At first, fourth-year Jon Sahagian didn’t even like Pokémon. Everyone was trying to “catch ’em all,” precisely why he didn’t want to get involved in the fad. It was only afterward when he began to watch the TV show and play the games a bit when he had a change of heart. While others halted their quest, Sahagian took Pokémon fandom to a whole new level.
While in middle school, Sahagian noticed that there was a lack of quality Pokémon websites. Sahagian decided that he could be someone to fill that void. After spending years learning HTML coding and the various intricacies of launching websites, Sahagian launched PokeBeach.com, his very own Pokémon news website. A few years later, his website had become an internationally visited and respected source of Pokémon news, receiving more than 100,000 hits every day.
“We’re mainly about the news, especially covering the trading card game, which is what we’re known for. There’s no other place that you can see all the card scans,” Sahagian says.
Known as Water Pokémon Master (his website screen name), or “WPM” to his legions of followers and fans, Sahagian has built up a strong method of receiving rumors, checking in with sources, posting personal commentary and releasing the latest Pokémon news and information before even Japanese sites do so. His stardom even surprises himself at times. He receives requests to autograph Pokémon cards, invitations to lunch with strangers and even fan mail once his mailing address was leaked to the public.
“I guess they think I’m like Oprah, I add a personal touch with people,” Sahagian says with a laugh, while maintaining that he doesn’t indulge in such requests.
In addition, other Pokémon sites , online stores and magazines frequently offer to pay him thousands to link to their websites. However, Sahagian never does.
“I don’t do it for the money … if I did, I would have quit a long time ago,” Sahagian says. “I do this to help people stay informed with their favorite hobby.”
Now going on eight years strong, the site has led Sahagian into many comical and unbelievable incidents. Once, the world champion Pokémon card player from Japan went up to him and said that he went to PokéBeach for everything, telling Sahagian,“You guys know more than the Japanese know!” Sahagian also has forum moderators who uphold his creed, as well as translators from Japan who do work for him in return for letters of recommendation.
Other times, more serious issues have arisen. Jealous webmasters of other Pokémon sites have fueled attack campaigns against him, creating webmaster drama that Sahagian constantly has to deal with. While studying abroad in Japan last summer, Sahagian even faced a threatened deportation. At the premiere of the new Pokémon movie, Sahagian snapped a photo of the new Pokémon in an advertisement after the film. He posted it on PokéBeach, and the Internet exploded. A supposed $10,000 fine, deportation and an outraged Japanese Pokémon fan base was going to get the Tokyo Metropolitan Police involved.
Another time, while covering the release of the new Pokémon Black and White games, Sahagian posted photos of the new legendary Pokémon. Consequently, Nintendo themselves sent a cease and desist order to Sahagian. Another Internet uproar broke out, with the Internet angrily protesting Nintendo battling over websites promoting their own games.
“I changed the site name to Poker Beach, put up photos of the Soup Nazi from “Seinfeld” and replaced the images of the legendaries with photos of Ditto,” Sahagian says animatedly. “I wrote stories lambasting Nintendo for coming after PokéBeach even though other sites were posting ROMs, which allowed people to illegally download and play the games on their computer … costing Nintendo thousands.”
After a while, Sahagian changed his site back and reinstated the images of the legendaries, and Nintendo didn’t respond.
“People make such a big deal out of it, but I always say, ‘Who cares?’ It’s just Pokémon,” Sahagian says.
Known affectionately as Pokémon Jon among many UC Irvine students, Sahagian emphasizes that despite his seeming addiction to the game, he’s not really a fan boy. He doesn’t collect any of the new cards, write fan fiction or constantly play the games.
“I’ve taken my passion and made it into something I can be proud of,” Sahagian says. “I don’t have a huge collection of cards or toys … I took something and made it functional, and learned how to be a boss of an organization too.”
Graduating in June, the film and media studies and literary journalism double major is headed to the USC School of Cinematic Arts to study film. He looks at his acceptance as partly due to his unique dedication to Pokémon and his site.
“I don’t really feel like I was worthy of getting in there,” Sahagian says. “So in some ways, I look at it as my reward for all the time and sacrifices I made for the site.”
After his time at USC, where he still hopes to keep his site active, Sahagian has one more dream: a live action Pokémon movie. Having interviewed the director of the Pokémon show, Masamitsu Hidaka, and being acquaintances with some other key figures in the Pokémon industry, Sahagian feels like he is one step closer — all due to PokéBeach.
“It would be an all original storyline, with no existing characters like Ash or Misty, and it wouldn’t use Pokémon that convert badly to CG,” Sahagian says. “It would focus on the characters, like the original season, with the Pokémon as just accessories. The fandom has never gotten their complete wish with the Pokémon movies … there’s a lot of unfulfilled potential there.”