It was a sun-kissed weekend in Liverpool, as battle-hardened players descended on Exhibition Centre Liverpool to compete at the 2016 Pokémon UK National Championships held between Saturday 14th – Sunday 15th May.
Where the brand has long beaten to the sound of the “Gotta catch ’em all” drum, the National Championships share more in common with the timeless anime theme that still retains enough power to enthuse, motivate and stir within seconds.
Whether competing in the Video Game, Trading Card Game (TCG), or Pokkén Tournament categories, every player was united in chasing their dream to become the very best. With 2016 marking 20 years since Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green first saw release in Japan, it was an event at which being named National Champion would be a far more poignant victory for the history books.
It was therefore to be expected that emotions were running high. Victories were met with rousing cheers, while defeat soon saw nearby parents on standby quickly lend a shoulder to reflectively sob on. But where eSports can be so readily associated with tantrums and name-calling, it was only encouraging to see that the Pokémon community continues to thrive on a competitive spirit that so readily inspires camaraderie.
The National Championships may only be held once a year, but lifelong friendships are formed at the regional events that precede it. Those that attend all have a shared passion for Pokémon and the critters that inhabit the many regions that we have been able to explore, and it can certainly feel affirming to find yourself in a room with likeminded enthusiasts.
You can often see those that regularly compete spotting familiar faces in the crowd, a frantic wave followed by a mad dash across the room to quickly embrace before catching up on life. And, in some cases, players even discovered that they would face such friends in their next match.
Even when old rivalries are rekindled, the National Championships are an environment that is nothing but courteous. Players wish each other luck before their match, and, while strategy is at the forefront of their mind for its duration, even if they lose there is admirable respect as they congratulate each other on their performance and tactical thinking.
For while tried and tested strategies can carry you so far, it is only through experimentation that players will discover ways to truly outwit their opponents. This season had allowed players to use up to two Legendary Pokémon, but more often that not that resulted in teams that revolved around Primal Groudon and Primal Kyogre. That change was met with a muted reaction by players, given that teams that they faced became largely predictable.
We are still without as revelatory a moment as Se Jun Park’s somewhat sacrificial Pachirisu in the Masters Division at the 2014 Pokémon World Championships. But, with anticipation swirling around Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, it will be the series evolution to the seventh generation that will hopefully shake everything up once again.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that The Pokémon Company International will be disappointed by the turnout for Pokkén Tournament. With the Pokémon brawler being met with a positive reaction and equally encouraging sales worldwide, a number of shortcomings in the run up to the National Championships meant that it didn’t attract the pool of competitors that attendees had expected to face.
With the fanbase surrounding the Wii U exclusive relatively in its infancy, it may be that players are still getting to grips with tackling it competitively. Therefore, sticking to what they know best in the more established Video Game and TGC formats.
That isn’t to say that the Pokkén Tournament matches were any less thrilling, case in point being a nail-biting final between Alex “AngelDarksong” Stopher and Taurell “AfroKami” Black which rounded out an otherwise successful tournament.
With the National Champions now named, they will all immediately turn their attention toward preparing for the 2016 Pokémon World Championships in San Francisco this August. That will see the competition become far more fierce, but, if you want to be the very best, it is a worthy challenge to overcome on the road to become World Champion.