Pokémon competitive events were thrown into limbo early this year after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of both regionals and August’s Pokémon World Championships.
Fans of the franchise were gearing up for an entire year or more without events—no tournaments, no nothing. Then in May, seemingly out of nowhere, The Pokémon Company International (TPCi) announced the Pokémon Players Cup, an online competition that would take competitive tournaments online for VGC, TCG, and Pokkén starting July.
This was unprecedented. TPCi had never done online-only play before, with all previous events on-site. But according to TPCi’s Director of Organized Play, Andrew Finch, it was something the team was really behind from the beginning.
“There were many of us within the company who wanted to provide a rallying point for our community and something positive for competitive players to get excited about.” Finch told Dot Esports “We are fortunate to have the support of our leadership and colleagues as we launch the very first Pokémon Players Cup.”
Winners of each of the three events will be crowned as the champion of the Pokémon Players Cup and earn a travel award to a future International Championship event, part of the traditional Play! Pokémon Championship Series.
Luckily, TPCi had a lot of online resources and tools already available for the VGC, TCG, and Pokkén tournaments. It had just never really used them for this purpose.
The first of these tools was using Pokémon TCG Online as a replacement for the standard TCG format of the events. This comes with its own issues though, as players who brought decks and cards would have no way to use what they had paid for in the online game without forking out more money for TCG online packs.
Finch was pretty against any additional support. “Online codes are only available in physical TCG card packs,” he said. “So we are hopeful that this is an opportunity for players who have mostly played the physical game to redeem their code cards and start playing online.”
Finch said that the online game had a “vibrant trading community” and that players should “be able to find the cards they are looking for as they join the online community.” Though it might be a little more difficult to do that if every TCG player is after the same cards and deck.
The next tool was the games’ already vibrant online community. “For the core RPG video game, we’ve held large monthly online tournaments with upwards of 100,000 players since 2012,” Finch said. “So using that as the first leg of the Players Cup was a natural progression for our VGC players.”
Of course, VGC going online brings its own issues and worries for players. In particular, hacked Pokémon—where players create perfect unbeatable Pokémon to win online matches—are a big worry for online play. Finch isn’t worried about that though.
“Teams of Pokemon are automatically run through a server-side hack check” Finch said. He said that judges will be available at all times during the Players Cup to handle disputes and escalations, should there be any. Finch didn’t go into how the system would work though, only saying that players “will see a familiar structure where judges are present to help support fair play.”
As for Pokkén, not much should change. The game already has a decent netcode and games can be streamed and logged far more easily on Nintendo Switch and should run as well as the regional events could.
Unfortunately for fans, the event will have little to do with the 2021 World Championship. “Players Cup will win a travel award to a future International Championship event,” Finch said, so at least those who perform well with have a paid trip to compete in the actual tournaments for a shot at a Worlds 2021 spot.
With everything set up and the Pokémon Players Cup mere weeks away, fans are obviously eager to see what will come after it. TPCi is already hard at work “looking for new and exciting ways to engage players of all levels,” Finch said. “Creating and running the Players Cup is going to give us great insight into what any future online experience might be like.”
It’s obvious that TPCi wants to engage more with its community moving forward regardless of the game, and the Players Cup seems like a step in the right direction for the short-term future of competitive Pokémon events.