By Jason Krell
The opportunity to play Pokemon full-time is just a pipe dream for most in the VGC community. Even the best of the best haven’t been able to make playing sustainable, so they’re forced to continue planning for a life after competitive gaming. But Dan “aDrive” Clap is one of the lucky few who was able to make his dream a reality.
aDrive has been into Pokémon from day one. When he was growing up, the Pokémon craze was at levels similar to the summer of Pokémon Go’s release. Everyone aDrive knew was enraptured by the game, and he was no exception.
“For me, I just loved the creatures,” aDrive said. “I fantasized about the game being real. I don’t know, it was just amazing. It was the best game for me at that time. Even throughout high school and college, while I wasn’t the biggest Pokémon fan, when a new game came out, I would grab it and play it. Eventually it got to the point where I wanted to flip on the camera and start streaming it.”
His YouTube career started In 2010 with Call of Duty content, but he’d been a spectator of the Pokemon community on YouTube and a participant in the competitive community as early as 2008. Of course, at that time, the name Video Game Championship was still a year away from its debut. At that time, Smogon.com and its single-battle format was the competitive community of choice.
“I’ve only played singles since I started competing,” aDrive said. “No one would have any idea who I was, but I would rank under different accounts, and I would continuously get to the top ten on the ladder and play pretty well. But I wasn’t really posting. I was just playing for fun while I was in class.”
It wasn’t until the summer of 2014, after he graduated college and started working as a research analyst that he finally did something about his greatest passion. Despite not having a proper 3DS to stream from, aDrive decided he wanted to get involved on Twitch anyway. So, he pointed a webcam at his game screen and added 20 hours of streaming a week to his 40-50 hours of work. Soon, he built up a following and was able to invest more into his channel.
That left aDrive with little time anything else, though, despite how much he said he enjoyed it. So, come March 2015, he gave up his stable, salaried position and decided to create content full-time. He had just made a huge commitment to move in with his girlfriend (now wife), though, and the financial uncertainty was a concern. While he made sure to save up before gambling on dedicating his life to Pokemon, it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
“It was a very tough decision to make from a financial perspective because my YouTube and Twitch were not where they needed to be to sustain myself,” aDrive said. “But I had faith in the content I was creating and I had a lot of faith in the audience that was supporting me. It was definitely a huge, huge risk but it’s totally paid off and I have zero regrets.”
Faith only got him so far in the early days. aDrive remembers being worried every day that he wouldn’t be able to come close to covering what he made at his other job. There were times when he worried about having to return to a more traditional job.
At the beginning, it was very stressful. Even now I have my stressful days, and I have my days where I’m like, ‘man, how long can I do this?’… Those days come and go every couple few weeks.”
It took months of working seven days a week to get to a point where he could pay his bills. But through all of the hard times, he always had his love of the game to fall back on or drive him forward.
“It was just this magical connection between a game I’d always loved and the perfect opportunity on Twitch,” aDrive said. “The greatest part is I never thought of it as a job when I first started doing Pokémon stuff. I looked at it as something to do for fun, and I really love it. I think people can see that even today.”
Today, many in the community know aDrive for his shiny hunting, a practice where streamers will spend hours (sometimes days) searching for Pokémon with a special color palette. Under normal circumstances, the chance to encounter a shiny Pokémon is one out of 4,096, and thousands of viewers love to watch people like aDrive hunt them down.
Some Pokémon players, especially those in the competitive community, look down on this practice, though. This is primarily due to the lack of a truly “skill-based” aspect of shiny hunting, though in the case of streamers like aDrive, perhaps the skill of it comes in the form of maintaining audience engagement through continual interaction. According to aDrive, most people who dislike the practice misunderstand it or have never tried it. He cites the millions of people who buy special skins in other video games or spend hundreds of dollars on in-app purchases. Regardless, he said he doesn’t have anything against those who look down on it, though he encourages them to give it a shot themselves.
“It’s hard for some people to understand why someone would spend so much time on something that only has intrinsic value,” aDrive said. “I’ve played a lot of video games in my 26 years, and there are very few instances, if any, where I’ve been as excited over a video game as I am to find a rare shiny… The fact that at any moment in time that shiny Pokémon can come up — it’s a release.”
And contrary to his reputation as a shiny hunter, aDrive explained that his original goal in getting involved in YouTube was to create competitive Pokémon content. So, when a more popular PokeTuber named M4gni2de opened sign-ups for the third season of a singles draft league, aDrive jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, his fresh-face wasn’t received well by the community that followed the Global Battle Association.
“A lot of people in the league were like ‘who is this random shiny hunting kid? We don’t want someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing,’” aDrive said. “But really, I did have experience battling.”
That season actually ended in a player’s strike over his inclusion. After a few weeks, a trade between aDrive and another player was voted down, sparking off the underlying tensions within the group. All the while in the weeks leading up to the league’s demise, aDrive had to endure being bashed on by a group of four or five individuals.
“I just remember feeling so much resistance to the fact that I joined,” aDrive said. “I didn’t really feel comfortable in the league, and I wasn’t very happy with it, mainly because I joined to make some friends, have some fun and make good content.”
Unfortunately, this is something aDrive said he has dealt with repeatedly throughout his career. What’s worse, that time includes the week leading up to his participation in the One Nation of Gamers Pokémon Invitational.
“It just blows my mind that there are people who think they’re so good at battling that they can look down upon someone else because they do something a little bit different,” aDrive said. “It’s actually funny, because if you look at my channel, about 70 percent of my videos are not shiny related. To call me just a shiny hunter is a bit naïve, in my opinion.”
Undeterred by the turmoil, he helped reform the league for season four. Then, he proved his doubters by going 9-1 during the regular season and making it to the finals. While he said he choked away his chance at the title, aDrive was able to prove in season five that his run wasn’t a fluke by winning the whole thing.
“I think I proved a lot of people wrong and showed that I wasn’t just a shiny hunting kid who didn’t battle,” aDrive said. “That’s not to say I’m the best battler in the world. By no means am I, even at this point, but I really enjoy the competitive aspect of Pokémon.”
In too many ways, there are parallels to his entrance into the VGC community. While he is the only tournament participant to never have competed in a live-event and some community members have expressed uncertainty over including a “shiny hunter” in this tournament, aDrive has been putting time into practice.
He first dipped his feet into the waters of VGC during 2016, but the stale metagame kept him at arm’s length. However, around the release of Sun & Moon, a close friend convinced him to give the new rule-set another shot. The limited format was appealing, too, since it would be easier to pick up.
“It seemed like this new format had a little bit more of an open door for me to learn the format and also challenge me in a way I hadn’t been challenged before in competitive battling,” aDrive said. “I did the things I wanted to do in singles, so now I wanted to try something a little bit different.”
In the spirit of embracing that challenge, aDrive decided to compete in his first official VGC event later this year, the St. Louis Regional Championships. To get ready, he began a “Road to Regionals” YouTube series where he climbs the online Battle Spot ladder. He’s had plenty of help, too, from some of the VGC community’s best players. Fellow invitational competitors Wolfe Glick, Aaron Zheng, and Markus Stadter have all guest starred, sharing their expertise with the fledgling VGC player.
Of course, there’s more to that series than leveling-up his battling skills. aDrive explained that he wanted to do something that could help grow the VGC community. The final part of the Road to Regionals will be a video of his experiences at the event itself, giving his audience a peek into the world of VGC.
“I felt like this would be a good opportunity for me to learn the format and collaborate with big VGC players, but also to show the community what the VGC format is like and what it’s like to attend an actual tournament,” aDrive said.
“Hopefully I can get some people interested in the VGC format if they otherwise weren’t, get them out to the tournaments and help grow this community.”
His desire to boost the presence is also why he said he’s excited to compete in the One Nation of Gamers Pokémon Invitational. And even though he’d love to win, he knows participating will be good for him no matter what happens.
“I’m actually really excited because it’s a win-win for me,” he explained. “No one is going to hate on me if I lose to a previous world champion, so I don’t have to worry about that. There’s no being ashamed losing to any players of that caliber.”
Despite the disadvantages he faces, aDrive enjoys being the underdog. So while he’s set to face the fiercest competition of his competitive Pokémon career, he’s going into it with the same hunger that has led to great success. His fellow competitors and the fans at home should be careful not to repeat the mistake of so many others by sleeping on this man’s sharp battling instincts. He’s dedicated his life to Pokémon, and he intends to prove he belongs in the VGC community.