Pulling back the sleeve of his black “Ocean View Gaming” zip-up jacket, Daniel Shogan reaches for his iced French vanilla coffee — his Dunkin’ Donuts usual. He swirls it around before taking his initial sip, ice cubes clinking against each other. He clears his throat, thinking back to the start of his competitive, professional love for the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game.
Shogan, a sophomore history major, has come a long way since then.
He’s been top 32 in the 2018 Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series of 3,000 people, nationally ranked as the 22nd seed and even beat his idol, Patrick Koban, who despite his retired status is regarded as one of the best players to ever play the game.
“I was in high school coming from a middle-class family and traveling is really expensive,” Shogan said. “It’s splitting hotel rooms six and seven ways and gas five ways and barely having enough. Like, I wouldn’t eat for the whole weekend because there wasn’t enough money in the budget.”
What stemmed from watching the animated TV show on Hulu became a pastime with his friend, Daniel Vincent, who later convinced Shogan’s mother to buy him a starter deck for his birthday. Vincent died in a car accident in 2015, which has led Shogan to dedicate his wins to him as someone who served as the catalyst for his love of the game.
The support of his friends — in addition to his drive to keep improving — allowed Shogan to become more serious and move up from local and regional tournaments to premiere ones. For larger events, players can travel close to 15 hours and play against crowds from 1,500 to 3,000 people.
Shogan has been as north as Canada, as far west as California and as local as Waynesboro. He’s established a friend group that spans the country, whether it be through traveling to events, testing with people on the online platform DuelingBook or hotel stays.
Alex Soler, a professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, has known Shogan since playing with him at a card shop in Greensboro, North Carolina, two years ago. They’ve since become great friends, with Soler saying his determination is inspirational.
“He’s taught me what somebody who maybe didn’t have the best means can succeed in,” Soler said. “He’s truly had to bust some butts to get to the events, to get home, back to school, to make ends meet. He really works hard.”
And it shows. Over JMU’s spring break, Shogan traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a tournament, then back to JMU on Saturday to leave Sunday morning for another one in Pennsylvania. This routine is one that Bruce Kendrick, an incoming freshman at Bridgewater College and hometown best friend, says Shogan does religiously.
They met back in 2014 at a local park in Danville, Virginia, a city so close to the state border that Shogan says he can walk to North Carolina from his house. They traveled to the closest tournaments — which were a minimum of an hour away — every Sunday. According to Kendrick, he tests on Duelingbook every night, practices theory to enhance his playing ability and always looks for the next challenge.
“He’s definitely one of my best friends. I probably wouldn’t still play this game if it weren’t for the friends I’ve made,” Kendrick said. “Beyond Yu-Gi-Oh! we don’t have as much in common, but that’s where we find the middle ground.”
In his starting days, Kendrick’s family helped him pay for expenses. Along the way, he’s come across sponsors willing to offset the costs of traveling. As he continued topping more tournaments, he’d look for bigger supporters, joking that he “took [his] talents to South Beach.”
Shogan stresses preparation and understanding card theory, which includes card advantage, or having more cards than your opponent; tempo, or how many plays you’re making and philosophy of fire, or card advantage in regard to opponents’ life total.
“It’s this theory of everything,” Shogan said. “It’s really helpful. What I try to think about a lot, thinking about how to manipulate my opponent into the worst position for them.But there’s other stuff, like where I’m going to eat tonight.”
What he loves most is that the game continues building on itself — well, that and getting his name called out when he tops a tournament. There’s always something new to learn, people to meet and a community that keeps him going.
He feels it’s important to dispel the nerd stereotype that comes with loving Yu-Gi-Oh!, saying players are just like everyone else, putting their pants on one leg at a time.
“I sometimes get asked, ‘When are you going to quit?’ And my answer is always the same,” Shogan said. “I will quit when I’m the best ever or when there’s nothing left for me to learn from the game. It’s much more likely that I quit because I become the best ever because there’s always something new. That’s what makes it so incredible.”
Contact Sabrina Moreno at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.