With one of the biggest Pokémon regional tournaments underway in Vancouver, hundreds of players are competing in Pokémon Go, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet VGC, and TCG. So far, there have been many highlights, including seeing popular YouTuber and official VGC commentator Aaron Zheng compete in a major for the first time since the release of Scarlet and Violet. On the TCG side, however, things haven’t been so pleasant.
Following the events of Day One of the tournament, an officially sanctioned TCG judge (also known as a “Pokémon Professor”) reportedly made transphobic comments toward multiple players on several different occasions.
Eliza Barbera has since recalled the alleged incident, saying “it started out positive” as the judge asked to take a photo with the Girl Power team before shifting the conversation to trans inclusiveness. Rather than hearing what the team had to say, the judge called the online trans community “far too unhinged” and told each member of the group why they didn’t “pass for women.” He would not listen to the group’s suggestions, either.
When the group felt uncomfortable, they tried to leave the judge behind at the venue and went to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. The judge showed up again two times before restaurant security got involved.
The incident was reported to tournament organizers shortly after.
Despite the hurtful and uncomfortable incident, Eliza said the rest of the tournament staff and judges were “kind, understanding, and absolutely disgusted that this took place.” And they all agree “there is still a long way to go for our community to truly be inclusive. But they are listening and working on steps to help us.”
The Play! Pokémon Equality, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity Policy states the company is committed to “fostering an environment that is inclusive to all participants regardless of factors, including but not limited to age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and/or disability.” This policy extends to “all members of the Play! Pokémon community,” including the Professors serving as judges in the tournaments.
With multiple accusations of behavior that clearly violates the policy, the accused judge, Travis Madaris, has reportedly been permanently banned from Play! Pokémon tournaments and stripped of his Professor/Judge title as a result.
Team Northwest, the tournament organizer and an offical partner of The Pokémon Company, were credited with handling the situation in a timely manner, less than a day after the initial accusations were brought to their attention.
According to players and tournament goers, this isn’t the first instance of discriminatory misconduct by a judge, which brings this type of issue into the community spotlight once again as it continues to harm individuals and the scene as a whole.
Players are asking for change from tournament organizers to prevent situations like this from happening again and to make the space safer for players moving forward, in hopes of ensuring those Play! Pokémon policies aren’t just there for show.
Natalie Miller, a member of the Girl Power TCG team, has suggested where The Pokémon Company International could start: “There should be a push for inclusive training led preferably by a trans person as to how to treat trans and gender queer people, and how to respond to incidents like this when they happen. I would love to see either optional pronouns on match slips, or something that allows judges to have quick access to a player’s pronouns to avoid any confusion.”
This comes just one week after a big policy update from Konami for official Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG tournaments addressed adjacent concerns in that community.
Under the Unsporting Conduct section of the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG Infractions and Penalities Policy, players can now be disqualified for intentionally misgendering another person. This is a step in combating transphobic behavior to make players feel welcome and safe at these tournaments, and something other communities have pointed to as needing to be adopted or better enforced in games like Pokémon or Magic the Gathering.
With the quick action from the organizer, additional issues were avoided in this instance. But now the pressure is on The Pokémon Company, Play! Pokémon, and their partners to make improvements to prevent interactions like this from happening in the future and live up to the inclusive environment they talk about fostering.
Update March 14, 11:02pm CT: Added Eliza Barbera’s recollection of the event in question and Natalie Miller’s suggestions for The Pokémon Company.