Aaron Zheng triumphs in winner-take-all tournament for trip to Melbourne

The first Melbourne Win-a-Trip Challenge, hosted by Australia’s Sam Pandelis, was a massive success after drawing in 171 players and more than $1,500 in prizes for the winner. Aaron Zheng was the last one standing after some of the world’s best players went toe to toe, and he has now punch his ticket for the upcoming International Championship.

 

Zheng went 7-1 during Swiss rounds, with his only loss coming from Pephan’s Buzzwole/hail team. He then defeated Raphael Bagara and Junio before a tense set with 2016 top-four Worlds competitor, Eduardo Cunha of Portugal.

The first game appeared to be in Cunha’s favor until Zheng revealed Gigavolt Havoc on his Arcanine, nailing Araquanid with a critical hit through protect. Game two was close, with Cunha almost able to claw his way back into the match. However, Zheng’s Arcanine caused more problems for Cunha with another Z-attack crit on a Tapu Koko switch-in.

In the finals, Zheng faced Italian Matteo Marinelli, who brought Torkoal, Lilligant, Oricorrio, Pheromosa, Tapu Lele and Garchomp. Marinelli tried to utilize the team’s two offensive combinations, Torkoal/Lilligant and Oricorrio/Pheromosa, that had served him so well, but it wasn’t enough. Zheng played to his Tapu Fini win condition in game one and simply outmaneuvered Marinelli in game two.

The rest of the tournament had plenty of other successes and shortcomings from both big-name players and newer faces alike. Curtis Cousins flew under most radars and made a deep run into the tournament’s top eight. While he played well with his Braviary, Kartana, Tapu Fini, Ninetails, Arcanine and Garchomp, his performance will likely be remembered most for flinching World Champion Wolfe Glick out of Top 16.

Pephan also made an impression on commentators Markus Stadter and Faaiz Ashfaq with his signature team of Tapu Koko, Buzzwole, Ninetails, Sandslash, Muk and Gastrodon. Though he has been using it since soon after Pokémon Sun & Moon were released, others may recognize it as something similar to what Brian Youm used to top cut the Athens Regional.

After the tournament, Pandelis was sure to thank Rushan Shekar for help with Battlefy, Jake White for help with the team submission process, Stadter and Feis for running the stream and Baris Ackos for the inspiration to host the event in the first place. He also hinted that something similar may be in the works for the Sao Paulo International Championship later in the year.

Outside the quality of competition, many praised the tournament for its smooth organizatio, great value and serious dedication.

On top of that, numerous players expressed enthusiasm on Twitter for even more grassroots, cash-prize tournaments. Only time will tell what the future of VGC holds, but there’s a good chance there may be a resurgence of unofficial, live events that could do wonders to grow the scene.

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