The best Pokémon trainer on the planet wins his first world championship
If you’re like many a budding gamer, at some point you wanted to be the very best. Pokémon is a large part of the childhood—and sometimes adulthood—of millions of people. If you took the opening line to the theme song seriously, you were probably at the 2014 Pokémon Video Game World Championships (VGC) in Washington D.C. this weekend.
But you weren’t the very best. Unless your name is Se Jun Park.
Hundreds of gamers converged at the VGC to talk and play Pokémon this weekend. The video game series pits virtual monster trainers against each other in chess-like battles of strategy and preparation. It may not be your typical esport, but the competition is very real.
For years, Park was on the short list of top Pokémon trainers, dominating the competitive circuit in his home country of Korea while showing strong in international competition. But a VGC title remained elusive for the man entering the world championships as the favorite for the fifth time.
The fifth time's the charm, apparently, as Park pulled it off using an unorthodox team headlined by the cheerful electric death squirrel Pachirisu, a surprising and innovative selection.
The Pokémon X/Y tournament used the VGC specific double-battle format where both players show their foes a team of six Pokémon but only bring four into the battle. That allowed the unassuming little squirrel to shine.
Pachirisu doesn’t have great stats. He’s not a beefy tank, or a powerful sweeper. But he was the perfect support for Park’s big guns mega Gyarados and Garchomp. The moves Follow Me and Nuzzle allowed Pachirisu to mitigate damage for his powerful partners, letting them clear the board.
Pachirisu’s effectiveness was no better illustrated than in this group stage game, where Park beat Omari Travis, and Pachirisu stood against the fearsome mega Khangaskhan and brutal Garchomp.
It was an innovative strategy, one for which runner-up Jeudy Azzarelli had no answer.
“I’ve played four times [at VGC] but I’ve never won the championship," Park said in an interview after his win. "I almost thought that I couldn’t win. I’m really happy to finally win the championship I’ve been dreaming of."
Competition was split by age. Park took the title in the Master’s Division, for players 16 and older. The Senior Division, featuring ages 12 to 15, went the way of the American player Nikolai Zielinski. Japan’s Kota Yamamato took Juniors, for players aged 11 on down.
Nintendo doesn’t award cash prizes like many other video game tournaments, instead offering money in the form of scholarships. The top finishers each received $3,500 in scholarship money, travel covered to the 2015 VGC World Championships so the player can defend their title, and various other trinkets like full sets of Pokémon cards.
Pokémon is a fickle game, a fact well-known by anyone who has played it, whether in competition or casually. A single critical hit, a 10 percent flinch chance, and an unfortunate miss are all enough to change the outcome of a match.
It’s been a long time coming for Park, one of the game’s true stars, but he finally won the trophy he deserved.
Screengrab via Pokemon/Twitch