Thursday, September 17, 2015

Pokémon World Championships 2015: Seniors VGC Winner

Mark McQuillan
The following is an interview with Mark McQuillan, winner of the VGC Seniors division in this year’s Pokémon World Championships.

Where are you from, and how did you get into playing the Pokémon video games competitively?
I’m from Edinburgh, Scotland, in the UK and I started playing competitive Pokémon in 2011. I saw something online about the UK National Championships in Birmingham and had managed to persuade my parents to take me there. I had been playing Pokémon casually since 2007 but I knew nothing about competitive Pokémon at that time (I didn’t even have a properly EV-trained team). Even so, I ended up reaching the top eight of that tournament, which got me an invite to the 2011 World Championships in San Diego. Between Nationals and Worlds I learned more about the game and I was able to build a much stronger team for Worlds, where I ended up getting tenth place. That tournament was a very enjoyable experience, so I’ve been playing Pokémon ever since and have now played in a total of five World Championships.

How did you end up with the team you did? Was there an overall strategy? 
The team idea came from a Korean player that I battled online. His team featured a Skill Swap Cresselia alongside a slow Charizard (designed for Trick Room), and he defeated me relatively easily. I took the team of six which I had faced and changed some of the moves as well as made some of my own original sets. One of the main changes was Toxic replacing Psychic on Cresselia-I did this to strengthen my matchup against Milotic and opposing Cresselia, as well to deal important chip damage to Pokémon such as Rotom-Heat (which gave my team a lot of trouble). I also had a hard choice between Conkeldurr and Machamp since the player I faced on Battle Spot never brought his own Machamp to our set and therefore I wasn’t sure what it did. I decided on Machamp because I found in practise that it makes it hard for opponents to switch due to the threat of a Dynamic Punch confusion. It also gave me a better matchup against Charizard with its 100% accurate Stone Edge. Landorus was important on the team since Intimidate support can be crucial at many points during a match, and it provided ways to hit common Pokémon such as Kangaskhan, Charizard and Heatran for at least a two-hit KO. Heatran was good as it could knock out Aegislash in one hit with Overheat and make use of Charizard’s sun with boosted Heat Waves. Sylveon was my least-used Pokémon on the team since I only brought it to one match, but that was mostly because I didn’t play against very many Mega Salamence at Worlds.

Using Skill Swap on Cresselia meant that you had to have a good knowledge of what your opponent’s Pokemon’s abilities are, despite the fact that many Pokémon have multiple possible Abilities. Did you have to prepare a lot?
Actually, there’s not much diversity in the abilities of most of the common Pokémon in VGC. For example, Heatran is guaranteed to have Flash Fire so it is perfectly safe to Skill Swap that ability away allowing Charizard to freely use Heat Wave or Flamethrower. There are barely any Pokémon which have two equally viable abilities; so Skill Swap was not usually a risky play to make.

What’s the most interesting Swap you got in the tournament?
My favourite Skill Swap was when I was able to predict my opponent’s switch into Tyranitar (in an attempt to remove my sun) and use Skill Swap on my own Mega Charizard Y. This meant that I could keep sun up (“switch in” abilities swap before they can activate) and hit the Tyranitar with a Solar Beam, knocking it out in one hit. Another interesting swap was when I was able to take away Flash Fire from a Heatran and give it to my Charizard. This meant that Heatran could not damage My Charizard since I was immune to all of its attacks. I then got a Flash Fire boost which meant I could knock out both Kangaskhan and Landorus-Therian in one hit before winning two vs. one against his Heatran.

What was your overall strategy for the finals? 
I knew in the finals that I needed to put Trick Room up in order to get momentum against my opponent’s faster team. I also knew that he had no reliable way to get rid of my Cresselia and so I could virtually freely set up Trick Room. The Pokémon I was most worried about were his Aegislash, which undersped a lot of the Pokémon on my team, and his Assault Vest Landorus which I had been told was very Specially Defensive. He did not bring his Aegislash to either of our games, possibly fearing my two fire-type Pokémon. I was able to inflict a lot of damage onto my opponent’s Landorus in game one when it switched in on my Cresselia’s Ice Beam and My Charizard’s Heat Wave. He decided not to bring his Landorus to the second match, a decision which helped me considerably as his Sylveon was not as threatening to my team.

You read your opponent extremely well in that match. Was there anything that helped you figure out what your opponent was going to do?
My friend, who had lost to my finals opponent in the Top Four, showed me a replay of the third game in their set. I noted that my finals opponent was very much inclined to double-targeting one of the opposing Pokémon when he felt a Protect may be coming from the other. This aggressive playstyle choice was the reason I opted not to use protect with my Charizard on the first turn of the first game. This paid off for me and I was able to hit his Zapdos with a Flamethrower and put up Trick Room on the same turn. I knew that on turn two he needed to preserve his Landorus since I was threatening it with an Ice Beam. I had played that situation many times when practising with the team and so I knew to Skill Swap and Heat Wave on the switch. If he had stayed in with Landorus then I still would have been in a good position as I would have been able to Skill Swap his intimidate putting him to minus one attack, meaning he would not be able to OHKO my Charizard with Rock Slide. In game two, when I went for Dynamic Punch on his Zapdos I knew he would probably have Kangaskhan and Heatran in the back so if he switched I would get a KO, and if he stayed in he may be confused. The lead matchups were very positive in both games, and therefore I was able to play very offensively, forcing my opponent to switch. This was good for me as one of the main objectives of the team was to punish my opponents’ switches.

Are there any improvements you might make to your team if you used it again?
If I had the opportunity to change my team, the only Pokémon I would consider swapping out would be Sylveon, since I only brought it to one match. However, it was definitely an important Pokémon in that match and it really strengthened my overall matchup against Mega Salamence (despite that particular Mega Evolution not being very popular at the World Championships).

What’s it like winning the world championship?
Winning the World Championships felt like I was redeeming myself after losing in the finals the previous year. Coming so close to winning in 2014 was exciting and felt like a great accomplishment, but falling at the last hurdle was heartbreaking and (slightly) hurt my confidence. I don’t feel that I played very well in that match and the heavy defeat did not make me look good, especially on-stream. Winning the World Championships has been a goal of mine since I began to drastically improve at the game (around 2013), and finally doing it this year, in my final year of seniors, felt like a lot of hard work finally paying off.

Did you do anything else interesting in Boston?
Despite not having very much time in Boston with the tournament taking up three days, I did thoroughly enjoy my time there. My parents and I went on a walking tour along part of the Freedom Trail which was quite interesting. We also went to Fenway Park to watch the Boston Red Sox. This was my first experience of baseball and the game was very exciting and fast paced. My family also spent a week in Cape Cod prior to the event which was really enjoyable: We went to Provincetown, saw the impressive Pilgrim’s Monument and cycled to the many beaches on the cape. Cape Cod was a nice, relaxing holiday but I still made sure to practise consistently during that time.

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