Do you want to be a Pokemon master? Thanks to The Pokemon Company, you can through the official Pokemon Championship Series, an annual competition that lets players of the video games and trading card game face off to see who’s the best of the best. The road to the top starts at any of the Regional Championships hosted around the country. As luck would have it, one happened to be less than thirty minutes away from me this past weekend. Naturally, I decided to enter the competition and provide a look at the event (photos of which can be found below).
So how was it? Well, it was definitely a unique gaming experience. For starters, this was the biggest turnout for a regional tournament in recent history according to many of the judges and veteran players. With around 500 battlers, the tournament had to be split in two. Half of the participants played in the main ballroom of the Long Beach Convention Center, while the other half played across three smaller meeting rooms. The match-ups were determined by Swiss Tournament rules, which means that there were a set number of rounds (nine in this case) and your opponent was always someone that had either the same record as you or was as close as possible. This also meant that if you lost matches early, it would be harder for you to place higher in the rankings than someone who lost the same number of matches later in the tournament. Unfortunately for players, all these scores were tallied by hand. With the amount of people that showed up, we ended up waiting over forty minutes between every round for the first half of the tourney. With each battle lasting less than ten minutes, that’s a ton of spare time.
If you plan on attending a future Pokemon tournament, be aware that the format is Double Battles. Yes, Double Battles. For a series that focuses on one-on-one battles as its flagship way of representing the game, I found it odd that Double Battles were the official format for tournament play. I am primarily a Single Battle player, so I had to rethink the game and cook up a new team in the one week I had to prepare. Though I am not as fond of doubles as I am of single, I can understand why they are the chosen way to play out matches. For one thing, they are much more strategic. With four Pokemon on the field at once, there are many more possibilities and mind games in every match. Not to mention that they are more interesting to watch than a Single Battle. If Single Battles are what you want to be recognized for, then you either have to stick to unsanctioned tournaments or Smogon’s Pokemon Showdown battle simulator.
So maybe the tournament wasn’t handled in the best way possible in terms of score keeping and battle type, but at least the software side was fast and easy to use. Pokemon developer Game Freak put a lot of thought into tournament play in Pokemon X & Y, and it clearly shows. In the main menu of the game, there is an option called Live Competition. Until I was at the tournament, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was used for, but it turns out that it was made just for these kinds of events. After you make your team, you place it in the Battle Box and then enter Live Competition from the main menu. A tournament organizer will lock your team and from then on, this menu will both act as a starting point for each match and provide a record of your wins and losses thus far. You can also view a replay of your previous match, which is pretty neat if you want to show someone your amazing sweep or review a crushing defeat. I noticed that there is a similarly named icon in the Battle Spot of the game named Online Competition. I can only assume that they will be using this for online tournaments, which is pretty exciting and I cant wait to see how those play out.
With solid hardware powering the tournament and judges… slowly… tallying… the results of each round, that just leaves the competition itself. I am pleased to say that the Pokemon gaming community is largely the friendliest community I have interacted with. I have been to various fighting game tournaments for different titles, and unlike at those events, I didn’t see one sore loser or rage over anything. Compare that to a Super Smash Bros. tournament I went to where a player lost a match and proceeded to throw his controller at the TV, breaking both in the process. Yet at these regionals, even when I saw people lose due to often random factors such as missed attacks and critical hits, you still hear a “Good Game” and a “Good luck in the rest of the tourney.” I am not saying other communities don’t have proper sportsmanship, but I did notice much more politeness and understanding among Pokemon fans.
In all, the Pokemon Regional Championship was an amazing experience that has shown me a side of competitive battling I have never seen. While I did walk away with five wins out of nine games, it wasn’t enough for me to progress to the next level. Then again, the closest I have been to a sanctioned tournament was one held at a GameStop to celebrate the release of Pokemon: Battle Revolution back in 2007 (which I won, thank you very much!), but that was just a small local event. I will definitely be attending more of these official Pokemon competitions, and I hope people curious about the competitive side of Pokemon consider joining too. After all, don’t you want to be the very best that no one ever was?