For most, Pokémon is a series you can’t remember being there – it’s like The Simpsons of video games. So many of us have grown up with Pokémon as a constant feature in their life. I was only five or six in the late 90s, when the craze properly kicked off. Everyone was watching the anime, everyone was collecting the cards. I still remember what my first Pokémon card was (Ponyta, in case you were wondering), and while I’m not the biggest fan today, I still find the culture around the series fascinating.

Specifically, the Trading Card Game (TCG):

Video games are slowly but surely inching into mainstream culture, but Pokémon is an interesting phenomenon because it was never “uncool” to be playing it. The video game was always explosively popular with kids and teenagers, even before the days of Wi-Fi, where you had to frantically hunt for the special cable to connect your GameBoys together. The card game, too, has never wavered in popularity; wherever you go around the world, people will know what Pokémon is, and they’ll want to give you a game.

I’ve never been particularly involved with the TCG scene, though I did go and attend a press release for the new cards a little while back, and played one match. This, however, was a whole different beast; the European International Championships, where a hell of a lot more than bragging rights are up for grabs.

It’s serious business; three age brackets, and if you do well enough, last year they were giving out travel stipends for up to £1000 to various tournaments, including overseas ones; my brother actually scored a place at the Worlds Championship in Vancouver a few years ago. You play in the smaller tournaments to earn “Championship Points,” to qualify for a place at the World Championship, and you’ll need 500 of those points to get there – it’s in Anaheim next year, just outside of LA.

You’re also competing for some crazy prizes, and I’m not just talking about the free cards and booster boxes. No, like most major eSports tournaments, you’re battling for a lot of money; if you’re over 18, you can win up to $5000 – $10,000 scholarship funding, or cash, and if you’re under 18, it’s a five grand scholarship or Visa gift card. And while the TCG has a lot of effort and hard work sunk into building and testing those decks, you can’t deny that those are prizes worth competing for.

It’s a professional e-sports tournament that somehow manages to encompass multiple platforms, since the video game certainly isn’t going anywhere. With the recent release of Pokémon Sun and Moon, the hype train is running at full speed ahead, and players are still battling. We’ve come a long way from hunching over GameBoys and having to buy special lamps to be able to see the screens in the dark. We’ve moved from pixels into full 3D, and I honestly think we’ll be able to have a great time if we mix Pokémon and VR in the future.

I will hopefully be getting a couple of interviews with some players who competed in the European International tournament written up this week, so stay tuned to GGS!