10/29/2018 by Mark Dizon
With our third regional of the year just finishing, it seems that this season has been going so fast. Lost Thunder pre-release events have revealed to us some of the big cards coming our way. From the Nashville Open to Philadelphia to Memphis and Portland this past week, it seems that every single weekend there has been something Pokemon related, once you string along league cups that happen every weekend. With the pace being set so fast, I wanted to take today's post and write about something that is about to hit some of the players out there on the circuit.
When I write Level One I really want it to reach out to the newer players in our community, however as we continue this series I also want to reach out to our community in general. There are a lot of things that we really don’t discuss as players. One of the biggest ones is how our emotions play out, especially in an in-game society that promotes showboating at its highest level. For the most part, all that matters is winning, that is what separates the haves from the have-nots. As per one of my previous articles, I pleaded that as a community we need to start talking to each other as people aside from Pokemon and not just as players in the game. I know this is easier said than done, but I know how hard it can be. To our newer players, you have probably seen this in stride. You have seen the best player in the store help you, but when you beat them at a League Cup can you see the anger fuming about how they feel that they lost to an inferior player, how it could be possible that a “Thursday-Night League Casual” could defeat a “League cup end boss” like that?
These situations are common-place. I know because I have been on both sides of the coin. I have been the frustrated one and the one that was frustrated at someone else. Honestly, it isn’t a good look and I am quite embarrassed when it occurred. I have seen best friends argue at a league challenge because one is pushing for a stipend/invite and the other player is a casual just wanting to play with a friend. I have seen the entitlement that tenured players have when they play against a new local player that has become good quickly. What causes this pride? What causes this entitlement? What can we do to change the narrative? It obviously starts with ourselves, but again that is something that is easier said than done. These are the issues I hope to tackle and revisit as we go through Level One, flipping between the Mental Part of the Game as well as the general growth of new players, I want tenured players who read this to be able to take something for themselves too. That someone could put into words what they are feeling, even though they do not know how to put those words out.
Michael is basically the closest thing you could think of like a Pokemon Pro. They coach Pokemon, they write Pokemon, they play Pokemon and they live Pokemon. Every weekend Michael is out on their on the hunt for Championship Points competing with the best in their area, competing with the best in their country. They are flying to regionals, internationals and are sure to get there invite but they are gunning for something more, the elusive top sixteen rewards. They know they are on the cusp but they are grinding for every Championship Point they get. They work here and there for a day job, but the true dream is to live the life of the Pokemon Player. On the outset, Michael is the consumate pro who consistently makes day twos and finishes between the top 64 and the top 16. Sometimes they don’t do the greatest at tournaments, but deep down the crowds love them because they show Pokemon can overcome the heavy luck involved in the game.
The problem is Michael is burnt out. Always stuck between the crossroads of Victory and Defeat. Some weekends he wakes up for early morning flight home, with his backpacks stuffed with packs waiting for money to come in five weeks from now, but the rest of the weekends the flight home is lonely with nothing to account for the weekend, just a dream that is being chased. Michael loved the game of Pokemon from a young age and has seen a lot of success but rebreaking into that top 8 has been hard. He knows to show his peers in the community that he belongs he needs this. To the average player Michael does belong he is so good, but to, himself it is both a curse and gift to have a burning passion inside to prove to the rest that he is part of the best, even though he already is. This sort of feeling only pushes him more as he wheels his four-wheeler suitcase to the checkout line to the flight.
Deck choice, meta-call are all words that he hears in his head as the plane’s engines go on. On a good weekend his phone is going off with questions asking for his decklists or the thoughts for the next tournaments, some tournaments it is silent with him just trying to figure out what he is going to play for the next trip, whether it is on North American soil, Brazil, Germany or Australia. Michael is ready to play as he is, but is he ready to do what he intends. As the result of a good trip Travis Scott’s Beast Mode might blare through the headphones has on, but after the bad tournaments it might be the chilling piano background in Kanye West’s Runaway. As the plane takes down the runway, Michael can only question, how much longer can I do this?
Jamie is a League Cup grinder. He goes to multiple regionals but doesn’t go to all of them, maybe five in a year. He plays league every week, sometimes twice a week, and is an adequate player on his own. He has been playing Pokemon for five years and has one top 64 to show for it. He balances playing Pokemon with work and a retail job. He has one a few league cups and defeated a few League cup end bosses, such as local “pros” but he has never broken through on the regional scene. As he stocks the shelves at the warehouse preparing for his next tournament in his head, he wonders if maybe he should just work more. This quarter has been pretty tough with only one top 8 to show. Maybe he is wasting his time? However, he has been playing Pokemon for so long why would he stop now? Pokemon is his hobby, his way away from working away for his regular life. He likes going on the road trips with his friends and it’s great when one of his friends do well. He practices his butt off but he always falls short at 4-3-2. One time he was so close to his invite but he got dream crushed at nationals by a local pro. That one win cost him the fifty points he needed to clinch and he asks himself “Am I a choke artist?” He asks himself “Why can’t I finish” I do everything I need to do, what am I doing wrong?
Jamie spends a fair amount of time looking for the next list on limitless, he watches streams, he wants to subscribe to some websites but he doesn’t know which one to subscribe too. He also grinds the ladder on The Pokemon Trading Card Game Online, but he can’t figure out why he wins so much online and cannot translate it into real life. In his head he should be doing better, He won two cups last year in a tough region. Sometimes when it comes to preparing for League Cups on Double Cup weekends, he forces himself to play on the Sunday after a bad Saturday. I need to play, I need to get points, I have been playing for five years, and I need to get to worlds. What do I have to change? Should I take some time off?
Daniel is a Pokemon Professor. In hi,s region he became the number one professor doing almost all the league cups in his region and even head judging some divisions in regionals. He had a meteoric rise when it came to judging because of his willingness to learn the rules of the game and logically make rulings. As time has gone he is tired, tired of doing it every weekend. He originally started judging to help the community but also a way to do some stuff with his kids so he wasn’t just another PokeDad. Daniel is on the road every weekend just like players, on trips in cramped cards taking his kids to events and trying to figure out the best way for them to come compete. He has made friends with a lot of the other parents in the community and has also made friends with some of the players. This has provided such a burden to him due to the drama involved in certain Pokemon Communities. He makes a ruling here that divides so many players because it doesn’t benefit them, but the last time he made that ruling it benefited those players and they were happy. He does his job and tries to please the community but he gets to the point that he is dividing himself and stretches himself thing.
Daniel minces to himself the thought of stepping down as a judge and becoming a Pokemon Dad again but the issues he faces, if he steps down the community could crumble. I mean it almost has, he has had to force stores to remember their league challenges so that way they still have their league cups. League cups are already scarce to being with so he doesn’t want there to be any less in the community. Sometimes he feels that he has gone from being Batman in his head, keeping the community safe and growing and become more like Harvey Dent. He often thinks of the quote from the Dark Knight “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to become the villain”. There is a lot from the judging program he doesn’t agree with, a lot that has to change, he is getting fatigued by helping the judges solve the same issues, and he wants to see the judges get better, however, he cannot just influence the change himself. He feels that judging can sometimes be a thankless job, but is searching for thanks the reason he became a professor.
Michael, Jamie, and Daniel are all at different points in the game. They all are involved in different aspects. Did any of their stores sound similar to yours? Did any of them stand out? Michael, Jamie and Daniel are all the combinations of the many people I met over my time playing Pokemon. They all share the same feelings, change, tiredness, fatigues, soul-searching. You see when we all start becoming involved in Pokemon, it is always for different things. Our game is so focused on results that it can bring us down as we do not receive the results that we feel that we should be receiving. Mentally this exhausts us, this mental exhaustion is BURNOUT. Burnout occurs when you have been playing for so long, or being involved for so long, not receiving the results you would like to see then questioning yourself. Asking yourself why are you doing this? Burnout is sure to occur throughout the season for your average player. The best players also experience Burnout, they just know how to handle it better. Are you feeling burnt out right now? Have you just finished your latest regionals, league cup or event and are fatigued? Here are some ways to get over Burnout.
1. Embrace Burnout, the sooner you know it is coming the faster you will be able to overcome it. Remember the parts from last season that you felt this way and remember how you overcame those moments. What made you feel better? How we overcome Burnout is different for every player, but the most important thing is being able to talk about what that Burnout feels for you. For me, it’s questioning what am I doing wrong at cups?
2. Understand variance, know that there is a huge amount of luck involved in this game. How many tournaments do you make top 8 when you lose every coin-flip? Trust me I always feel that when I have a bad league cup and finish just one win out of Top 8. If I had gone first in one more game would I have been able to take that win? Sometimes it is a simple as that.
3. Learn how formats work. Some players are able to do better at the start of formats as they are innovative and can take advantage of a format that players do not know and surprise them with decks they are not prepared for. Other players succeed at the tail end of a format because they are better playing in the established metagame. It is okay to fall on either end of this spectrum, so learn when it is in a format you perform better. This could help prevent burnout by allowing you to understand why your results differ depending on where the format is.
4. Talk to your friends about specific mental maps and don’t be afraid to tell them how you really feel. This is absolutely important for your well-being as a player. Pokemon is an extremely mental game, it requires the use of a lot of real estate in your brain. Due to the results-oriented focus, it really hampers your ability to make good decisions when you are in a slump. Stop blaming yourself for your losses if you have been playing your best.
5. If you are not playing your best, it might be time to take a break. One week, One month, one tournament, find out what amount of time is relative for you to feel like you have taken a long enough break from the game. Sometimes you need to refresh yourself to be able to start playing your best again. When I feel I want to take a break, I usually take a break from the weekly league.
6. Try to have fun playing Pokemon. When we play in tournaments we always focus on the end results which is winning the tournaments. We usually take the time to choose our decks for the tournaments and play decks that we believe can win. A lot of the times these decks are not always fun. I was playing in a league cup where I had a bad run due to a deck list error that lead to a game loss. Having two league challenges already in the quarter, Zach Lesage handed me a deck and said to play this deck no matter what. Blindly I said yes and it was Feraligatr, this was the most fun I had playing Pokemon in a long time, I finished 2-2 but every game was a laugh and even my opponents were having fun. That event really refreshed what I enjoyed. Remember the real reason you started playing Pokemon or getting involved it to enjoy it.
7. Try to play another format – if you are having a hard time playing standard, maybe play an expanded tournament and vice versa. There are a lot of players who enjoy playing the luxchomp format, this form of Pokemon is enjoyment to them and a way to destress from the Pokemon they are not enjoying. This goes back to having fun.
Burnout is real. Playing the circuit is a grind. Trying to get to worlds is a grind. The most important thing to your potential growth as a player is understanding that it okay to feel this way and you are not the only one who feels this way. The most important thing is that you find ways for you to get over your burnout and keep playing the game you enjoy. One of the biggest things to look forward to in this game is hanging out with your friends and travelling to tournaments. It is super important to focus on this for you to keep playing. Figure out what is most important to you when you play Pokemon and make sure that is your driving factor. With Portland just finishing, I love that people were able to play their favourite decks in expanded. I really miss playing Maxie’s Yveltal and have two copies of the pre-ban deck built do be able to play the mirrors against others. I found that the deck was great and involves a lot of decisions. Brazil is coming up and it is super exciting that Lost Thunder will shake up the format. If you haven’t seen our articles based on the decks that were coming from Japan I would look into that but it is behind a paywall. Have a great Halloween.
Until next week
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