A personal view of the Pokémon VGC UK
Okay so the UK leg of the Pokémon Video Games Championships have taken place, and the winners Ruben (first place, from Spain) and Ashley (second place, from England) have been awarded their prizes and gotten home and back to their normal lives. I hope that everyone else who attended also went away feeling the buzz of success for what they have achieved. I also hope that they enjoy their Tepig stylus and activation code for Play! Pokémon.
So what did a novice such as myself to competitive battling think of this year? Well, I know that for many it was a tense day but an absolutely fantastic day for all who got involved.
When I arrived at 7 a.m. to find a queue already snaking its way around the lobby of Birmingham NEC Arena, I was quite shocked. I was surprised to find so many people waiting, and the fact that some of them, even adults to take part at midday had begun waiting at 4 a.m. that morning. Standing in the queue like so many others, I went looking for people to battle, and luckily for me there were so many waiting who were too willing to partake in battles. I was also surprised at how many people were still using the original DS systems, having thought there would be more 3DS there to play the spot pass games. In the line I found myself playing against younger players who showed me just how under prepared I was for the contest. I had a team of six chosen because they were all well above level 60 and had been with me for more then half the game. Then I quickly found out that I was not coming close to the same level of preparation in training taken by many other competitors. I realized that level counts for nothing when your team is brought to a vary level playing field and you go up against the truly professional, and dedicated players, even if they happen to be nearly half your age. I was personally enjoying the experience of playing people I had never met before and who I had no idea of their game plan, it was a fantastic and eye-opening experience into just how under-prepared I was. I had in all purpose brought a Charizard for all his power to a swimming contest - (sorry for the generation one analogy).
Once the doors opened and the queue slowly began to move forward and we all began to make our way into the hall, there was a little shock to the system. When I got inside the hall, I was surprised to see just how little space there was to occupy the participants. For all those who arrived early like myself to be apart of the event for the first time, it seemed just a little sparse. I do not know why, but I had some-how come in my mind to expect more. I was expecting to see boards hung from the girders and maybe a few life-sized cardboard cut outs. I do have to say that the huge inflatable Zekrom and Reshiram with their flashing tails were truly magnificent and something that nearly everyone wanted their picture taken with. While the inflatable Tepig, Snivy and Oshawott were nice, as were the walking suits of the aforementioned starters and Pikachu who all wandered about the hall to meet and greet people. Yet the problem that I and many others felt was, once you had your picture taken with the few set pieces and walking Pokémon you had little else to truly keep you occupied for the day other then finding people willing to do battle with you. The few things that had been set up for competitors were a single table with the trading card game, and a knock-out competition that gained more interests from the younger participants as they ended their time in the competition and those who were there wanting to use their hacked Pokémon (which to the trained eyes about me there seemed a few). There was the excitement of a downloadable challenge in the form of a Battle Test which kept many people occupied for a long time as they tried to get themselves onto the Battle Board, yet you could not keep this on your card for future play. There were no true give-aways in this years competition except a secret Extra-Link power. With no special event Pokémon and no toys for people to buy, many of the people I spoke to were feeling a little disappointed as they had come expecting at least something they could call their own to add to their games. Many commenting on the shiny Eevee from the year before. I had to agree that it was a shame. People wanted something that made you feel special about being there, something you could use in battle that would be recognisable other then the (personally quite cool) Tepig stylus you got for entering the competition, and yet even there to have had a choice of starters would have been nice. This was though the only thing I thought could have been better, everything else was fantastic.
Back to the reason I had attended the Pokémon Video Games Championship, the actual battles. I will be honest and say that I took little interest in the Junior and Senior Rounds as I knew no-one in them and I was to take part in the Masters Round, so to all who took part I hope you had fun, and a great day out. When it came time for the Masters Rounds to begin many of the competitors had been lining up since the Seniors had finished singing up and were waiting for hours for a chance to compete, some had even come from other countries such as Belgium and Spain to take part. I found myself situated halfway down the line among many others for whom this was their first real tournament, as we found ourselves waiting for nearly two hours we all spoke about our favourite Pokémon, game series and even how we had gotten into the games among other things. We all used this time to talk with the people about us about our gaming experiences. For many I spoke to there was a concern about how well their teams may stand up in the competition, but the truth was most of the competitors there were still learning the ins-and-outs of all the Generation V Pokémon too and could therefore be brought down by something that will next year be seen as an outstandingly blundering mistake. So this year many had come feeling it was a more even footing for both newcomers such as myself and veterans, like a woman I spoke to for whom it was her third year attending.
I was surprised in my own naïvety, but so were some others, to find so many players were using the legendary Pokémon Tornadus, Thundurus, Landorus, Cobalion and Terrakion. Three of these were used in the final of the Masters Rounds by the winner. I personally found it a little odd given that so often I see long lists of all the Pokémon that are not allowed to partake in competitions often consisting of Legendary Pokémon due to their power, but this time there were only four – Kyurem, Zekrom, Reshiram and Victini. The choosing of these particular four seemed a little strange to me as almost anyone could have had at least one of these in their teams if they had only completed the main story.
When it came to my turn to battle I was seated with a man wearing an Electivire hoodie that he had made himself. We shook hands, and from that moment my five minuet white wash was just a mix of nerves and laughter as my team that had finished White, was obliterated by just his Hydreigon and Eelektross combo. It may have only taken five minuets, but the memory will last a long time, I was out in the first round.
I noticed as I watched and played a few individuals who were like me knocked out of the tournament, that a portion of the participants at the event had chosen to go with outright power and quick knock-out moves, I was even faced by a team where the player used nothing but 1 hit-KO moves on me – and my only win of the day. As to the Pokémon I saw; Hydreigon was the Pokémon I faced most often, cropping up repetitively in teams to use Draco Meteor and put an end to my team. Eelektross, Jellicent and Scrafty also featured heavily in the teams along with the odd flying legendary, I assume people had predicted an army of Hydreigon facing them and had gone looking to counter its incredibly destructive power, while having their own on team. I only fought Zoroark and Chandelure in one team, and one Haxorus, all of whom I had believed I would see far more of in the competition. I can say that a lot of effort was put in by all the competitors, with so many having looked at their teams and tried to find the most effective way to beat any opponent, or to cover any holes in their own armour. Many claimed to have been EV training for months and some had even imported Japanese games with the intention of getting a better start for the competition. I have read the odd bit on power training and the best Pokémon for competitive battles, but I had never realise that some people really do take these things so seriously, for them this is a competition of skill and mastering of their Pokémon through several generations of breeding to the perfect team. Watching these people you could see the expressions on their faces as they lost a Pokémon, or a move did not go the way they wanted, it was almost as though at times their nerves were reaching the edge and were ready to fail. I can only imagine how nerve-wrecking the experience must be when for the past four months you had been building a team to win, and then be crippled by a single move.
As I talked with some of the competitors I was engaged in several conversations over the anticipated Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire remakes and what people were expecting from next years competition when the flood gates are opened once again and people are free to choose from over 600 Pokémon, maybe even the full 649 will be allowed next year and we could have a truly legendary battle on our hands. Some people were already making plans for their teams, and the sad thing I noticed was how often they would refer back to generation one, two and three Pokémon as though the next two were of a lesser value. I was worried when in a competitive battle Gyarados and Tyranitar are viewed as more of a threat then a team of two Hydreigon teamed together.
I find I digress from the reason we were all there. The final of the UK Masters Round was a real joy to watch and I was so disappointed that my camera's battery died half-way through as I would have loved to have had a copy of the final. It was a truly tense moment, two people I had never met, or had the chance to battle were going up against each-other in a true match of their ability to train and master their Pokémon. They sat before an audience of over one-hundred people who still remained to the end and on two televisions we watched their game unfold. There were no fancy 3D graphics, there was no running commentary there was just the match before us keeping the audience in awe as we watched just how good these two truly were. There were cheers from the crowd as the game progressed and at the very end there was that heart stopping moment as Ashley's last Pokémon survived with only a single point of life. It was as good to watch as it we all know Pokémon is to play.
I can only hope that next year there will be a new 3D Pokémon game and we will be watching the final two playing it out on an even bigger screen. Myself, I know that I and many of the others I spoke to on Saturday will be back to challenge again next year. Just next year if the expectations come true, I may take a team from the fourth and fifth generations, and of course, next year I will have captured and trained my own Hydreigon. I still think I will keep my non-legendary Pokémon though, and who knows, maybe next year I might get to the second round.