The Sandstorm Subsided – A 2015 Australian Pokémon VGC Nationals Interview with a Champion

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Hot on the heels of the stunning conclusion to the 2015 Pokémon Video Game Australian National Championships, I had the privilege of conducting an interview with Matthew Roe, the 2015 Masters Division National Champion, to pick his brain about his performance of the season as well as his thoughts about the National Championships and beyond.

Congratulations yet again on your big win! A lot of people now know your name, but can you give us a little more insight into who Matthew Roe is?

Happy to oblidge. I’m 26 years old and currently live in the town of Port Fairy on Victoria’s south-west coast. I hold a Bachelors degree in Process Engineering and have recently picked up work at a local pharma plant as well as the occassional lifeguard shift at the local swimming pool. Outside of work I am a member of the Port Fairy Sea Scouts and aiming to earn my qualifications as a Scout Leader.

 When did you first start playing Pokémon competitively? and what about it caught your interest?

I started playing Pokémon competitively around early 2008. I began playing 4th Gen OU up until early 2010 before stopping, partly to focus on my studies and partly because I disliked the metagame at that point. I tried out the 5th Gen meta (OU and GBU Doubles) at various points but couldn’t really get back into it. Gave XY Battlespot a try in early 2014 and after enjoying it I decided to focus on VGC.

Aside from the big National Championship, how have you performed for the rest of the VGC ’15 season?

Overall I would say I’d had a fairly sucessful season leading in to Nationals. My International Challenge results were not spectacular and I only managed a Top 64 (48th Place) finish at Melbourne Regionals. However the Top 4 finishes at both the Adelaide Regionals and Werribee PC netted a few points and help set me up to have a shot at getting an invite to Worlds in Boston.

Outside of the official circuit I’ve also had some promising results. I managed to top cut the Nugget Bridge Major with a 7-2 record after Swiss, but lost in the Top 128. I also came 4th in PokéMelbourne’s Starlight Tournament the day before Melbourne Regionals after going 5-1 in Swiss.

 Let’s talk a bit about your team. How did the team come together? Were there any particular threats in the meta game you took into account when teambuilding?

salamence-mega

I’d developed a team of my own leading into Regionals revolving around setting up Dragon Dance Mega Salamence. It had been sucessful at Adelaide and Werribee but had a poor match-up against Cresselia and was starting to struggle against some of the newer metagame trends. Unfortuanately (from a Pokémon perspective) I’d just started full-time work and didn’t have the time to rebuild and test teams from scratch, so I started looking at other successful Mega Salamence teams to see if I could adapt any of them.

Around the same time Aaron ‘Cybertron’ Zheng had started featuring a ‘Japan Sand’ team on his Road to Ranked Youtube series and after watching a few episodes I decided to give it a try. I already had most of the Pokemon already bred and tested the team out in a Nugget Bridge Live tournament. I went 3-3 in the Swiss rounds but I thouroughly enjoyed using the team. Despite the accuracy issues that could crop up, playing a Best-of-3 format for Swiss in Nationals meant that even if a miss cost me a game, I still had 2 other games to win the round.

I really credit Aaron’s videos on using this team as a strong factor behind my sucess in using this team. It’s one thing to copy a team from paper, but the ability to watch a highly skilled player sucessfully use it, to be able to draw on his experiences, was invaluable and was worth more than any ‘theorymon’ session.

How did you feel going into Day 1 of Swiss? Did you have a goal or placing you wanted to accomplish? Did you have any doubts about your team not being able to go the distance?

I was fairly nervous going into Day 1 Swiss, but a lot of those nerves tend to disappear once you start playing. I had an upper and lower goal going into the tournament. My lower goal was a modest 6-3 finish in Swiss, anything less would have been a disappointment. My upper-goal was to earn enough CP to get an invite to Worlds, which would require at least a Top 8 finish.

I didn’t have any doubts about the team not being able to go the distance. I did have some personal doubts about my ability to use it effectively as it did require a slighly more aggressive mindset than what I had done in the past.

Over the course of the Swiss Rounds, you must have had some interesting or intense battles, do you have a favourite battle from Day 1?

I had one irritating match (to put it mildly), and some rather intense battles that I’d rather not have to go through again.

Irritating:

  • My Round 1 opponent used a Quiver Dance/Double Team/Giga Drain/??? Venomoth. It managed to get a few boosts off in Game 2 but couldn’t do anything to Amoonguss, so I just used Rage Powder to protect the rest of my team while they chipped away at it (I was also playing the timer considering it was his last Pokémon and I still had all 4 of mine left).

Intense:

  • Round 4: Game 1 vs Alex P – Probably one of the better matches that I played. Alex’s team had a Trick Room mode which was a difficult match-up for me. Despite this I managed to play myself into a position where I could attempt a comeback, but some non-standard item choices on his Pokémon (which proved to be clutch) and my Tyranitar failing to wake up in time to finish his weakened Heatran gave him the 1-0 win. Still this was a hax-free game which is always enjoyable.
  • Round 5: Game 3 vs Lee Yong Whee (Kenny) – I took Game 1 easily, but failed to learn much about his team. In Game 2 Kenny came back strongly to win, but in the process revealed some crucicial (and somewhat worrying) information about his team – His Heatran and Sylveon were slower than my Aegislash (and therefore faster when his Cresselia got Trick Room up), and his Heatran also had Overheat which is a OHKO on both Aegislash and Amoonguss (my two best Pokemon under TR). Game 3 started poorly for me as my Rotom-W suffered a crit + burn early from Heatran and fainted before I could get rid of Heatran. Fortunately Salamence and Rotom-W managed to do enough work before they fainted, but in the end I was left with my Amoonguss and Aegislash against his Mega Kangaskhan and Heatran (all Pokémon at or near full health). If Kenny had used Overheat on the next turn, he would have won without a doubt. Instead, however, he opted to use Double-Edge and Heat Wave into the Amoonguss – in desperation I used Wide Guard with Aegislash and was able to get the Spore onto his Heatran and thus give myself a chance to win. From there I was able to finish off Kangaskhan with a combination of Rage Powder + Rocky Helmet, its own recoil damage from Double-Edge and a Flash Cannon from Aegislash (though Aegislash copped a Sucker-Punch in the process). I was lucky that Heatran remained asleep this entire time and was able to 2HKO it with Shadow Ball from Aegislash, in the process fainting from Life Orb recoil. The game finished at 0-0, with the win going to me as my Aegislash fainted last during the final turn.
  • Round 9: Game 3 vs Brendan Webb – Sand (near-)mirror-match, winner goes through to Top Cut, loser has to rely on resistence to cut. Can’t remember the order in which our matches were won/lost, though his Ferrothorn did a lot of work in his win, and my victory came about when I lead Excadrill into his own Tyranitar and was able to take early advantage of his Sand.Game 3 was, to put it mildly, a hax-fest of unimaginable proportions, courtesy of Thunder Wave-induced paralysis from his Rotom-W, and Rock Slide flinches and misses from both sides. I managed to grab the win, but it was not a pleasant game for either of us and certainly not one you want to finish your day (or in Brendan’s case, potentially the tournament) on.

After learning that you qualified for Top Cut, how were you feeling? How did you spend the night beforehand?

After 9 rounds of Best-of-3 Swiss I was exhausted. I stayed at the venue long enough to learn my match-up for the next day and to see which of the 7-2 players made Top Cut. By the time I got back to where I was staying it was past 10pm and I had a splitting headache, so my preparations for Top Cut that night consisted of 2 Panadol and crashing in bed. Woke up 5am the next day with a bad case of nerves, mainly due to the fact that my goal of making Worlds was essentially one win away and I’d honestly regret it if I didn’t get the invite. I didn’t do any practice or review any notes that morning and opted to watch a lot of Last Week Tonight on Youtube to help calm myself down (laughter is fantastic at releasing nervous tension) on the way in to the venue.

Did you have any sort of preparation ritual to help prepare yourself mentally for Top Cut?

My normal preparation for most situations like this (eg: tennis, Cap Ex meetings at work) is to try and listen to some music beforehand to help clear the mind. I wasn’t able to really do this at the venue due to scrutineering/hack checks prior to the game and catching up with other players, though I don’t consider this a bad thing. Talking with Phil, Ty and other players who made Top Cut does help bleed the tension and remind you that there are 15 other players in the same position as you.

Watching Nihal (Adelaide Regional Champion Nihal Noor) doing charades/impressions for various Pokémon moves also provided some moments of levity while we waited to start, though Ty Power’s impression of Attract took the cake.

Do you have any highlights from your Top Cut matches? Was there any stage where you thought you were about to lose and be knocked out?

I think a better question is when wasn’t there a stage where I thought I was going to be knocked out. Against Eugene Tan in the Top 16 my nerves got the better of me and I lost the 1st game quite badly; watching his Mega Venusaur live a critical hit Hyper Voice from my Mega Salamence was demoralising (though this would provide a moment of inspiration in Game 3). I managed to win Game 2 (though I don’t remember how) and managed to take momentum into Game 3. Defeating his Mega Venusaur early was crucial as without it he really had no answer to my Rotom-Wash. Game 1 had established that he could live Hyper Voice quite comfortably, but unknown to Eugene I also had Double Edge on my Mega Salamence and was able to get the OHKO on it in turn 2 when he left Venusaur unprotected in order to attack my Rotom-W.

Going into my Top 8 match against Phil Nguyen I felt ‘relatively’ relaxed, partly because I had secured my invite to Worlds 2015 (barring some ridiculous results from the upcoming Singapore Nationals in late June) and partly because I get on well with Phil and if my tourney were to end I’d rather it be at the hands of someone I respect as a player and friend (though I was going to make him work for it!). I think this relaxed attitude did help my game a bit as I won Game 1 (the only Game 1 I won in Top Cut) confidently. Game 2 I also managed to take the upper hand, though in the closing stages of the game I made a really defensive play and was almost punished for it. Fortunately, my Rotom-Wash, currently asleep and about to faint at the end of the turn due to Sand damage, managed to wake up, win the speed tie against Phil’s Rotom-Heat and KO it with Hydro Pump, leaving Phil’s +1 Kangaskhan at the mercy of my Mega-Salamence and Scarf Tyranitar, both at near-full HP.

I kept the ‘relaxed’ state of mind against Jackson, though I don’t think that was beneficial (since it was ‘relaxed’ bordering on ‘apathy’). In Game 1 I was unable to break through his team, his Wide Guard Aegislash being the key roadblock. Fortunately for me, Aegislash was the only Pokémon that could really stop a combined Salamence/Excardrill sweep, though getting rid of it was easier said than done. I did fire up a bit more mentally in Games 2 & 3 and had to take some risks to break Jackson down, but after his Aegislash fainted I was able finish off the games.

 Describe for us, if you can, your thoughts and emotions as you were preparing for and battling against Theron for the Championship?

Panic, sheer bloody panic. I’d already achieved all my goals and from what I’d heard I seemed to have a positive match-up against Theron. However I was the last Australian left and I didn’t want to be the guy who lost the trophy to a foreigner. I don’t mean this as any form of disrespect to Theron and to the Singapore community in general, honestly I think it’s a bloody impressive effort for people like Theron and Eugene to come compete at an overseas VGC National and make Top Cut. But being the sportsman that I am, I’m well aware of the feedback that happens when Australia fails to retain a trophy on home soil and I’m quite sure that the Pokémon community is no different to other sporting communities (even if the stakes aren’t quite as high as The Ashes for example).

I spent most of the hour before the match outside of the venue getting some fresh air and trying not to throw up (I’m sure I wasn’t actually going to puke, but the feeling was still there). Also made a few calls to family, partly to let them know how I was going and partly to make sure I had a ride home from the train station when I got in at 10:30 that night. I managed to catch bits of the Junior and Senior Finals but apart from that I spent the time outside.

 So what’s next for Matthew Roe? Your World Championships invite is all but confirmed, will you still make the trip overseas to compete on an unpaid invite?

I have a lot on my plate over the next few months, mainly because I put a lot off during May and June to focus on the VGC season. I’ve just started a new full-time job and engaged in a lot of projects at the plant. On the plus side I’m earning plenty of money there so even with an unpaid invite to Worlds 2015 I should be able to make my own way there. Ultimately I am quite excited about the opportunity to go to Worlds 2015, but I’m going to take a partial break over June just to freshen up before getting back into team-building for Worlds. I did just attend a Premier Challenge at Guf Werribee where I was able to take 1st place with my Nationals team, but I honestly think that by the time Worlds 2015 (or even US Nationals) happens people will have solid answers to the ‘Japan Sand’ archetype.

About jordeyshiro

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