"I wanna be the very best. The best there ever was."
While most of us abandoned our dreams of becoming the world's best Pokemon trainer at a young age, Curtis Lyon tells us his quest to catch 'em all.
Name: Curtis Lyon
Suitless Pursuit: Competitive Pokemon Master (Card Player)
Isn't it every kid's dream to become a Pokemon Master? And you're one of them. What do you do?
I attend tournaments that focus on competitive play with Pokemon trading cards. You buy packs and get specific cards or randomized cards. These games and tournaments are regulated with rules, and you use specific cards as defined by the games rules to battle against an opponent.
How did you get into competitive Pokemon card playing?
As a kid, I loved Pokemon. I was addicted to it. Every Saturday morning and after school I would rush home so that I could watch an episode. When I found out there were Pokemon cards, I immediately had my grandma buy me a starter deck. I never understood the rules though - my cousins and I traded them and played games where we flipped the cards over to see who had the best card. I didn't know about the intricacies until high school when a friend and I went to the card store and the owner told us that there were these tournaments. We were amazed! I mean, this was years after most people had stopped collecting Pokemon cards!
We ended up going to our first tournament and got destroyed, but we also ended up meeting a lot of cool people who introduced us to the competitive Pokemon community.
How old were you when you started competing?
17 or 18.
And what do you do for a living?
I'm a Systems Engineer at Cisco. I identify challenges faced by the companies that we provide our services to and engineer a technical solution that will allow them to operate more efficiently. Before that, I was a network design engineer at BlackBerry where I was in charge of high-level design and support for all network implementations at BlackBerry sites.
Do people at work know you’re an amazing Pokemon player?
I first told my manager when I asked for a couple of days off. He asked “for what?” and I told him “you’re not going to believe this, but I’m going to the States to play Pokemon.” To which he replied “Oh boy, you have some explaining to do.” But now my co-workers are all supportive, and they even have a countdown when I leave for tournaments.
What are the tournaments like?
The competitive tournament circuit is made up of people from all walks of life: students competing as a hobby, parents supporting their kids, card store owners advertising their stores. At our first tournament, my friends and I didn't take it seriously and were totally unprepared. We were blown out of the water. But the community is so open and really supportive of anyone that plays. That's why we enjoy competing.
Do you have to compete in many small tournaments to get to nationals?
For nationals, no; however, the world championships are invite only. Every time you win a tournament, you're given points and it's published online. If you accumulate enough points, you receive an invitation from the championship organizers to represent the country you're from.
So I guess you felt like Charlie getting that golden ticket when you were chosen to represent at the Worlds?
Yeah exactly. The first time I earned it, that was sweet, but I promise you - the excitement doesn’t leave. This will be my fourth time representing Canada and that excitement hasn’t gone away. I just feel so blessed.
What's your best memory from one of these tournaments?
There are actually two. The first was is from the World Championships in 2010 in Hawaii: I was in the top 16 during the single elimination tournament. I was pretty much written off because it was my first time at a world tournament, and it got to the point where all I remember hearing were people telling me to keep my expectations low because I was up against the best players in the world. With the time in one of my last matches winding down, (the games are timed, just like chess) things weren’t looking too good for me, so I went for a really high-risk play, and I clinched a win. With that win, I became the highest ranked Canadian ever at the world championships.
The other time was at the Canadian nationals, the biggest tournament held in Canada. I was having a really bad season, and I was disappointed in myself because I wasn’t doing as well as I had expected. It was a chance to redeem myself, and I ended up winning. It was gratifying to know that I had such a bad year, but managed to pull through at the end.
How big are these tournaments?
Smaller tournaments have up to 30 people, and that would be pretty big for a local tournament. Then you have your bigger tournaments like Provincials and Regionals which hit 120 people or more just for the Masters division. Nationals are larger at about 200 people, and World Championships are about 128 people because it's invite only. To give you an idea of how big these tournaments get, the US Nationals consistently have about 2000 people competing in the Masters division alone.
How often do you have to update your deck?
To keep the game fresh, "new" cards are released every 3-4 months, but only a few of these cards change how the game is played. You have to update once every time a new set comes out, but they're minor modifications. Depending on what each card does, you can modify your deck to suit your play style. Your combination of cards could be the factor in beating out the competition and winning a whole tournament.
Do you have any prep or pre-tournament rituals?
It’s all about deck modification and testing it out against another person. I have people I bounce ideas off of and test them on, and then I may realize that a certain combination works or doesn't work.
What are the stereotypes of Pokemon card players? Are these stereotypes true to some extent?
The general misconception is that they are geeky, nerdy, comic book type guys, like from the Simpsons -- you know, like Milhouse. Are the stereotypes true? I would say about 50% of them fit the bill but there are the other 50% who do it because they love it, and they don’t care about their image… but that’s not to say that the 50% who fit the bill aren’t cool too. People just need to give them a chance.
How seriously do people take these competitions? Does anybody overreact to losing?
I take it seriously, I’m not ashamed to admit it. Even if you’re up against a friend, you both get serious because both of you want to win just as badly as the other. I don’t like dedicating this much time to losing, you know what I mean? You run into people who come to have fun and socialize, which is totally cool. And then you’ll see others who have a chip on their shoulder and those are the types who really get mad. I’ve seen people throw things, tables get flipped.. but it’s usually calm and collected.
What would you do for a first edition Charizard?
It’s sad because the card isn’t worth that much anymore. I mean that was a childhood defining moment if you had one, like owning that card made you king of the playground.
If you had a Pokemon as a girlfriend who would it be, and why?
Do you remember Ditto? I guess it'd have to be Ditto.
I would be like, alright Ditto…turn into Jessica Alba. Don’t say anything.
What’s your vision for the Pokemon scene in Canada?
I have such high hopes for it, and I want it to keep growing. I really love how the community is really tight right now. I just want everyone to be great ambassadors and teach others about the game, something that I was grateful to have when I first started. Some of the best editions we’ve had were streaming games. So you could actually watch the game being streamed live and see the hands being played. I think it’s huge for people playing the game, but also people who want to get into the game. I hope it continues to help the community grow. I'm hoping that when I do stop playing, some of the younger kids I’ve mentored will have the same morals and integrity for their work as I do. Hopefully they can carry on and allow Pokemon in Canada to break the mainstream.
Do you have any words of wisdom?
Do what you love. I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn't playing something I love and I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t surround myself with people who love competing as much as I do. So whatever your passion is, no matter how embarrassing or how much criticism you get, stick with it - it always pays off.
For more information on tournaments and how to become a Pokemon card player yourself, visit http://www.pokemon.com/us/
Interested in seeing what kinds of games Curtis has played?