This past weekend was the 13th Pokémon World Championships. After last year, where spectators were not permitted to enter barring those who queued early in the morning in the slim hope of getting a spectator pass, this year The Pokémon Company International shifted the locale to Anaheim, California, taking place in the oft-used Anaheim Convention Center.
Make no mistake, this was truly a showing that the Pokémon World Championships is to be taken seriously - but what was all the fuss about? Allow us to enlighten you...
What Are The Pokémon World Championships?
So you may be wondering what the Pokémon World Championships actually are. Essentially, all year there are various tournaments globally for players to earn points to get an invite to the World Championships. There are small ones known as Premier Challenges and League Cups, medium-sized events such as Regional Championships and Mid-Season Showdowns and finally there are four International Championships. Players can play the video games (this year Pokémon Sun & Moon) or the Pokémon Trading Card Game to earn themselves an invite. If they do very well in the year, they can also earn a paid trip to the World Championships.
In addition to this, for the second year running, the Pokkén Tournament World Championships were also here, featuring 12 players who earned invites in various global events, as well as a last chance qualifier to final entry into the World Championships.
This year, over 700 players combined in the video games and Trading Card Games earned an invite and attended the Pokémon World Championships and came to show they had what it takes to be the very best.
What Did Competitors Get?
All competitors didn't just get their entry to the World Championships, which some might consider reward enough - they also got a special Competitor's Pack which contained lots of goodies. It has the special World Championships 2017 Pikachu plush, as well as World Championships 2017 themed pins, deck boxes, card sleeves, special competitor T-Shirt, scarf and special promotional cards in all languages the Pokémon Trading Card Game is printed in. Some lucky competitors also got an invite to go to a meet and greet on Sunday morning to meet game directors Junichi Masuda and Shigeru Ohmori, or The Pokémon Company International CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara.
What Was There To Do?
If you came to the Pokémon World Championships to spectate, there was a lot to do. There were viewing areas for the TCG and video game matches. There was also an area for people to try out the upcoming Nintendo Switch title, Pokkén Tournament DX.
As has become commonplace in the World Championships, a corner of the arena was opened up into a Pokémon Center store, selling lots of Pokémon merchandise including a myriad of Pokémon 2017 World Championships-themed merchandise. As many of these items aren't sold in the UK, we certainly stocked up on a lot of our favourite Pokémon plushes and other items!
Next, there were side events. Many of these were standard video game and TCG competitions, with both receiving the Anaheim Open, a strong regional-level event that helped springboard players into earning points to go towards an invite for next year's World Championships. However, the standard tournaments weren't the only things there - there were also some specialised competitions. For video games, there was a Battle Royal tournament where players went through various rounds of the Battle Royal as well as a Multi Cup, where two players team up to face against other groups of two players.
Unfortunately, due to how these connect in game - without an infrared connection to maintain signal - there were a few connectivity issues due to signal congestion which meant these competitions went on for longer than planned and had to be reset. The Trading Card Game also had unique competitions in the form of a "Sealed" Tournament that acted like a pre-release where players would get a pre-release pack with 4 booster packs of the latest set, Burning Shadows, and have to build a deck out of those and the provided energy cards and enter in a tournament with them.
The variety of side events allowed for some interesting gameplay for players who wished to play but didn't qualify, or those who couldn't make it past Day 1 of the World Championships.
There was also a creative corner for the younger players so they can draw and make various Pokémon-related images. There was also a beautiful Mega Constructs sculpture of Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle and Pikachu. There was also a dedicated trading area where players could meet to trade Pokémon cards. Finally, a special distribution of Alolan Exeggutor to your Pokémon Sun & Moon games took place.
More than that, it was fun to meet players from all across the globe, all of whom shared the same love for Pokémon. You could see the joy in the community as players were friendly and helpful to each other, with no animosity on display.
However, that's not all that there was to do...
Pokémon GO Makes An Impact
Pokémon GO came out a year ago, and since then its popularity has been reduced considerably. However, at the Pokémon World Championships Opening Ceremony it was announced that for the duration of the weekend, the Pokémon Kangaskhan - previously exclusive to Australia and some European cities - would be available around the Anaheim Convention Center. In addition to that, Unown started spawning around the convention center with the letters spelling out the word "WORLDS". Normally, this wouldn't be of note, but should you step outside the Anaheim Convention Center at any hour of the day, there would be literally hundreds of people milling around, hunting these Pokémon and participating in raids.
It really was a phenomenal thing to see. People rushing when a Kangaskhan had spawned, people screaming about a Moltres raid, and so on. Seeing people from all countries playing Pokémon GO in such a small place was great. Even the staff from Game Freak could periodically be seen when there was a raid. Granted, there were a few signal faults here and there, but it ran well and people came from all across the US just to get Kangaskhan and Unown. It is proof that Pokémon GO is still kicking.
We can't talk about the World Championships without talking about the battles themselves. Do note that the following does contain spoilers for the matches and if you wish to watch them first, you can on The Pokémon Company International's YouTube Channel.
With Pokkén Tournament, only 16 players played in the actual World Championships. Many players returned from last year in a double elimination format, but the finals were a solid match up between two Japanese players. First up was the winner from the losers bracket with Mikukey_Homura facing off in a runback against the player who knocked him into the loser's bracket, Tonosama. It looked tense at first, with Mikukey resetting the bracket and putting Tonosama into a tough spot, but Tonosama turned it around and became the World Champion for Pokkén Tournament with his signature Pokémon, Braixen.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game side of things was filled with classic decks, as well as the new set Burning Shadows becoming legal for use on the first day. This allowed for many players to start running decks featuring these cards, most notably of which was Gardevoir GX. There was a slight issue with Japanese players using a Tapu Lele card that was part of a previous set in Japan but was a promo in the west which was to be legal and then got delayed in the west. This wouldn't normally be an issue, but as western players hadn't planned for the unique attributes of this card, a few issues did happen. Aside from that, Day 1 went smoothly with 7 rounds of Swiss. The top players then moved on to Day 2 for another 7 Rounds before it went to Top Cut to get down to the Top 8 players. The finals were tense, with the Masters Finals coming to a close match between Naoto Suzuki's Tapu Lele GX & Golisopod GX deck against Diego Cassiraga's Gardevoir GX deck. The match came close to being called for time, but both players used the best of their deck but Diego ended up becoming victorious.
The champions were:
Juniors: Tobias Stromdahl
Seniors: Zachary Bokhari
Masters: Diego Cassiraga
The Video Game Championships went on a similar path. Marred with complaints last year of all the teams being similar, this year was a refreshing change with there being high level of variety. Sure, there were some mainstays such as Arcanine and Tapu Koko appearing in many Day 2 teams, but the rest of the teams were very varied with many different Pokémon taking MVP status in player's teams. The first day was 7 rounds of Swiss, with everyone with a rating of 5 wins and 2 losses or better moving on to Day 2. Day 2 was then another 7 rounds of Swiss and then Top Cut to get down to just the Top 8 players. Unfortunately, fan favourite players such as Aaron Zheng and last year's World Champion Wolfe Glick did not progress.
The finals are where things get interesting. In Junior finals, there was a clean sweep by Australian Nicholas Kan who managed to win not only every single International Championship but also went on to win the World Championships. His team of Porygon2, Tapu Koko, Arcanine, Gyarados, Garchomp and Snorlax battled strong with Nicholas using the move Recycle on his Snorlax to guarantee it would always have a recovery berry and the move Curse to boost his Snorlax's stats. While his opponent Tomás Serrano tried to put pressure onto him by blocking use of these moves, Nicholas managed to claim victory using this strategy and weakening his opponent's Pokémon's Attack stat with the Intimidate abilities of his Arcanine and Gyarados.
The seniors finals were just as interesting as Japanese player Yuki Wata faced off against South Korean player Hong Juyoung. Despite having similar teams (Tapu Koko, Tapu Fini, Arcanine, Gigalith, Kartana, Porygon2 for Yuki and Porygon2, Tapu Koko, Arcanine, Kartana, Araquanid and Mudsdale for Juyoung), the players used them differently, with Juyoung going for a more supportive Tapu Koko. In the end, some great calls from Juyoung caused him to use his Mudsdale and Araquanid to secure victory and become the World Champion in the Seniors division.
Finally, the Masters Division was quite possibly one of the closest and best World Championships final matches to have happened in Pokémon. It showed the power of the game mechanics as well as the joy of strategy. This match was against Ryota Otsubo from Japan (Krookodile, Whimsicott, Tapu Fini, Marowak, Celesteela and Tapu Koko) and Sam Pandelis (Alolan Ninetales, Arcanine, Garchomp, Mandibuzz, Tapu Lele and Xurkitree) from Australia.
Going into the match, Sam had a major gameplan in mind, having decided the four Pokémon he'd bring in almost instantly during the time many other players would be considering their gameplan and, for the first of the three battles, it worked. Sam managed to keep and maintain the upper hand by preventing his opponent from getting off any of the attacks they'd expect. With an Aurora Veil Alolan Ninetales, Sam managed to weaken attacks against his Pokémon and with Mandibuzz picking up the support with Taunt and Tailwind, he managed to let his Xurkitree set up a Tail Glow and help sweep. However, in game two things turned around as Ryota adapted to Sam's strategy. Bringing Alolan Marowak to prevent Xurkitree from using its Electric-type moves, it also carried the move Brick Break which destroyed Ninetales' Aurora Veil. Many different mechanics were shown such as Sam switching in Mandibuzz whose Dark-type stopped Whimsicott's Prankster-altered moves from working, including its Z-Nature Power. This was a showcase of these mechanics, with some players not even realising it affected them. This is a match that is so hard to describe and has to be seen to be appreciated. Both players fought valiantly but eventually at the end of the third match, Ryota was victorious and became the 2017 World Champion.
See You Next Year!
The Pokémon World Championships were a lot of fun to watch, and even more fun to attend. There's a lot to do and interacting with other people who share the hobby is always amazing. We have a fun community who are there to help each other. This was our second World Championships, but by no means will it by our last.
Next year, the World Championships are in Nashville, Tennessee and with Pokkén Tournament DX and Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon being the games of focus, it could be even better. If you're a big Pokémon fan, we highly recommend you attend the World Championships. It's worth every minute.
Note: All photos courtesy of Marti Bennett