Thundurus at Regionals, Nationals, and Worlds. My brother had a very similar team, which basically had the same Pokemon. After we both finished 1st at the Washington DC Regionals, I saw that we both stood a solid chance this year - we were finally making a name for ourselves! Nationals at Indianapolis was a huge success for both of us. My brother finished 2nd, losing only to Henry/Snake, one of the coolest Juniors and a very strong trainer. I managed to win the whole tournament, beating many friends and good opponents along the way. The whole thought of representing the USA at the World Championships is pretty cool, and I was glad to just make it back after a disappointing year in 2008. Worlds was honestly pretty depressing for me though. After missing Rock Slide after Rock Slide against 2010 World Champion Shota Y. and misclicking when I had a clear victory in round 3, I pretty much gave up and finished the tournament 2-3. Brendan managed to go through day 1 undefeated, but his sweep fell short when he lost against US player Ian Mclaughlin in a tight 3 games. Overall, he finished 3rd and I finished 17th. To be honest, Brendan did a lot better than I thought he would do, and I did a lot worse than I thought I would. I guess my mindset last year was that it was just for fun since I had one more year in Seniors, but my true goal this year is to win the World Championships. Only time will tell if I can accomplish that goal or not.
2012 started off incredible for both of us. Brendan swept the RI Regionals, winning both TCG and VGC undefeated and already won us 2 trips to Nationals along with a $600 travel allowance. I fell short of winning just by one game, and finished 2nd overall, winning a $600 travel allowance for myself along with byes for Nationals. We will also be attending the Philly Regionals.... so watch out!
Q&A / Interview
How did you guys get into playing Pokemon? What about VGC? What made you stay?
Aaron: Well, Smogon member dtrain introduced the VGS tournament to me in 2008, and at that point, I already had my invitation to the TCG World Championships. I decided to give it a go, and managed to win a trip to Florida in my first tournament ever. Even though I lost round 1 at Worlds that year, I fell in love with the video game and doubles in general, and stuck with it every since. It's funny to note that I actually got banned from Smogon right during the time of the '08 VGS since I was underage then. As for why I stayed, why wouldn't I? VGC has been one of the most influential and incredible parts of my life. The chance to win DS's, money, and trips around the country from playing is pretty sweet but getting to meet people who share a common interest with you is the best part. Before 2011, I was somewhat known in the community but I was still young and not that experienced to be honest. I think I really learned a lot last year, and made so many friends on Smogon and VGC. The competing is just one small aspect of the whole experience, IMO.
Brendan: Aaron told me to start playing, and when I did, I was like "holy crap this is so fun." Aaron told me that for VGC, "just use my team and hopefully get prizes!" What made me stay? Well, I liked the idea of playing Pokemon competitively and I just liked it in general.
What do you think it takes to win at Pokémon?
Aaron: Hm, really good question. I think it takes a lot to actually be good at competitive Pokemon, especially at VGC. The first thing that you need is team building. You needa good team to win at a tournament. You also need to know how to play with your team, and be able to beat any other team with your team. The way I think about it, if my team has a really big weakness to a certain move/Pokemon/type, I get a lot less confident with it. A good team IMO is a team that won't lose to anything but bad playing or hax. However, the team itself is only half of it. The player obviously needs to be good too. I think experience is one of the key qualities to some of our best players today. Doubles is a pretty tricky metagames, and with that comes intense prediction. Do you Protect, knowing they'll double target your Pokemon? Or do you just attack, expecting them to target your other Pokemon, thinking you'll Protect? You need prediction to be a good player, and I don't think it's very complicated in doubles. The worst is when you think you've made an incredible prediction but it fails terribly because your opponent does something completely different. Finally, I think knowing how to switch is a really underrated quality in VGC. Most players think that the fast-paced metagames in VGC make it really hard to switch, but if your team is built properly, there are often times where you can easily make a switch and gain momentum of the game. This is so much easier in VGC 2012 with so many Pokemon: Let's say you have a Garchomp out vs an Abomasnow and Glaceon. You can easily switch into a, say Volcarona or Chandelure, and KO both next turn with Heat Wave. It's those small key switches that distinguish the best players in this metagame IMO.
I also think you need to be confident to be one of the best players. I try to go into the mindset of every tournament saying "I'm here to win. Nothing less." However, you should note that there's a difference between cockiness and just confidence. I try not to be cocky, because even though I feel that I am a quality Seniors player, there is still a lot of competition out there. In the end though, I think at least for me, I'm good because of a few reasons: experience, knowledge, prediction skills, and good teams.
Brendan: You have to try hard, get a good team, and practice a lot with different people. And also, you should go on forums to read more information and get to know everyone better.
Was it intimidating to meet people you only knew online in real life?
Aaron: I actually don't think I was very intimidated to meet most Smogoners. They are actually so friendly and chill in real life, and to be honest I haven't even met one Smogoner IRL that I don't like. People like Synre and makiri might be intimidating to some because they hold such high authority on Smogon, but I've met both in real life and they are some of the coolest guys I have ever had the pleasure to talk to. The age difference might have been a bit uncomfortable last year since I was like 10 years younger than almost everyone competing, but I still think I managed to fit in with most of the people. I think the best part about Pokemon and VGC especially is that despite our different languages, cultures, ages, and environments, we can all come together to do the one thing we love, and that's play Pokemon! (so cheesy)
I'm assuming that you were the one who got your brother, Brendan, into competitive battling. Did you find it easy to teach him or was it difficult to explain things like IVs and EVs to a new player? When Brendan attended his first regional were you confident in his abilities or were you worried that he would lose early on due to his inexperience? Lastly, did you feel any jealousy of your brother's perfect record during the fall Regionals, or were you just happy that he had done so well?
Aaron: Great question. I did introduce him to competitive battling back in 2009 because I thought even though he didn't know too much about doubles, he could still get into it. He had already played Pokemon before so he knew how everything worked, like how to attack and stuff. As he grew older (looking at 2010), he questioned why the teams I built him were so strong. I think he now knows what EV's/IV's are, and how they work, but I still build the teams for him because it's a lot easier that way. Before, when he was 7, it was hard to explain but he's become a really good player now and I think he learned their concepts from me fairly quickly. In 2010, he used an Abomasnow/Mewtwo team to spam Blizzard. It was fairly simple, and I really hoped that he would do well but didn't really have any expectations. He destroyed the competition at Newark though, only losing to the eventual winner and was two years younger than everyone else. It really surprised me, and to be honest I didn't think he would make it very far.
I'm not jealous when my brother does better than me. To be honest, whenever he does well, I feel like I have succeeded too. I wish I could have trained him a bit better for the World Championships last year because he was so close to winning it all, but I was too depressed about my own finish to bother coaching him the night before the final matches. He continues to surprise me as he sweeps through all the tournaments. At Regionals, I was incredibly surprised by the fact he won the TCG tournament. I think we are both quality TCG players with several years of experience under our belt, but in Juniors at RI there were several world-level competitors and Brendan rose above all of them. His perfect record was the first one in the world, and I'm so proud of him for accomplishing that. As long as he does well, I'm happy. Once I become a Master next year, I can't really focus on Pokemon as much as school, and eventually, getting into college. (Here's looking at you, Harvard). I'll still be playing, but any success that Brendan has will be a personal success for me. To everyone thinks he's better than me, I beat him in our games all the time!
What have you done/been doing to prepare for VGC 2012? How do you approach team building when the metagame is so wide open?
Aaron: To be honest, I've only made three actual teams for VGC 2012. The first two are the ones me and Brendan used at Regionals. I knew I wanted to use my 2009 team with Glaceon, Infernape, Abomasnow, and Slowking. I found that Jellicent and Gallade soon fit perfectly and gave me good type coverages. Brendan use a standard rain team with my great friend JRank's help. I also have built a bunch of "standard" Goodstuff teams with stuff like Garchomp, Zapdos, and Cresselia. When I want to test a certain Pokemon/moveset, I actually just slap it onto the Goodstuff team and see how it works with other standard Pokemon. I don't know what my future teams will be like, but generally, when I make my teams, I need to make sure it can beat the most common threats as well as defeat weather without any problem. With the whole "slapping it onto a Goodstuff team" idea, I then change the Pokemon around on the Goodstuff team to my liking.
Brendan: Aaron built my team, and I've been practicing on random matchup on the GBU quite often.
What was the stigma of 17th place at Nationals in 2010 like?
Aaron: I'll be honest to you, it sucked. It sucked a whole lot. I was running so well, going 4-0. I guess a combination of cockiness, bad luck, and incredible opponents (All of the last 3 opponents I faced qualified for Worlds) made it really hard for me. There was no way I could have won my 5th and 7th round though, BadIntent and TTS has too good of a team and were in generally just a better player than me. I had a chance against Wesley, but when Blizzard missed Raquaza, I knew it was over. I spent the next couple of months regretting how I did poorly, and I'm just glad something like that didn't happen at Nationals in 2011, especially since it looked like it was headed towards the exact same direction. (from 3-0 to 3-2)
Talk about the Seniors division in general. You're one of the few Seniors who have played against both Masters and Seniors, and you've done well against both fields of competition. What's it like? Also, tell me your thought process for creating a team for Seniors, is it different from Masters?
Aaron: Seniors is an interesting division of competitors. In my opinion, there are a good amount of quality Seniors players out there but after that amount, there aren't many other good Seniors. Last year, we had players like Unreality and Human who are now Masters. This year, we have the Arnold family, kingofkongs, V17, Maski, TheCalmSnivy, and JRank. I really like playing in the Seniors division (not just because I do well in it!) but because I get to meet and compete with kids my age. 2010 was a bit awkward for me at first because at Regionals and Nationals almost everyone was older than 20. Nationals was incredible for me last year since I got to hang out with my own group of friends. Worlds was even better, mixing the two groups together. As for competition, there is definitely a line between Seniors and Masters. I think there are only a few Seniors in the game right now that will be able to handle the Masters Division next year. Masters is tough; everyone knows what they're doing. You have to think a lot more out the box and predict really well. With Seniors, a lot of the times, it's just "dish out as much damage as possible and win." This is different once you get to the last few rounds of Nationals: Those Seniors are the ones good enough to do well in Masters. I'm happy that I have one last year in Seniors, but I like playing in both environments. Being able to do well against a group that is double your age is a pretty impressive thing to brag about, IMO.
I don't think I build my teams any differently because I am in Seniors. I guess they might be a bit more "standard," not running gimmicky moves and such. My teams from the past few years have been just brute offense, looking at last year the most. I test my teams on PO most of the time now, and since the majority of players are actually Masters, I play under a different mindset. Team is still the same, but I have to shift my gears a bit.
Metagame Changes - Thoughts About It (VGC 2009-2012)How do you think the meta, general preparation, and structure of the VGC has changed over the years and what's your opinion on it? Obviously they had different rules, but in their respective rule sets.
Aaron: I honestly don't remember too much about 2009, especially since I never got to actually compete, but I liked the amount of creativity in it. It was a bit more limited than VGC 2012, which I like, but still had so many Pokemon to use so it was never too stale. 2010 was probably my favorite metagame, and I wish I used more teams than just the 1 Trick Room "Misa Room" team I built, but my poor run at Nationals restricted that. 2011 was the one I did the best in, but it was also the most boring. You needed Terrakion to win. Ray, Wolfe, David Arnold and TTS/dtrain had interesting teams but everything else was pretty standard and boring to play against. Hax decided almost game for me when I was playing the best players. VGC 2012 is an interesting metagame, for some reason, I personally hate it. Even though there are so many Pokemon, I haven't found a use for more than half of them so far and the metagame has become pretty centralized already. I'm not a big fan of it so far, and I can already tell it's going to be a pain in the butt to make new teams for Regionals, Nationals, and hopefully Worlds.
As for things like structure, Pokemon's done a great job moving forward and listening to people. No one liked the lottery system. They got rid of that. They made a Seniors division for people like me. They've made European trips to Worlds for the Top 4 this year. I really miss the old way our Regionals was done, with TV's and Nick though. This year was honestly pretty boring and it wasn't very fun for me. With the old environment, it was so much more exciting. One of my favorite parts about VGC is getting to play on a TV; I love getting to show off my skills to everyone. The applause, the groans of hax, the cheers when you win. That's something missing from this year and I'm not sure if it'll ever come back. I hope at least Nationals is as exciting as it was last year. Though, speaking about Nationals, it was a horrible idea to have all the games go on at once. I was distracted, I couldn't tell whether people were cheering because I made a good move or because the game next to mine just ended, etc. I hope they change it back to 1 game at a time. Preparation is interesting though. I think PO is the main source of practicing now, whereas for me back in 2008 and 2009, it was getting the team in game and just asking around for battles.
Brendan: Well, I've only played three years. Right now, I really like VGC 2012. I practice on random matchup and stuff like that, and I like it. I wish that TCG and VGC were separate.
Are there any Masters you look up to? If so, what about them inspires you?
Aaron: Yeah, definitively. I obviously can't name all of them, but there are a few that really inspire me to play and I look up to their playstyles and team building abilities. Huy, Duy, Paul, Wolfe and Ray are some of the finest battlers out there and they build really interesting teams, as well as are just generally consistent in doing well. If you asked me which Masters I liked, I would name almost every one of them on Smogon, but I think those five are some of the finest competitors. Wolfe, I know personally as we battle all the time. Back in 2011, we had so many games together, and it was always back and fourth because our predictions were insane. Masters in general are just great role-models for the game, and I love hanging out with them. They're older and more experienced, and we can share so many different stories together. I think what inspires me the most about that group of Masters, along with many other ones I look up to are that they are incredible players, modest to boot. They build great teams, and I've battled a few of them and it's incredibly tough for me to win.
Brendan: Definitely Ray Rizzo. That's it.
You have been playing both VGC and TCG for a long time, which do you prefer and which would you rather do well in?
Aaron: TCG has lost the magic it used to have for me. The two environments are really different if you ask me. TCG feels a lot more competitive and nerve-wracking, and even though VGC is like that too, I think the friends I've made throughout VGC make me ignore those nerves and pressure. I honestly like the VGC community a bit more: Everyone is so friendly and nice, and I can hang out with all the Masters without being uncomfortable. I can leave my brother at the hotel with other Masters safely without worrying. I feel like I can't really do the same with the TCG community. I've also made closer friends through VGC. As for the games themselves, I love both. I really wish I could compete in a TCG World Championship some day, having missed my chance in 2008, but my goal is still to become a VGC World Champion, so as long as they are at the same time, I'm going to play VGC. I was honestly really pissed off I had to drop out of TCG while at RI Regionals: I think I had a clear path to at LEAST the semi-finals and maybe have won the whole tournament, but that was the TO's decision and despite my arguing, they just wouldn't listen. I like the TCG prizes too because me and Brendan just win all our packs and cards now, and I wish VGC could match their prizes one day. For Nationals, they won a $5000 schlorship, a medal, 3DS, trip to Worlds, boxes of cards, etc. We just got a Medal, 3DS, and a trip to Worlds. I'm not saying that's a bad prize but a $5000 schlorship would be really nice, especially since I study at a private school. I like playing TCG a lot more when it's with a good player. They are long and drawn out, and there are so many different moves one can make. VGC is still fun, but it's so fast paced and the tournaments end so quickly.
Brendan: Aaron also got me into TCG, mainly to get easy prizes because Juniors is a small division. I like playing TCG more because I have more Junior friends in TCG, and I meet them every time I go to a local tournament. The communities are like the same for me, I meet someone new every time.
So, after winning Regionals and Nationals, how confident did you feel going into Worlds 2011? What was it like, seeing your own team win Worlds?
Aaron: Probably too confident. I thought I was a favorite to win Worlds. My team was high quality, finishing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at Nationals in different divisions. I was having an incredible season. I was ready to kick total butt at Worlds. I still think that if I didn't misclick in my 3rd game, or gotten such bad luck in my 2nd game, I could have won the whole event, especially since Kamz used my exact team. I personally don't give a sh*t that Kamz won with my team, but I just wish it could have been me on the stage rather than him. He's still one of my closest friends and I'm really happy he won, but watching from the sidelines honestly sucks.
This summer going into Nationals, who do you think are people who are attending so far and all have a shot in doing incredibly well, making Top Cut in all divisions and qualifying for Worlds?
Aaron: In Juniors, Brendan and World Champion Brian Hough are the only two that I know of right now who I think will be the top competitors. I really hope Brendan can win a trip and invite this year, and should Brian finish in the Top 4, that his invite/trip gets passed down. In Seniors, there are a lot, but namely the whole California crew (V17, Maski, kingofkongs, TheCalmSnivy, AlphaOmega if he comes), myself, iss, Superpokemon67 if he comes, JRank, and the Arnolds. There are more I'm probably forgetting, but those are people I'm personally scared of going up against. As for Masters, it's a total mess. With only 4 trips/invites, it's going to be really tough to see who makes it. I don't have anyone personally that I'm rooting for, because honest to god I want all of them to make it through, but it would be cool to see a veteran like Paul win it all this year. Every Master from Smogon that is going to Nationals has a shot of top cutting.
Tell me about VGC 2010, your first year playing. (Brendan)
Brendan: Well, that year I didn't care about it that much. I wasn't very serious about playing. I was really surprised when I did so well at Regionals. Nationals, Aaron said to me "You just beat Grace Arnold" and I got really excited. But then I lost... and lost... and lost... I was kind of mad that I didn't make it into top cut, but eh, it doesn't matter.
Tell me about VGC 2011 then, how did you become so good? You were the most successful player throughout Regionals, Nationals, and Worlds combined.
Brendan: VGC 2011... I was so scared at Regionals. I was scared because Aaron asked me a lot of questions about types and moves and I got every single one of them wrong. But once I entered the tournament, I just did what Aaron told me to do before the tournament and I just kept on using Acrobatics and Rock Slide with Tornadus and Terrakion, and it killed everything. Regionals wasn't too hard for me, but when I was playing Grace, Aaron told me to Tailwind, then attack, against a Terracott team, which she had. It worked perfectly and I ended up winning. The finals was pretty easy.
Nationals... I was more confident because I practiced more, but once I saw Brian Hough, with a World's DS case, he said "yeah, I went to Worlds!" I went "oh god... I hope I don't play him." I actually lost my first game against Snake, but I didn't care because he's a good friend and losing against a friend isn't that big of deal. I was scared at first, but I saw my next opponent and that was easy. And I just kept on winning game after game. I had to play Grace Arnold for the trip to Worlds, and it was really tough. I actually lost the first game in the best of 3, but managed to win out. The finals, again, I didn't care since it was Snake and I already won my trip at that point. The only difference was the medal!
Worlds... when I was playing Sassan, I lost the first game. He was the only person that managed to beat me on the first day, but I still finished with a 5-0 record. He was super good. The Top 8, I wasn't scared because I beat him the day before. Ian though... I saw Terracott but I really underestimated him and got really upset and mad once he beat me. I feel like I could have won Worlds because I beat Brian in Swiss, and I beat him at Nationals too.
You are the first person in the world to win two Regionals in one weekend. What's that like? You won both undefeated, which is a pretty incredible feat. Which one was harder?
Brendan: It feels pretty good! TCG was obviously harder because in the VGC, all the people didn't take it that seriously and I easily swept all my games. In TCG, there were so many good people but I didn't care if I lost or won. I just happened to win all my games and get lucky. It was a great tournament though.
How do you feel about the whole "Babbytron" phenomenon?
Brendan: I'm not really sure, but it's pretty cool! Everyone calls me Babbytron and I actually like that nickname.
What's it like, being able to practice with your brother everyday in TCG and VGC?
Brendan: It's great. I come home from school often and just ask Aaron to play a TCG game with me, and it's fun. We actually never played against each other for VGC for Regionals: He was going to win obviously, so I just practiced with Pokemon Online and Random Matchup because they had more variety.
Aaron: Me and Brendan play TCG all the time because every TCG game is different and a lot of fun, but we actually never play VGC. I just give him teams and tell him how to use them, but from there on, he goes off practicing by himself. It's pretty impressive actually, he's become good enough to know what to do by himself. I'd like to see him work on his switching and prediction skills a bit more, I think with that quality he will be one of the best, if not, the best Junior player out there.
Brendan, how does it feel right now, being unstoppable? You're sweeping through the competition right now, and at this rate, you'll qualify for TCG Worlds. Would you play in TCG Worlds should you qualify?
Brendan: It feels pretty good. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this going and win Nationals or Worlds this year. I still have another year in Juniors though so it's okay! I would never play in TCG Worlds unless I missed on qualifying for VGC Worlds though.
Brendan, tell me about the Juniors division in the VGC and TCG.
Brendan: There's not that much competition for me right now for VGC. I think Brian is the only Juniors in America that I'm scared of playing, and I'm 4-0 against him from our games last year. In TCG though, there are so many good Juniors my age around our area, so all the tournaments are pretty hard, but I still manage to beat them and win every now and then.
Aaron: VGC is life. Make sure you get a picture with me at any VGC event. I love you guys. Especially my Team Seniors. You guys are the best. ♥ Brendan: None. Just stay cute guys! Like my page on Facebook!
2006: 2nd Place JAA Qualifier
2009: 1st Place South Regionals, Top 8 US Nationals, 12th Place World Championships
2010: 4th Place South East Regionals, 2nd Place US Nationals, 17th Place World Championships
2011: 2nd Place South Regionals
2006 Qualifier: 2nd Place Medal, Goodie Bag
2009 Regional: Champion Plaque, invitation and trip to compete at the National Championships in St. Louis, Missouri
2009 Nationals: Invitation and trip to Worlds in San Diego, California
2010 Regionals: DSi, $600, invitation to compete at the National Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana
2010 Nationals: DSi, trophy, invitation and trip to compete at the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
2011 Regionals: 2nd Place Medal, 3DS, $600 travel allowance, invitation to compete at the National Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Biography and History
Len “Alaka” Deuel is one of the most known and respected players in VGC. Since its inception in 2009, Len has competed and placed high at many events across the United States and has represented the U.S. multiple times at the World Championships. He also is a great team builder, having come up with the Toxic Stall Blissey that he used at U.S Nationals, where he finished 2nd overall. As well as being a great player and team builder, Len is a Super Moderator for Smogon and helps keep things in check on the forums.
Thanks for dropping by for an interview with VGC Spotlight Len. Why don’t you introduce yourself to the readers?
I'm Len Deuel, also known as Alaka or Alakapimp. I've been on Smogon since late 2008 where I started on wifi. I've played VGC since the 2009 season, when I won the first regional I attended. Since then I've participated in various sections of Smogon, running the Wi-Fi Tournaments and VGC C&C sections of the site. I was recently promoted to Super Moderator, and now get to mod all over, but before that I was a Wi-Fi and VGC mod
How did you get introduced to VGC and competitive battling?
I made the classic journey starting on Serebii to trade for shinies, learning about competitive play, and moving on to Smogon. I mainly bred and traded for a long time after Mingot taught me how to breed well. My first real taste of competitive play was laddering in UU just before the BL merge. That was the first and only time I ever made it to #1 on a Smogon ladder. That spring, there was a Wi-Fi tournament that used the VGC rules, and that was the first time I had heard of VGC. Round 1, I played Paul "makiri" and won! But I got disqualified for not following item clause, haha. My Choice Banded Mamoswine and Donphan were just too strong. I really enjoyed the metagame however and continued to play in live tournaments, and prepped for Dallas VGC.
Yeah, online sites are great for live tournaments when you have nobody to practice against around you. I do just the same when I’m trying to fix my teams.Seeing as how you have participated at multiple Regionals, who are the players people should look out for from the South this coming April?
Well Ryuzaki I guess is my main rival now, but there is also Imawario and Milan Patel to worry about. Not really sure who all is making the trip to Houston, but based on Dallas' turnout the last few years, LonelyNess, OmegaDonut, Roy, TeeJay, and Kongler are all threats too.
Tell us what kind of teams did you use for (2009, 2011, & 2012)? What worked? What failed?
We'll start with 2009, I used Gengar/Garchomp/Zapdos/Mamowsine at Regionals and focused on Discharge and Earthquake spam. I kept mostly the same team moving into Nationals using Metagross/Garchomp/Gengar/Zapdos which had better synergy and was better overall. I was able to make it into Top 8, but OmegaDonut's Cresselia and Snorlax were too much to handle I was just barely knocked out.
Author's note: Len’s team reminds me of winner Jeremy "Bonta-kun" Au-Yeung’s ZapChomp team which won the 2008 NY VGS Qualifier. His finals match can be viewed here in 2 parts. 12
In 2010 I tried to use similar stuff with Metagross and Giratina. The team I opted to use in Dallas wasn't very strong, so I stepped it up going to Atlanta and used Blissey which I had been experimenting with the last couple of weeks. It did very well before I was knocked out in top 4 by a double freeze Blizzard in the rain that lasted a total of 20 turns between Giratina and Blissey which knocked me out of regionals and went on contribute to the Arnold's World Record. At Nationals that year, I used a mini Trick Room team that only used Trick Room out of the back. Everyone was using Palkia and Abomasnow to spam Blizzard and I realized that I could be more efficient by using Dialga over Palkia to TR and get more Blizzard's off. This carried me into cut where I transitioned and used Blissey again to reach the top 2.
In 2011, I used a team that solely relied on Trick Room that wholly focused on getting Trick Room up and sweeping with it. It was a really strong team and I wish that I had chosen to use it more than just Regionals. Finally this year I used a regular archetypical rain team and didn't do very well, but I'm working on more creative and solid things to use going into spring Regionals.
20 turns of being frozen sounds awful! Anyway, tell me about your experience at Regionals. What was it like meeting Smogoners from your area?
Meeting Smogoners is definitively the best part of VGC. I really enjoy getting to hang out with everyone at different events. Nationals and Worlds are obviously bigger groups, but Regionals are great too. This last year a few of the players from the Dallas VGC went to Kongler's house after the event and we played some N64 and Wii, it was really fun.
Hanging out after and before tournaments is another reason why I also continue to play this game! Seeing as how Regionals is only two months away, how have you been preparing for VGC 2012?
I play on PO every once in a while if something strikes me that I want to test, but some of the best preparation I get is from SPL. Last year SPL really helped me work the kinks out of my TR team to help me get second at Regionals, and its also where I formed my nationals team, even though that didn't end up doing very well. I also just contact good players on IRC to play sets, which I find more beneficial than the ladder on PO. I'll probably step up my playtime going into Regionals, but during the off-season I can go long stretches without playing a single game.
It’s known that you play both VGC, and TCG. Tell us what the atmosphere is like between both games. Do you prefer one over the other?
Well, both are fun, but the VGC is way more social. It may just be I know more people from around the country in VGC than TCG, but it definitely seems people want to hang out more at VGC events than TCG. I also like that the VGC doesn't have such a big money element to it, having to worry about trades and money at TCG events definitely makes it more stressful than VGC.
As a TCG player I also agree with this statement. With scholarships being on the line in the past and figuring out card prices can be pretty stressful at times. What do you do in your free time outside of Pokemon?
Well I'm currently a highschool senior, graduating this May. I'll be majoring in Computer Science at either University of Texas or University of Utah this fall (with a small chance of a few other schools if I actually get in) but haven't really made up my mind. Outside of school I play a lot of xbox basketball. I had to miss this entire basketball season due to an injury during the last game of last season though, which really sucked.
Well good luck this coming Regionals! Do you have any closing words you would like to add?
I'd just like to remind everyone to be thankful and courteous any time you are asking for Pokemon. I have absolutely no idea how to RNG, and would be totally stuck for Pokemon if it weren't for the wonderful community we have that provides Pokemon for those in need, and I think everyone should remember how lucky they are when getting free Pokemon.
Dang I didn't know Cybertron was at Worlds in 2008! I didn't know EV training until late 2009, and my first solid team was the one that won Providence. I used to think I was gonna turn into a pro at the trading cards, but just because I had a good deal of Ex's. Childhudz.