Pokémon Esports Is Evolving: An Interview With Competitive Pokémon Player ColdingLight

We all remember our first Pokemon battle. For most, it wasn’t with another player, but with an AI character. From the brash Blue in the first generation, to the dynamic trio in Black and White on the DS. Pokemon battles have been the core of the franchise in all of its media, from the anime, to the manga, and so on. In 2008, players from all over the world gathered for the very first video game World Championship in Orlando, Florida. There, Izuru “MOLF” Yoshimura claimed the first championship title.

Flash forward 14 years later, for what seems to be the biggest crowd Pokemon fans have ever seen in a sold out arena in London. Cheers can be heard during the wildest matches of Sword and Shield’s generational life. “…I’ve been to three world championships, this one [was] the most crowded I’ve ever seen. If you were at the last two world championships, you’d still eclipse the amount of people who were there this year” said Adrien “ColdingLight” Hurley. A Boston, Massachusetts local who placed 19th this year at the Pokemon World Championships in London.

I sat down for about an hour with Adrien and asked him about his time at worlds, the VGC (Pokemon Video Game Championships), and his experience in the community. 

Adrien ColdingLight Hurley
Adrien “ColdingLight” Hurley sits with a plush of Palkia, a key member of his team.

The Rise of Competitive Pokemon

Reggie Romano: “Do you think the amount of people there can be attributed to Sword/Shield having more accessibility to competitive Pokemon, with things like bottle caps raising IVs?”

Adrien Hurley: “I think the main contributor is that people are quite hungry for competitive Pokemon. We haven’t had the world championships in 3 years, and this is the first time it’s been outside of America.”

RR: “I remember we had a discussion a while ago about local and regional tournaments blowing up, how much exactly did they grow over the past few years?”

AH: “Before the pandemic really hit us, there were some of the highest numbers in tournaments we have ever seen! If you look back in 2019 of the regional attendance, there really weren’t that many people competing in Pokemon. For VGC, the Knoxville regionals had around 70 players. Cut forward 7 months later in Dallas, we were rivaling TCG numbers! It blew up!

We had so many attendants in that tournament it was nuts! Locals were the same. At MSS (Mid Season Showdown) usually you’d see maybe 25-30 people, but this time it was well over 90, maybe over 100. When Sword/Shield came out the competitive scene really exploded.

After COVID people were left hungry for more Pokemon to the point where the Pokemon Company couldn’t keep up with demand. It’s quite astonishing to see how many people just decided to start playing again. With a whole new game to play and a whole new meta to use.” 

Top Contender

Adrien placed 19th out of over 300 participants in Worlds this year. Quite an impressive feat for who I’d like to go on record saying is one of the best players on the East Coast. We went over his strategy for the tournament where he showed me his team which you can see here. He explained to me that Palkia and Regileki were the heavy hitters, where Palkia is normally set defensively. This caught some players off guard, as they’re used to Palkia being a more defensively spec’d Pokemon. Calorex-Ice and Porygon 2 (P2) had the move Trick Room, which reversed turn order. While P2 and Amoonguss smacked people with Foul Play, Amoonguss would protect P2 while he attacked with a move called Rage Powder to divert attacks towards him. Finally, there’s Incineroar. He’s the most broken support Pokemon in the game to the point where Pikalitics, a VGC stats site, shows that he’s in over 70% of competitive teams.

To Be the Very Best…

AH: “I fought Naoto “Penguin” Mizubochi, who was the reigning world champion last time it was held back in Washington, D.C.

I had the fortunate misfortune to play him in round 1 of day 2 and I really stepped on the gas with Palkia. I thought “this is only going to get harder from here on out!” This is the hardest it’s going to get because you’re fighting the reigning champion, and I beat him!

Not without sweat though! But I did beat him with Palkia! If I had a more defensive Palkia I wouldn’t have been able to beat him.”

Naoto Penguin Mizobuchi
Naoto “Penguin” Mizobuchi is no pushover, being the reigning World Champ at the time, but Adrien “ColdingLight” Hurley managed to take a match from him on Day 2 of Worlds this year. “He was tough, let me just say,” said Adrien.

RR: “Can you explain how players get into worlds?”

AH: “The main goal is that players have to obtain a total over 400 championship points or more in order to have the privilege of attending worlds. The primary way you get those points is by participating in locals, we call them PCs (primary challenges), which can reward up to 40 points. MSS (Mid Season Showdowns) give out up to 50 which you really want towards that 400.

The next level is the regional championships like the one I played in Indianapolis, which are funded by the Pokemon company in contrast to locals. The winners of that regional tournament are rewarded with up to 200 points.”

When Pay Day Makes Contact

Rewards for winning these tournaments aren’t too bad. Prize money can go around $2,000 for top placing at regionals, while Worlds this year gave out $10,000 to the 1st place winner. Major tournaments can go for around $3,000 in 1st place prize money. In Worlds 2nd place was $7,500, 3rd and 4th were $5,000, 5-8th place $3,000 and so on. This year’s prize pool at Worlds was over $1,000,000 for all games across Pokken Tournament, the TCG, VGC, and for the first time ever Pokemon GO.

When Pay Day Hits!

RR: “I was under the impression that payouts wouldn’t be that high knowing Nintendo. But it seems like Pokemon does pay out quite a bit.”

AH: “It does for people who place really well! They pay out a decent chunk change! It doesn’t stop there! We have the internationals which are 4 ginormous tournaments across the world annually in Latin America, usually Brazil. Oceania has one, usually in Australia, and the third is usually in Europe.

Finally the fourth is in the United States which is usually the final tournament before Worlds. Those payout $5,000 for first place. After that, about 2 months later, the World Championships take place.”

RR: “What about online events? Can you earn championship points that way?”

AH: “Yes! There are 4 online events that you can participate in for free!”

RR: “I assume there’s no prize money for these ones though.”

AH: “There’s no prize money for the online ones, but it is free to enter! These are called ICs (International Challenges) you play in game. You go on a ladder style run, almost identical to Pokemon Showdown. You keep battling and you earn points against random people. If you’re at the top of the leader board with the most points after the tournament ends, you can earn up to 50 championship points. Just like at MSS!”

…Like No One Ever Was.

Pokemon Pachirisu Statue Worlds

RR: “What’s your ultimate goal when it comes to Pokemon? I bet I can take a guess.”

AH: “This is going to be very cliche, but it’s “To be the very best, like no one ever was.” 

AH: “I was fascinated by VGC. I’ve always loved Pokemon as a kid. I remember there was a slump in Pokemon in general and I was getting tired of it. Until I discovered the competitive scene, there was a whole circuit about this! It was intriguing. I remember seeing one video of one of my favorite VGC players ever, Markus Stadter. I actually met him for the first time at this year’s World Championships.

He was playing a Japanese player, who’s name I don’t remember. He had a really unique team, that I really really liked. There’s a kind of stereotype in competitive Pokemon where you have to run the meta to do well and win the World Championships. But it’s not true, you can very easily still place highly with Pokemon you really believe in. A perfect example is Sejun Park’s Pachirisu team which blew the world away.”

Strong Pokemon… Weak Pokemon…

RR: “It was such a landmark moment that they made it a statue in the promotional material for worlds!”

AH: “This Pokemon, who we all thought was trash, that had no place in competitive Pokemon. Not only made it to Worlds, but won it! The whole stereotype is exaggerated.”

RR: “A lot of people started sharing the quote ““Strong Pokémon. Weak Pokémon. That is only the selfish perception of people. Truly skilled trainers should try to win with their favorites.” from Gold and Silver, around that time.” 

AH: “It’s so true! When I found another player using Alolan Raichu, Garchomp, Ninetales, all these Pokemon I genuinely liked. You can use Pokemon you like and still place really high!. I started looking for tournaments where I lived and just started going. I didn’t do too well at first, but eventually I started placing in the top cut. Now I’m here going to Worlds.”

Pokemon Showdown!

After the interview we decided to battle it out in a random 6v6 singles match. We went best of 3, and of course I went 0-2. Adrien got lucky by getting Lugia twice in a row! You can watch those matches here:

You can watch Adrien play a match in Indianapolis in the video below:

I’m personally excited for what Scarlet and Violet will bring to the table! I’ve made several articles where you can read more about here!


Games Journalist, Competitive Pokemon/VGC Player, Content Creator

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