I’ve been making an effort to get to each and every convention I happen to have both proximity and cash to attend. This year my part of the world (the northeast, Boston to be exact) was lucky enough to host the 2015 Pokémon World Championships. For the uninitiated and unfamiliar, the Pokémon World Championships include both the trading cards and video game series and, in order to compete, there are nationals across the country. Though I’m not dedicated or good enough for either the card or video game tournament, I wanted to see what the championship was all about before it soared off to Honolulu, Kyoto, or wherever in 2016.
One of the things I didn’t expect was not only the announcement of Pokkén Tournament for Wii U, but the fact that there was a playable demo at the event. All of the Pokémon revealed in the most recent trailer for Pokkén Tournament were playable with the exception of Pikachu Libre at the event. The controller attached to the unit was either the demo version or the arcade version; the piece seemed to be a wider version of the SNES controller (which should translate to Wii U easily, seeing as the screen stretches out the controller anyhow). I am not a fighting game player by any measure (with the exception of Smash Bros., which is more of a hybrid fighter-platformer anyway). In short, the person who faced me completely trounced me. Most of the trouble I got in was the result of the fact that it is a fighter on a 3D plane, like a ring. I couldn’t wrap my head around movement or fighting before I’d been KO-ed with a vengeance. That said, the Pokémon have never looked more fully-realized and, honestly, it made me wish for another Pokémon Stadium or Pokemon Snap game—something long-time fans have wanted since the glory of the N64. I like the fact that a lot of Pokémon that aren’t necessarily fighter-type compete as well. Alongside Machamp and Blaziken, which make perfect sense, are Suicune, Gardevoir, and Gengar. While it may not be a game made for me, it is a cool mashup that created a lot of hype at the event.
What is an event like this without awesome swag? The limited edition Boston Pikachu swag was irresistible. The yellow, red-cheeked face of the Pokémon franchise decked out in nautical, semi-colonial garb made me feel a pride for Boston I had not yet experienced. Hopefully Ben Franklin is squee-ing in his grave. There were limited edition lanyards, pins, keychains, T-shirts, and card boxes all garnished with the 2015 nautical theme and Pikachu. I’m not ashamed to say that I spent a good $60 on swag which, honestly, didn’t pay for much. Along with the limited edition merchandise were a slew of plushies (most of them Pikachu in different outfits- my favorite of which is the aforementioned Pikachu Libre). Stationery, trading cards, bags, pictures, and all sorts of wearable Pokégear were on display.
That theme of wanting another Pokémon Stadium game continued during the main event. On the main stage, competitors in either the video or card game were showcased on the big screen. Only the most recent entries in the series were playable: Ruby and Sapphire and, while it was cool to see the best of the best hash it out, the game’s interface lacks the luster that the event demanded in my opinion. First, I was sick of the default battle music after the first match, but it continued throughout the matches. Second, the 3DS’ graphical prowess becomes far less impressive on the big screen. Even so, I don’t think I have ever seen such close and intense Pokémon battles. The matches were all double-battle style and it is amazing how essential predicting enemy movements and chance come into play at this level. Critical hits garnered gasps and cheers from the crowd and I caught myself gasping and cheering along with the crowd. The only other disappointment I had with the matches were that many Pokémon seemed over-represented, with repeat appearances despite the engorged number of Pokémon now included in the games. That lack in the video game was made up for by the trading card game however, as it seems that variety is encouraged.
Each of the main event matches are narrated by a duo of announcers, and I think they did a fantastic job talking about meta-game at this level of play (for both card and video games) in a way that both coddled the initiated and educated less seasoned players like myself. Between matches, players from around the globe were interviewed about the event, their most recent matches, and their history with the Pokémon franchise (with translators as needed). It felt really endearing to see Pokémon treated with the same reverence of a sporting event. Many countries were represented at the event; it was cool to see the Italian, Japanese, German, and so on versions of the game exclaim “its super effective,” move names, and Pokémon names in their own tongues.
What I always love most about these events are the people I see and meet there. I wore a Cerulean Gym (Misty’s water gym from the original game) T-shirt and my backpack had pins for the original eight gyms and a large Starmie patch on the back (Starmie is still my favorite after all these years). I’d say that my outfit was tame compared with the gathered mass of fans: many were dressed up as Pokémon trainers, breeders, gym leaders, and baddies. Some even dressed as humanoid versions of their favorite Pokémon. What surprised me most was the number of parents who dressed up with their kids. I heard one father and son who had finally caught up with one another: the father (wearing a Pikachu shirt) asked his son about his winning streak before admitting breathlessly that he had been knocked out of the adult matches. I had a revelation at that moment: that everyone at the Pokémon World Championships had been brought there with a mutual love of Pokémon and that the stigma of being an adult involved in Pokémon was completely non-existent. That understanding is a sentiment I can’t even garner from some of my closest friends and family, who snickered at the idea that I, a thirty-year-old man, had attended the event.
In a moment of reprieve while my plus one went for another round in the store, I put my newly-purchased starter deck away, plopped down to the ground next to a substitute doll, and sighed from exhaustion. When I looked up, I came face-to-face with a five year old in a bright orange shirt with heavy, black framed glasses like my own. “What’s the name of your Pokémon?” he shouted, pointing at the substitute doll. Thankfully, his parents were right behind him. I explained that the doll wasn’t a Pokémon, then proceeded to answer a slew of rapid-fire questions about Pokémon, including that the patch on my bag was of Starmie, my favorite. He made the record clear that his favorite was Pikachu, the only Pokémon that I think he could even name, as he’d only just started watching Pokémon a day ago. Despite that, he was filled to the brim with excitement about the event. His parents eventually pulled him away only after he had nicknamed the substitute doll “rock-smasher”. They thanked me for being a good sport and wished me luck in the competition I wasn’t in. As they walked away, I felt the weight of the years that Pokémon had been a part of my life and the lives of those gathered around me: the casual trainers, the fanboys and fangirls, the announcers and staff, the creators, the kids who only know Pikachu, and the Pokémon masters. It’s a kind of magic that the love we all share for a franchise could be shared and tempered on the grandest scale.
Vinny Orsillo | @VinnyOhGames