Welcome back to the next installment of my “Higher Level” series! It’s me, Carl Barone, here to talk much more about the psychological approach to success and perseverance in the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about tilt and dealing with adversity since those are some things that every single player has to deal with on a consistent basis. At this point in the season, we are getting into crunch time: this is the make-or-break part of the season that will determine whether many of us obtain our coveted invitations to Worlds. Unfortunately, some will succeed, but many will fail. This is a crushing fact for all of us, and something that can really affect our state of mind surrounding our approach to the game and how we think about our future in Pokémon. I have some stories and lessons here for you all to hopefully help you cope with failure and avoid the burnout that can be associated with chasing a Worlds invitation and finding personal success within our brutal game.
We all, at one point or another, have experienced adversity in this game. We test, grind, build decks, take them apart, talk about ideas, lose brutally, and pull out close, stressful games in our individual quests to become better than we were yesterday. At times, this game can be extremely unforgiving. I remember one specific time in the past where I spoke at length about this very aspect of the game with a well-respected and up and coming player named Will Jenkins. It was about 2 AM at Memphis Regionals, and Will and I had just had disappointing days in the tournament. Naturally, thoughts of “why do we keep doing this?” began to creep in, as they often do after a rough tournament, and Will and I had a pretty deep discussion regarding our motivations, dreams, and desires to be achieved from this game. Will and I were experiencing extreme adversity in those days; we both spent extensive time testing, grinding, going over lists and techs with friends, and it all seemed to be for nothing. Yes, it was nice to gather with friends at these events, and being in their company was a rare treat in itself… but we wanted more. We wanted the results. We wanted to win. How would we get there?
Our discussion that night (morning?) ended with us both resolving to just be better. A simple solution at first glance, but so much goes into those few words. What does being better require? We decided that it involved more testing, playing Tier 1 decks only, grinding with those around us who are better, sharing ideas with good players and friends, forming tight testing groups, and not letting the bad days ruin us. We had to simply do everything we were doing before, but with sharper detail. Why did we lose this game? Identify why. What can our tournament lists reasonably and not reasonably handle? Find a work-around. Do we really know everything necessary about the field when entering a tournament with a list we’ve thought we perfected? Figure it out. Prepare like a professional. Know your deck and your strengths and weaknesses. Have a game plan for established meta decks. Lastly, understand that there are a certain amount of things out of our control, and fight back against tilting.
Tilting. We’ve all felt it. An N to one to give your opponent their game-winning Guzma, or a Sycamore for a fresh seven. Whiffing a crucial resource off multiple “Trade” that would have put the game on ice. The feeling sticks with you, and it is a concept that lives in many different strategy games, including Poker. When the odds are so heavily in your favor and they just don’t pan out, it’s easy to feel a flood of negative emotions about the game and ourselves as a result.
These things will happen. And if you play consistently, they will happen often. Mastering these thoughts and your emotions is key to overcoming loss and making runs deep into tournaments, whether it’s your local League Cup or an International Championship. But how do you overcome this when your own thoughts are working against you deep into a tournament?
It’s actually not as hard as you think. One of the best lessons I could possibly teach you is to have a short memory. This lesson applies to Pokémon and to life in general. Hardship will happen. You’ll lose an “auto-win” matchup because you dead drew. The obnoxious, less skilled player will rip a series off of you because your deck did not cooperate. This will happen. Accept this when you sign up for an event. If you manage to avoid it (“run hot”), then even better. But accepting this risk, understanding that it isn’t a death knell to your tournament run, and resolving to learn from it is the best approach you can take.
Tilting risks ruining an entire tournament run. What happened in Round four cannot affect you in Round seven unless you let it. That misplay you made to drop an early series? It’s in the past. Let it go. What did you take from that mistake to make you better right now? That is what you need to focus on. Tilting and the negative thoughts associated with it will only serve to derail you later on. Understand that it is likely you lost because a decision you made that you believed to be inconsequential or even routine probably cost you the match. And that is okay. Learn from everything. The best way you can treat yourself in this game is how you’d treat a friend or teammate: if you support them, then support yourself the same way. You need to use this game to learn resilience. It is an excellent ground for learning important life skills like that. You will lose. And that is okay. What can you take from the bad tournament run, couple of misplays in a row, or anything negative, to help yourself improve? Leverage it. And then let it go.
It happens to all of us. But only some of us can separate those feelings from our mindset later in the same day. When something negative happens to you, take a lesson from it, and keep pushing forward. That is the attitude of a champion. It can’t be learned overnight, but by taking a lesson from every adverse situation and failure you come across, you will improve at this game and many things in life because you had the strength to admit fault, and fix the mistake.
At this point in time, many of you will unfortunately have given up on the Worlds invite grind. This is totally fine; lots of us, myself included, are in the same boat. I’d like you to stop and think for a minute about where you started this season. Maybe you were using a Machamp-GX deck and throughout the season, you sought to understand top tier decks, card interactions, and managed to win a few decent sized local tournaments. Congratulations, you made progress. Keep it going; the best goals are set as high as the sky and not often achieved. However, setting the bar high helps keep us going and progressing to that higher level. Keep this mindset and the passion you had and carry it forward to your next event and the next season. You can achieve your dreams in this game and anywhere if you are willing to dive into adverse situations and improve from the lesson you learned.
As for Will? You’ll be happy to know that after a few months from our chat, he pushed forward to make some deep runs at large, nationwide tournaments, including a Top 4 finish at the most recent Toronto Regionals. He’s now a team member of one of the best collection of players this game has seen, and he’s grinding toward that Worlds invitation that should be well in hand. Nevertheless, he remembers these lessons we talked about during the adverse, stressful times where it seemed like he was years away from his goals. Now, he is looking at pushing even farther forward into this season with helpful lessons he acquired, all gained during times of immense struggle.
You can be the same. Until then, remember: you either win, or you learn. When you don’t win, what can you take forward, from that single game or decision, to make you a better player? Think about this critically next time you get some bad news, or lose a close game, or deal with something that seems insurmountable. In time, you may find that the specific situation that once caused you struggle or discomfort now becomes a space in which you thrive.
Until next time friends, keep grinding and keep your head up.
Carl “Peezy” Barone
@peezyptcg on Twitter