by Karim Doumar
Wolfe Glick, 19, of McLean placed in the top eight at the annual Pokémon National Championships in Indianapolis over the weekend, winning him a spot at – and a free trip to – the World Championships in Boston at the end of summer. Glick competes in the video game section of the competition.
Two players compete against each other in a match. Each player brings a team of four Pokémon and their goal is to knock out the Pokémon on the other player’s team.
Glick finished with a 7-2 record the first day allowing him to move on to day two. His day two record of five wins and one loss was good enough to get him to the single-elimination, top-eight third day where he was eliminated.
Players must prepare with a great, balanced team and, in order to win, be aware and able to capitalize on their team’s strengths and their opponent’s team’s weaknesses. It’s a mind game like chess except that in Pokémon, players start with unique self-created teams.
“I ended up thinking up my team on the plane ride over,” Glick said of his preparation. Usually players try to prepare well in advance but Glick had struggled. “I couldn’t find a team that felt right for some reason.”
With scant preparation – he didn’t even play a game with his team before the tournament started – Glick’s top-eight finish is impressive. “I’m happy I made it as far as I did because I had a lot of really close sets that I nearly lost” he said.
Glick has a reputation in the Pokémon world due to his previous success. Glick has won the U.S. National Championships twice and in 2012, he placed second at the World Championships. His resume also includes three regional championships, and sixth and ninth place finishes at the World Championships. He can now add a top-eight U.S. National Championships finish to his list of accomplishments.
“I think people were expecting me to do really well since I’ve had such a strong season so I’m glad I didn’t disappoint,” Glick said of his performance.
A rising sophomore at Virginia Tech, Glick started competing when he was a freshman in high school in 2011. He’s played for fun since he was a kid.
Glick’s foray into the world of competitive video game Pokémon corresponds to a swift surge in the popularity of eSports or Electronic Sports. In the past 15 years, eSports have exploded.
In 2013, 32 million people watched the championship of Riot Games’ League of Legends on streaming services which is more than the number of people who watched the 2014 World Series and NCAA Final Four combined.
Though Pokémon does not enjoy quite that level of popularity, it is on the rise. “Pokemon has been growing significantly, as has prize support,” Glick said. He postulates that the popularity of certain eSports is somewhat determined by the size of the prize. “In games like League you can win millions of dollars. That isn’t the case with Pokémon,” he said.
That being said, other eSports have the resources to dole out such hefty prizes because they have a larger fan base and therefore can get more advertising money.
According to Glick, League of Legends and other similar eSports “are faster paced, from what I understand, which can be more engaging, especially when watching. The player base is bigger as well.”
Glick remains optimistic about Pokemon’s increasing popularity and is taking an active role in helping the eSport grow. This summer, he is working to make a documentary about the competitions.
This may sound like a pipe-dream but Glick has a director, Dan Karlok, who worked on “Law and Order” back in the 1990s. Karlok was in Indianapolis filming during the National Championships this weekend.
Glick has won scholarship money and free trips to competitions in San Diego, Vancouver, Hawaii, and now, Boston. That, however, is not why he competes. He has made important friendships over the last 5 years.
“My favorite aspect of the competitions is seeing friends who I only see a few times a year,” Glick said. Competing has allowed him to connect with people from all over the country and the globe. The tournaments are not just a place to compete in Pokémon but serve as a sort of reunion for old friends.
Glick’s goal is to weave the story of building friendship with the actual mechanics of the game and competitions for the documentary. He recognizes Pokemon’s role in building international bridges that connect like-minded people from around the globe and wants to make it a central theme to the documentary.
“There’s a really powerful sense of community within the competitive scene,” Glick said. “It’s a big part of why I enjoy these tournaments as much as I do.”