Following up on the “monumental battles” of last year’s Pokemon World Championships in San Diego, Jevon Phillips gives us this piece about the competitions taking place next weekend.
The card game is uber popular, the cartoon (“Pokemon: DP Sinnoh League” on Cartoon Network) is going into its 13th season and the animated movies are still ranking in the top five overseas every time they’re released — with a new one coming in 2011.
But it’s actually the video games that are at the heart of the franchise.
In the U.S., more than 2.7 million copies of Pokemon HeartGold and Pokemon SoulSilver have been sold since launch in March 2010, and the company is about to release Pokemon Black Version and Pokemon White Version in the spring of 2011 for the Nintendo DS family of systems.
Introduced as a video game in 1996 in Japan (coming to the U.S. in 1998), everything else that followed built upon that battle mentality. And though they compliment each other, many of the card gamers and video gamers pretty much stick to their specialties.
“It’s really hard to be good at both. The video game is just more straight-forward,” says Wade Stanley, an 11-year-old from San Diego that just happens to be the National Pokemon Champion in the Juniors division (born in 1998 or later) on the video game side. He’s one of 32 Pokemon Trainers, divided equally into Juniors and Seniors (born in 1997 or earlier) that earned guaranteed spots to the upcoming Pokemon Video Game World Championships, where the finalists will compete against the best Pokemon Trainers from around the world.
The hotels will go Pokemon wild with commissioned new art and creatures galore, bushels of swag, and in opening and closing ceremony soirees. The video game division champions get a trophy, a Nintendo DSi system, a trip to next year’s World Championships, a trip to New York, Tokyo or Honolulu; and even more Pokemon swag. The card gaming winner gets a trophy, a DSi, a trip to next year’s World Championships, a $7,500 scholarship and a box of cards every month for a year.
“There’ll obviously be some Hawaiian-themed fanfare,too .,. We really try to make this the pinnacle event of the year. This is what the kids strive for,” said J.C. Smith, director of marketing for Pokemon USA Inc.
Smith, also a Pokemon gamer himself, is obviously proud of his company and knows that it has developed and maintained a staying power.
“You see a lot of games starting out that came from animation. Pokemon has always been games first, then entertainment,” says Smith…
It’s the kids, though, who are the final judges, and they’re not all boys. Fifteen-year-old Brianna Birt, the only female finalist in the top 5 of the Senior nationals, is ready to make the trip from Texas to battle all comers.
“I don’t think I’ve ever battled a girl competitively in Pokemon,” Birt said. “But it does make me feel better [knowing] that a girl can beat a grown man in a game.”
The international popularity of the game also ensures that there’ll be a diverse amount of players. The trading card division alone will have nearly 1,000 players from more than 25 countries. It’s a fact that Stanley likes – more people to beat (“Where I live, no one wants to battle me because I’m national champion.”) – but also a hindrance to him in that he sees it to be a bit unfair that players overseas, specifically in Japan, get games before they do here. With more time to catch and train, they could get an advantage.
“We always are trying to close that [release] gap, but we want to make sure that the game is appropriate for our local audience with its tone … But, the great players like [Stanley] always seem to do just fine,” said Smith.
Lest you think that these kids do nothing but sit around playing games all day, they still have lives. Lives that sometimes move by in video-game speed.
“I just finished freshman year of high school and I don’t remember a single day of it,” said Birt. She thinks Hawaii will be fun, though, and would “like to go swimming with the dolphins and the sea turtles … and try the Hawaiian food called poi.”
So Hawaii, while being an intense competition, will also be a vacation from the perils of teen and preteen life.
“Really all I’m going to do is go swimming,” the laid-back Stanley said, adding that his sister “is going to the Last Chance Qualifier Tournament [also in Hawaii]. My parents come, but they mainly just carry my prizes.”
– Jevon Phillips
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Photos, from top: The crowd goes wild; Wade Stanley wins the prize as the top Pokemon player in the country; Brianna Birt competes (and celebrates) in Nationals. Credits: The Pokemon Company International.