For Love of the Game
Make no mistake—I love playing the Pokémon Trading Card game. I love the cards, I love the mechanics of the game, and I love competing. The tournaments themselves, though, are not always so easy to enjoy.
Let me back up a little bit. I started playing the trading card game two years ago, and I have been singularly focused on one goal ever since—qualify for the World Championships. To qualify for Pokémon's annual and most prestigious event, you need to accumulate championship points, which you earn by competing in several levels of sanctioned tournaments. Fairly straightforward.
My first season did not go as planned. As a beginner, still learning surface level gameplay, I struggled to find success. And by the time I found my footing, it was too late in the season to have any margin for error at the precious few tournaments remaining. To lock up my invite, I had to be superb. I was not.
So, I learned from my shortcomings and resolved to expand my game this year. Surely this time I would reach the summit. I went to twice as many regional championships, the premier events of the Play Pokémon season. I tested more and worked harder. I scraped and clawed my way to the very edge of my goal, 518 out of the 550 championship points I needed to qualify, just before the Madison Regional Championship, the last regional of the season. All I needed to book my ticket to Worlds was a top 128 finish, something I had done multiple times this season already. I proceeded to have the best tournament run of my life, gliding all the way to a top eight finish in a field of over 600. After two long years, I earned my invite to the World Championships. But the season was not over.
In just a few weeks, I was set to attend the North American International Championships, the last of four international tournaments held across the globe. Many players scrambled to prepare for NAIC, as it was the last chance to earn championship points for the season. All those who still sat below the 550 knew their magic number. "I just need top 128 points!" For the first time since I picked up the game, I was not among them. I had no pressure to perform. I had no deep-seated dread over where I would place at the event. I was free to kick back and enjoy the company of some good friends and play the game I loved, free from the chains of my own expectations. Naturally, I did terribly. I played a horrible deck, and I played it poorly. But I had a blast!
Rather than brushing past any partial success or wallowing in the failures, I got to explore Columbus. I cheered for friends. I went out to eat. I relaxed. For the first time, I allowed myself to take pride in my achievements and enjoy the charmed atmosphere the Pokémon community provides.
I worked hard to qualify for Worlds. I played thousands upon thousands of games of Pokémon. I traveled to Denver, Roanoke, Dallas, and Memphis. I faced off against titans of the game and occasionally came out on top. So, for one weekend in June, I allowed myself to be content. I allowed myself to have fun.