05/24/2019 by Zach Lesage
Did you ever dream that you would wake up one day and realize that playing the Pokemon TCG is your career? Well, for me, that has been a dream come true over there past two years. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Zach Lesage, and I play Pokemon for a living. The focus of this article is a reflection of my current season and you can take aspects off this article to grow as a player. Maybe this article will be a push for you to travel more to get an invite or maybe you will join the ranks of the other Pokemon pros. This article is based off of my article from last year, “In Search of Myself - My Journey to Become a T16 Player in North America.” It will inlcude my thoughts from this season and some material that I thought was still a solid read for right now. That being said, lets jump into it.
Table of contents
I started off this season by deciding to attend as many major events that I could and that meant buying some flights. I worked my butt off coaching / vending events in Toronto the whole summer of 2018 to make my season happen. I would work 10 hours a day minimum and I was able to book flights for Philadelphia, Portland, Memphis, Sao Paulo, Anaheim, Dallas, Mexico City, and Melbourne. If you have ever booked a flight before, I am sure you can assume roughly how much I spent. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a T16 player again and with the success of my business, I put it to the test. On top of a new MacBook Pro and iPhone XS Max for my business, I was ready to play Pokemon as a pro. Whether or not you can afford half a season for flights at a time or not, the premise is to put money aside to help you get to your goals. I was able to finish T64 at Philadelphia, T32 at Memphis, and T8 in Sao Paulo, but I wouldn’t have those placements if I didn’t go to those events in Q1. With my 492 CP earned in Q1, I was able to recoup 1000$USD by attending the International Championship in Melbourne.
I was quite proud of early success because I was able to break through the barrier that stopped me from having a better season last year, I made Top 8 at a major event. I had it happen a few times last season, T16 at Ft.Wayne, T16 at Mexico City SPE #1, T16 at Mexico City SPE #2, and T16 at the Mexico City Regionals. It was bittersweet because a handful of 500$ cheques and 80CP a pop is always nice, but I was hungry for more. I tested so hard for Sao Paulo and it honestly paid off. Not only was this my first T8 since 2016, it was also a T8 at an International Championships. With my new found success, I found myself becoming a Pokemon celebrity and I wanted to continue to push my boundaries as a player. I bounced back from Brazil into driving to Roanoke to take a similar deck to a T16 finish. It was around this time that I decided to work harder to perfect my list. It was also at this time that I hit a brief slump in my season.
It isn’t always sunshine and rainbows for any player throughout the season and a slump can happen at any time for any reason. Maybe I tested too much and free tired of a stale format… Maybe I had issues with my home life… Maybe my early success brought me into a state of variance… I am not sure what caused it, but I can only assume it was me struggling to find a deck in the Expanded format. I played the same deck as my brother in Portland earlier this year and faced a 1-4 drop while he made T32. I tried an experimental list for Anaheim, but I ended up facing poor matchups and getting quite unlucky. I salvaged that trip by being in Anaheim with my girlfriend, but that can only do so much for me as a player. To make matters worse, I switched from a Tier 1 deck at Dallas to a random stall deck to finish a solid 3-3-3. It was at this point that I booked Mexico City for their Special Event to try and push myself into a stipend for Berlin. Luckily I made the right choice because I was able to win the event by finishing 5-1 in Swiss and winning against some amazing players in the top cut. I think every player has a lot to learn from a slump, but it takes something special to pull you out of it. Let’s look back at my struggles from last year which were incredibly different:
“At the beginning of the season, I was working my normal day job at New York Fries, as part of the management team within the store! It hurt my team back at home when I was away during the busy weekends, but I had hope that they were all cheering me on from home! Well, like anything, there were choices to be made at some point during my season to see if I could still work or if I was going to be forced to give up my dream... I decided to slow down on the amount of hours, step down out of a management position, and explore my travelling around the world options! During the latter half of the year, I was forced by necessity to eventually bow out from my job in order to binge travel in search of Championship Points. Obviously, that was a tough decision to make.. leaving a decent paying job for a career that a slump can leave you broke!”
Beyond struggling to be a semi-pro Pokemon player, I had the struggle of working a full time restaurant management position and still seeing various levels of success. In the same article, I also wrote about my Pokemon slump. This is how last season went for me at various points:
“Ugh, just saying slump makes me upset, but it happens to the best of us without any notice at all. I am still trying to figure out how a slump can form, but I have a few ideas on where to start with this concept. A slump can start with a lack of confidence, a rough tournament, outside of the game stress, and / or fatigue from travelling around the world. I have had some tournaments this season where I was unable to properly think or that I could not control my emotions at that resulted in me dropping from those events. To give a more specific situation, Dallas was especially rough for me. I picked a deck that I was not comfortable with, I had a lack of confidence, I felt under tested in that meta game, my head space was not in a great spot, and I had a lack of sleep going into the event. What was the result? Me making misplays, breaking game state a few times, earning a few penalties at the event, and ultimately dropping to walk away with nothing. It sucks to admit hard ship, but I wouldn’t have been able to grow past Dallas if I never looked deeper into it, I needed to grow past my faults.
Since Dallas, my goal going into each event is to pick a deck that I am comfortable with, keep my confidence in check, test more for each event, keeping my mental game cool, and trying to keep my sleep cycle in check. Developing ways to improve myself as a player since Dallas has allowed me to play better in events, enjoy events more, and become a more enjoyable player to be around. Realize that a slump can be just as bad as not attending events because if you know that you are not able to perform, it can often be a waste of money to attend events during your slump. I should also clarify, it doesn’t necessarily have to just be a slump at a Regional Championships, but it can also occur at League Cups or even outside of the game! There are plenty of local players who regularly do well at League Cups that seem to lose their focus in their area or they just lose their strange hold in a format. Sometimes you are stressed outside of Pokémon, you might have a new job, you might be in a new relationship, or you might have hit a rough patch in life - it happens! At the end of the day, hold your head up high, play test with the best players you know, and have fun playing Pokémon. Well, everything doesn’t always have to be bad, there are often times in a players season where they can bounce right back into the spot light!”
As you can see, my motto is to stay positive and to find light where there is darkness. You can always overcome your bad days by working towards better days. Whether you are looking to win more than three games at a Regionals or you are looking to breakthrough by finishing in the T8 of a Regionals, you need to grow as a person. If you put your mind to it, you can get there! Be the best you! Keep your head up high trainer!
Beyond winning the Mexico City Special Event, my first major event win since 2013, I went into Melbourne with a certain confidence in myself. I didn’t switch my deck and I continued to see success. I finished T32 at that Internationals and I had Collinsville in site. One of the most difficult parts of the season is to travel thousands of miles from home, get home for a day, and then drive another thousand or so miles in the same week. To tell you there truth, I wasn’t in the best headspace after Melbourne because my Mexico City winning deck failed me Day Two in the Internationals. A combination of dead hands, bad matchups, and more caused losses most of my games that day. I even went on the record to say that my pet deck was dead the week between Melbourne and Collinsville. After a lot of testing and failed concepts, I fell back to where I started and played the same deck for Collinsville. It worked and I was able to win the Regional Championships. I had my friends cheer for me, the crowd cheer for me, and I cemented myself as one of the best players of the 2018 - 2019 season. I secured my Day Two invite to the World Championships, a stipend to Columbus Internationals, and felt on top of the world. If you asked me, it has been a grind of testing for the past decade that has made me who I am today. I have grown as a player, a person, and as a respected member of our Pokemon community. If you put your mind to it and put the hours into it, you can make it there too. If you want to know what it took for me to reach my level this year, check out this next section…
So I made it! I tested all season to accomplish everything I could have hoped and dreamed for!I remember a few years ago watched my brother hang out with friends while I played Day One of Worlds! I have also accomplished much more than that, I have travelled around the world on a weekly basis, I have become self-sufficient as a professional Pokémon player, and I have made countless friends along the way. For those of you who are looking at the potential cost of achieving a Top 16 placement or maybe you just want to learn about the journey I went on. Let’s look at the amount of tournaments that I attended in order to achieve my Top 16 placement in North America:
League Challenges: 17
League Cups: 23
Special Events: 1
Regional Championships: 12
International Championships: 3
We can look into this a bit differently as well, what if we were to look into the different countries that I played in or all of the States / Provinces that I had to travel through? I’m sure that information is also interesting, let’s check it out:
Australia, Canada, United States, Germany, The Netherlands Mexico, and Brazil
States / Provinces (US and Canada only): 26
US: Arkansas,California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia
CA: Ontario, and Quebec
As you can see, even when I am not playing Pokémon, my weekly grind has quickly resulted in me having to travel around every week. I have put in countless amounts of money (read as at least 10,000$ USD) into playing this game this season for an opportunity to achieve a certain threshold. Regardless of how good you are at the game, how awesome your testing crew is, or how driven you are there are going to be players who will NOT make it into a certain threshold. This is not meant as a way to turn people away from chasing their dream, just don’t expect to get what you want because you dropped some cash down on the table. I have personally found this Top 16 race to be quite rewarding, I feel accomplished, and I have learned quite a bit about myself in the process. You never know what you are going to learn from an experience like this so make your decision wisely. How can you grow as a player to get to where you want to be? Well, if you wanna find out, check out below!
There is this mentality among players that bothers me on a personal level and it revolves around attending more events automatically means earning Championship Points. While the premise should be more events attended equals more Championship Points, it is more translated into more opportunities to earn points. There is also the added factor of having an ongoing fatigue that I am currently going through right now! I have traveled the world in the past six months every weekend in a row and now I am just exhausted. While it is urgently necessary to attend a certain threshold of events, just make sure you keep yourself in a good head space and remember that Pokémon is supposed to be fun.
At one point in the 2017-2018 season, there was a period of time where I was unable to go back to my house. Think about that, living out of hotels, crashing on couches, and sleeping on airplanes. Luckily for me, I am able to work remotely wherever I am, but is that the case for everyone? This is the grind that I went on:
Toronto to Detroit to Brazil, Brazil for a week, Brazil to Atlanta to Toronto, Toronto for two days, Toronto to Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City to Toronto, Toronto for two days, Toronto (staying in a hotel downtown), Toronto for two days, Toronto to Mexico City, Mexico City to Toronto, Waterloo for a few days, Waterloo to Roanoke, Roanoke to Waterloo, Toronto for one day, Toronto to Madison, Madison to Toronto, Toronto for one day, Toronto to Detroit to Mexico City, Mexico City for two weeks, Mexico City to Atlanta to Toronto, Toronto to Ottawa, Ottawa for a week, Ottawa to Toronto, Toronto for a day, Toronto to Columbus, Columbus for a week, and Columbus to Toronto.
If you think you can pull that off without any fatigue, healthy relationships, not becoming homesick, or becoming stressed, you are likely lying to yourself. While Pokemon is not on an actual E-Sports level yet (unfortunately), you are almost expected to perform like it is.
Similar to the above point, THERE IS NO WAY TO BUY A TOP 16 INVITE! If that isn’t clear enough, let me say that again, THERE IS NO WAY TO BUY A TOP 16 INVITE! With every active player in the game looking at some top players who travelled to Latin America and Oceania, there will ALWAYS be someone who pushes the system to its limits. It is also crazy expensive to travel around to these distant out of home regions so if you are thinking about going outside of your country, be wary of your finances available. The last point that I would like to stress is that you should be taking any tournament seriously if you need to fly out of country for it. Obviously every tournament should be one where you are well tested, you understand the meta game, and you take care of yourself on a health level, but I stress that even more for out of country events. Notably, it is more often worthwhile to play in events that offer cash prizes to have a chance to recoup some or all of the costs of your travel.
Don’t be Wasteful
When I decide to attend an event, I try to challenge myself to weigh each and every aspect to that event. Look at it this way, you are potentially making a decision that is the difference between making cash, getting stipends, losing your job, being broke, and a bunch of other important factors. Some questions that I might ask myself are:
Do I need Championship Points?
Can I afford to go to this event?
Can I make back any money?
Is there anything else holding me back?
I am sure every player has some form of deciding whether or both that they can attend an event, but those are some typical questions that I ask myself each time before I book. It is always easier to drive 10 hours than fly for 5 hours so keep that in the back of your head when you are making decisions.
As for me, I am currently planning on chasing another Top 16 placement in North America as we head into next season! I am excited to learn about the seasonal changes that might change the race up and I am eager to find out who might want to compete by my side. This year has been a roller coaster of everything, but I wouldn’t want to change it for anything. On the other side of this race, I have gained confidence, friendships, and a career all for doing what I love the most in the world.
That is a wrap for today. To update you on where I am at, I am sitting at 1600+ CP right now, I am hard locked for a Day Two invite to the World Championships, and I have hit my full Best Finish Limit (BFL) of eight Regional Championships this season. If you don’t understand how a BFL works, it basically takes your best performances at Regionals into account. I am doing my best to get to Madison Regionals, I will be attending the Special Event at Origins, and I will be going to the 2019 North American International Championships. This season has been a super exciting year for me in terms of Pokémon, life, and growth as a person. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for me and I hope that you are all there for the ride! If you want to see more of my journey, follow me on my social media:
Facebook: Zach Lesage
I also have open slots for coaching so if you are interested, please reach out to me on Twitter or Facebook.
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