You’ve all heard the story of the typical VGC player. For many of you reading this, you’re probably experiencing that story right now. Kid plays the Pokémon video game. Kid enjoys the video game and starts playing on simulators online. Kid discovers local VGC events and makes friends at these events. Kid becomes more ingrained in the community, travelling to higher level events across the country and maybe even all over the world. Kid keeps improving, getting better placements over time, growing up and learning life lessons along the way…
…Kid wins the World Championships?
That’s where the narrative of a typical VGC player differs from that of Alex Ogloza—a VGC player whose almost decade-long Pokémon career is comparable to no other. Throughout his story, the Trading Card player turned Video Game champion turned YouTuber has seen all the high and lows that competitive Pokémon has to offer.
Ogloza first managed to compete on the VGC global stage through some of the most unlikely of circumstances. Originally a TCG player, Ogloza travelled to his first Pokémon World Championship on a family holiday to Hawaii in 2010. A successful TCG Nationals campaign, including an 8-1 swiss finish, had given him the confidence to succeed at the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) for the TCG World Championship.
In a strange turn of events, Ogloza met an old friend who happened to play VGC. That friend convinced Ogloza to bide his time by playing in the VGC LCQ while waiting for the TCG LCQ to begin.
“I had an hour to kill so I was like okay sure. [My friend] called over his brother [and] his brother gave me Pokémon. I had no idea what the meta was. I did not play basically any VGC at all at the time…,” said Ogloza. “He literally had 35 seconds to break down what the team did. He said push this, push that, do your best. I didn’t even have six Pokémon, I had four. He didn’t have six Pokémon to trade me.”
Ogloza surprised himself with his performance, fighting through round after round, seemingly unable to lose at a game he hardly played.
“I just thought I was going to play a round, lose, and go back [to the TCG LCQ]. I was just trying to kill an hour. [But] I was there for Pokémon. [I thought I] might as well experience it,” said Ogloza.
As each round and each victory came, Ogloza was soon due at his TCG tournament. Eventually, so much time had passed that he was forced into a difficult choice between starting his TCG LCQ tournament and playing the last round of the VGC LCQ for the Worlds spot. In the end, Ogloza decided to stick with the video game because of how close he was. The result of that last round match?
“I went and played the last game. And I actually lost,” said Ogloza.
It looked like Ogloza’s Worlds campaign was over without playing a single card. But his luck turned at the last second.
“The guy who beat me had already qualified for the Trading Card Game Worlds so he was disqualified [and] I got in. That’s how I got into the World Championships.”
A young Ogloza, now decked out with a full team of six Pokémon, played through the 2010 World Championships, discovering that Ghost types were super effective against other Ghost types along the way. He finished in 13th place with a respectable 4-2 record.
“That’s basically when I started taking VGC seriously,” said Ogloza.
Perhaps because of his unconventional beginnings, Ogloza has always been known for his unconventional team choices. During the 2014 US Nationals, Ogloza was able to once again compete for a Worlds invitation. The Rain team Ogloza eventually came up with featured three ‘Choice’ items. These items were used to boost either the Attack, Special Attack, or Speed of the user, but restricted the Pokémon to only one move. Featuring one or even two Choice items per team is relatively common and nothing to be alarmed by. But opting to use all three Choice items on a single team was unprecedented at the time.
“I basically didn’t have any advice when I started. I had no one to help me with teambuilding, and all of it came from my own core,” Ogloza said. “I had to learn how to function as a team builder myself for a long time and that’s why you see, I guess, unorthodox teams like [the US Nationals Team].”
Partly as a consequence of so many “Choiced Pokémon”, the team also did not feature any Pokémon with the move “Protect”.
“[Protect] is almost like a staple in VGC. If you asked anybody ‘Hey, should I run three Choice items on my team? You’d say no. You’d absolutely say no. If you go down to the basics, it’s just not good. You use Protect to pivot. You use good typing synergies and stuff.” Ogloza said. “I didn’t get any of that advice when I first started; I had to build all of my…teams myself. All of the teams I have placed with ever have been built from scratch by myself and I think that actually shows in the teams, especially in that Nationals Team.”
Ogloza’s unique style was a great shock to competitors as he was able to brush aside opponents, eventually making it to and winning the Grand Final. The victory was especially sweet because Ogloza had originally applied to be a commentator at the event. In a serendipitous turn of events, however, he was not selected and had to “settle” for playing instead. Ogloza recalls an especially humorous interaction with Chris Brown of The Pokémon Company International after the tournament.
“I shook his hand, and he shook my hand and I said, ‘Hey, I just really want to thank you for not picking me to commentate this tournament so that I could win all your prize money.’ And he laughed. It was just one of the best moments ever,” Ogloza recalled.
A goal of Ogloza’s for many years, qualifying for Worlds again, was finally a reality. Worlds itself started well for Ogloza as well as he achieved two early wins. Ogloza’s World Championship run and entire career, however, would be defined by a post-third round epiphany:
I remember halfway through that tournament, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I don’t really care how I place in this tournament unless I win.’ …Before it had always been, ‘Oh I just want to place well. I love having high placements’, but I realised that after Nationals, for myself, winning Worlds was the really only thing. Like getting third wouldn’t have really been. I would not have been happy with that. I really just wanted to win. I had never felt that way before. I had always just enjoyed trying to Top Cut and have a good time. All of a sudden I felt like if I didn’t win, I wasn’t going to be happy with my placement. That was a weird thing to struggle with in the middle of a tournament I was in. I remember thinking about that. It was so weird. After coming out of Worlds, I realized, I really just don’t care any of these other events personally as much as I used to.”
Ogloza continued to struggle with this mentality going into 2015. He would have the second part of his epiphany after a 50-man back-to-back Premier Challenge (PC) in early 2015. Though these tournaments are no longer sanctioned by TPCi, back-to-back Premier Challenges consist of two separate tournaments that feature the identical players, teams, and format. Ogloza won the first tournament, but placed third-to-last in the second. This stark contrast of finishes once again forced him to question his Pokémon career.
“To go from being first to almost last…I realized that no matter how cool your team is or how well you’re going to play, really just being on fire, not being on fire is a big deal,” said Ogloza. “That was the second blow, I think. I really realized…that if I can’t achieve something better than this Nationals win, (which to me was basically just Worlds) if this game is still this volatile, what am I going to do?”.
The third and final part of the epiphany would be during a 2015 Regionals.
“I went to a regional with my best friend. We’re going to a tournament and we’re basically almost late. We are actually late. One of the judges was just closing up shop, saw us, and let us in,” said Ogloza. “[But] I realized we weren’t even sad about being late; we were totally okay about not making the tournament at all. That had never happened before…It almost felt like I was relieved to not make the tournament…. All of these things [started] to add up.”
And with that, Ogloza decided that this would be his final hurrah at a serious live event.
“I decided I was done with physical events. I don’t think they’re worth my time. I don’t think the game is worth putting in that kind of effort to if: a) I am just trying to shoot for Worlds, b) it’s an entire season long, c) it costs all this money to go to physical events,” said Ogloza. “It was no longer fun trying to compete at these events.”
Ogloza has been able to continue his love for Pokémon through his YouTube channel. In 2013, Ogloza had opted to study abroad in Japan over attending US Nationals, his one chance at Worlds that year. Though he in no way regrets this decision, he came back from Japan angry at himself for missing the Pokémon opportunity. Thus, Ogloza began to look for something else within the realm of Pokémon that he could do to take his mind off of the fact that he had missed hit shot back to Worlds.
“As far as the realm of Pokémon what else really is there? And at the time, there wasn’t a whole lot of online content. And so I figured since I missed my opportunity at worlds, what was the next best option?And I guess it really was just putting stuff out on the internet,” said Ogloza. “At the same time,…that wasn’t my only motivation. I spent a lot of time on the internet and…I was always taking and I wanted to give back.”
Ogloza looks back to his first videoes fondly. While laughing throughout, Alex recalls:
“They sucked!” Ogloza said. “I sucked. They sucked. It all sucked.”
In retrospect, Ogloza is in disbelief at how bad it all was.
“I had a MacBook air. It was my laptop. So it comes with a built-in microphone (God, it was terrible). It has a built-in webcam (It was worse than terrible). And I didn’t know anything about Photoshop. I didn’t know anything about video editing. I had to use the built-in QuickTime player to edit little clips together. And so I was really limited to what I could basically do in one shoot, because I didn’t really [know how] to edit or anything…,”said Ogloza. “It looked like I was shooting on a chicken nugget. Everything was just super blurry and pixelated.”
Still, Ogloza had a blast with his channel at the start, making the best with the production value he was working with.
“My brother was on it with me for a while and we would make theme battles. I remember trying to narrate them and God, it was just so awkward.
….I would build something that looked dumb like Team Rocket’s team. I would have an Arbok and a Weezing and a Victreebel….I’ve kept a couple of them up because I thought it was super funny, but man, was it embarrassing.”
Despite initial shortcomings, Ogloza learned quickly and stayed the course with Youtube. When asked how he got the motivation to persevere, Ogloza instantly thought of his fans, the individual people who make up his Youtube community:
The part of Youtube, what I found I really like the most was the interaction with the comments section and the people who’d come. I’d recognize their usernames.
Honestly, people on the internet are so clever. These guys are so funny. It’s almost like you can be so much funnier on the internet just because you have time to think of a response. Or maybe just the way you read it in your head, it makes it funny?
But I really really really really kept going because I had such a great interaction in the comments section. Even to this day, I read at least 99% of all the comments that come through my channel. I have it on my phone. Whenever I’m on the bus, the back of a car…, or someone’s in the bathroom at a restaurant, I’ll pop on Youtube analytics and go through my comments section. I monitor my comments super super closely because that’s what kept me going for the longest time.
…I love seeing the same people come back. It was so satisfying. I created something that didn’t exist. I took something that absolutely was just nothing and I made it into something. And that mattered to somebody else.
It sounds kind of cheesy, but everyone says they want to make a difference, change the world. It’s so vague. But at the same time, changing the world just means influencing other people. And so when you’re the person and you see what you’re creating is having an impact on somebody else’s life….
I have a whole folder on my desktop; it’s titled INSP, which stands for inspiration. Those are comments that people have sent me that I save because they’re really just so inspiring to me.
‘I was having the worst day of my life and your video is the only thing that made me happy’
‘I’ve been crying for the last week straight because my dog died. But tuning into your show everyday, it gives a little bit of happiness right now.’
I got one yesterday. It was a guy named Brock:
‘It’s my birthday. Nobody showed up for it, but I’m really happy I got to spend it with you’
That’s incredible. That’s just incredible. If I didn’t create this, maybe he would have had a different outlet. Maybe he didn’t. For whatever it’s worth for him, he does have an outlet. And at least for him, that was there for him.”
Yo it’s the middle of the night but can I get a shout out for my man Mr. Brock here? Everybody deserves a happy birthday~ pic.twitter.com/zW34gRRkC5
— Alex Ogloza (@AlexOgloza) February 18, 2017
Ogloza talks about his past competitive life with a certain nostalgic fondness, as if reflecting on a bygone era. In comparison, he speaks about Youtube with a clear passion and fervor in his voice. What once was his drive to qualify for Worlds now pushes him to produce content for his fans. Filled with a new sense of purpose, Ogloza uses Pokémon these days, not as means to prove his own strategic superiority, but as a vehicle with which he can make a positive impact in the lives of others.
“I know I get written off a lot of because I don’t play in the circuit anymore…If I won [the ONOG Invitational], that’d be amazing. I am going to try. [But] I think it would mean…more to the people that follow me than anything else,” said Ogloza. “The same way that when I won [the National Championship], it was more for the people that followed my [YouTube] channel. It’s like, for me, if you believe in me or believe in what I’m creating, that’s the highest compliment you could give me. To give back to [my fans] would be really spectacular.”
As he’s been throughout his entire Pokémon career, Alex goes into the ONOG Invitational as the wildcard. Though it’s been almost two years since his last high-stakes VGC competition, Ogloza has proven time and time again that competing at the highest level is by no means out of the range of his ability. His fans at the forefront of his mind, Ogloza has more than just a title to play for. And as his community already sees him as a winner in their eyes, Ogloza has nothing to lose.
Kid plays TCG. Kid accidently plays VGC. Kid wins all that he feels he can win in VGC. Kid starts being goofy with his brother on Youtube. Kid retires from competitive VGC. Kid reads Youtube comments, growing up and learning life lessons along the way…
…Kid becomes a positive influence in the lives of millions.