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pokemon naic photo day 1 crown opening ceremony
Photo by Dot Esports

Pokémon NAIC is make-or-break for Worlds, but heartbreak is guaranteed

Hawaii on the horizon.

North America’s Pokémon International Championship is the final chance to qualify for the World Championship. For many, the event can make or break an entire season’s worth of effort.

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Every year, players have the possibility of dropping out of top spots in their region—denying them a travel stipend that can mean everything for those who can’t afford to make the long trip to Hawaii—or they can completely miss out on a Worlds invite altogether. This year’s NAIC, which ran from June 7 to 9, marked the chance for players to prove how they’re best and deserve to have a stake at Pokémon’s biggest prize.

If you spent the whole year grinding and accumulating points to secure an invite only to fall short, it will feel like your entire year has been wasted. With NAIC serving as the final event before Worlds, it’s do or die, and for some of the U.K. and EU’s biggest talents and upcoming stars, it all comes down to this.

Following the meta

At NAIC, which had over 4,300 competitors across multiple regions, I spoke to a few U.K. and EU players who had varying goals. For some, it was simply about getting past the 500 championship point berth to get an invite, whereas for others, it was about finishing at the top to have their trips paid for.

During EUIC back in April, we followed Demetris Eaton, who’s currently ranked second in the U.K. Play Pokémon leaderboards. By the end of NAIC, he ended the season 30th in the EU rankings, missing out the top 22 needed for that tier one invite and tier two invite, which would have awarded him with a travel voucher and even potentially a round one bye. 

Demetris told us in EUIC in April, where he failed to get into day two with his Snorlax stall deck, that his goal was to attend more events to lock in that tier-one spot, so to miss out on it was soul-crushing to find out.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though for U.K. players at the event. We talked to Rose Gregson, who finished the season eighth overall in the U.K. rankings and finished well over the 500 points needed. This was their first year back in competitive Pokémon after taking a break for 2016 due to academic life, and they’ve reached heights only a few trainers could hope to achieve.

Preparation was key going into NAIC for Rose, who wanted to bounce back from a poor L.A. regionals a few weeks prior. “I just played eight hours of life every single day, online tournament, grinding the ladder, and I think it was a really good meta call,” they said. It was obviously the right call, as they ended NAIC in the top 64 in a tournament dominated by Gardevoir ex decks, thanks to a bunch of new cards from Twilight Masquerade.

Rose went on to say they had not performed well throughout the season due to a “lack of preparation” but were happy to turn it around at the end and show off how good they can play when they put in the practice. It helped as well that Gardevoir was a Pokémon they liked, which likely aided in the grind.

As for the VGC side, there was cause for celebration as the season ended. Hengyue Zhang, the U.K.’s No. 1 VGC player, secured top 22 to get their travel stipend and a tier two spot, while Taran Birdee, U.K.’s second-ranked player, barely missed out by 50 points.

Ending the season on a somber note

pokemon naic 2024 day one, showing people sitting in seats staring at four screens in front of them
Crowds gather. Photo via Dot Esports

Watching players not just from the U.K. but worldwide in tears at NAIC when failing to reach day two, knowing their dreams were over, was a gut-punching experience. It’s times like this you remember these players doing their best to adapt to new regulations, expansions, and metagames. It’s grueling, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out. But it can also be a jubilation if the work pays off: a chance to travel to the pinnacle of Pokémon competitions and relief that you made it in the end.

But at the core of it all, the community supports each other whether you win or lose. As Rose describes it, “Everyone you play will be the nicest people you’ve ever met. I took my partner to his first event at EUIC, and he was blown away by everyone’s kindness.”

“You should try to play to win, play to get a good result, but if you don’t, it’s fine. Just make sure you have fun and pray for the next event.”

There is always next year, after all.

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Image of Adam Newell
Adam Newell
Assigning Editor. In 2015, Adam graduated from the University of Aberystwyth with a bachelor's in Media and Communications. Working in the industry for over ten years. If it has anything to do with Nintendo and Pokémon chances are you will see me talking about it, covering, and likely not sleeping while playing it.