Hello all. My name is David Alan “Argyle” Burnett and today I’ll be sharing an interview I had with Stefan “Pengy” Mott off the back of two very impressive runs at Salt Lake City and Liverpool Regionals. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Introductions are in order! Tell us some of your background, how did you get into VGC, anything like that?
Stefan “Pengy” Mott
So, I started playing VGC at the beginning of Gen 8, at the very end of 2019. I used to be a professional Starcraft II player, but then I got old and now my wrists hurt, so I like to play the game that requires me to click maybe once every few seconds instead of, you know, a lot! I’ve always liked strategy games and I’ve always really liked Pokémon. I used to be a Pokémon speed-runner, so I just figured I’d give it a try and it turns out VGC is pretty cool. So, I’ve been playing VGC ever since!
What have been some of your favorite events in the past, or any achievements you are especially proud of?
I think the biggest one is probably the World Cup. So, going into the World Cup, we didn’t really know how many people we’d be able to get interested in the team for Switzerland, but we got enough to sign up—we got 11. One of them dropped out because of personal reasons before we got started, so we effectively had 10. I remember everyone who was doing tier lists before the World Cup was throwing Switzerland into the C or D tier, but then we got Top 8 and did better than Japan and America! So I thought that was pretty cool.
That’s awesome! I remember hearing about the World Cup but wasn’t able to tune in, that’s sweet.
Yeah, that was definitely a big one. I’ve always really liked team events, so being able to work with everyone we had, such as a couple of the old heads like Damo and Glurak who have been around, who have top cut a few regionals here and there, was really nice. Then we had a couple of new guys—youngsters—people like Bubu, who were pretty young and had just started playing prior to the World Cup. And then we had people kind of in the middle, like me and Banfox. We were able to get everyone working together.
We had some really creative people there who were able to build some wild teams and come at the team-building process from a different angle. We had a really good working environment even with people with very different mentalities. Everybody was very aware that it was an environment where everyone wanted what was best, so nobody took criticism too seriously or too harshly. We were able to build a lot more creative teams than a lot of us would be able to create on our own.
Because of how hard we worked, we were able to beat out a lot of really good teams. Unfortunately, we were knocked out 4-3 by Italy, but that’s definitely not too bad.
Yeah, I feel like having a good team synergy is key. I did the USPA league and it was really cool being able to work alongside people that you got along with well.
Yeah, USPA was fun as well. We had a really good environment for USPA. I’ve had good luck in general with team leagues, which is probably why I like them so much!
So what made you decide to attend the Liverpool Regional as well as the Salt Lake City Regional, or did you always plan on attending both?
I had 33 CP at the beginning of this year, so… That’s what made me decide to hit both events! I didn’t have much of an opportunity to get CP because my locals are New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, so they’re really hard. I think I have 25 CP from locals and 8 from PC at the Collinsville Regional. I bubbled out of CP at Collinsville, I think I got 65th and only the top 64 got CP. With no locals, I need a lot of CP, so I decided to hit all of the regionals I can!
I’m really lucky in regards to the locations of the European ones. Liverpool’s neat because I have a ton of friends who live in the UK, so it was a good opportunity to catch up with a couple of people I haven’t seen in forever. Frankfurt is the week before one of my high school friend’s bachelor parties, so that’s fine, I’ll just stay. And then Milan is an hour and a half from where my dad lives, so I got very lucky with scheduling for the European events.
So you’re planning on going to Frankfurt and Milan as well?
Frankfurt, yes. Milan is late enough in the season so that it’s kind of my emergency event if I still need the CP. If I don’t need the CP, I probably won’t go since it’s still pretty expensive.
What is your CP looking like currently?
Officially 193, plus whatever I got from the International Challenge, so around 200.
A lot of new VGC players got into competing when Sword and Shield were released, but unfortunately have not been able to attend many events in person due to the COVID-19 restrictions for the past two years. So with many people only having online tournament experience, what are some things you think about when you’re considering travelling, making sense of venues, preparations that some players may never have experienced?
I’ve been doing events like this for a decade including Starcraft, so for me, the long days and travel don’t really bother me. The travel to Liverpool hit me a little harder than I expected, but that’s because—due to the pandemic—I haven’t been traveling as much recently. But generally speaking, everyone is different, right? You want to try to optimize your chances of getting good rest the night before. I did not for either of these regionals. I was dying! I don’t know what happened for these two regionals, but I got zero sleep for either of them.
So it’s, “Do you as you say and not as you do,” huh?
I mean, I tried! Do your best to plan it out so that you can get rest, whether that depends on your flight times or things like that. For EUIC, for example, we’re flying in early because Internationals are a big deal and there’s a 6-hour time difference, so we’re giving ourselves a while to adjust time-zone wise. Try to plan out your sleeping, force yourself to stay awake until say 9 or 10, just to be sure you get a good night’s sleep.
Now, this is a “use this for inspiration but do not take this as actual advice,” because I’m not responsible for the readers’ health… But my optimal method of caffeinating will get me through Day 1 of an event and then have me crash right at the end of Day 1 and allow me to sleep for Day 2.
The Pengy Caffeine Strat
I’ll start with one of those Starbucks cold coffee bottles you can buy from a shop. It’s about a coffee’s worth of caffeine, but I can take it into the event since it’s not an open drink and I can have more freedom to drink it since it’s not losing its warmth. From there, I’ll go to a Coke or Dr. Pepper, one of those drinks that has sugar for the sugar boost and also some caffeine. From there, I’ll level up to a Mountain Dew, which is more caffeine. The idea here is that you’re steadily ingesting more caffeine, so it’s offsetting the crash that’s coming. You’re slowly increasing, so by the time you get to Round 6 of Swiss, that’s when you get to the Red Bull. And by the time you finish the 9th round of Swiss, you go back to the hotel and you collapse. It’s very unhealthy and no one should do it, but it works for me.
Is there anything that you like to do differently when preparing for real life events as opposed to online events?
It kind of depends, really. For these two, I didn’t want to prep super hard for Salt Lake because I didn’t want to burn out too hard for Liverpool. If I have two events in a row and I’ve been going really hard for a while, I’ll take a couple of days off. You have to be confident in the team you’re bringing and you have to be confident in your ability to pilot it, so it shouldn’t be the end of the world if you take a couple of days off prior to an event.
That being said, the meta can evolve really fast, so that can bite you a little bit. I was a little behind the meta for Salt Lake, for example. But for Liverpool, the meta was evolving really fast at that point—obviously everyone was using Rinya Sun—so I spent a ton of time, about two days, to prep totaling at about 22 hours. I was running sets, making adjustments to the team. I think I made about 4 or 5 meta-dependent changes to the team.
It really depends on where I am as far as a mental state goes: If I’m worried about burning out, I’ll always prioritize not suffering from that. So, if you have the motivation and aren’t worried about burning out, then absolutely it’s fine to dump a ton of practice right before the event. Just be sure you’re up on all of your lines! There were a couple of matchups where I wasn’t very comfortable during Salt Lake, because I didn’t run my lines. I was just playing by feel, but that wasn’t a problem at Liverpool because I had put the practice time in.
So you’re not a fan of getting a team from a friend the night before the event, huh?
No, I’d always say it’s better to run something you’re comfortable with rather than running something good. Like, I’m the only person I know of who’s running this team of 6 now because everyone considers it outdated. But, to be fair, I’m running my own version of this 6. I never took this from anyone else. I just happened to make the team at the same time as Sableye and Joeux9 made their version, so it doesn’t take inspiration from anywhere and is different enough. It’s not exactly the most forward-thinking, ahead-of-the-meta thing right now, but I’m really, really, really good at piloting it. So that’s better than if I rolled up with Rinya Sun, because if I’m less good at piloting that, then all of the sudden I’m hitting mirrors and I’m losing because I’m not as good at piloting it as others are, maybe I’m not as comfortable in my lines into some stuff.
I think that, especially for a tournament like a regional where you’ll play so many rounds, especially for early rounds where you’re not sure what you’re going to go up against it, it’s really crucial to have something you’re comfortable with rather than what’s the best team in the meta that you’ve spent 5 hours playing before the event.
The one time I think it’s fine to take a super meta team and just do your best with it—because good players are likely to be good enough to take the best team in the meta and have a decent shot at top-cutting—so I would say take a meta team if you just don’t have a team that you’re super, super comfortable with. If the meta shifts in such a way that this team I’m using ends up being really bad into the meta, I’m not going to have a backup comfort pick, so I’ll have to pick something that is meta and get good with it. But I always feel like you should have that comfort pick in your back pocket to always fall back on. Like, I have this team and I’m not going to stop experimenting with other stuff, but I’ll always have this to use if I can’t find something that I feel like I vibe with quite as hard.
A lot of people have been very complimentary of you insofar as the prep you do leading up to events, tournaments, things of that nature. What are some things you do to prepare for regionals that you haven’t already mentioned? Things such as team-building, things you pay attention to, what players will be there, and so on?
Well, I know a lot of people. I’m on very good terms with a lot of people, which is a big, big, big asset when it comes to stuff like that. Going into Liverpool, for example, I had a lot of European friends who weren’t going to the event and who told me what would be popular, who was probably running what, and I was able to make tweaks and adjustments to my team based off of that.
For example, I knew Rinya Sun was going to be really popular, which isn’t exactly the most surprising thing in the world, and I knew a bunch of people were going to be running Calyrex Shadow-Rider/Zacian with Blastoise and Thunderus. I didn’t actually hit that exact team, I ended up hitting Chef in Top 8, who also had the first three, but I was able to prep lines into those even though those matchups aren’t super easy for the team. So it puts you into a position where you’re able to prioritize the way you’re prepping.
Other than that, I try to just play a lot of sets and play sets specifically against what I expect to see a lot of at the event. I expected a lot of Palkia/Ice-Rider, I expected a lot of Rinya Sun, and I expected a lot of Calyrex Shadow-Rider/Zacian. And then on top of that, I tried to be prepped for some random stuff—things like the Reshiram team that’s been going around, so I ran a set against that just in case I hit it. Just some of the uncommon things, like Dialga and some of the other random restricteds, just to have a certain level of comfortability against those. But most of what I went up against in preparation was against meta teams.
And when you say “running sets,” is that when you have a friend or someone you practice with that will run specific teams against you for practice? Or just getting on the Ranked ladder and just making note of what you see?
So usually what I’ll do is, if I’m figuring out lines, I’ll go into games with some of my closer friends and practice partners, such as my friend Chalkey who I do a lot of practice with or people like Sableye or Turtlemania or Mandby from the Apprentice Esports team, or even people from the USPA team. And we’ll go in and run games until we’ve figured out the line. Sometimes I’ll reach out to really good players, such as Joeux9 for Rinya Sun, and then I’ll make sure it works. I will say, it was nice that after getting CP at Salt Lake, a bunch of the top players were now willing to play games with me.
That was about to be my follow-up question—how do you make connections like that for playtesting? But I guess doing well at large tournaments is definitely one way to do it!
Yeah, it was really nice. I figured for Liverpool, I would just message a ton of top players and expected only about three to respond, but all but one did, which was really nice. So I got sets in with Kortex, Animus, Adi, Joeux9—a lot of people that I was able to run one or two sets with against a couple of different teams—to be sure that what I was thinking was the right call, and that was super useful. For example, I was considering switching out Rillaboom on my team for Ferrothorn, but during my set with Joeux9, he pointed out I needed Rillaboom for my Sun matchup, so that’s the reason I went back to Rillaboom.
Running a lot of sets with a lot of different people who aren’t going to be at the event—it’s a lot easier to see potential flaws or have unique ideas that can help you out. For example, for Liverpool, I knew a lot of the NA players weren’t going to be there, so I just played with a lot of them! My situation is uniquely nice, I live in the US and play in the USPA and am local to the NY, NJ, PA area. But I’m also Swiss, so I’m in the Swiss discord and have a fairly big network in Europe, so I have a decent support system no matter where the event is I’m going to.
Were there any key differences that stuck out to you between the regionals at Salt Lake and Liverpool?
They were run pretty similarly—I mentioned this to one of the TOs at Liverpool—they were both run incredibly smoothly, especially considering all of the extra precautions and COVID policy stuff they were having to deal with. The communication was really good on when lunch break was and when we needed to return.
The only thing that was disappointing was that Liverpool didn’t have a stage for the top tables. I understand why they didn’t stream it, since this season was the first time they were officially streaming any regional, so I think it makes sense that they were using NA regionals as a trial to see how it went, but I really wished there had been at least a stage for people to watch the games on. I hope they ramp it up next year. It was really awkward when people were getting hyped for Eric Rios doing well and for Filip Idczak going really deep even though it was his first event, and you just can’t watch the game huddled around 50 other people trying to get a glimpse of someone’s Switch. It would’ve at least been nice to have like a TV or something and a capture card set up, so people could watch. I guess maybe they may have been trying to maintain some social distancing guidelines, but it still would’ve been nice.
How do you feel your overall runs at Salt Lake and/or Liverpool went? If you remember any of your matches, you can give us some snippets about them, as well.
I was pretty happy, I met my two main goals. I wanted to get some CP from Salt Lake, especially since I didn’t prep quite as hard, and then to top cut Liverpool, and I was able to do both.
Salt Lake was kind of disgusting, my schedule was kind of gross. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the hardest schedule in the tournament. Though, of course, that may have helped me out in the end. For example, in the first round, where you might expect to go up against a more average player, my opponent was ranked 1650 on Showdown, which is higher than most people you might go up against in Round 1. That was good, because that guy helped my resistance a lot, since he went 3-4 and didn’t drop. Round 2 was easy, but after that it got kind of nuts. I played DaWoblefet in Round 3, I played Joshua “123e45” Mecham in Round 4 who’s really good, I played Andrew Ding in Round 5, I played Aaron Traylor in Round 6, I played IronMan in Round 7, and I played Animus in Round 8. So I basically hit 5 top players in 6 rounds, and the one that wasn’t a “top” player was still a really good player. So definitely not an easy schedule, but it definitely helped my resistance out a lot. I got some good wins there, and I managed to beat Andrew Ding pretty well. I threw against Joshua Mecham which sucked, I beat DaWoblefet, so I went pretty okay in those matchups. Going 5-3 in that kind of schedule was something that wasn’t necessarily ideal, but considering my opponents, I was okay with that.
Other than that, Liverpool was weird. I went to bed at 11pm, intending to try to ensure that I got a lot of sleep, unlike Salt Lake where I went to bed at 9pm and woke up at 10:30pm and could not go back to sleep. But, unfortunately, I woke up at 1am and couldn’t sleep again. So, like Salt Lake, I was running on about two hours’ worth of sleep, so that was pretty awful. I got an easier schedule than Salt Lake, but it still wasn’t easier. I ended up getting super haxxed by Bwenty in Game 3 of Round 2, which was really sad because it followed probably the coolest play I’ve ever done in an event which should’ve won the game on Turn 1, but I just got crit multiple times by a -2 Ice Rider.
Wait, wait, so what was the play?
He was running Palkia/Ice Rider and he led Palkia and Amoonguss. I led Incineroar and Grimmsnarl. I figured he would try for a free Spore and Trick Room, so I Dynamax’d my Grimmsnarl and Max Starfall’d his Palkia for a OHKO, then negated the Spore because of Fairy Terrain.
Okay, that’s pretty cool.
Yeah, it definitely was until I lost haha! Everything after it just went down to crits and then a missed Thunder-Wave. But, fortunately after that I played a lot of matchups I had prepped for.
In Round 3, I played Rinya Sun and won. In Round 4, I played Benster, who was running the team that Zee was running in Salt Lake, which I had run with Animus and Adi, so I won that one. I played against a guy called Brian Zourdani, whose name is still familiar to me for some reason. He was playing Rinya Sun and I beat him.
But then at 4-1, I played against triple Recover Ho-oh team in Round 5. It had Ho-oh, Gastrodon, Porygon2, and Assault Vest Groudon. I was able to win, but we went to time. It was super annoying. At this point, I’m on two hours of sleep, been awake for 14 hours, and have had two games last the full timer, so it wasn’t great. Round 7, I went against Mateus de Mora, who is very good. We played against his team in the World Cup. He had a bit of a throw against me in Game 2, but I ended up winning 2-0. He just had a momentary brain fart where he did Psychic Fangs into my Rillaboom instead of Sunsteel Strike, and my Rillaboom lived with 2 HP when Sunsteel Strike would’ve KO’d for sure.
In Round 8, I played against Filip Idczak, who got top 4 in what we thought was a win-and-in, but afterwards we realized it didn’t matter as we’d both make the cut anyways. So, in the match that didn’t matter, I ended up winning 2-1. But then in the next match during Top 8, I lost to Chef when he got critical hits against my Dynamax Pokémon during the first turn of both games. Unfortunate, but oh well.
Were there any crucial moments for you, where you either realized you were definitely going to meet your goals or when you realized that you made a major mistake?
I definitely got really lucky with the timing of some stuff during Salt Lake. As I mentioned when I threw against Joshua Mecham, I did a double attack into his Dynamax Pokémon, which I realized immediately after locking in the moves was definitely going to Max Guard, and that cost me the Round. Right after that was lunch break, but that actually helped me out a lot, as I was able to decompress, get some rest, and refresh a little before continuing.
Round 4 of Liverpool was also really important. Even though I won Round 3, I actually brought the wrong 4 Pokémon into it and just realized that I could drop after that and go to sleep in the hotel instead, since it was obvious I didn’t seem to be playing my best. But then I ended up playing against Benster, who’s a really good player, and he was running a team that I had lost to twice in Salt Lake. When I beat him, it really re-motivated me: I was 3-1, I just beat a matchup I had prepped for a lot, and I can at least get some CP. I should keep going.
It sounds like it’s a lot of overcoming mental obstacles and keeping confidence up.
Yeah, it’s something I myself still struggle with, but the key is just to go into every set and treat every game as its own thing. Don’t worry too much if you’re 4-0 and if you’re going to be on stream, or even who your opponent is. Just play the game. Obviously, sometimes knowing your opponent can inform you on certain changes to make, but don’t let that make you start second-guessing things.
Yeah, I feel like it can be intimidating to a lot of newer players who maybe haven’t been to a bigger event like these regionals, especially if they end up on stream or something like that. That can throw them off of their game.
Yeah, exactly. Pokémon is a game. Just play the game.
You may have already brought this up, but what was your favorite moment from these two regionals as far as your personal gameplay goes?
It would’ve been the Grimmsnarl play if I had won the set, but now I’m just mad about it haha! It is a good story, though.
I really liked my Game 3 play against Filip Idczak in Round 8 of Liverpool. He was running a Life Orb Regieleki, but I identified that it wasn’t super invested in Special Attack. He had min-max’d it so that he would be able to hit certain KO’s, but had invested a lot in bulk instead. I realized in Game 1 based on how much damage it did to my Zapdos that it probably wouldn’t KO my Zacian. So going into Game 3, I led Zapdos/Incineroar all three games, because it was a great lead into his team, and then I decided to Max Zapdos here. I knew he’d Max Lightning the Incineroar slot after using Fake Out on it. So I swapped the Zacian into the Incineroar slot where it took the Fake Out and Max Lightning without getting KO’d, then Max Airstream’d the Regieleki so that my Zacian will outspeed the Regieleki and sweep the rest of the game. It wasn’t a matchup I had run up against, so it was certainly risky. He was playing Bronzong and Yveltal/Groudon, but for a Turn 1 play that won me the game, I thought it was pretty good.
For Salt Lake, one funny thing I like to do sometimes is play “physical mindgames.” I don’t think they really work most of the time, but I was playing DaWoblefet and thinking about my Game 3 lead—I had three potential options. I knew DaWoblefet is a really analytical kind of guy, so I knew if I locked in my moves super fast after I’d been playing really safe most of the set and made it obvious I locked in super fast, he’d probably assume I was just making the obvious safer play. I led off with Zapdos Zacian against his Zacian and Incineroar. I quickly locked in Sacred Sword and Max Airstream into the Incineroar, and he clicked Parting Shot and Protect, so the game was over then and there since his Incineroar couldn’t do anything.
I’ve always thought that was a clever idea to use your own body language to play mind games with your opponent!
Yeah, I just leaned back really far in my chair and did a back stretch to make it clear that I wasn’t thinking anymore and I was done locking in. I figured those moves were my game plan anyway, so it was just an extra reason for him to think that I clicked something different. It probably wasn’t the reason he made the decision he did, but hey, maybe it was.
Now that you’ve said that, it will be the story! What was your favorite moment from the regionals not connected specifically to gameplay?
Definitely meeting people. It was cool seeing people for the first time that I had been talking to online, or seeing old friends for the first time in a long time. It was really cool seeing some of the people that got their start in online events do really well in their first in-person event. Ragna did really well, Catfish did really well. In Liverpool, Idczak did really well, he should’ve been in the finals except for a missed Frenzy Plant against Eric Rios in the semifinals.
If you had to give two pieces of advice to someone looking to go to their first big event like a regional, what would they be?
Well, try to be as awake as possible, whether that’s with a good caffeine plan or that’s getting good sleep the night before. Just try to be as rested as you can possibly be, I think that’s the most important thing. I know that’s weird for me to be saying as the guy who just got 160 CP while falling asleep at the tables in both events, but it’s still important!
See, it could have been more if you had been more awake!
Exactly, exactly! And we’ll call this next part “1-A,” but don’t make major changes the night before and psych yourself out. Small things are fine, like for example I realized minimum speed Rillaboom actually helped with some matchups while not really taking away from any others, so I changed that. But don’t change anything super crucial on your team the night before, because chances are you’re getting tunnel-vision about whatever you’re worried about and not thinking about the overall meta. Just trust yourself, trust your preparation, and go to sleep.
The second big thing is to just play every set as its own set, as I mentioned before. Your current standing is out of your control. If you’re 1-2 and have to win out for the rest of the day, then okay, that’s how it is. Stressing about it isn’t going to do anything. If you’re playing against someone you’ve never been able to beat after playing them a bunch of times—okay, don’t stress about it, just play that singular set. All of the things that cannot be affected, just let them melt away and focus on the game in front of you and focus on that one set. Don’t worry about what it means for the rest of the tournament whether you win or lose: Just play your game.
One final question: Some readers may not be aware that you started your own esports organization, Apprentice Esports. How did your background in Starcraft esports impact your decision to create an esports organization that included VGC?
So a lot of my background stuff in Starcraft was management stuff. I was the Manager of two different Starcraft teams and then I was the Manager of Operations for an esports organization, so I have a lot of experience in management and background stuff for an esports organization already. My co-owner/partner-in-crime when it comes to that is named Sugar, who’s also got a lot of experience in Starcraft II management. He was my Assistant Manager at Sidestorm Gaming and went on to be part of the management staff at Alpha X, another really successful North American Starcraft II team. We specialize in Starcraft II and VGC. Those are the two games we’re represented in.
One thing we really focus on is sustainability. Anybody who has been in the Starcraft II scene has seen tons of teams show up and then, three months later, they’ve run out of money and disappear. So we’re big on making sure that we’re not overspending. Would it be cool to have a Unite team or Smash players? Sure. Can we afford it right now? Yeah. If we don’t get sponsors in two months, are we going to have to cut all of those players and look like idiots? Yes. So we’re trying hard to not overextend and run it as sustainable as possible.
It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s not a money thing. It’d be great if we were able to make a lot of money obviously, but getting into an esports organization to make money is only going to stress you out and likely won’t be successful. So, at this point, we’re content to be supporting our players, supporting two scenes that we’re passionate about, and then we’ll see where it goes from there!
Awesome! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
So, shoutout to said esports organization, Apprentice Esports. We just won our second back-to-back Starcraft II team league. As for me, follow me on Twitter at PengyTwitch. I also stream at Pengyy. I’m going to be playing in a High Roller Draft League coming up soon, so send me good luck for this! I always get haxxed in High Roller Draft League, so I’ll need it!
If you’d like to listen to Pengy himself go over his tournament runs and a team report, you can check out his Youtube video about the regionals.
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