This past month, the internet has been abuzz with news, discussion, speculation, and – most copiously – adulation about one of Nintendo’s most beloved series: Pokémon. 2016 marks the mega-successful franchise’s 20-year anniversary, and, while it may not have yet achieved the longevity of Mario or Zelda, the outpouring of support from longtime fans has been truly remarkable.
Coinciding with The Pokémon Company International kicking off the virtual celebration, the Play Pokémon Video Game and Trading Card Game Winter Regional Championship series events across the country this past week drew thousands of fans together in the spirit of shared passion and friendly (but fierce) competition.
I was fortunate enough to attend and participate in the St. Louis area Winter Regionals this year, and I was astounded at the turnout. According to Yeti Gaming, who hosted the officially sanctioned event, a whopping 674 players competed in the Trading Card Game portion, and a further 244 video game players brought the total of Pokémon-Masters-In-Training to 918!
Pretty good for a 20-year-old game.
For those who have never been to an official Pokémon League competition, imagine a small local convention with a massive tournament around it, drawing in fans of all different ages and backgrounds from all over the country. I met people who had traveled from as far away as Texas and Florida to join the fun. One player I competed against was an elderly woman who drove down from Chicago, about a five-hour trip. (And she schooled me!)
What really caught my attention were the parents who were there with their kids. In contrast to my day (am I old enough to say that?), when “gamers” were socially awkward kids who got yelled at to go outside and play, these parents were every bit as involved with and supportive of their kids playing competitive Pokémon as typical parents are for baseball tournaments or soccer leagues.
The landscape of video gaming has changed radically since Pokémon Red and Blue captured the hearts of Game Boy owners worldwide. Shifting social trends and rapid development of global communications have put a once-marginalized hobby at the forefront of a new frontier in competitive entertainment. The steady (and even growing) popularity of events like the recent Winter Regional Championships is evidence that Pokémon is a series which has adapted particularly well to modern technology.
As someone who saw Pokémon through its humble beginnings, its breakthrough into massive popularity, the bumps in the road of its transition to the Internet era, and its return to its roots, I would have to err on the side of optimism and say that we just may look forward to another twenty years.