By Jason Krell
While Markus Stadter once struggled to translate online talent to success at live events, he has since claimed multiple National Championships and built a name for himself as one of Europe’s top players. After finishing third in last year’s World Championship, it seemed as if the only thing left for Stadter to do was claim the title for himself.
Yet, his goals changed after competing in this season’s Leipzig VGC Regional Championship. While he dominated the competition and was proud to have done so, winning had never been the first thought on his mind. What mattered most to him in the days leading up to the tournament was that the regional was part of Dreamhack, a major esport event.
“When I first heard about there being a regional at Dreamhack, I was very surprised and happy because I thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase competitive Pokémon to the esports scene,” Stadter said. “Surely that would include a lot of Pokémon fans that were open to the concept of VGC.”
The reality was different from what he had expected. Due to Germany’s youth protection laws and the Pokémon Company International’s need for the event to be accessible to those under the age of 16, the tournament was held away from the main event hall. VGC wasn’t going to get the kind of exposure he hoped for.
Still, there was a silver lining for Stadter. He found opportunities to chat with major players in esports including the heads of Complexity Card Gaming, an organization that signed him after a discussion of Pokémon’s potential future. Stadter was also approached about appearing on a podcast by Esport-Talk to discuss his regional win and VGC in general. Finally, he was able to interface with the tournament organizers at Dreamhack to get their thoughts on how the VGC regional had run compared to their more traditional events. And even though the regional didn’t net the game as much attention as he’d hoped for, it was still a good sign.
“All those people showed interest in what was going on with Pokémon and said that it could have more potential than what we’re seeing at the moment,” Stadter said. “I got really motivated to stick to the plan I had with streaming and to also try out new things.”
A few days after Dreamhack, Stadter expressed his inspiration on Twitter:
With Dreamhack and being part of an org, I am so motivated to finally grow VGC to the next level
We’ve only talked about it for way too long
— Markus Stadter (@13Yoshi37) January 17, 2017
@LegaVGC I got my eyes opened and am working on a totally different approach now
— Markus Stadter (@13Yoshi37) January 17, 2017
In effect, Stadter had decided to take the future of VGC into his own hands.
“I realized that just waiting for [The Pokémon Company International] to snap their fingers and drop something like a $1 million prize pool for Worlds and overcome all the problems they face won’t happen overnight,” Stadter said. “Instead, I think the community should also focus on supporting the grassroot scene more and generating more exposure via their own work instead of demanding things from TPCI.”
The first step to following his own advice was to take advantage of the new PC he’d gotten for Christmas that could actually handle the strain of a high-quality stream. Before that, his capture card had been going to waste. Less than a month after getting his stream off the ground, Stadter already has more than 1,500 followers and a Twitch partnership.
“Having regular streams to watch between tournaments is extremely important to keep people interested in the game,” Stadter said. “A lot of people just watch esports that they either stopped playing or have never played before, because they know that they can get top class entertainment whenever they want.”
As it stands, while there’s almost always someone hunting for shiny Pokémon on Twitch, VGC streams have traditionally been much more infrequent. And while players such as Aaron Zheng and Wolfe Glick have proven that YouTube is a good platform for the game, Stadter thinks Twitch has more to offer. According to him, the ability to interact with the audience in real time can help attract those who might otherwise avoid trying the game out. The simple act of answering questions, he said, can go a long way.
The inaccessibility of Pokémon live-event streams for a casual viewer was another obstacle to VGC’s growth that Stadter identified. To start remedying that situation, Stadter attempted to organize “Yoshi’s Invitational,” a VGC tournament designed to attract viewers from outside the game’s community.
Unfortunately, Stadter’s attempt fell into many common pitfalls of first-time tournament organizers. Unexpected problems such as complications with crowd-funding and player selection sprang up. In response, Stadter opted to cancel the event until he could refine it enough to do it justice.
Fortunately for Stadter, his efforts didn’t go to waste. While the community agreed the announcement and execution of “Yoshi’s Invitational” was less than ideal, most saw that Stadter’s general idea had merit. The esports organization, OneNationofGamers (ONOG) felt the same way, and thus the ONOG Pokémon Invitational was born — a tournament that borrows many ideas from Stadter’s original design.
Soon, Stadter will be one of eight players competing for the title of ONOG Champion. Yet, while Stadter would love to add another accomplishment to his decorated VGC legacy, this isn’t why he had tried to organize his own tournament or why he will be competing. Stadter simply wants to share the game he loves with more people and help take competitive Pokémon to new heights.
“There’s always been change, and a lot of people still have the goal of ‘getting Pokémon to the next level,’ ‘growing the game’ or ‘becoming esports,’” Stadter said. “But I want to give it a final try now. I had resigned before and thought Pokémon was ultimately only going to be a fun thing on the side. However, I’m motivated now and want the scene to prosper. There’s still some boundaries we need to cross, but I think it might be possible. I don’t think we’ve ever been this close before.”
While the inspiration only struck after Leipzig, Stadter wasn’t just looking forward. He was also looking back and remembering how far VGC had already come. He remembered how it had felt to go from single-elimination to Swiss rounds at German Nationals for the first time in 2013. He remembered how more than 100 people had come to the very first Premiere Challenge in his area. He remembered his excitement when Europe finally received its own Regional circuit in 2015. And he remembered being a part of the first official stream in Europe as a commentator during 2016.
In looking back, Stadter realized he had seen Pokémon through most of its ups and downs. He himself had grown from a 14 year old boy asking his parents for permission to stay up late and play in an online tournament to the third best player in the world. If the game could come so far and if he could grow so much, he didn’t see any reason why it couldn’t keep moving forward.