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Leveling Up — Will Jenkins’ Story Growing as a Player

What’s up everyone! My name is Will Jenkins, and this is my first time writing here on ChannelFireball. I am ecstatic to be a part of the amazing writing crew – this article is a perfect introduction and talks about my time in the game. I’ve gotten a lot better in the eyes of my colleagues in the past few years – let’s cover my entire journey from a random kid walking into a local league to one of the top ranked players in the world.

Discovering Pokemon Cards

My Pokemon journey begins when I was in third grade. As a young third grader, I mainly spent most of my time attending school just to come home and play with LEGOs. I was obsessed with LEGOs and could not get enough of them. One day after school in an after school day care, a friend of mine introduced me to Pokemon cards. After he showed me his entire collection and explained how opening and buying packs work – he gave me this Combee. It was this simple Combee that introduced me to the world of Pokemon. With the help of my friend, I instantly became fascinated with a new hobby. After two years of collecting cards, building a collection, and tearing through what most of been hundreds of packs, my interest in Pokemon had ended. My family needed to move from California to Maryland due to my father’s job changing and I decided to sell all my Pokemon cards at a garage sale for a mere five dollars. This was obviously a mistake but being young and not knowing much made me make a poor decision. My journey would then be put on hold for a couple years until my family and I were settled in Maryland.

Combee

The Birth of a Pokemon Player

After living in Maryland for two years and basically forgetting Pokemon cards existed, I had spent most of my time playing video games, attending school, and playing xylophone in the school band. I never would have thought that I would play Pokemon professionally and was not aware that professional Pokemon players existed. The world of competitive Pokemon was opened to me all because my brother decided to buy a theme deck at a Kmart checkout lane. My brother bought a Xerneas theme deck on the basis that the Pokemon looked cool and he liked the game, Pokemon X. I told him that his purchase was dumb and that Pokemon cards were a waste of money. Without much thought past that interaction, I went along my day and played Minecraft all night. My brother interrupts me playing Minecraft to tell me all about the theme deck he bought, and that there was a card game that went along with the cards. I was intrigued, so I read the pamphlet that comes in theme decks and learned about Pokemon League and how to actually play the game. Despite following all the rules except playing with a sixty card deck, my brother and I split the sixty card theme deck into two decks of thirty and learned to play.

The Pokemon League

After learning to play, researching on YouTube, and building up a decent enough collection, I had my mother take my brother and I to our first league night. I was so excited to play against someone that wasn’t my brother – I thought that my M Lucario-EX / Yveltal-EX deck was unbeatable. Obviously, I was wrong, and that night was less about playing the game compared to learning more about the game. My family and I walked into our local card shop and asked about the Pokemon League that was supposed to be happening that night. One of the employees directs us to a group of three individuals in the back of the card store and said they were it! I was a little surprised that it was so small, but I was ready to play and have fun. My brother and I did not play any Pokemon against new people that night, but we learned so much about the game that we did not know before.

M Lucario EXM Lucario EXYveltal EXYveltal EX (144 Full Art)

My Professor Oak and Gary

This section title goes along with the people I had met that night at league. I am sure many readers of this article are familiar with the last name Catron. If you are not, Michael Catron is a top-ranked Pokemon player that has been playing the game for over ten years and just so happened to be the one of the first Pokemon players I had ever met. Michael would serve as a rival that I would always want to win against and learn from. I also looked up to him because he was an amazing player who was good at the game. Michael’s dad, Mickey was our League leader and served as my first coach in Pokemon. Mickey taught me the basics of the competitive scene and all the information I would need to know for competing. The last individual in the Pokemon League was Joseph McLean, who would become a mutual friend that would play Pokemon on and off over the coming years. My brother and I learned a ton of information that night and would continue to attend league every week.

Challenging the Gyms

Once my brother and I had learned a ton of information about tournaments, prizes, Prereleases, and the competitive game from Michael and his dad, we were hooked. My brother and I couldn’t get enough of Pokemon. We would buy tons of packs, cards, sleeves, supplies, anything related to Pokemon. My first tournament was a League Challenge in 2015 where I beat Michael in round one. That feeling of winning against Michael, who was someone that I had always lost to while playing at league, was an amazing feeling because it showed that I had made some improvement from just being a beginner.

At the time I was in Seniors and the League Challenge was combined with Masters because it was so small. I ended up winning the second round and won the third round against a Masters player. Here I won my first tournament with that same deck I showed up to League with earlier on. I was so excited to play more tournaments because I had such fun at the League Challenge I won. The next tournament I played in was Maryland States just a few months later. I played a deck that I had put a ton of time into and was feeling super good about competing in the tournament. Of course, I was in over my head and was in for a day of lessons that I would carry with me for the rest of my time in Pokemon. At Maryland States, I played against Jon Eng round one and got destroyed. At the time, I had no idea who Jon was – Jon would become a rival to me once Michael and I aged up into Masters. I continued to lose several rounds and placed poorly. The biggest thing I learned from the entire day is that not everyone is your friend, and the competing in Pokemon is truly a competitive sport at heart. I learned the not being able to always take plays back the hard way and couldn’t believe that someone wouldn’t let me take back a mistake I had made when I was so used to being able to take plays back in testing. The day was bittersweet however because my brother ended up taking a Top 4 spot in Juniors, and we had an amazing time ripping through the most amount of packs that we had opened in one sitting.

Lesson #1: TCGs at the highest level are serious competition – friends are fun, but you need to show up to win.

All Time High Determination

After playing in a few more tournaments, I continued to underperform despite playing meta decks and learning from every tournament. Like most people who start playing Pokemon, I blamed my failures on luck. This is an awful mindset and just hinders you from continuing to do well. The year ended with Michael going off to the 2015 World Championships. I didn’t quite understand how the official streams worked, but I hawked the official stream to see if Pokemon would stream the Senior Division so I could see Michael play on the big screen. I was so happy for Michael that I non-stop messaged him throughout the day trying to figure out his record and see how he was doing. Eventually the tournament day had ended, and Michael had told me he had gotten ninth. This was ninth at the World Championships, I never imagined I would even know someone of such a rank – this was huge to me and stuck with me. I didn’t even realize that Catron had bubbled at this time, but the accomplishment was huge nonetheless. The next League night that I participated in was after Worlds 2015. When Michael and his dad entered the store everyone that was in the league that Mickey had grown clapped and applauded Michael on his amazing finish. It was at this moment that I knew I wanted to compete in the World Championships – I wanted to be able to get back home and hear that applause, even if I placed ninth. I was absolutely determined to be able to compete with players like Jon Eng and Michael Catron – I would stop at nothing to get there.

Lesson #2: Bad luck doesn’t always lose – examine yourself and your play first, more often than not, luck is not the pitfall.

Another Disappointment

Going into the 2016 season, I grinded every day trying to perfect my play and become one of the best. I studied interviews, stream recordings, content, and literally anything Pokemon that I could learn from. The first round of tournaments was the City Championships in the winter. With my mom and dad’s help, my brother and I attended over twelve of these tournaments. Twelve Cities is an astronomical number of tournaments to play in and I saw success in none of them. It wasn’t until the final City that I finally broke through and took my first Top 4 – just to lose to Jon. The grind was discouraging, and I felt like I had put so much time in and saw no results. It was around this time that I learned the skill of networking and started to use that to my advantage.

Lesson #3: Playing a ton does not equal success on its own.

Networking

After playing tons of tournaments and meeting tons of great kids my age, I decided to try and get a testing group together. I had tested on and off with several individuals but had never really tried to organize a true testing group. The timeline for this is blurred, but people like Luca Michelucci, Eric Trinh, London Jones, and Charlie Lockyer were my original group of testing partners. This group evolved and changed but eventually the 2017 season rolled around, and I was working with a new group. I started to enjoy Pokemon a lot more with all the people I had met, and I tried to be kind and a genuinely good person to everyone I met. My 2017 season was off to a rocky start, but the birth of Will Jenkins as a truly competitive player started at a League Cup (the replacement to City Championship events) in Lynchburg, Virginia. If it wasn’t for Neil Essmyer, I would never have even attended this tournament. Neil was in Masters and we decided to drive four hours to attend the Cup, playing Houndoom-EX / Raticate. Long story short, I won the event beating the one and only Isaiah Bradner in the finals. Isaiah became a contact for me that I would continue to talk to and work with – even still today!

Lesson #4: Try to make friends – some of them may become strong testing partners, friends are great too.

The Rest of 2017

Despite winning that league cup, I still had a rough time performing at tournaments. I would always get the points at the lowest placement possible and continued to be disappointed with my finishes. Around this time, I started to talk to the Some1sPC guys because they were local to the area. Without Chris Taporco, Marc Albright, and Russell LaParre I might have never gotten the chance to attend Worlds. I ended up playing their Carbink BREAK deck at Toronto Regionals 2017 – Toronto was an important event because if I could get points from a Top 16 finish, I would be able to get my invite at Origins or Internationals. Sure enough, I got points at Toronto, placed second at the Origins Special Event, placed in the Top 32 at Nationals, and ended the year with a bang, finishing in the Top 16 at Seniors Worlds. This was vindication at last – although aging up to Masters was right around the corner, and many factors might pop up to limit my success there.

Lesson #5: Never give up, you can go from the worst of years to something special in the next.

The 2017-2018 Season

The next big event for Pokemon after Worlds 2017 was Fort Wayne Regionals. I had no intention of going to that event because I did not have the money to buy a plane ticket and had not tested Expanded. At the last minute, I was offered a spot in a car that was driving eight hours to the event the Thursday before the event. Without TJ Knowles and Denzel Scott I never would have gone to that tournament! I had no idea what to play and was given guidance from Connor Pederson. Connor told me to play this Garbodor toolbox deck that Daniel Lynch had created. After straight up copying the list and going to bed way too late, I played the tournament and was rewarded with a nice Top 16 finish in my first Masters Division tournament. My self-confidence was a little inflated at this point after placing so well repeatedly, and I would highly advise people to not get to full of themselves when coming into success in the game. Promptly after all these amazing finishes I had a mediocre season, the most important thing in this season was getting to know the Bokhari brothers.

Lesson #6: Never get full of yourself – but if you do, it helps to have good friends that can talk you down.

GarbodorGarbodorMimikyuNecrozma GX

Collinsville 2018

Collinsville 2018 was a game changer. I road tripped the 13 hour drive to the event with Isaiah Bradner and his dad and had an amazing time the both of them. When we arrived in Collinsville, we noticed that Zach Bokhari, the 2017 Seniors World Champion, and Justin Bokhari were testing together in the lobby of our hotel. Isaiah and I decided to ask them if we could test with them, and they were more than happy to test with us. We tested all night and went to bed around 2 AM. I was determined to make a friendship with Justin and Zach, so I tried to keep up with them during the tournaments and asked them if they wanted to get food on Saturday night after day one. This was the start of my relationship with Zach, who I continued to test with for the rest of the season. It would not be until the start of the 2018-2019 season that I would start working with Justin.

Lesson #7: So many Pokemon players are nice people when you get to know them – try not to be shy.

Leon’s Guidance

After testing for hours and hours with Zach leading up to worlds 2018 I still wasn’t super confident in my play after having such an underwhelming season. Although I had gotten my invite, I just barely got it off League Cups and small placement points at the scattering of Regionals I attended. I decided to reach out to who I thought was the best player in the game at the time, Jimmy Pendarvis, and ask if he offered coaching. I had done coaching before with players like Daniel Altavilla and Daniel Lynch, but I wanted to try someone new and figured Jimmy was the best option. Jimmy agreed to take me on as a student for Worlds 2018 and we got to coaching. Working with Jimmy at first was a little odd, but after several sessions I started to feel like I was learning a ton of information that I never knew before. Sequencing, deck building, metagaming, and more started to become ingrained in my head after sessions with Jimmy. Jimmy expanded upon concepts I already had a grasp on and helped me decide that I wanted to play Zoroark-GX / Garbodor for Worlds that year. I ended up tying my win-and-in to day two, but I conceded to my opponent so at least one of us could get to play the second day. I was heartbroken to get so close, but I was determined to keep getting better.

Lesson #8: Setbacks happen, don’t let them get you down.

The Conversation

I was still distraught at the way my worlds run had ended. After day two concluded, I hung out with Zach and Charlie for the rest of the night. We ended up making our way back to the hotel until Justin Bokhari randomly appeared in the lobby and came over to sit down with us. Justin greeted us, talking about how Michael Pramawat and others had concluded that Europe always beats out North America at Internationals – NA seems to try to counter themselves, whereas EU seems to work together to take down the competition. This got us thinking, we eventually formed a testing group: Charlie, Justin, Zach, and I.

Lesson #9: Sometimes you can’t do it all on your own – a team or group of friends can help!

The Dynamic Duo: Justin and Will

The first Regionals we would play as a group was Pennsylvania in 2018. We felt that we had created an amazing deck for the tournament: Buzzwole / Weavile / Beast Ring. We felt that the event could have gone a little better, but the reason this event matters is because Zach and Charlie decided to stop playing as much. This basically left our amazing group we had formed with just Justin and me. We did not let this stop us however, Justin and I continued to travel around the country together and to test nonstop. We had netted a few decent placements, but neither of us were ever able to break through or make a deep run that people took notice to.

Lesson #10: People move on – remember you always have yourself, stay strong, and power through.

Toronto Regionals 2019

Preparing for Toronto Regionals went a little something like this… I asked Pendarvis the week of the event if he would coach me on how to play both Night March and Vespiquen. Jimmy worked with me a few times to get me ready for the event and help clear up some of the problems I was having. Celio’s Network then asked me to come on his YouTube Channel and talk about my thoughts for the tournament. I ended the week with an overnight trip to Toronto convinced I was playing Night March or Vespiquen. Our Airbnb for Toronto Regionals was also stacked with great players: Rahul Reddy, Chip Richey, Tran Nyguen, Stéphane Ivanoff. These players accompanied Justin, my brother, and I – with a great team of minds like this, we set off to dinner where we would brainstorm all the possible plays for the Regionals.

After countless hours of talking I took Justin aside and proposed Trevenant as a possible play for the event. We thought about how all the decks everyone was mentioning besides the biggest deck, Pikarom, instantly folded to the Trevenant deck. With the help of Chris Siakala, Justin and I ended up sleeving up Trevenant and risking it all. This risk paid off because out of 16 Trevenant players at the event, 10 of them made day two. Four of those 10 Trevenant players made Top 8 – I was one of them. I had finally done it, I made the Top 8 at a Masters Division Regionals and was in a great position to win the tournament with my deck choice. My feelings of euphoria came to a halt when I was paired against the one and only Jimmy Pendarvis in Top 4.

Jimmy was playing Night March, an amazing matchup for me, but the combination of first time stream anxiety, the pressure of being in Top 4, and playing against the player who had coached me to where I was overwhelmed me. For anyone who has seen the VOD or watched that match live knows how badly I threw. It was disheartening and I was upset with myself, but at the end of the day I learned some valuable lessons, finally got that accomplishment I had been looking for and I had an amazing time with friends old and new.

Lesson #11: Success is great, but there’s always something more – hard work does pay off.

JoltikTrevenant BREAKTrevenantVespiquen (10)

The Lab

Fast-forwarding a bit to the end of Worlds 2019, Justin and I had continued to see consistent success in the game placing at many of the events we attended. We placed 21st and 43rd, respectively. Without Justin Kulas, The Lab might never had been created. For those of you who don’t know, my testing group is called The Lab and is made up of some amazing players in the game. The way this group was created was because Justin Kulas proposed the idea of making an unstoppable group that would dominate the tournament scene like how the Dead Draw Gaming group did in the season before. With this idea in mind, we grouped together the great minds of Isaiah Bradner, Justin Kulas, Kenny Brittion, Kian Amini, Justin Bokhari, and I. This group would test all the time, hang out with each other, and became not only a testing group, but a group of people that will be lifelong friends.

Lesson #12: A leap of faith is often necessary to grow.

The 2019-2020 Season

After the first regionals of the season, Knoxville Regionals marked a tribute to our hard work and dedication. Justin Bokhari and Isaiah Bradner both made Top 8 at that event. We started to see the results we wanted, and I decided to push for the Australia Internationals stipend by attending all the events I could, including the Latin America International Championship. Justin and I both got the Australia travel award and committed to chasing Top 16 (automatic Worlds day two invite) for the end of the season. After several great finishes from everyone in The Lab and two regional wins out of Justin, we felt like our group was one of if not the best in the game and continued to make trends and influence decks in the meta. All this success ended abruptly following Collinsville Regionals – COVID-19 shut everything down, and understandably so, but we were still devastated.

Lesson #13: Stuff happens.

The Quarantine Era

A couple weeks into the quarantine era of Pokemon I was convinced I was done. I’d become obsessed with competitive Fortnite and aspired to push myself to become a Fortnite pro. I seriously underestimated how much effort that would take and once I got burned out from playing Fortnite, I decided to take charge and study personal finance. I still had no intention of playing Pokemon in the online era until the Players Cup was announced. With the help of my testing group and Brandon Salazar, I ended up qualifying for the Top 16 finals of the Cup. I didn’t end up doing as well as I had wanted in this event, but it gave me a ton of exposure – this all helped fuel my content creation gig that I’ve started up recently. Not doing so well in the tournament, I was able to play in a different event: the unofficial Worlds event put on by some members of the community. I made the Top 8 with the same sixty as the eventual champion, Isaiah Bradner.

Lesson #14: Sometimes it takes a little push to get back into the swing of things.

Today

With the second Players Cup in full swing, content creation has become my main focus in Pokemon. While my work schedule has been quite demanding lately and has forced me to play less Pokemon, I still compete whenever I can. I hope you enjoyed this long article on my journey in Pokemon – I hope my takeaways helps you achieve success in the game. Some of my main suggestions to people aspiring to accomplish great things in the game is to be kind and nice to other people, to make friends/connections, and to surround yourself with players that are better than you. Turn any negatives into learning experiences in the game and reflect on what you could do better, so the next time you are presented with a situation you have messed up before, you can be ready to conquer it. I am eager to play Pokemon on the tabletop again, but in the meantime online play will do. I hope you enjoyed this article, catch you in the next one!

Lesson #15: Never get down on yourself over a bad beat.

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