Interaction is a key component in today’s video games, and Pokémon — still a strong denizen in the video game realm with more than 230 million games sold worldwide — has taken another step in getting players involved by actually putting a select few of them in the game as characters.
Pokémon gave the top 12 finalists from the 2012 Pokémon World Championships held this past August in Hawaii a digital treat when the company announced that avatars and the participants’ Pokémon creatures would be in a downloadable world embedded in the new “Pokemon Black 2″ and “Pokemon White 2″ games. Players around the globe can battle through those games using the Pokémon World Tournament distribution event via Nintendo’s Wi-Fi connection service.
The 12 players — four in the junior division, four in the senior division and four in the masters division — had to battle their way to the top in yearlong contests just to get invited to Hawaii for the honor of testing their powerful Pokémon against the world’s best. It was a long path for many, and the company knows how dedicated its fan base is.
“To me it’s a huge sign of respect that [developers] decided to integrate this type of functionality into the game knowing that this player base is hugely valuable to Pokémon … that this is a group of people that are really cool and really supportive of the brand,” says J.C. Smith, director of consumer marketing at the Pokémon Company International. “Rewarding them in this way is pretty much the ultimate dream for us as a company, but is also a dream for the players because who doesn’t want to be in their favorite game?”
Pokémon has been doing this type of championship-player integration for years now on the trading card side of things. Selling the deck and strategy of the winning card gaming champions is one thing, but it’s a bigger undertaking to do it for a video game.
“What we did was, at the event itself, we got all of the data about what teams were being played by all the players. Then, when we had the top four selected for each age division, we decided, ‘This is the perfect opportunity. Let’s give these guys a chance to be immortalized in the game and have people be able to battle against these trainers from the real world,’” says Smith.
The players, many who’ve spent years playing and strategizing, and going through regional and national competitions, understood the undertaking and appreciated the gesture.
Ray Rizzo, a 20-year-old multiple champion who is also this year’s masters champion, believes it could actually help others. “I know that growing up as a kid, you always wanted to play against the best. Sometimes even the elite boards weren’t always a challenge. So Pokémon had a good idea to put us in there. As a kid, I looked up to the elite players.”
Wolfe Glick, 16-year-old runner-up to Rizzo in the masters division, “thought it was really flattering. It was the best kind of immortality that you can get. Obviously we all care about this game, and it’s an honor to be put in the game and have people who you’ve never met before be able to battle you.”
If Pokémon’s aim was to create a worldwide community, then Rizzo and Glick say they’ve succeeded … and beyond. After the 15 movies and 15 seasons of the cartoon and 19 billion cards sold, it’s not just the characters and Pokémon that continue to make the community want to “catch them all.”
“It’s the people who play the game. Even if I’m not playing, just being around people who like it as much as you do is great,” says Rizzo. “I remember back when Pokémon didn’t have something like Wi-Fi. Just to simply battle someone from around the world without being able to talk to them or see them … Ugh. I just thought [Wi-Fi] was a really cool invention.”
“I also like having a goal that I can attain, and it’s nice to say that you’re one of the best players in the world,” says Glick. “But now, by interacting with people who think different from you, you learn something about them and you learn something about yourself and you learn something about the game.”
The downloadable worlds had a tiered rollout on the Nintendo Wi-Fi service, with juniors on Oct. 22, seniors on Nov. 5 and masters on Nov. 19. They are accessible through the “Pokémon Black 2″ or “Pokémon White 2″ games (released October 2012) by going online using a system in the Nintendo DS family or the Nintendo 3DS family. Specifically, players need to travel to the in-game Pokémon World Tournament in Driftveil City before they can participate.
And what does the future of Pokémon hold? More movies and TV, continuing with the company’s new EX card gaming system, and most likely building on the successful “Pokémon White” and “Pokémon Black” (over 14 million sold in a year) gaming titles. Players have no idea of the specifics, but one thing will remain constant, says Glick.
“I doubt that, whether it gets bigger or smaller, the people will change. It’s nice to know that whatever the format or wherever [the tournaments] are held, we’ll be able to go and see all of our friends and have a good time playing a game we love.”
– Jevon Phillips