TAKING THE NIGHT TRAIN TO LONG BEACH, CHASING A POKEMON DREAM

This article came about rather spontaneously. I was up in LA drinking at Dublin’s Pub on 7th when my friend and GLB writer/editor Sarah sent me a text asking if I’d like to write on a new coffeehouse that was opening in the East Village. I told her I couldn’t make it, but to keep me updated on any upcoming stories she’d like to send my way. On the train ride home I ended up chatting with a few people who looked about my age- a rare occurrence on the Metro Blue Line. One of them was this kid Nick. He had come all the way from Santa Clarita with only a few bucks and no place to stay, to attend a Pokemon video game tournament the next morning. Sarah had actually sent me a link to the event on Facebook and asked if I wanted to cover it. I thought she was joking, but this kid wasn’t. Definitely one of the more interesting characters I’d come across as a writer. The picture below is not him, by the way. I don’t know where Dave gets a lot of the pictures for GLB…
Originally published on Greater Long Beach – 11/26/2011: http://greaterlongbeach.com/26/11/2011/on-the-night-train-to-long-beach-chasing-a-pokemon-dream
By 
November 26, 2011|Conventional Wisdom
On the train home from Los Angeles a few Saturday nights ago, I met a 20-year-old kid named Nick, who was headed to the Long Beach Convention Center to compete the next morning in a Pokemon video game tournament — some kind of regional championship, he said. I thought it had to be a joke. I had no idea people were still playing the Pokemon video game, which became popular when I was in grade school. But as the Blue Line cruised along, providing a backdrop of noisy kids and strange poetry performances, Nick and I began to chat.
Pokemon? For those who have never been exposed to the popular role-playing video game, Pokemon are wild creatures who are captured, trained, and then made to fight one another, earning badges for their owner, or “trainer” as the game progresses. Most of the Pokemon creatures are based on an element of the real world—like animals and plants—and every time Nintendo releases a new game, there’s a whole host of newly created monsters, too. People get into it.
Nick talked a lot about typical, modern-day nerd interests: energy drinks, collectibles, video games and the like. He showed me, with pride, a collection of metal Pokemon badges he had purchased. Obviously, gaming is one of the main activities in his life: on that chilly night he had traveled from Santa Clarita via Metrolink to Union Station, then the Metro Gold Line, and now the Metro Blue, with only a little money for food. But Nick’s mind was on all the latest gaming-industry news and rumors stored in his head. He was rattling off video game trivia and filling me in on his latest Pokemon exploits when our train arrived in downtown Long Beach.
nighttrainOn the station platform, Nick asked if I would show him around for a little while, if I wasn’t busy. I’d thought I’d heard him say he was staying on 7th Street.
“You probably just misheard when I said I’d be staying at ‘7-Eleven or something,’” Nick responded. “I don’t really have a place to go; I’m just gonna hang out in places that are open 24 hours.”
+++++++
I asked Nick a few questionsabout the Pokemon tournament and his participation. He was more than happy to answer:
Me: So how does this tournament work? Where do you stand? I think you mentioned being at the “master” level—what does that mean?
Nick: There are three different divisions: the juniors, the advanced and the master level. The juniors are little kids born in the year 2000 or later, advanced is for people born from ’99 to ’97, and a master is born in ’96 and before. As far as I know, the tournament is organized by win-loss ratio. People who are entering for their first time ever, will be up against other first-timers. People who lose don’t get kicked out, but they move on with people who lose or win. As far as I know it’s being put on by [Nintendo], so it’s the official tournament.
Me: Who can participate?
Nick: As far as I know, anyone can come, and the tournament can take up to 800 people. But if fewer than 10 people show, the tournament won’t go on.
Me: This is for the video game tournament, so which one do you have to have to enter?
Nick: Either Pokemon Black or White version.
Me: And is this just taking place in the United States?
Nick: Right now it’s regionals, so the winners tomorrow will go onto the nationals, and then world championship from there.
Me: And what about those badges you showed me? In the game, you earn them by defeating each level, but you just bought yours?
Nick: I paid $80 for five sets of eight badges.
Me: Can you earn them by beating high-ranking players in real life, like you would in the game?
Nick: No, I just bought them just because.
Me: Any idea how many people you’ll be going up against tomorrow?
Nick: Well, Pokemon has been huge ever since it came out in the ‘90s so I’m expecting a few hundred people will be there, total. I mean, people fly all over the country for these conventions. And how many people I think I’ll be fighting? I don’t know. My team’s pretty hastily put together. Most people train for them right after this first tournament ends.
Me: When did that end?
Nick (rifling through some papers, trying to find a date): Um …
Me: Well, so this is like an official, Nintendo-sponsored thing, right? Nintendo owns the Pokemon franchise and it’s not some random blogger telling people to get together—it’s the real deal?
Nick: Yeah, it’s really the best people in the world.
Me: So let’s say you win tomorrow; I guess they’ll go on to nationals next? Where is that held? I’m assuming you have to get there on your own.
Nick: Yeah, the national location has yet to be decided. When you win and qualify for nationals, either by taking first place or having a high win ratio, they will buy you a plane ticket and a place to stay so you can participate. Not to be a huge nerd, but it is a huge deal for people who are really into it. Last year, the world championship was held in … well … I do know it wasn’t held in America.
Me: Who’s in your lineup?
[Nick recites a handful of Pokemon names, which I can’t pronounce or really understand, along with their classification and the generation they belong to. He tells me you’re stuck with the same Pokemon all tournament. He also pulls out an empty Monster energy drink and his Nintendo 3DS.]
Me: So how do you expect to do tomorrow?
Nick: I’m hoping to win, but I’m expecting to lose. If there’s a lot of newbies like me then that’s who I’ll be facing.
+++++++
At the end of the evening, I suggested to Nick that he stay with the Occupy Long Beach camp, where there would be other people who could at least provide him with good conversation. I then had to explain what the Occupy movement was because he had never heard of it. I wasn’t sure he was going to get any sleep, however, not with his veins coursing with Monster energy drink.
I was amazed that someone could care so much about playing a video game that he would take a train to an unfamiliar city, with no place to stay, just to enter a tournament that the casual observer probably doesn’t realize is still around. Nick’s willingness to sleep on the cold Long Beach streets, when he wasn’t even sure where he was, showed a lot of dedication, although some people might consider that dedication misdirected or wasted on a video game.
I couldn’t make it to the Convention Center the next day, so I don’t know how Nick did, but I wished him luck before taking off.
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About STLtoLBC

Recently moved from St. Louis, MO to Long Beach, CA. Interested in art, music, food, urban issues, design, and architecture, education, fiction, technology, and getting to know and love my new home.
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