Senior finds success through competitive Pokémon

April 22, 2019 — by Sofia Jones and Connie Liang

When senior Raghav Malaviya began playing Pokémon as a child, he did it because he loved it. He never expected to make money from it.

Then he began playing the video-game version of Pokémon during eighth grade when he still lived in India.

“I was like ‘Wow, this is amazing,’” Malaviya said, noting that the diverse group of players he met from all around the world online further pushed his burgeoning interest.

However, it was only after moving back to the U.S. in his sophomore year that Malaviya discovered the world of Pokémon tournaments — ones that come with monetary rewards.

Since the beginning of his competitive career, Malaviya has risen through the ranks and is now the 10th best Pokémon video game player in the U.S. In two years, he has surpassed the junior and senior level and competes in the highest competitive category: master.

The tournaments vary greatly in size and frequency: Local tournaments generally occur weekly; state-wide ones occur monthly; international events only happen four times a year; and there is only one world championship a year. The game changes annually with themes and rules that differ year to year, but they are always strategy-based games.

Much like competitions for other esports, hundreds of people gather at convention centers and face off against one opponent at a time in rounds with multiple players. The winners of preliminary rounds progress through elimination until there is one final champion.

Typically, the reward for performing well at a given tournament comes in the form of additional points, a higher ranking or a cash prize. In December, Malaviya won an event in Anaheim and earned $2,000, which he then used to go to Australia over February break, where he won $1,500. With that money, he plans to go to Berlin for the 2019 Pokemon International Championships at the end of the month. Depending on his performance there, he can earn even more money to fund future trips.

“It’s not like I can make a huge profit off of it,” he said. “It’s more of just a self-sustaining game. It’s a hobby that funds itself.”

The competitions are typically hosted in convention centers by either grassroot organizations or the official Pokemon company, from cities as near as Anaheim and San Francisco to cities as far as Berlin and Melbourne.

Initially, Malaviya’s father would accompany him on the various trips but now the senior travels alone.

Despite their initial hesitation, Malaviya’s parents do not object to his playing, so long as competing does not interfere with his school work or commitment to the drama program, where he has played lead roles, such as playing Mark Antony in the fall play. In the weeks leading up to a drama production, Malaviya has to put in hours a day of rehearsal, but he does not struggle to balance this with gaming and school.

“It’s a type of game where you don’t have to be constantly practicing after a certain point,” he said. “I try to play at least half an hour every day, and I have to put aside a couple of weekends for tournaments, but I’m free otherwise.”

Although the senior has put years of work into improving his skills, he has not tired of playing. The ever-changing nature of the game keeps it fresh for him.

The games are not the only aspect he enjoys, however. He has made many new friends through playing, and he enjoys watching them play as well.  

“After it comes down to the last four people, everyone else is watching the games, so there’s a whole new level of your friends going crazy if something happens on the stream,” Malaviya said. “The best memory I have is being excited and having a really good time with my friends.”

At last year’s Pokemon World Championships Nashville, Tenn., Malaviya’s friend reached the final round, eventually placing second. Watching that round and cheering his friend on was a high point for Malaviya.

Some more exclusive competitions are invitation-only, and this year, Malaviya has an invitation to the world championship, which takes place in Washington, D.C., in August.

Although he does not know for sure where he will attend college yet, he thinks that he will continue to play Pokémon. “I would consider quitting if I ever got too busy or lose interest, but for now I don’t plan on stopping until I at least win the world championships,” Malaviya said. “I don’t see an end in sight.”