Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Interview with Nationals Junior Division Winner: Aiden McKinney

Aiden and his small army of Bulbasaur.
Pokémon National Championships are always an exciting endeavor. Every year participants from all over the US travel to Indianapolis, Indiana to compete in trading card and video game tournaments. This year one of Team KO's own participated and brought home the gold in the Junior division. Matt got a chance to interview Aiden and ask him some questions about his experience at Nationals.


Matt: Briefly, when did you start playing Pokémon, when did you start playing in tournaments, and in which states have you participated in VGC-style tournaments?

Aiden: I started playing right before the release of XY. My first tournament was actually the Win-A-Game tournament for XY [a Team KO tournament held in Statesboro, Ga]. I came in 6th place out of 6 junior players. After that, I started going to league every week where I learned a lot about team building, strategy and IVing/EVing. I've played VGC in many states. I bubbled out of cut at GA regionals 2014, then I bubbled out of cut at Nationals in Indiana last year. This season, I won PCs in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and New Mexico. I also hit 4 regionals this season. I finished 5th in Philadelphia, second (to London Swan) in Virginia, second (again to London) in Georgia. I also attended Florida regional, but I brought the wrong team and finished 18th or so.

Matt: How did you decide on which Pokémon to use in the tournament?

Aiden: I had a whole lot of help picking my Pokemon. Kyle Smith [Team KO member, Nationals Competitor 2014] is my mentor and good friend. He had been studying the meta a lot more than I had and thought that sand was a good choice. I'm so glad he helped me! The rain team I was also considering wouldn't have done as well.

Matt: Were there any in particular Pokémon that performed better or worse than you thought they would?

Aiden: Milotic was a last minute switch. I'd been practicing using Rotom-W, but he just wasn't pulling his weight. Milotic definitely saved my other guys! Ludicolo preformed a lot worse than I was expecting. I don't feel like he did anything but absorb hits and faint. I'm going to rework his EV's so he can shine the next time I use him.

Aiden's Team, click to expand.
Source: Pokemon.com

Matt: If you had to give one of your Pokémon a MVP award, which one would you choose?

Aiden: The MVP award goes to Excadrill. He's very powerful and did a lot of work during swiss. I'm glad he also got to shine during the finals.

Matt: Were there any Pokémon or strategies you were particularly worried about facing in the tournament?

Aiden: I was really worried about gimmicky teams. Perish Trap, Terracotta, Dark Void Smeargle, etc. I lost a few game 1's in swiss because I was overthinking and trying to figure out their strategy! I did not have a taunt user on my team, so Trick Room also scared me a bit. My top 16 match was against trick room, and the team did fine with it. I was just nervous.

Matt: How did you prepare for the tournament?

Aiden: I practiced a lot during the weeks before the tournament. Trying out new teams, testing how things work and trying to get a feel for the meta. The 5 days before the tournament I did a least 30 battle spot ranking battles a day! I also studied types, weakness and played with the damage calculator a lot.

Matt: Did you have any matches where something surprising happened that took you, or your opponent, off guard?

Aiden: I misclicked during game 2 of top 8 against Luke Smith's Perish Trap Team. I accidentally shadow balled into Scrafty instead of Gengar. Ouch. T-Tar and Aegislash both fainted but I still managed to win the game.


Aiden is no stranger to
competitive play.
Matt: You’ve faced London Swan before in tournaments, most recently at the Regionals in Athens, Ga (2015). How would you describe facing him again at Nationals?

Aiden: London is a very good player. I was very nervous about facing him again after he beat me in two previous finals. I tried not to be too nervous and just make good choices. I think I only misplayed once, so that's not too bad I guess.

Matt: During your matches, you seem to like to have a whole mob of Bulbasaur hang out with you. Care to explain why?

Aiden: I've always liked Bulbasaur, he is number one after all! I used to carry a different plush to every tournament, but then I realized that I did better when I had the Bulbasaur! My mom started buying every Bulbasaur thing she saw and now I have a huge collection. I think they're all lucky, so I like to carry as many as possible to my rounds. I didn't like that they made me put most of them on the ground! Basically, I like Bulbasaur because he is the best and he is lucky.

Matt: If you had any advice for someone thinking about going to a Pokémon video game tournament, what would it be?

Aiden: Do your best and have fun every round! This is a game and not brain surgery or something crazy like that!

If you want to watch Aiden's final round match vs Londan Swan, it has been posted to Youtube. You can also watch recaps on The Pokémon Company's Twitch feed.