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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Pokémon culture at UC Davis thrives

The release of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire has, once again, brought the popular franchise to the forefront of people’s attention. However, for some fans, interest in the game is not limited to new releases. On July 6, Alex Ogloza, a recent UC Davis graduate with a major in communication, won the 2014 Masters Video Game National Championship.

The competition lasted for three days and was held in Indianapolis. The games were played on each individual player’s Nintendo 3DS gaming console, and to battle, the two players sat across from each other at a table and linked their game devices. According to official tournament rules, each competitor brings his or her own team of six, and all battles are double battles, with two Pokémon out for each player at the same time.

“Getting through to the final round was so scary, especially since the last match was played on the final day, and I was just super nervous the whole weekend,” Ogloza said. “A game like this is a risk management game; you can be consistent but you’re going to eventually lose to stuff out of your control sometimes. So in a big tournament like that, where you can’t lose in the final stages without being kicked out, it’s really nerve-wracking.”

The first day of the tournament consisted of nine rounds. Only people who lost two times or fewer moved on. The playing field was cut down to 9 percent on the first day, and from there, the nine percent was whittled down to a final eight. The remaining eight players played single-elimination, best two-out-of-three matches to see who progressed.

“I squeaked through to the final round as eighth seed, and from there I had to play the three-time world champion in the first round because he was first seed, and somehow I beat him. I then won my top-four match on stream, and eventually came back the next day to win the final round as well,” Ogloza said. “At the end, a commentator came up to me because they give you an interview and I just put my head in my hands and said, ‘Oh my God’ in front of an audience of 60,000 people. This was something I wanted so badly for so long, especially because I really wanted to prove not only to myself, but also to my parents, that flying around for so many years, going to all of these tournaments, was really worthwhile. I know my parents watched the final rounds as they were happening, and it was just really nice to reconfirm that everything I’ve been doing has been worthwhile.”

Ogloza had been playing competitively since he was 16 years old. His first tournament was in San Francisco, and, since then, he has been to tournaments all across the country. The Pokémon Company hosts all the tournaments, and players are allowed to participate in as many as they would like; however, only the three best finishes are counted when determining points. Championship points are given based on how good the participant’s record or standing is at the end of each tournament, and the top 16 people in the United States with the most championship points get an invitation to the World Championships. The network of Pokémon players that Ogloza had met throughout these competitions is extensive. Even at UC Davis, Ogloza had the opportunity to meet a wide variety of well-established Pokémon players.

“Davis actually probably has one of the strongest histories of Pokémon players out of any university ever,” Ogloza said.“I mean, we have the Ha brothers (Duy and Huy), with multiple Worlds invitations and top eight finishes between them, including back-to-back California first-place regional finishes back-to-back. Paul Hornak, who won that same regional the following year, is one of the most recognized players in the game’s history, finishing in the top four of every regionals he attended from 2009-11, including a [first-place finish] at Phoenix and Seattle. [There’s] Alex Stempe, who took first and second at Oregon’s regionals in two consecutive tries, and now we also have a national championship. So we actually have a large collection of ridiculously good people mostly just by coincidence.”

Ogloza had also made an effort to introduce competitive Pokémon to the people around him, including Stempe, his current housemate and a fifth-year economics major.

“[Stempe] taught me about competitive Pokémon on a more advanced level [during] freshman year at Davis because we were in the same dorm. He had just finished placing 13th in the world [championships] the summer before freshman year, and it was one of the first times I had been around someone other than myself that enjoyed playing the game so much,” Stempe said. “I am very happy for his championship. I also participated in nationals but did not do nearly as well. I watched him work his way through the tournament, and while there was some luck involved, he did what he needed to do every game in order to win and I feel he is very deserving of the title of National Champion.”

Pokémon has not only been a large part of Ogloza’s experiences up to this point. He said that it will be a large component of his future career as well.

“I’m doing YouTube full-time and that only came about because I play Pokémon. Pokémon was my starting point, it was my introduction to an audience — you need a following, and since there were not a lot of people covering VGC, the official name for the official tournament, I started covering it. That’s actually why I went into communication, because I knew I wanted to do something with YouTube,” Ogloza said.

Ogloza’s championships have been a source of inspiration to some UC Davis students as well, one of which is Ivan Ornelas, a second-year computer science major and the president and founder of the Nintendo Club.

“One of the few constant things in my life is video games; I grew up with [them] and made many of my friends through it,” Ornelas said. “That’s why it makes me very happy that people are so invested in a game like Pokémon. I think that his championship serves as a reminder that, no matter what your hobby is, pursue it. Do what you love to do and you’ll be surprised at what comes out of it.”

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