Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Deck Out goes global: Norway

Norway has a lot of mountains
Hello all The Deck Out followers!

In today’s The Deck Out goes global, I’ll take a look at a country that’s very close to Finland – Norway. I think Norway should be familiar to everyone since it’s Worlds’ richest country. Norway also has done very well in the Pokémon TCG along the years. Khanh Le placed second in the World Championships of 2008 and Norwegians took this year’s ECC by storm as well.

Let’s take a look what this country has hid inside its Pokémon TCG history.


Population: 5,0 million
The most famous living person: Marit Björgen(Skier)
The most famous company: X-tra (at least in Finland, lol)
Currency: Norwegian krone
Fun fact:
Hydroelectric plants generate roughly 98–99% of Norway's electric power

Local Player Profile

For this entry, I was fortunate enough to get 2 different point of views into Norway’s Pokémon TCG. Both interviewees live in different parts of Norway.  First, I have Håkan Vågenes, who has been playing for five years, with only two breaks for 2-3 months maybe. According to his own words, he is very involved with the game, spending maybe an unhealthy amount of hours doing research, writing articles, decklists, etc. He is 18-years old, not a Professor or TO because he enjoys playing too much and wants to be a league leader instead. He’s in a senior in high school, thinking about maybe studying psychology in the future. In his free time he usually does TCG-stuff, hangs out with friends, or plays various games on his Xbox.

As for the second point of view, I have answers from Eskil Vestre, who is 25 years old. He got his first theme deck in December 1999 and went on to win travel awards to the US in 2000, 2001 and 2002. This was in Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands respectively, and by going undefeated in all three qualifiers. From 2003, he started concentrating strictly on judging and organizing, working part time for the LD. In 2006 - 2008, he began playing at tournaments again while living in Osaka, Japan. Since then, he has been both playing and volunteering, but still considers himself a judge most of all. HE’s been the Head Judge (/judge lead) or TO at Norway Nationals nine times (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011), Head Judge at Denmark Nationals two times (2009, 2010) and Judge, Translator or Second to the Head Judge at Worlds eight times (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011).


Non-competitive playing and leagues

All leagues on Norway are official, though some leagues have turned into a few people meeting to play because of lack of kits (support sucks in Norway) and bad turn-ups.. Most people who attend leagues, also go to tournaments, but there will always be a few people who for some reason avoid tournaments, but enjoy leagues. Most Norway’s leagues have a player base of 15 to 30 players, which is a very good amount in my opinion for a country that small.


Norway’s atmosphere is very laid-back in Eskil’s opinion. However, there are always a few competitive people at each tournament.

People borrow cards from each other but usually only within their own 'team' or closest group of friends. Norway used to have several rivaling teams of players in Norway, but this tendency has been less present in recent years.

Norway’s most used Pokémon TCG websites are their own forum, Facebook gropus, Pokebeach, TheDeckOut, SixPrizes and Pokegym.

Håkan thinks that their community is absolutely great, in fact so great that a lot of them hang out even when they are not at league. He has met some of his best friends through Pokémon TCG, and they're simply awesome people. They are also pretty laid-back, at least when they are not playing in tournaments, and Håkan only knows of one kid who is a sore loser (but he's like 14 or something). He know that the people in Oslo are a lot more serious since when they had two of them over for states one of them went 2-3 or something and started swearing and stormed out of the building were they had the tournament. They're still nice people though in Håkan’s opinion, just a lot more caught up in winning instead of having a good time like us.

Competitive playing and tournament organizing

Before, most tournaments in Norway were run by three TOs (Eskil, Fredrik, Tobias) employed to the company that was Norway's LD at that point. In the last four years, Norway has shifted towards a more normal volunteer based system, and a greater number of TOs. At the moment Norway’s Local Distributor is the same as in every Scandinavian country – the infamous Bergsala Enigma.

To be honest, Eskil has never seen much innovation in Norway. Like most European countries, they just play whatever the Americans or Japanese have discovered before us. There have been some exceptions in Europe, like Denmark's Flygon ex and France's Gyarados, but the same can't be said about Norway. In 2008, Khanh Le did a very interesting and courageous deck choice for Worlds, with the Blissey/Beach rogue that got him second at Worlds. But that wasn't a rogue invented in Norway, it had been developed by his friends the Atanassov brothers from Canada (Paul Atanassov also placed second with this deck at the same Worlds – in Seniors).

Håkan thinks that innovation depends really on how balanced the format is. If there are a lot of good decks we see a lot of variation, but for example when GG was out and dominated everything it was just as bad here as everywhere else. I always welcome innovation, but then again I understand that in an unbalanced format you are sometimes forced to play metagame to stay competitive.

Player base

In the area around Oslo, 40-50 people usually attend Cities and Regionals, but only 30-40 attend Battle Roads. The further you go from Oslo, the lower the attendance numbers are. For example in Bergen where Håkan lives there are 20-25 players in CCs. The other areas are unfortunately not able to gather much more than 20 people even for Regionals. The Oslo area is also the only one where there are players in all age groups. The further away you get from Oslo, the more likely you are to have zero players in Juniors, and lots of trophies going to waste. Something should definitely be done about this, but Eskil doesn’t know what. I think this situation is very familiar to almost everyone, no matter where you live. It's been extremely difficult to recruit Junior players in recent years because OP no longer is marketed towards kids in any way (adverts for OP used to be on kids' television, in kids' magazines and more).

During the distributor Midgaard (1999 - 2003) very little was done to increase the Norwegian Pokémon player base. During the distributor Bergsala AS (2003 - 2008) a lot was done to drastically improve the community and raise the number of players: a new official Norwegian Pokémon website with weekly updates including a Card of the Week was launched, a massive forum was opened, all new Leagues were given free theme decks to teach new players the game with, company sales representatives actively recruited new stores to become League hosts, three part-time employees with good knowledge of the game were hired to manage and market OP, organize tournaments and manage Pokémon TCG demo booths at conventions, shopping malls and more ... Eskil could go on for hours about the marketing they did for Pokémon. It was a golden age for Pokémon in Norway, and during this age the number of players at Nationals grew from 28 (!)  and peaked at 214. The very same phenomena happened in Finland as well in the same years.

The distributor Bergsala Enigma has been in charge since 2008, and ever since that point the community has decreased in size and the overall quality of our national OP program has fallen deeper and deeper. But to be fair, you could say things just are 'back to normal' here in Norway. Eskil thinks that it’s unlikely to ever see a period like 2003-2008 again, and honestly doesn’t see much potential for growing the game without the financial backing of a company that is interested in marketing the game.

However, he will continue to do what he can as a volunteer, and is always trying to introduce new players to the game. In recent years he has been doing all he can to strengthen the network of volunteers in Norway, and teach new volunteers how they can contribute to the community. If they develop an even stronger Do It Yourself mentality, they might be able to see the game grow even without any LD's help. The number of players at Nationals is usually somewhere between 100 and 130 now.

Player base in Norway looks like this at the moment (pretty similar to every single country, I’ve been reviewing so far)
Juniors: less than 10 %
Seniors: 20 %
Masters: 70 %

During Pokémon's golden age in Norway, things looked very different. In the period when they had the highest growth of players, and 214 players turned up for Nationals, it was:

Juniors: 30 %
Seniors: 50 %
Masters: 20 %

Evens Cheung is the most appreciated player of Norway. He's been Denmark's National Champion once (2001), Norway's National Champion twice (2004, 2007), finished second at Nationals three times (2003, 2008, 2010) and made top 32 at Worlds four times (2004, 2006, 2007, 2008). In addition, his younger brother, older brother, male cousin and female cousin have all won Nationals at some point. His family has won 7 travel awards in total.

Second is Khanh Le. He won Nationals in 2005, in the age group '12 and under'. After this, he was on top of the Seniors ranking list of Europe & Africa for most of the 2006-2007 season, and won a trip to Worlds in Hawaii in 2007. His younger sister won Nationals in the same season, and was on the top of the ranking list for Europe & Africa too. In the 2007 - 2008 season, his first in Masters, he beat Evens Cheung in the finals of Nationals to earn his third travel award. This time it took him to Worlds in San Diego, where he lost to Jason K in the finals, and won himself a fourth travel award. Some people also say that he’s been a bit arrogant after his second place of the World Championships but that doesn’t decrease the value of his achievement.

Among more recent big names, Eskil would have to go with David Hovland Jensen. David has won Nationals in Seniors the last three years in a row (2009, 2010, 2011), and performed very well at Worlds.

From Eskil’s local Japanese card store where I used to play in Osaka, I have to point out Hiroki Yano as one incredible player. As a Junior, Hiroki Yano placed first and second at Worlds in two consecutive years. He's been National Champion of Japan in Juniors and Seniors a number of times and is an incredibly skilled kid.

The, are the Norwegian players in a good enough level to compete for the top places of the World Championships at the moment. Eskil thinks that it varies from year to year. Some years, Juniors is really competitive, in other years Senior is. Masters is by this point full of former National champions and people who have made top cut at Worlds in the past, and I'm sure Norwegian Masters players are able to do it again. However, I think the overall peak of Norway's skill level and competitiveness (in other words, when we had the highest numbers of people who could compete on a very high international level) was in 2007-2008. It is no coincidence that his was the period when we made it to the finals at Worlds. In Håkan’s opinion, most competitive players of Norway live in the Oslo area and might have chance in the Worlds but in Bergen, there isn’t such a drive for international success.

I think Norwegian players proved that they’re on the top of their game in the current format in the ECC since they took 2 places in top4 of Masters and many places in Top32. I’m looking forward to their showing in the World Championships.


Personally, Norway reminds me of Finland in many ways. They had a sudden increase of players and success worldwide and after Bergsala Enigma took over, the game has been getting worse and worse. However, I think that the game is in better state in Norway than in Finland. It’s obvious that there are lot of players that are interested in doing well in tournaments and every Pokémon TCG community needs competitive players to live longer. Success creates someone to look up to and thus a goal to younger players. As said before, I expect big things from Norwegian players in this year’s World Championships since they did so well in the ECC!

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave any comments!
A legal note: The things written in this article don’t necessarily present the official opinion of The Deck Out. 
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  1. Deck Out goes global have become my favourite updates on this blog. They´re unique, "something that I can find only from here"-kind of thing.

    There were two unfinished sentences:
    Player base, third article: "Håkan think that there"
    And before Conclusion: "I’m looking forward to"

    1. Thanks, I hope everyone else enjoys them as much as you do! Fixed those typos.


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