The Pokemon World Championships recently took place in San Diego. The best Pokemon players in the world fought it out in some amazing battles. Normally, the winner would be the big story, but in this case, I don't think it is. California's Grace Beck made it all the way to the semifinals. While that's impressive on its own, what makes it even more remarkable is that it was only her second Pokemon tournament! You see, she attended the National Championships as a spectator, received an entry to compete, performed extremely well, and qualified for the World Championships! From an avid Pokemon collector to worldwide semifinalist, Grace Beck has had quite a Pokemon journey in 2009. I recently caught up with her to learn more about her story.
G4: Grace, you started playing Pokemon competitively at this year's Pokemon National Championships. How did you end up there?
Grace Beck: My cousin is Chris Tsai, who was the highest-ranking American Pokemon player in the World Championships last year. He was also one of the national champions. He had no luck during this year's regionals, so he went to the nationals in St. Louis to enter as a last-chance qualifier. He and his mom invited me, just to see everyone and hang out. They know I like Pokemon as well, so they thought it would be fun to spend time with everyone. I entered to play because I'm more of a Pokemon collector and the tournament organizers were giving out a rare Pokemon if you entered to play in the tournament. Not intending to play in the tournament thinking I'd never get through the random draw -- there were hundreds of people there -- I went to register just so I could get the giveaway Pokemon. [laughs]
G4: And you ended up placing third and qualifying for the National Championships!
Beck: [laughs] Yeah! My number was drawn and so was Chris's, so I was in a panic because I didn't know what to do. On the fly, Chris traded me a team. I asked for something a cat with a stylus could use. I asked for something easy. He had been preparing for the tournament for months and had a lot of teams available. He just gave me one on the fly. He traded it to me minutes before the first round began.
G4: I heard that you felt a little ashamed of winning the nationals.
Beck: I felt like...I didn't deserve any of it. When compared to people like Chris and a lot of other friends he has, they've been preparing for months or years for this event -- just testing out different strategies in the game -- and here I am, a total newbie in terms of battling. I never battled an actual person before that day. I'm going in. It's my first battle. I'm just goofing off and taking silly pictures. And at the end of the day I was 5-0, finishing at the top of my bracket.
G4: Wow. So did things come easily to you? Were the strategies second nature?
Beck: Well, I had played Pokemon extensively as collector because I'm definitely one of the people that's a completionist when they play video games -- you know, I have to get everything. So I would always look for every single Pokemon. Inadvertently, I ended up seeing a lot of things in the game mechanics that really helped with battle strategies. If you're a collector, you have to know what you're looking for. A lot of the things I learned from catching Pokemon were more pertinent to battling than collecting. And through that, I came to learn a lot about Pokemon. Thankfully I wasn't an idiot -- or not that big of an idiot -- and remembered most of it.
G4: It just seems unusual. Many players are into the collection aspect of Pokemon, like you are. But there's also this subsection of Pokemon fans that are super into things like IV breeding, EV training, and hardcore battling. The mindsets are very different.
Beck: Some of the hardcore battlers were very dismissive of the fact that I was just a collector. A lot of them thought that I didn't deserve to win. Because I was a collector, I knew about IV breeding -- I've done it. I knew about EV training and things like that. When you're trading Pokemon with people all over the world, you find people looking for very specific Pokemon to trade. Because I cater to people like that, I knew a lot about raising and training Pokemon for competition.
G4: Still, knowing about it and real-world strategy are two different things.
Beck: I think that's a testament to Chris's brilliance and the way that he's able to come up with great teams like the one he gave me -- a team a complete newbie could use and dominate with.
G4: What team did he give you?
Beck: I don't recall! [laughs] It was a hail team -- a weather-based team. My other secret weapon -- in addition to Chris -- was one of my best friends, Sharon. I call her The Dumb Luck Princess. She has the best dumb luck I've ever seen in a person! It's really uncanny and I attribute a lot of my success in the tournament to her because in the game mechanics you have small percentages, like less than seven percent for a critical hit or a 10 percent chance of freezing if you're using an ice-based attack. Consistently, in every one of my battles, I was able to pull off these unlikely things. I really attribute that to Sharon being there.
G4: So "Dumb Luck Princess" powers are obviously transferable!
Beck: I had her tethered to me in the convention hall doing nothing, so I think her "dumb luck" presence had no other choice but to follow me around for the day.
G4: Awesome! Now how about San Diego? How was your experience in the Pokemon World Championships?
Beck: I was determined to have the very same support group that I had in St. Louis. So I begged both Sharon and Chris to come, and they were there. In the weeks leading up to San Diego, I stayed away from any sort of Pokemon thinking, because the pressure was just really getting to me. At one point I started having Pokemon-tournament related nightmares! [laughs] And every time I really thought back about it, I remembered why I broke down crying. I was walking back to the hotel in St. Louis and I just really felt so bad that I had done so well when I felt like I didn't deserve any of it. So those feelings came back going into San Diego.
Chris definitely helped whip me into shape and reminded me what was coming. Just a few days before the tournament, we finalized my team. The night before the tournament we stayed up until 4AM so that I could get some practice battling done.
G4: What kind of team did you end up going with?
Beck: The team that I used was really special to me. It was a rain team. It happened to be more or less the same team that Chris used to win last year. So I felt like it represented my connection to Chris. Because it's a rain team, the main attack that it uses is surf. I felt like that move really tied me to my SoCal roots, which seemed appropriate. One of the last-minute changes we made was to add a cute Pokemon. I prefer my Pokemon to be cute -- you know, because I was never a battler. The more powerful Pokemon tend to be the ugly ones. So at the last minute, Chris came up with this brilliant idea for how I can incorporate my preference for cute in my team and still make it competitive. So we used a Pokemon called Politoed, which has a special ability the prevents other players from using moves like explosion of self destruct. We included Politoed, which is like this grinning frog with pink blush marks on its cheeks. I adored it! It was so much fun and the really made a difference for me.
G4: Eventually you ran into Tsuji in the semifinals, who was the eventual winner.
Beck: Yes, I played him in my semifinal round, but all throughout the preliminaries I was always seeded somewhere near him. There's a Pokemon move called uproar, if you're familiar with it.
Beck: I really felt that if a human was really capable of that move, Tsuji would have it mastered. His battle style is very, very loud and very exciting. Whenever something great would happen, he would yell out, "Kaaaaa!!!" If something bad happened, he would yell out other things. Sitting next to him probably shaved off a few years of my life. [laughs]
G4: How's that?
Beck: Everyone would be silently playing with their game faces and all of the sudden from the corner of the area comes this explosive yelling. I nearly fell out of my chair several times. If I was a spectator rather than a competitor, Tsuji would probably be my favorite. So yeah, I ran into him in my semifinals and...wow [laughs]. That was such a crazy experience!
G4: So now that you have two tournaments under your belt, what are you plans? Are you coming back next year?
Beck: Well, the thing about my semifinal round was that Tsuji and I were both unfamiliar with the Wii and the setup in Pokemon Battle Revolution. So we both ended up making a lot of mistakes. So if I can get my hands on a system and copy of the game, I might...consider coming back? [laughs]
G4: Well hopefully The Pokemon Company and Nintendo will take care of that for you!
Beck: [laughs] Other than that, I really hope that Chris can maintain his dominance on his own [laughs] instead of this weird fluke happening again. I would like to go because next year the World Championships happen to be in Hawaii. Going to San Diego as a Los Angeles native wasn't as exciting as it could have been. [laughs]
G4: What would it be like for you if you had to face Chris in a tournament?
Beck: I don't know. In our practice battles, it's pretty much an even record. I told him that if I ever face him in battle that I'd take it seriously and I hope he wouldn't go easy on me either.
G4: What would your emotions be like if that were to happen?
Beck: Gosh. [laughs] I've been told that I have a pretty serious game face, but my style is to joke between the matches -- always just having fun and being myself. In St. Louis, I found one of the competitors was a huge Avenue Q fan, which is a musical that I love. So while we were waiting for the round to begin, we were singing some of the show tunes from the soundtrack. If I knew that I was facing Chris next...I don't know. I'm really susceptible to nerves and [laughs] I don't know if I could handle the pressure.
G4: Let's talk about some of your favorite Pokemon. You said you like the cute ones. Who are some of your favorites?
Beck: I have three favorites. I like Snorlax, because in its description it says it eats and sleeps and eats again. It's largely what I do. It's what I love to do. Another is Wobuffet, because the expression it has is really comical and that's the expression that's usually on my face. [laughs] And my other favorite is Pachirisu because I think it's really cute.
G4: How about in a competitive setting? Do you have any favorites for battling?
Beck: [laughs] Not particularly! I was really happy with my World Championships team. It had a few cute Pokemon. It had a Vaporeon, it had a Politoed, it had a Lapras, and I like them all very much. I'm hoping that next year there will be a team for me -- that will showcase my preference for cute and still be successful. [laughs]
G4: Very cool! Well, I hope you have the best of luck in next year's tournaments. With any luck, I'll be seeing you in Hawaii!
Beck: I hope so too!