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For most people, Pokémon is a fond memory from childhood. For the Ha brothers, it's a passion.
Huy and Duy Ha, 21 and 19, of Davis, California, spent almost their entire summer playing Pokémon, culminating in competing at the Video Game World Championships on the island of Kona, Hawaii in August. Huy finished Day 1 of the event in 2nd place before finishing 5th on Day 2. Duy finished Day 1 in 26th place. Not bad for a weekend in Hawaii.
"[Worlds was] an amazing event. They really went all-out with the venue," said Huy. "It was just an amazing experience to be in such a beautiful place, playing a game you love with people who love it."
To qualify for Worlds, both Huy and Duy had to qualify at a regional competition. Huy and Duy both clinched their spots in the San Francisco regionals, which Duy won. Then, both had to place in the top 16 at the National Championships. While the top 16 received invitations automatically, the top 8 finishers received free airfare to the World Championships in Hawaii.
In a cruel twist of fate, Huy and Duy were opponents in the Round of 16.
"Playing each other in Top 16 at Nationals was kind of a blessing in disguise," said Duy. "Of course, we could not win two trips to Hawaii but we were assured one trip, which meant that the entire family would come too."
"It was a good game, both teams played hard," added Huy jokingly.
Family plays a large role in the Has' success. "Our parents don't really play a role in our playing, but they are huge moral support," said Duy. In addition to financial support, the Has' parents attend as many events personally as they can. "They appeared [in San Francisco] to cheer us on and support us even though they did not have a clear understanding of what was going on," said Duy. "My mom actually thought I was losing in the finals!"
"Sometimes they get carried away and their expectations get too high though," quipped Huy.
The Has counted themselves among one of the top groups competitively at the competition—the Ducks. The Ducks made a name for themselves this past year, winning three of the six US Regional events. Duy became one of them when he took the qualifier at San Francisco, despite having already secured a spot in Nationals the week before in Seattle. Competitors are allowed to try to improve their position at other regional competitions even if they have already clinched a spot.
"[In Seattle] I was a nervous wreck before my battles since I knew so many people there," said Duy. "It wasn't until I [won] in the Round of 32 that I got my confidence back and became less nervous about Pokémon battles."
The Ducks were founded at the National Championships in 2009 when Huy named his team after characters from the movie, the Mighty Ducks. "We started quacking after he came out victorious in his battled," said Duy. "After that, we just hit it off and started inviting all of [our friends] that were interested in VGC."
What started as a gimmick between five friends, Huy, Duy, Jason Fisher-Short (Fish), Paul Hornak (makiri / zerowing) and Michael Boulter (5KRunner), quickly swelled into an entire community. At the National Championships, over twenty people could be found sporting a Ducks shirt.
At the end of the day, both Huy and Duy agree that the Ducks exemplify what Pokémon is all about for them. "I love the people I've met. A lot of these people I have known for almost 10 years and they feel like my family. They've always been constant in my life and that's just nice to have. To me, Smogon isn't about the Pokémon—it's about the community," Huy said.
The games themselves aren't so bad, however. "The game is deeper than most people think," said Duy. "Competitive battles test my judgment and ability to predict and outwit my opponent. It's chess, but with a little luck to add some extra thrill." While Huy still enjoys defeating the Elite Four from time to time, however, Duy admits that he doesn't particularly enjoy the plot of the games. "That might change with the release of Black and White, though," Duy added.
You can certainly expect Huy and Duy to be at the competitions next year, along with the rest of the Ducks.
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