Defending World Champion Wolfe Glick is not only one of the most decorated VGC players of all time, but also one of the most veteran competitors still in the scene. Though newcomers may only know Glick for his World Championship win, his six-year long Pokémon career has taken him through a journey that shaped him into both the Pokémon player and person he is today. The following is the story of Wolfe Glick:
Glick’s Pokémon journey began in the spring of 2011. As a keen strategist, young Glick was able to develop his early Pokémon talents on a chessboard. He was the top chess player at his school, automatically drawn to any games involving strategy. Thus, it was no surprise when he transitioned into Pokémon battles on forum boards. And, with the support of his parents, Glick travelled to his first Regionals, lured by prizes and the chance to compete live.
Despite Glick’s recollection of his skills as being ”super bad”, he was able to claim the Virginia title, alongside an invitation and a flight to the US Nationals. A victory at his first US Nationals was backed up by an impressive 6th place result at Worlds, falling short to the then defending Champion, Ray Rizzo. The two began to form a friendly rivalry as the loss spurred Glick’s VGC career into the epic it is today.
That whole season kind of is what got me into it, because doing well at Regionals and Nationals…gave me confidence. And [it] helped my parents as well to see that I could actually go to cool places and not have to pay for it… It also showed me I was good, but I was not good enough. That lit a fire in me.”
That fire continued to burn in Glick throughout his second year as a competitor. Hungry for further success, he achieved second at the Philadelphia Regionals, secured a flight to Nationals and won again. A strong Worlds showing that year included defeating eventual 2014 World Champion, Sejun Park, but Glick fell once again to Ray Rizzo, this time in the finals. Glick remembers this loss as a defining moment of his Pokémon career:
Once again Ray beats me. And keep in mind, at this point I am still relatively young and that was a big moment for me because…I think for me, in a way, I was starting to write the story for myself. It would have been so perfect, right?
I lose to Ray. I have a chance at redemption. I’m back in the finals. This time I’ll win. I’ll be World Champion. I’ll beat the guy who beat me last year. I’ve shown I’ve grown. I’ve got this crazy good team and he is just using standard stuff. It’ll be easy.
I get demolished. I get put in the ground.
I think it was a big, a very big lesson for me. I think, honestly, reflecting on it, I think if I [had] won in 2012, I don’t know if I would have kept playing because there were times when it was…really discouraging to keep playing. [It was] extremely discouraging and I think the fact I hadn’t achieved my goal was one of the main reasons [I kept going on].”
2013 was a telling year for Glick. Two successive years of narrowly falling short of world titles had taken their toll on Glick and his approach to the game. Glick had all year to prepare for Worlds, choosing to use his time to explore very unconventional sets and Pokémon. He ultimately finished with a 3-3 record and has not lost more games at a World Championship since. Glick recounts his 2013 Worlds run as follows:
I took the wrong lessons from my success. Instead of looking at what had happened and saying ‘Okay Wolfe, you used…objectively pretty good [Pokémon in an] unorthodox [way and] caught people off guard. You played well’, I looked at it and said ‘Wow Wolfe, you’re so creative. You’re the best guy ever. You’re so talented. You’re using all this weird stuff. [You] only win because you use weird stuff, so [you should use] all the weirdest stuff possible. Right?’.
And that lesson lead me to build this really, really bad team at Worlds [in 2013]… I am someone who values self-improvement, which is normally pretty good….But basically I had spent a whole year going on the wrong direction. I had stepped off the path. I was going this crazy route where it was all about being creative, creativity for the sake of being creative [and] that’s not really a great way to build teams.”
2013’s struggles continued into 2014 as Glick continued to shape his high-level understanding of and approach to the game. 2014 was the first year in which Glick did not qualify for Worlds through tournament performance. However, Glick’s ever-present desire to succeed didn’t falter and was a strong pulling force when Glick faced a difficult decision: attend a college orientation event or battle through the World Championship Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) to try and earn a place in the main tournament. Glick decided to attend the LCQ.
“I realized I had only one chance, and to this day, it was the hardest tournament I have ever played in.” Glick said.
Glick came dangerously close to losing in the 5th round of the tournament against Crobert Zhu. In an uncharacteristic late-game misplay, Glick protected his own Hydreigon instead of chasing a KO onto a Ferrothorn. Thus, Glick was put into a situation where he needed to double Protect in order to secure a win. It was essentially a 33 percent roll that no trainer ever wants to find themselves in.
“So I go for the double Protect, and I fail. And I’m just sitting there, and I’m like ‘I had safe moves and I threw it away.’” Glick said. “I was so upset with myself. I would never walk away from an opponent, because that’s disrespectful, but I was close to walking away because I was so upset.”
However, his opponent also cracked under the pressure and selected the wrong move, allowing Glick a window to grasp control once again. Glick ended up winning the game and subsequently qualified for the main Worlds tournament, where he finished 9th. This battle, however, has stayed with Glick throughout the last three years.
It’s really tough for me to lose…People will talk about Pokémon being a game of RNG, and people make excuses when they lose because they’re like, ‘Oh yea, I got flinched. I lost a speed tie. it was a 50/50.’ We’ve all heard countless excuses like that. For me, I don’t believe that Pokémon is truly a game that is dependent on the RNG because we have a 3-time World Champion…If you’re good enough, you can win. [Ray Rizzo] didn’t drop a set the third time. He went 6-0 in Swiss and then 3-0 in top cut. Basically, I don’t believe that RNG should ever be a factor in why you lose. Even if bad things happen, you should be able to build teams and play well enough so that it’s a non-issue.
But that means every loss is very personal to me, because it means that I was not good enough. Everytime I lose, it means that I was not smart enough, was not fast enough; it’s a reflection on me.
…If I had lost that game, I don’t know if I would have kept on playing. It would have been very easy to go away to college…I think it would have been really difficult for me to watch [Worlds] and keep playing. I think that would have been the end, honestly…That was a turning point, it gave me encouragement to not give up.”
Glick’s ever-evolving attitude, coupled with a new drive to play at the top level, saw him place well in numerous Regionals in 2015 including two first place victories, a second place finish, and a top four finish. Despite his consistently solid performances throughout the year, factors outside of Pokémon prevented Glick from realizing his full potential at Worlds.
I don’t think I’ve ever talked about this, but I was going through a breakup with a girl I cared a lot about during Worlds. She was [really] important to me. I remember in the tournament, seeing my friends and everything, I had this underlying feeling of really, really deep sadness. We hadn’t figured things out. We tried to break up before the tournament. Then we agreed to talk in a week and figure out what’s actually happening. [But] that week we didn’t talk was during Worlds.
And I have a very specific memory losing to Nikolai Zielinski…I remember losing to him, realizing that my tournament was probably over…I remember sitting thinking ‘I don’t even care about Pokémon. I’m just sad because of this girl.’
And I remember during matches, I would, all of a sudden, come back into my mind, and be like “oh shoot I’m playing Pokémon.’
My play was super shaky. I just couldn’t focus.”
It would be Glick’s fifth attempt at the championship and his second time narrowly missing the single-elimination stage. Glick finished in 12th place that year, a respectable result, but below the level of his expectations. Still, he was close.
In 2015, I took away that I wasn’t good enough yet. The way it felt to me, I had shown that I was learning and making progress. I was understanding things better, but my tournament performances were just under the level where I felt like they could be. It was kind of this middle ground between yes, I can see I’m getting better, but [no], I’m not totally there yet.”
Glick’s inner struggles weren’t apparent in 2016 as he started off by adding two more Regional Championships to his belt. Once again, Glick looked to be in serious contention for another National Championship. In reflection, Glick describes the 2016 National Championships as “very legendary,” but for all the wrong reasons. Glick’s practice ID on the battle simulator, Pokémon Showdown, had been discovered and a replay containing his Nationals team was leaked to a select group of players.
According to Glick, one player in particular went out of his way to spread Glick’s team to fellow competitors, even to some of Glick’s closest friends. Though scouting for and sharing teams is a common and accepted practice in the scene, Glick was deeply shaken in this specific instance:
For me, this was damaging for a number of reasons. I’m someone who cares about loyalty and I considered this guy a good friend….I drafted him on the Holy Spirits* two years in a row. He helped me on my math homework. I would be like, ‘Yo, how do I do multivariable Calculus?’ and he would help me. The fact that he had gone out of his way, not only with his own group of my friends, …to distribute my team…it shook me. It shook me mentally….What shook me was the fact that I considered him a friend and a Spirit. And the whole point of the Spirits for me was the community and integrity as a group.
…Pokémon is a game of information, so your opponent knowing what your sets are literally can mean the difference between winning the tournament and not top cutting….And so to have this situation where my team had been shared and my chances of winning had really been decreased…..It really threw me for a loop.
I wasn’t able to sleep pretty much all the night before. I remember lying in bed just being like, ‘Should I switch teams? How did this happen? How did this happen?”
Glick went on to perform the worst he ever had at any event, going 5-4 in the Swiss round. Looking back, Glick admins that his lackluster team was the primary reason for his poor performance rather than the team being public itself. However, he also cites poor play due to being unnerved as a major contributing factor. Once again, an out-of-game circumstance had caused Glick to lose focus.
Because Glick did not place at Nationals, he failed to qualify for “Day 2” of the World Championships. Instead, Wolfe would have to once again run the gauntlet of Day 1 Worlds in order to qualify for Day 2. The first step was to learn from his past mistakes in team building and craft a Worlds-caliber team.
I think the solution to my problem was to be more goal-oriented. And fortunately, 2016 was a metagame where you could be very clear with your goals. What I mean by that is that I said ‘I don’t care which Pokémon I use. I want to have a matchup that should always win against Big B**’….It was very popular at US Nationals. It’s a very dangerous team.
I wanted to flowchart; I wanted to know exactly what to do every single turn versus Big B. And because of that mindset and because I had a very clear goal, it was easy to find things that fit in there.
The fact that the metagame was so full of super-powerful Pokémon meant that there was no room for error. There was no room for superfluous stuff….The fact that there were clear archetypes made it easier to know what your moves were actually going to be doing and the situations in which you could use them.”
With these thoughts in mind, Glick built his final Worlds team with his close friend, Markus “Yoshi” Stadter. In latter stages of team-building, Brendan “Babbytron” Zheng came on to assist as well. Zheng would go on to finish top 8 in the Senior division. More on Stadter later.
Glick also started off strong with the team, easily gliding through Day 1 with a 6-0 record. He continued his hot run into Day 2, finishing 6-1 after the Swiss rounds. From that point on there were only a few more matches in the single-elimination stage until someone took home the championship trophy. The next three matches, however, were some of the toughest and most memorable matches of his entire life.
Glick’s first match in the finals bracket was against Justin Carris, a relative newcomer to the scene whom Glick had narrowly defeated on Day 1. What Glick took away from that earlier series, however, was that he would be at a team matchup disadvantage going into the match. Though he had taken their initial series, his 2-1 victory only happened because Glick scored some lucky paralyses to win. Furthermore, Carris had gained a lot of information from that initial match and used it to soundly defeat Glick’s team, piloted by Stadter, in the Swiss rounds of Day 2. On paper, Glick expected his most difficult match yet. What Glick didn’t anticipate, however, was that this battle would reaffirm everything he loved about the game.
I really like Justin. I didn’t know him that well before the tournament. But when you go through very high pressure situations…with somebody…,you come out with kind of a bond. I [felt] that way with Sejun and Flash, both of whom I had very intense sets with in 2012 Worlds.
For me, Pokémon is a game where you need to try to understand your opponent. That’s kind of how you play the best: when you understand what your opponent wants to do and what moves they want to make. And I think you have to learn a little bit about that person…in order to do that. That’s why I feel when you get into these high-pressure situations, if you want to win, you need to get inside their head. You need to figure out what they’re thinking and what to do in response to that. You come out with that with a kind of bond.
I remember feeling very focused on that match….It was just a tough matchup, a good opponent who’d proven he could beat the team handedly….[But after I beat him,] Justin was so gracious. I had just knocked him out of Worlds. He’d come so far, [but] he was… incredibly gracious and so kind. I was really impressed. He [even] told me to win the tournament after.
…That match specifically, was a reminder of all the things I love about Pokémon. I found myself in this incredibly high-stakes situation where both me and my opponent really wanted it. I was able to control my nerves, control my fear, and play in a way that I was happy with to take the set. And despite the fact that I had eliminated my opponent, he was incredibly gracious and incredibly generous. I was very impressed; it was a very positive experience.”
After his win in the round of eight, Glick was thrust into another difficult challenge, though not one you might expect. It turned out Glick’s team was so good that his friend, Markus Stadter, was waiting in the semifinals for him immediately after his previous match. When asked about Stadter, Glick is quick to respond:
“Markus is, fair to say, my closest friend in anything, which is funny because we’re very far apart, lots of miles and 6 hours apart,” Glick said.
Glick first met Stadter at the 2012 World Championships in Hawaii. They bonded after Stadter and a few of his German friends helped Glick prepare for a top eight match against Sejun Park the next day. Since then, the two have been inseparable despite the physical distance between them.
“We became partners, but it was more than that. Together, we worked really hard on understanding the game. We’d talk every single day for the last 4-5 years [and] not just about Pokémon,” Glick said. “When Worlds was in DC, he came a week early and stayed with my family. I showed him my high school [and] he met some of my friends.”
The upcoming battle between the two was not only a battle between Pokémon, but a test of their friendship.
It was tough to play in top 4, but it wasn’t sad. We were both so happy just to have made it that far. I remember being so happy when I finished my top 8 match. I stood up and Markus came over. I was like ‘Did you win?’ And he said yes. In that moment, I felt so happy, because we knew we were both top 4 and that was incredible.
Then we found ourselves in the top 4 of the Worlds Championship. At first I was upset,…but he said that for him, this was the best outcome. [He said that] if we had met in the finals, it would have been dumb having a mirror match with a team that was designed to beat everything else but not itself.
I didn’t realize this until [much later on], but I think for Markus, his goal was to help me win. I thought we were working together. I thought he also wanted [to win]. I could always feel it wasn’t as big a deal for him, but I didn’t realize the extent to which he wanted to help me to win. At one point, he asked me ‘Would you be content with top 4?’ I answered honestly and I said ‘No, I want to win’.
And he said ‘OK’.
[Looking back at it], I have a feeling that because of that interaction, Markus [didn’t try] his best.”
Glick took the match in relative easy with a 2-0 victory.
while this might sound cheesy, I actually never tried 100% to actually win worlds. Helping @WolfeyGlick win was always my priority #1.
— Markus Stadter (@13Yoshi37) December 12, 2016
We actually never talked about it. I didn’t realize until that Tweet [months later] where he said his goal has always been to help me win. That really struck me….Realizing that his goal was to help me was really moving.
We were both trying to win Worlds. We were both at the same table and only one of us could move on. And it never occurred to me to not give it my all. My solution to the problem of one of us having to knock out the other was that we’d both do our best and we’d still be good friends after. It hadn’t occurred to me that he would care so much about me that he would actually sacrifice his chance of winning the ultimate goal so that I could win.
And so I was very moved by that. I feel it’s very easy to talk about how much you care for other people. It’s very romanticized for good reason, obviously. It’s an amazing thing to be able to care for other people, but Markus was put into a situation where he literally put my well being above his own. He put my dreams ahead of his own, and that’s a really big deal for me. That’s huge, and I have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for that, because I can’t imagine that decision was easy.
And he never made me feel like ‘I’m losing so you can have a chance at this’. He was very subtle about it, very gracious.
I have enormous respect for Markus as a player. I think he’s without a doubt at the very least at my level, and more realistically probably above. Knowing that maybe he’d made the decision not to give it his all definitely puts a different spin on the match looking back.”
And with that, Glick found himself in the 2016 Pokémon Video Game World Championship Finals.
It had all culminated to this moment. Five years after Glick began his VGC journey and four years since his last World Finals, Glick was once again at the cusp of victory. His final opponent for the title was Jonathan Evans, a player Glick has lingering issues with.
Mentally, that was a really interesting position to be in, because I honestly dislike Jonathan Evans. But…it was this interesting situation where I realized I couldn’t focus on any negativity… I realized that if I let myself get into that mindset, it’d be very easy for him to shake me.
…I think it’s fair to say that I’m very fiery. I blow up sometimes. Maybe not blow up, but I have a temper. Especially when I feel strongly about something, I tend to get tunnel visioned. I tend to focus in on it and not use my better judgement. This was an opportunity where it was very easy to give into my emotion… I realized this was kind of similar to the situation in 2012 where I was up against a rival…and I knew that if I let the storyline [progress] and just assume it would happen, I wouldn’t get there.
People have talked about how my matchup was very good, but I do not think that matchup was anywhere near an autowin. If it was favorable, I think it was very slightly favorable. I had to work for that set; it wasn’t easy.
His mind calm, Glick was able to play the finals to the best of his ability. With all the years of experiences, all the lessons he’d acquired, and all the friends he’d made along the way before him, Glick took the match and thus the championship title.
World Champion Wolfe Glick
[Winning Worlds] was a really powerful experience for me. It was starting to feel unattainable. It was starting to feel unachievable. It was starting to feel like this dream… Even though I felt like I had the qualifications, I had the résumé, they kept on being put in the paper shredder….
It was a dream come true. I still have trouble appreciating the magnitude of what exactly happened….It’s something I’ve wanted for so long. It’s something I worked so hard for. The fact that I finally achieved it,…I feel like somebody’s going to be like ‘Surprise! It was a dream! Wake up Wolfe, you finished 4-3. Maybe next year.’”
Despite the consistent disbelief at the reality of his victory, Glick often has moments of clarity during which he can reflect on the story he has written for himself.
[The win] gave me a lot of confidence as a player…. It made me super glad I hadn’t given up…Sitting in the crowd is so hard, watching people on the stage [thinking] ‘It could have been me but I wasn’t good enough’. It’s hard, it’s discouraging, and it makes you want to quit….When you feel that way, it’s very easy to say ‘screw this, this is dumb, I’ve had enough, this game is stupid, I give up’….Even as someone who’s won the World Championships, I can say it’s very tempting sometimes to give up.
Sometimes it feels like you’re being thrown into a boxing ring and you just keep getting beat up and knocked down. You have to keep saying ‘I want to get up, I want to get up, I want to get up.’ even if you keep getting knocked down.
It can be tough. You can always be like ‘I should have won and just walk off. If my resistence in 2014 had been like 2% higher, I would have moved on. I should have won that year, so it’s almost like I won, right?’ and give up there.
For me [though], I’m really glad I persevered and stuck with it. And I’m not done yet. This isn’t the end of my Pokémon journey.”
(Photos courtesy of Doug Morisoli, Siplick and Wolfe Glick)
*The Holy Spirits is team Glick captains in the NPA, a community-run VGC league.
** Big B, otherwise known as Big Bronzong, was a variant of the popular 2016 team based around Groudon/Xerneas and included Bronzong.