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Exceeding Expectations – An Interview with 2018 North American International Champion Jeremy Rodrigues

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A two-time regional champion and now a first-time International Champion with over 1700 Championship Points to his name, Jeremy Rodrigues has proven himself as one of North America’s elite players. Rodrigues capped off an already impressive tournament run at the North American International Championships with a decisive victory over another one of North America’s greats: Justin Burns. We caught up with Rodrigues after his major tournament win in order to get some of his thoughts on the tournament as well as his hopes for the upcoming 2018 World Championships.

Approaching the 2018 format with a Worlds Invite already in-hand

pokemon vgc 2018 daytona regionals jeremy rodrigues pokemon vgc

Rodrigues in his post-finals interview after winning the 2017 Daytona Regional Championships with his trusty Eevee.

Rodrigues was among a select class of players who had claimed their invites to the 2018 World Championships through tournaments still playing the 2017 rule set. He made headlines in October of 2017 when Rodrigues piloted a team featuring Eevee to its first regional championship. With this being his third straight Top Cut appearance with this team, Rodrigues became the second North American player to clinch their invite to the World Championships. Let’s just say Rodrigues entered the 2018 format with little pressure.

“Because I already had a Worlds invite, I was more inclined to use ‘all-or-nothing’ strategies that would either be amazing and revolutionize the way VGC is played or be utterly worthless.”

To the dismay of many members of the community, Rodrigues began 2018 with the infamous Chansey team. He brought this team to the format’s first regional in Dallas where he was taken down on stream by Chuppa Cross IV which famously exposed the team’s vital weakness in best-of-three play. Rodrigues acknowledged that this team was a total flop, but at least he was able to earn some Championship Points with it at the Latin America International Championships.

When approaching the most recent regionals he attended, as well as the North American International Championships, Rodrigues opted for a more standard team which he believes his better results at these tournaments reflect.

“At this point when I was sure I had locked up a Day 2 invite, I wanted to get some Worlds prep under my belt. I thought Metagross could take me far in a Nationals metagame, and I turned out to be correct.”

Going into Columbus

During some of Rodrigues’ post-match interviews, it appeared his confidence about this particular tournament wasn’t too high. What’s interesting is that low level of confidence completely contradicts this tweet from Jeremy Gross which paints Rodrigues’ confidence at a much higher level.

With both of these equally hilarious sentiments considering the outcome of the tournament, I had to know the truth.

“Okay. (chuckle) That’s actually a very interesting question. I went into this event kind of very aware of my own mortality if you will. I went in not at all certain if I would even get points… I had never gotten more than five wins at a national, and I didn’t feel a reason that this national would be any different than that.”

Well, Rodrigues certainly exceeded that five-win personal best as he finished day one of Swiss with a 7-2 record as the eighth seed heading into day two.

From Day Two Onward

“Oh hey, that’s pretty cool.”

Modest sentiments again from Rodrigues as he recalls his reaction to his advancing in the tournament. Going into the tournament, Rodrigues claims that his only real goal was locking up his stipend to next year’s European International Championships, which reaching day two at Columbus would’ve (ideally) done for him. The only complication with that was that Justin Crubaugh, another North American player in contention for this stipend, also made it into day two. With this, Rodrigues claims that he felt a bit more pressure to perform, but still not too much.

“I thought ‘hey you know there are only five rounds of swiss. If I can manage to go 4-1 that should put me in Top Cut.'”

“There’s a real chance that I can make a deep run here, and I kinda want to capitalize on that.”

Lo and behold, Rodrigues accomplished that 4-1 goal, putting him in the Top 8. Rodrigues attributes this to a bit of luck considering the matchups he faced, but he was met with some day one rematches that didn’t go as easily as they did before.

“I’m sitting at 3-0 at my win-and-in match and I’m thinking ‘I got this.’ Then I see that I’m paired up against Paul Chua and I’m like ‘Oh darn, I don’t got this.'”

Turns out CHALK was a scary matchup for Rodrigues’ team, but it wasn’t unwinnable. The set goes like this: Game 1 is a 4-0 by Rodrigues, Game 2 Rodrigues forfeits on turn two, and Game 3 comes down to Chua’s Heatran missing a crucial Heat Wave which gave Rodrigues the set.

A Team Straight Out of Ashton Cox’s Basement

jeremy rodrigues pokemon vgc
Both Rodrigues and Cox holding their International Championship trophies.

“He has like four computers down there, and each of them has like a thousand teams on it, each of them spanning multiple formats, and most of them are just incomplete and crazy ideas.”

The concept for this team actually goes back to before Roanoke regionals where Rodrigues and Cox were preparing for an upcoming MidSeason Showdown. Cox suggests bringing back Drifblim and Tapu Lele, and Rodrigues was on board until he saw Cox’s first draft of the team.

The first draft: 

“My problem with that team was it seemed like it was very all-or-nothing. Each mode was very one-dimensional. If the Charizard mode worked you were gonna win and that’s great, but if it didn’t work then you would try the Metagross mode, and if that worked you were still fine, but if neither of the modes worked you were out of luck.”

Changes to the team included Landorus over Garchomp, Rotom-Heat over Charizard, and Amoonguss over Kartana. Some of these were simple updates, but others required some slots to shift roles, but the end goal was to make the team have more dimensions to it.

The second/final draft:[​IMG]

At the first MidSeason Showdown, both Cox and Rodrigues did well, but left with very little information on what to change. Rodrigues lost only once in Swiss and eventually in Top 4, but both losses were to Cox who was running the exact same team. Cox ended up losing in finals, but the matchup both felt wasn’t common enough to alter the team for.

So, the duo was searching for another Fire-type as Rotom seemed to be the weak link.

“In the car Ashton turns to me and says ‘What about Heatran?’ and I was like ‘okay…’ and he looks at me and says ‘What about Assault Vest Heatran.’ For context, I actually won my first regional back in 2015 with an Assault Vest Heatran so I love it. So Ashton and I have a deal going on where we teambuild together and the other person has veto power to stop the other person from doing something totally stupid. We are both prone to doing stupid things.”

Roanoke/Madison version of the team: [​IMG]

Rodrigues claimed that it was impossible for him to be objective about this beloved Heatran, so it was up to Ashton to make the call. Heatran ended up being the call, as both of them went on to reach the Top Cut of the Roanoke Regional Championships.

So why did Rotom return to the team? Rodrigues believed that Rotom was a Fire-type that could (in a way) beat Incineroar. Cox was initially excited about Adrenaline Orb, but Rodrigues was quick to exert his veto power. The decision to put Electrium Z came about for three reasons: 1) To take less damage from Knock Off 2) Thunderbolt + Gigavolt Havoc KO’s Incineroar and 3) It pressures Tapu Fini much more.

As for the decision to bring back Drifblim and Tapu Lele, Rodrigues felt the duo was very matchup dependent.

“Against Charizard teams, Drifblim/Tapu Lele is normally the lead… In Metagross mirrors, it’s normally not very good. Against CHALK Drifblim is terrible. Drifblim is very one-dimensional. It has a strong dimension to it, but against teams that are prepared for it, it really does struggle. If I was to give you a gut-feeling of how many times I led with Drifblim, I’d say about 30% of the time.”

Breaking Down the Finals Set

jeremy rodrigues pokemon vgc
Justin Burns [left] and Rodrigues [right] enter Team Preview before game one of the finals.
In the finals of the North American International Championships, Rodrgiues was pitted against Justin Burns in a Mega Metagross mirror match. Burns’ team was more on the standard side, relying on traditional support for Metagross like Zapdos, Incineroar and Tapu Fini.

Rodrigues believed he had the edge in the matchup, and his play proved that. From predicting switches and cornering Burns in both games, Rodrigues took the set in a convincing 2-0, but some of the hype reads actually had a lot of thought behind them.

“I guess my reads fell into two categories: offensive and defensive. The defensive reads mainly came down to me not protecting or not really switching especially game two when he had Tailwind up. Those were really my game plan here. He has to be afraid of everything on my team and I had to leverage that. For example if he had Tapu Fini on the field if he wanted to be picking up a KO he had to be using his Z-move. If he decides to use his Z-move then Tapu Fini doesn’t exert much pressure for the rest of the game. I’ll let him try to dig out of this hole, but even if he does (like in Game 2), I can come back with Ally Switch, Protect, and Spore reads.”

This was just Rodrigues’ game plan going in, and his big plays reflected this very plan.

“When predicting the Metagross switch-in, I was actually convinced that Incineroar would be coming in which is why I used Gigavolt Havoc over Thunderbolt. In retrospect, Thunderbolt was probably the better play, but I really wanted to get a KO. I figured he wouldn’t Protect since we were in game two when I made that play, and he really had to respect the fact that I go for the same play I did in game one or I could switch into Tapu Lele and Zen Headbutt. He really struggled to gain any momentum back since I’m putting out so much offensive pressure which forced him to keep switching around and eventually stalled out his own Tailwind.”

“It was a bit like, ‘what would I do if I were in his shoes?’ The same thing happened when I used Stomping Tantrum on the Zapdos. I was sitting on stage looking at my DS and I was like ‘Oh hey look an Incineroar!’ It’s flapping its wings and its got a beak and the name says Zapdos, but that’s an Incineroar. He was going to switch out into Incineroar because I knew for a fact he couldn’t let his Zapdos go down.”

Rodrigues’ plan was actually to force his opponent to have to make reads by exerting so much offensive pressure. The night before the finals, some of Rodrigues’ friends suggested to preserve Rotom since it had a good matchup. Rodrigues decided to lead with Rotom both games because of how much pressure it put on his opponent. In practice against Ashton Cox, Rodrigues said he went 3-1 in four games against him, losing one game due to a lucky Iron Head flinch on his Rotom. Rodrigues knew his win-con going in, and he knew with enough pressure on Burns, his strategy would break.

“He needed to do five things at once. If he lost any of his Pokemon, he would have an issue with one of my Pokemon. Each one of his Pokemon was a crucial piece that he couldn’t afford to lose, while I felt comfortable potentially losing Rotom, Amoonguss or Tapu Lele.”

The Story of “The Scoop”

In regards to the drama surrounding the disqualification of Alberto Lara in Top Cut, Rodrigues provided his take on the situation. In his account, Rodrigues agreed to give Lara the win in the last swiss round of day two because he was already guaranteed Top Cut at this point and he thought that the seeding would favor him if he decided to forfeit this last round. Despite knowing he wasn’t getting the win, Rodrigues played the set out to the best of his ability until game three where he forfeited the game in an obviously winning position. Rodrigues felt he needed to draw a line between “scooping” and what he did by forfeiting the round.

“I would like to draw a line here. Alberto did ask me to scoop, and I would honestly say I didn’t scoop. I forfeited the match in order to promote my own tournament run. I would differentiate that from scooping because when I think of scooping, I think of giving the win to a friend for the sake of their tournament run. When people talk about scooping threatening the integrity of the tournament, I do kind of agree with that. If who cuts comes down to you getting matched up with your friend in the last round, yeah I kinda agree that’s stupid. But if it comes down to every player making the optimal plays for their tournament run, whether by winning or losing a game, then that’s perfectly legitimate.”

After giving his thoughts, Rodrigues went on to speculate on his matchup against either Alberto Lara or Alessio Yuri Boschetto if their Top 8 matchup had ended differently.

“If I faced either Alberto or Yuri in Top 4, I would’ve felt kind of confident. Like 55/45. I felt like I had the tools to beat either of them, but some things might’ve happened that could’ve been scary.”

Rodrigues defended the integrity of Lara, as he vouches that him asking Rodrigues to scoop was not done maliciously in any way. Rodrigues felt that the situation could’ve been remedied if the individual who ended up reporting Lara had just talked to him and explained the situation from their perspective.

“I don’t think what the person who reported Alberto did was wrong per se, but I think it led to a chain of events that culminated in an outcome, with a couple of exceptions, wasn’t great for anybody.”

Looking Forward to Nashville

jeremy rodrigues pokemon vgc

With all of the events in Columbus behind him, Rodrigues looks towards the 2018 World Championships where he is locked in for day two. For Nashville, Rodrigues claims to be going back to the drawing board. The reason for this is that neither Rodrigues or his trusty partner Ashton Cox are too confident in their team’s ability to perform on the Worlds stage.

“Odds are, we won’t be running anything like it at Worlds.”

At the moment, Rodrigues claims that him and Cox are “open to ideas” which basically translates to “we don’t have any idea what we’re doing”.

However, Rodrigues had a bit of a hot take to share. He doesn’t think Mega Metagross is the call for winning Worlds. Considering its overwhelming success all season, I had to know why he thought that.

“I was very surprised that Justin Burns made finals with the team he had. I thought it was one of those teams by this point in the format people wouldn’t really lose to at a high level. I could be wrong about this, but on the Worlds stage, especially in day two and Top Cut, there will be players with good matchups against that standard team and be like ‘Oh, I just win’ or ‘Oh, I’ve prepped for my matchup against this and have a team that’s slightly more unorthodox which means my opponent won’t know how to play against me.’ I think that’s what happened, to an extent, to Justin in his finals match against me.”

I don’t know what will win Worlds, but I know it will be something different.”

To conclude our interview, Rodrigues had quite the thoughtful set of takeaways to share.

“Going to events and playing and winning is really great and fun, but the thing that really makes Pokemon events for me are the friend groups that you get to hang out with. Ashton is a great friend as well as the rest of the room being David Mancuso, Ingrid, and Luca. I don’t think I would’ve made it through the weekend without them.”

“if anyone at all is interested in playing VGC, I think the takeaway isn’t any particular view of the metagame or how to approach battles. I think the takeaway should be to go to events, play and have fun, and to talk to people, to approach people and get involved in the community. That’s the best part about VGC, at least for me.”

Take that from the mouth of an international champion that Pokemon VGC isn’t all about winning. The best thing we can do as players is to simply have fun and make friends throughout the tournament experience.

Rodrigues will certainly have the support of his friends going into Nashville, along with the sizable amount of fans he’s gained from his season thus far. Although his outlook on Worlds or his run in Columbus wasn’t the most confident, I’m sure the 2018 Pokemon World Championships will be another expectation that Rodrigues will be looking to shatter. Best of luck on the Worlds stage!

Follow Jeremy on Twitter @SerapisVGC!

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Images from Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, Ken Sugimori and The Pokemon Company International.

Featured Image from @Pokemon & @Linkyoshimario on Twitter.

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