Hello everyone. My name is David Alan “Argyle” Burnett and today I’ll be sharing an interview I had with a player who hardly needs much of an introduction, Joe Ugarte. A player who has been carving out a name for himself as someone who deserves to be considered one of the best in the game right now, getting insight into Joe’s takes on the game and his career was an experience I’m really grateful for. So without further ado, let’s dive in!
Let’s begin with some introductions. Tell us a little about yourself. Your background with Pokemon, when you became interested in VGC, etc.?
The story of how I got into Pokemon is actually really funny. It started when I actually wasn’t playing Pokemon at all, I was playing this fighting game called Injustice 2 on the PS4. And like the teenager I was, I wasn’t really giving a lot of effort in school, my grades weren’t really great, so my dad ended up confiscating the PS4. Because of that, I ended up hiding my 3DS in my closet or something and would play it secretly and stuff haha. So it got me back into playing on my 3DS and therefore Pokemon.
Shortly thereafter, the Worlds Championship finals match from 2017 came up on my Youtube recommendations and I thought it was really, really cool. After that, I went to my first event in Brooklyn and ended up going 3-3, but there were about 50 people there and I thought that was the craziest thing.
Now that I had been introduced to the competitive aspect of Pokemon via Youtube, I went to Hartford Regionals and went 4-4. I feel like that’s everyone’s first Regionals origin story haha, going 4-4 and getting hooked there, which I was! I started playing events consistently and that was how I got started. I started back in 2017, but I would say I didn’t really take the game seriously until 2019. I can remember that is when I decided I wanted to really push for things. For example, that’s when I can remember having a conversation with Gabriel Agati about how, even though I didn’t qualify for World’s that year, I was going to be Number 1 on the Ranked leaderboards, and I was able to achieve that. So 2019 was definitely a defining year for me.
Yeah, I feel like once people see just how big the community is and how many people attend events and whatnot, it really serves to draw people into the game more and more. Do you now tell your dad that he’s the reason that you’ve started your competitive Pokemon career?
Oh yeah, we laugh about it nowadays. We talk a lot more now that I’m doing Pokemon full-time and everything, but at the time, I don’t feel like my dad and I were really close. Pokemon served as a kind of escape for me from some stuff going on at home, stuff with my parents’ divorce and stuff, so that helped to fuel me to play more.
When did you first realize that this was something you felt you were good at, or that this was something you wanted to compete with at the higher levels.
That’s the thing man, I never really feel truly “good” at it. I know I have good results and everything, but I still don’t feel like I’m at where I want to be, and that’s what motivates me to keep going.
I think every time I’ve heard you speak after sets at events and things like that, you obviously make it clear that you’re happy with results that you’ve got, but you still intend on pushing further and further and I think that kind of ambition can be really admirable. I think it’s very easy for Players to sit on their laurels after obtaining one notable result, but that drive definitely helps to create not just a singular achievement, but a career.
Yeah, I think it’s very easy to settle, and not allowing yourself to settle is something that is not very easy to do. And I’m not sure that this is necessarily a very healthy mindset, but for example if I top cut a tournament but don’t come out on top, I don’t see that as a success. Sure, I got a good result, but that’s not where I want to be. I always say this to people, and I know this might be a controversial thing to say, but I think I will have failed with my time in the game if I am not World Champion by the time I finish. And it’s interesting because when you’re competing a lot, you’re constantly told that it’s okay to fail, which of course it is, but I’ve just never had the mentality that I’d be willing to settle for anything other than to be the best. If you have a goal coming in, then you do everything you can to accomplish that goal before you leave the game.
Along those same lines, what are some of your favorite past events or accomplishments related to the Pokemon VGC?
I think the first one that meant a lot to me was when I won Portland Regionals in 2019 really was great for me, because that was a tournament I wanted to win and I was able to. I think I’ve been chasing that feeling since haha, it’s what has continued to motivate me to continue working hard. I think any match or event where I’m motivated to continue working hard at the game are the ones that mean the most to me. For example, my top 4 match with Eric Rios at the Europe International Championships is one where it was close, I ended up losing and Eric played better, but it was really great. Games like that really motivate me to continue playing and to push myself to get better results.
A lot of people know you through your Youtube channel and the UX9 Academy. Did you always intend on creating those kinds of communities related to VGC or did they just kind of fall into place?
When I started playing Pokemon, I was actually neglecting a lot of my studies at college and stuff by the time of the 2020 season, I was really into the game and on the top of the leaderboards, but fortunately I was at the time able to kind of skate by as far as my college grades went and prioritize my VGC career. But when COVID-19 hit, I kind of reevaluated everything. I started streaming a little bit after the Oceania International Competition and it was something I really enjoyed. I had thought of trying to make streaming my full-time job. I ended up streaming more and more and being successful, had the conversation with my parents about wanting to end my college studies, and then I jumped into doing Pokemon full-time. For a while, it was pretty hard to be honest, the reality of full-time streaming is something that I don’t think a lot of people appreciate. Going live everyday, asking for subs and generosity, you know.
Yeah, you’re putting on a persona and entertaining people for multiple hours a day. I don’t think people realize how draining that can be.
Oh, absolutely. I found too that, over time, there were other avenues I wanted to pursue. I started taking my coaching a lot more seriously then as well and really enjoyed that. I realized then, as time progressed, that coaching was actually a better source of income than streaming. I really liked the idea of my job consisting of teaching people how to play Pokemon. Coaching is actually 100% the way I’m able to survive playing Pokemon, which I’m incredibly grateful for, because it helps me help others start the same journey that I myself am on. I also really like it as I’m able to often see a little of myself in the players I coach and it allows me to get some insight into myself as a player.
So I eventually started doing coaching and Youtube more and I truly think that Youtube and some other platforms definitely have more potential as far as the future of VGC goes. I think Twitch is a platform that honestly has been hurting its creators, including VGC creators, and I think I could see its future being off of Twitch in the future.
So you’ve obviously been attending many of the big tournaments recently with the return of live events. What made you decide to travel to all of these?
Well, it’s my job right haha. The better I do, the better qualified I am to teach. I can’t really be teaching if I’m not good, right? So it’s important for me to be able to continue to prove myself in order to be the best teacher I can be. It’s like the proverb “Practice what you preach”, you know? All of these events are great chances for me to be able to learn more and more, and therefore teach more and more.
Can you give any travel advice for those looking to head to an event for the first time? I know many Trainers who got their start in Sword and Shield may have never attended a live event before Season 12.
To be quite honest, I’m a pretty terrible planner haha. I think I’m in a really good position in that I can generally just book the flight then will usually have someone I know that I can call and see about rooming with or something. Having that network of people you know is really helpful when figuring out where you’re going to stay when traveling to these kinds of events, so I’d say that’s a big piece of advice I could give to new players is to find people you can coordinate with when figuring out where to stay.
The three main things you need to make sure are sorted out are: registration for the event itself, travel there, and then where you are staying. I’d recommend not staying further than 30 minutes away from the event so you don’t have a miserable morning trying to get there. And then, if you’re able to, I’d highly recommend not over-stressing for the event and enjoy where you’re going. If you’re able to afford it, I’d recommend staying an extra day just to get out and see new places. My favorite thing about traveling anywhere is literally just being able to go somewhere early and see the city, go to places, experiences like that. It completely changes it from just a “Pokemon” trip to being able to see an entirely new place while also playing a game you love. Traveling for tournaments allows you the chance to see things you wouldn’t normally see, so if you can, there’s no excuse not to go out and enjoy wherever it is the tournament is being held!
You were able to get Top 4 at this past Europe International Competition. Can you give us some insights about your tournament run there?
Shortly before I travelled to the Europe International Competition, I honestly had not been having a great week in a lot of different aspects of my life. I realized going into the event that, instead of just stressing about it and worrying so much about how I would be able to perform, I could encourage myself in remembering that I do have the skill to justify traveling to this tournament. There’s a reason I was going and the only thing that was going to stop me in accomplishing my goals was myself. I made sure that when I got there, I went out and had fun with my friend Fevzi as opposed to just holing myself up in my room and prepping extraneously. I picked the core that I was most comfortable with at the time, Yveltal/Groudon, and just trusted my gut in building the rest of the team around that, especially with the inclusion of Porygon 2.
What I think EUIC made me realize was that no matter how much time you spend prepping for something, your mentality and your understanding of the game will never be impacted by whether or not you choose to work on something a day before or a week before. I think that it’s’ very easy to psych yourself out with all of the different nuances, choices, team building, etc. in the game, but really no matter what is going on in your life and where you’re at, if you’re able to just develop the mental fortitude to pick yourself up and push through the hardships you’re going through, no matter if it’s Pokemon or anything else in life, you’ll be able to succeed and reach the goals you want. I ended up coming out of the European International Championship feeling a lot better! Would I have liked to have won, sure! But I had a lot of fun and it really improved my spirits. If you look at playing every event like it’s your last, it really helps you get in the right perspective and just value what makes the game and the tournament experience so fun at its core.
Only a few weeks prior to the Europe International Championships, you also placed in the Top 4 at the Salt Lake City Regional Competition. How did your performance there impact your performance at Frankfurt? Was there any burnout you had to shake off, or did your time at Salt Lake motivate you to compete even more?
I was definitely motivated to compete even more. I really don’t have a big issue with burnout. If I feel myself getting tired of Pokemon, I just don’t play for a day or two. It’s no big deal, it’s not like I’m going to lose anything from taking a small break like that. I genuinely think the reason that people burnout is that they force themselves to play the Ranked ladder semi-constantly and just grind out games so much.
For me, Salt Lake City was a tournament in which I felt like I couldn’t be stopped. I felt like every single person I was able to beat or could have beaten really easily. I was heartbroken with how my set with Aaron Traylor ended with the Play Rough miss, but that then made me focus on Frankfurt as the tournament to make mine. Yeah, I fell a little short of that goal, but I’m just going to keep working at it. I have Indianapolis, Vancouver, some French regionals, there are a lot of tournaments coming up I’m looking forward to carrying that energy towards. I will win a regional this season, maybe two.
Well hey, being the only US player to place in top 8 is pretty good!
Yeah definitely. My goal is to be able to say that I’m the best Player in the US and that I will be the best player in the World, so it’s always really validating to be able to put in a performance like that.
What were some of your favorite moments from the Europe International Championship, both in and out of game?
Definitely the moments I spent with my friends out of game. Like obviously my favorite moments are when I made Day 2, when I Top Cut, but anyone’ll say that, that’s pretty basic stuff. I always value the personal moments I had with my friends, hanging out and talking to people. Honestly, money-matching people and betting on who I thought was going to win in finals was just pure fun, you know? One match I played against Ben Kyriakou that had no dynamax or restricted was a lot of fun, just to have some games that weren’t nearly as stressful. It reminded me a lot of what the core aspect of playing Pokemon is, and that’s to have fun with friends. I find that more and more as I make this my full-time job, I’m having less of those kinds of experiences and so when I do just get to have fun with friends, I really cherish that.
If you were going to give just two pieces of advice to someone looking to make a name for themselves in some of the upcoming events, what would they be?
Don’t over prepare. I think there’s a big habit that people have of trying to grind the ladder to find the perfect team or something, but I’ve gone into tournaments with teams that don’t necessarily have a great record on ladder or anything and done really well with them. I keep going back to the team I used for the European International Competition, but I locked this team in at like one in the morning the day before after only playing a couple of sets with it against Fevzi. I barely tested it, but it felt right and I trusted my own intuition. So don’t just take Showdown, Ranked Battles, etc. as the end-all, be-all as to how good the team is or how good you are. Tournaments will always turn out much different than online ranked battles or things of that nature. Playing Bo3 on Switch in-person is so different from just playing Bo1 online, and I don’t think people talk about that enough. When the gravity of the situation, the reality of playing against an opponent in front of you, it makes you look at the game differently.
My second piece of advice is to just enjoy friendships you make in the game. Break out, step out and meet people. What’s the worst that’s going to happen, someone’s going to say “I don’t know you” and walk away? Not a big deal. We’re all here to play Pokemon, introduce yourself and most people are really nice. If you see me, come up and say hi! I can remember back at the 2017 Hartford Regional tournament, my first tournament,I saw Ray Rizzo and really wanted to introduce myself, get a picture, etc., but I didn’t. And I still regret not doing that. So don’t be afraid to make friends, say hi to players that you know or are fans of, it makes events such a better experience for everyone.
In your opinion, what is the most underexplored Pokemon in the current format?
(Author’s Note: Joe was very dismissive of my Ninetales hints when thinking about this question. Foiled again.)
I think Urshifu, both forms. I think that they both have an interesting Ability and have really interesting power levels in this format. Despite the Restricted Pokemon limiting how much Urshifu can just be splashed into a team, it doesn’t mean that they’re completely invalid. And because they can kind of ignore Intimidates, and Urshifu Water being able to utilize Rain with all of the Kyogre teams running around, things like that which could make them useful. Do I think that they’re like the greatest thing ever? No, but I think that both have their merits. Even Urshifu-Dark has some viability with all of the Calyrex around now and the resurgence of Lunala.
Are there any parting words or shoutouts you’d like to give as we come to a close?
Make sure that when you play this game, understand that the only thing that can hold you back from what you want to achieve is yourself. You can blame RNG, you can blame circumstances, you can blame hax, but when it comes down to it, the person who is directly responsible for how you perform is you. It’s your job as a player to look and see how you can improve and what ways you can grow as a player to achieve whatever goals you’ve set for yourself.
Also shoutout to X9Academy.com as well haha.
– When not playing or writing about Pokemon, David Alan “Argyle” Burnett can be found teaching, spending time with his wife and two children, or trying to figure out how to get Ninetales to work in this meta. He can be found at Twitter.com/argylevgc