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Five minutes with competitve Pokémon maestro, Chase Lybbert

Five minutes with competitve Pokémon maestro, Chase Lybbert

US Nationals is one of the biggest moments in the Pokémon Videogame Championship (VGC) season. As the last event before the World Championship, players look at it as a final chance to gauge the metagame and size up. On top of that, hundreds of players are still fighting for the last points needed to qualify for a direct invitation to Worlds. It’s a fierce competition; upsets are common and games are tense. This year proved no different, as Arizona’s Chase Lybbert took home the championship, despite only aiming to make the top 128. We sat down with him to talk about what it was like to go from aiming his sights so low to ending up on top.

This interview has been abbreviated and edited to improve legibility.

JK: So walk me through your time at Nationals. How did you prepare?

CL: Going into Nationals I wasn’t too prepared. I had a fallback in the team I used in Utah—but the night before I contacted [fellow professional player] Conan Thompson on Twitter, asking him if he had a new “Japanese-inspired” [team] for me. He didn’t respond until a half-hour before I was supposed to head out to the actual tournament.

So I saw the message on Twitter and put the team together. But before going to the tournament, I wanted to double check that the team was legal. I was going to use Bronzong over Cresselia. And what happened was, I selected Battle Spot Doubles instead of Special, so it showed up as illegal. So I just went back to the other team, and I went with that.

JK: How did you feel when you were forced to go back to the Utah team? I imagine you must not have felt too bad since you got top 4 in Utah with it, but was it upsetting?

CL: I was a little bit skeptical, because I felt like the team might have been outdated. I don’t really pay attention to the metagame too much, but obviously it wasn’t outdated. But people knew the whole team since it was already on Pokémon.com after Utah. I wanted to use something else, something more updated—and I guess Bronzong is what everyone was going with. I was a bit upset, but I just figured I’d play it out. And the team I had wasn’t bad. I knew it wasn’t bad, and I could at least get day two.

What’s funny is I actually got that team in the same way I tried to get the Bronzong team. The night before the regional, I messaged Conan looking for a team—but he responded quicker that time. But looking back, it’s probably better that I went with that team. I had Utah experience with it, I played in the International Challenge with it. Though, as far as experience goes, that was all.

And going into the tournament, my one goal was to top 128—that’s all. I would have been happy with that. I just wanted my Worlds invite. Nor-Cal is only a drive away, I have friends to stay with—so I didn’t need the hotel. I didn’t need anything.

JK: What were some of your biggest moments in the Swiss rounds on day one?

CL: Well, in round four I played Andy Himes—who ended up going 9-0 that day. He beat me using the big six with Ditto. And I think he pretty much destroyed me. That was the first big six I’d played all day, so that was when I had to start preparing for it.

“My one goal was top 128. I would have been happy with that.”

JK: I know it was still pretty early in the tournament and I’m not sure how much you were worried about your record then since you only wanted top 128—but how did you handle that loss?

CL: It was definitely a wake-up call because of how the game played out. I felt like he was in control the entire time. He knew the “big six” matchup way better than I did. So from there, I was a little worried, actually. I didn’t know how the rest of the day would play out now that I was starting to play people with better records.

JK: So I actually wanted to ask about round eight, since you got a chance to play Aaron Traylor before you’d meet in the finals. How did that go?

CL: Game one was pretty much Smeargle getting every boost possible that could tip things in my favor. I could tell it was really frustrating for him because I didn’t really win with skill. I mainly just won with luck. Well, I don’t really know if I can say that since we wouldn’t have known how a regular game played out. Smeargle just instantly tipped things in my favor. There was nothing he could have done about it.

I had some flexibility in game two since I’d just won, and I wanted to keep Smeargle on the sidelines and bring Cresselia. And I don’t know if he was expecting it or not, but Cresselia just tipped it quite a bit in my favor since I was able to reverse his Trick Rooms. Game two was much cleaner than game one—there was no luck involved. Or if there was, it was very little.

JK: And after winning that round, you knew you’d made day two. How did it feel, since doing that well meant you’d earned your worlds invite?

CL: At that point, the day was over for me. I got to just smile it out with no worries. I felt relaxed. Something interesting to note, actually, is I would have made day one of Worlds anyway because of my finish in the International Challenge. But the results of that hadn’t been released yet, so I didn’t know for sure. I mean, I was pretty sure I got it, but I was going into Nats playing like I didn’t—just in case.

JK: Tell me about what you did to prepare between day one and day two?

CL: So me, Alberto (Lara) and Riley (Factura) went back to our hotel and tried to figure out what kind of teams everyone else in day two had. Unfortunately, I don’t take notes, so I wasn’t able to help them out very much since I was recalling everything by memory.

JK: Right—since all three of you had made day two, you all needed to come up with a game plan.

CL: Exactly. So they were putting their notes together and we got some information from California players they knew. And we got some information from Arizona players I knew. Plus, there were videos of the stream online.

“I don’t take notes . . . I was recalling everything by memory.”

JK: Alright, let’s talk about day two. You started the day off playing Rajan Bal, and that was a Rayquaza/Kyogre team, right?

CL: Yeah, once I’d figured out what he was running, I was incredibly scared. I’d never even considered RayOgre since I didn’t think too many people were running it. So that was the first time I’d put any thought into the matchup—right before I was walking up to play him. I was a little confused about what I was going to do. And him having Skill Swap on his Bronzong and Hidden Power Water on his Gengar tipped things into his favor. But I think, in that matchup in particular, Cresselia was really important since it help me take out the Gengar.

JK: And after you beat Rajan, you went on to beat Grant Weldon and Joshua Lorcy — which put you only one win away from making top cut. But if I recall, you dropped your next to games, right?

CL: Yeah, my first loss was against Leonard (Craft III). I won game one, but in games two and three he revealed that his Kangaskhan had Safeguard—and I brought Smeargle. And after he set it up, my Smeargle was useless since it couldn’t put anything to sleep with Dark Void. Then, in game three, I completely forgot that his Kangaskhan had Safeguard. So basically the exact same thing happened, and I lost. I still can’t believe I forgot something from such a short time ago.

JK: Well, it’s a high pressure moment.

CL: Yeah, and it’s not something you normally see. It was good though, I’ll tell you that. Anyway, then I played Jake Skurchak. He beat me 2-0. Game one he beat me pretty convincingly, but I had game two until I ran out of time and hadn’t mega evolved my Salamence. So I did a normal hyper voice, which would have KO’d his Kangaskhan if I’d mega evolved. It was my fault, but that cost me.

JK: But you managed to win your last round and made it into top cut. How did that feel to have made it so far after you weren’t even trying to?

CL: I wasn’t expecting it—I’ll tell you that much. I definitely was in disbelief because of the circumstances with my team. And I didn’t need it, but it was a nice surprise.

JK: Yeah, that sounds like it must have been. So, going on to top cut, you actually had two rematches against Rajan and Leonard for your first two rounds. What were those games like?

CL: The one person I didn’t want to play in top 12 was Rajan. His team was scary. It’s not something you play every day, so it’s not something you’re super prepared for. And it’s kind of an unpredictable team. There’s so many options and things you have to consider. But I knew that Cresselia was key in that matchup, so I used that to help me win.

As for Leonard, I knew the reason I lost game two and three of our first set was because I brought Smeargle. So I knew that if I didn’t bring it, the game was open to anybody. I just brought Cresselia instead. And actually, now that I think about it, I didn’t bring Smeargle at all in top twelve.

“I only prepared against one person.”

JK: Alright, so that was the end of day two. After that you knew you had three other people to prepare against in top four.

CL: Right (laughing), but I only prepared against one person!

JK: Really? Was it against Alan?

CL: Yeah, against Alan. I only prepared against him.

JK: Well you’d already played Aaron and Grant, so you already knew their teams. So what did you do then?

CL: Well me and Riley were doing this weird thing where he would use Alan’s team and I’d use my team, but I would tell him everything I was going to do so he could do something to counter it.

JK: So, what—it was like, seeing how your team could perform even if Alan had every perfect read?

CL: Yeah—and me and Alberto didn’t really agree with that idea, so it didn’t go on for too long. In fact, it actually made me less confident against him since I was just getting destroyed. It made me feel like the matchup was way worse than it was. And after that, I focused on getting some good sleep. I didn’t put too much time into practicing that night. It was more the next day, since I knew I’d have four hours to kill while waiting for top four to start. I took that time to think about situations and text some people, talk to them about it.

I ended up talking to Zach Droegkamp for fifteen minutes before I went up, and I asked him what he thought my best lead would be—talking back and forth. And we decided that it was Salamence/Cresselia. It gave the most leeway because I could always switch out against anything threatening.

The one lead I was scared of was the lead he brought every time—the Mawile/Thundurus. That was the worst case scenario. But given that, we still decided that Salamence/Cresselia was my best lead and I could maneuver around things.

JK: Yeah, then the hard part is worrying about taking a Hidden Power Water on the switch. But if I recall, you had a good read in the second game with that.

CL: The second game, I switched my Salamence out again. But that time, instead of switching into Groudon, I switched into Xerneas. And Alan switched out his Mawile into Kyogre and Hidden Power Watered that slot, expecting the Groudon. Plus, I recycled my intimidate by switching Salamence out and it was all good.

“It wasn’t the best way to win.”

JK: Nice! And after you beat Alan, it was the finals. How’d you feel?

CL: After that I was just excited from winning — not so much nerves. I was like “Ok, I can’t believe I’m in the finals!” The thing is, I didn’t prepare for Aaron. Like, I knew his team, I knew what he was running. Maybe the sets were a little fuzzy, but I knew I beat him once. I mean, I knew he could beat me. It was anyone’s game since our teams were evenly matched. So it was like, if I lose I lose — no complaints. And I was feeling pretty good about that.

But right after my match with Alan, I had to go to the bathroom. And when I came back, there was no time to look over Aaron’s team since they had production to run. They had to get us going. So we went right into it.

JK: I remember that a lot of people thought you should have won game one and he should have won game two. And this is assuming hax wasn’t a thing—but I don’t remember what all the instances of it were. What happened there?

CL: Yeah, game one I think he Precipice Blade crit me and killed my Groudon, I think. And it’s not super big hax because it’s slightly in his favor, but he hit two Hypnosis. Plus, I got a max turn sleep on my Cresselia. But I can’t really complain about it.

JK: So you went down a game, and I remember you looking pretty nervous up there. Were you nervous?

CL: Did I? Oh yeah, is that when I Power-Up Punched myself? Because I remember that Aaron lead the same thing, and the move I made game one put me in such a lead that I figured he wouldn’t let me do it game two. So I Power-Up Punched myself thinking there was no way he wouldn’t double protect. But he didn’t, and I was in a really bad position with my Pokémon asleep and none of his were damaged. I thought it was over then. And that was the game where he should have won, but he double Fire Punched instead of using Precipice Blades.

JK: And then came game three—a super tense game. My favorite part of that was the fact that an Icy Wind from early in the match was the determining factor. But the other thing about that game was double Protect that keeping you alive long enough to seal things out. However you pulled it out, though, what was it like to be the national champion?

CL: It was so weird, because after I won, I knew I’d won off a double Protect. So, right after I won, I was just kind of pondering that for a little bit. It wasn’t the best way to win. Winning convincingly, like, that’s the stuff. But I kind of got over it and felt incredible. Out of four hundred players, to be the winner out of all of them. And it’s like, those were four hundred players who paid to enter, who traveled to get there. These people are into the game. So, to do that was amazing.

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