I do not own a single Pokémon game. Yes, I have played in the past. I purchased Pokémon Diamond back in April 2007, sunk about 16 hours in, and then traded it in so I could prepare for college finals.
As such, I was a bit out of my element when I walked into the Pokémon National Championships in Indianapolis, Ind., on Sunday. The gigantic convention center room was filled with fans of all ages– from grandpas to little ones sharing their love of all things Pokémon.
Pikachu hats were the norm. I, on the other hand, was the anomaly without a single piece of clothing dedicated to the Nintendo franchise. By the end, though, I wanted the games and the hat. The event was completely charming and engaging, with everyone exchanging wide grins and positive vibes.
Yes, this event was a competition, but the sportsmanship on display from youngsters and adults was a sight for sore eyes. This was not like jumping into a match of Call of Duty or Halo on Xbox Live, hearing offensive language left and right.
The event almost seemed more like a Poker tournament (without the alcohol and smoking, of course). Players faced each other straight on, only with a little box barrier that housed the DS systems. The similarities came to a head when I met finalist Omari Travis, of San Francisco, Calif.
The 19-year-old wore sunglasses while competing, something you might see at the World Series of Poker. He said, “I don’t like anyone seeing me. I like to be in the zone.” He also let me know that he does look up ever so often to check out his opponent. “I always glance up to see if (other players are) nervous, because that gives me a little more confidence.”
I would not have any confidence against these players. On Sunday, the final day of competition, there were only 32 players left, split between a junior and senior division. The few left beat out 6,000-plus Pokémon players over the past month or so in cities across the U.S. That is what I call hardcore.
Yet, many gamers mock Pokémon, claiming the series is only for little kids. I pressed Travis on this matter, asking why the franchise gets a bad wrap. “I think a lot of it has to do with the Anime, since it’s designed for children mostly,” he said. Give the game a chance, though, and you will see there is much more to it, according to Travis.
“The main thing I like is that you can watch a bunch of players play, and you can kind of counter them, they can counter you,” Travis said. “There’s a whole mind battle going on; it’s great.”
I agree. Watching battles play out on slick display monitors, which surround the contestants, was pretty exhilarating. Every time a player landed a hit on a Pokémon, the energy meter would slowly drain. You would nervously wait, wondering how much damage the other played invoked on the Pokémon. Basically, I was glued to my viewing spot for close to 45 minutes as a match played out.
One of the other contestants that I got to see play was Emily Pulkowski, of Stockton, N.J. The 11-year-old was one of only two girls still competing Sunday, but that did not matter to her. She was there to win and helped me (and you, readers) out with some strategy.
She said I needed “one (Pokémon) that can kill both Pokémon at the same time, and to use protect with the other Pokémon (I) have.” She also let me know that I have purchased the best game in the franchise– Diamond– and that her favorite starter in Pokémon HeartGold is Cyndaquil.
Most importantly, she made me realize what being a gamer was all about. I was curious to know about her thoughts on the upcoming Pokémon Black and White versions. She had no idea that there were new versions.
And why should she? She has a game that she loves in her pocket, with no need to worry about the next version until it comes out. She’s a gamer, not a fangirl. Yes, she loves Pokémon, but more importantly, she loves to play.
I think we, as fans, get caught up too much on the small things (even minute details that do not really matter). We forget the reason we are where we are. We just like to play games. And we like to celebrate that fact.
I just returned from E3 about 10 days ago. I also participated in the Nintendo World Championships as a youngster back in 1990. But, without a doubt, the best encapsulation of this gaming love that I have ever found was at the Pokémon National Championships.