A community like no other
In just nine months of playing the Pokemon TCG, New Yorker Carl Barone has finished 40th at the Toronto Regional Championship and placed 79th at the North American International Championship. But more importantly, he’s found one of the most welcoming communities he’s ever come across and met some of his best friends.
“If I didn’t make as many friends and meet as many people as quickly as I did,” said Barone, “I probably wouldn’t be as involved as I am now, for sure.”
Noting the charities and blood drives at Regionals, Barone said the Pokemon TCG’s community is inclusive, warm and open. It’s unlike any other he’s been a part of.
At his first Regional in Collinsville back in February, Barone finished with a 5-3-1 record, putting him at 191st place out of 1,000 players. But what he remembers most of all is “laughing and having fun.” He was proud of the points he’d earned, but the matches themselves are what stood out to him.
He was 3-0 when he ended up matched with Israel Sosa, a decorated Pokemon pro who Barone immediately recognized from YouTube streams.
“I was a little apprehensive,” he admitted. “I thought he might not be nice. But I got to the table and he was the most chilled out dude you could ever imagine. I was beating him badly both games, but he was laughing, joking… He was really cool.”
Later on at the same regional, Barone played another Pokemon heavyweight, Michael Pramawat. The winner would make Top 64. Unfortunately, Barone took an L despite some very close matches. But he still remembers the moment as a positive Pokemon memory: “He was so fun to play with. Just awesome. He even remembered me at the next event I went to.”
At the same regional, Barone met one of his best friends, Eric Smith, owner of the Rare Candy YouTube channel.
“It was my first regional,” he said, “and I met one of my best friends. It was awesome. It was such an important day for me.”
The fact that almost everyone Barone has come across at Pokemon tournaments has been nice is a major part of his growing love of the game. In fact, he said, “You rarely meet someone who’s an asshole in the Pokemon community, no matter their level of fame or how long they’ve played.” It’s a huge change from other TCGs he’s participated in, including one he quit back in 2008 after all of his cards were stolen while he was playing a match.
The real goal
Fast forward to the recent Philadelphia Regional Championship and Barone ended up at a 4-1-4 record. While it wasn’t what he wanted to see, he did place around 170th and received Championship Points. More importantly, he learned some ways to deal with slow playing in the current format that he will use at the next four Regional Championships in Memphis, Portland, Roanoke and Anaheim.
“I’m reasonably sure I’ll have my invite by spring time,” Barone said, noting that he will be at every event next year as well. “But the real goal is to notice improvement in my decision-making and my playing. I’ve noticed an upward trajectory of that since I started. I can see things a bit differently and develop different lines of play.”
As a teacher, Barone is no stranger to studying. To hone in his skills, Barone practices online for three to four hours every single day. He is also actively following Facebook groups and interacting with group chats, staying on top of strategies and deck lists.
“The greatest portal to playing is playing online,” he noted. “Without online there’s no chance I could have gotten okay at the game in a hurry. Some areas just have really bad local leagues or not a lot of players. But online, you have access to anyone and anything. There’s people you can play test with and talk with, which is huge.”
Currently, Barone is not too enthusiastic about the current meta, noting the lack of a comeback mechanic and the often inconsistent starts. But he’s been using online resources to learn about the soon-to-be-released Dragonite GX, studying and discussing how to make it viable and hopefully “shake things up.”
Of course, he also recommends venturing out to see what’s out there in your community as well. Even take an hour trip to a League Challenge or Cup. “Just see what’s local,” said Barone. “There’s a lot of people hanging out, having fun, playing a super fun game. You’ll make a ton of friends.”
Photo Credits: Doug Morisoli & Olivia Richman.