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Pokémon’s new TCG world champions talk practice, travel and the realities of being the very best

Top players, commentators, YouTubers and more Pokémon fans reflect on the 2022 World Championships.

Image credit: The Pokémon Company

This year’s Pokémon World Championships may be over, but the battle to be the ultimate Pokémon Master continues.

After such impassioned victories and stinging defeats, Pokémon TCG competitors are already looking ahead to their next round of tournaments at the Baltimore Regional Championships on September 16th. After that, regionals in both North America and Europe come thick and fast, with the first European regionals taking place in Spain on September 17th.

The Pokémon Trading Card Game isn’t just a game of strategy but of dedication too, due both to the mechanics of gameplay and the way it demands perseverance - you can’t just pick up a deck and expect to win. You need the drive to practise, to take the fight to your opponents no matter where the journey takes you. This year, the journey brought Liam Halliburton and Ondřej Škubal to London's ExCeL.

Watch the Pokémon TCG finals during the last day of the 2022 Pokémon World ChampionshipsWatch on YouTube

Halliburton and Škubal both fought intense battles in their respective categories, with Halliburton taking the top TCG Senior division title - for those born between 2006 and 2009 - and the older Škubal becoming Masters World Champion using a winning deck featuring Arceus and Flying Pikachu. They showed tremendous tenacity, even in moments where they came dangerously close to elimination, most notably when Škubal came up against Mew VMAX in a best-of-three run during the Top 8.

Both world champions offered different, but equally, valuable advice when asked their advice for upcoming competitors.

Be prepared to put in the work, get the support of some amazing friends, but don't forget to have fun.

For Halliburton, who experienced a lot of close calls during their top eight matches, the focus should be on understanding your opponents through practice and observation.

“The matches were nail-biting,” Halliburton said. “Especially with some of the comeback potential that Pokémon introduced in the current meta, it's very scary.

“So, watching top players play and perfecting your sequencing and your ideas. Just playing more games.”

The winning turn of the Pokémon TCG Masters final between Ondřej Škubal and Daichi Shimada. | Image credit: The Pokémon Company

It wasn’t just determination that Halliburton talked about. They also spoke of the camaraderie between competitors, including in the Senior final: “Even with my opponent [Sebastian L.], we had a good time - I played him at the IC [the North American Pokémon International Championships], he’s a super nice person.”

Similar advice was offered by UK Pokémon Go player Pockey. Although Pockey’s experience at Worlds 2022 was markedly different from Halliburton’s - due not only to the way TCG and Go are played, but because they’re relatively new to the competitive Pokémon scene - they too placed a lot of emphasis on putting in the hours.

“Many people who make it to Worlds do so because of the vast amount of effort they put in. It's no small feat. So be prepared to put in the work, get the support of some amazing friends, but, most importantly, don't forget to have fun.”

The Pokémon World Championships take place over four days of elimination rounds and finals. | Image credit: The Pokémon Company

While perfecting your deck and forging strong bonds with your opponents is a must, there’s a less romanticised reality to high-level competitions, as Škubal candidly shared with us after his victory.

If you want an invite to Worlds, it takes a lot of travelling.

“If you want an invite to Worlds, it takes a lot of travelling,” the new Masters World Champion said. “It looks like there will be no local scene with points towards the Championships so you need to travel to regionals. So just be best prepared for the events by having some money for travelling.”

For many aspiring trainers, the ability to travel is a considerable hurdle. This is where preparedness goes beyond the card game itself and affects the bigger picture of what the life of a pro player entails. Unfortunately, we can’t all wing our way through Pokémon trials and tribulations like Ash Ketchum.

We run through some of the rarest Pokémon cards of all time - and what they're worthWatch on YouTube

Even if travel isn’t a barrier, the exhaustion that goes hand-in-hand with travelling for competitive events can be. While we chatted with Škubal about his celebration plans, they revealed they hadn’t slept well in days. “I will be celebrating and sleeping, I guess. Over the last five days, I’ve slept, like, five hours.”

Fatigue was a theme that Halliburton touched on as well: “We flew in the day before the tournament, so I was pretty jetlagged. But I had the day to pass, so I had an extra day to prepare.”

The Pokémon World Championships can be an incredible opportunity, but one that comes with plenty of obstacles players need to be willing to navigate in order to succeed.

2022 Pokémon World Champion Ondřej Škubal holds the Masters division trophy aloft. | Image credit: The Pokémon Company

Nonetheless, if you are committed to the cause you will surely be rewarded, especially as we look ahead to Worlds 2023. Not only will it be hosted in the Japanese city of Yokohama, but there’s the added hype of the Pokémon TCG’s soon-to-be-released expansion, Scarlet and Violet.

“For competitors next year it’s very exciting,” Lou ‘The Pikachu’ Cromie, commentator for Pokémon’s official tournaments and competitive Pokemon outlet Limitless TCG, said.

Try and test as many teams and strategies as you can to find your potential winning team and better understand all the facets of the format.

“Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet release in November and will be the games of the new format. So, try and test as many teams and strategies as you can to not only find your potential winning team, but to also better understand all the facets of the format. Gaining a solid foundation in new Pokémon knowledge will be the key to success.”

Cromie, who saw all the action as it happened at Worlds 2022, also offered some tips for spectators looking to attend Worlds next year: “Just get involved with everything! Enjoy the shopping, stream matches, content around the venue and meeting new people. There’s so much to explore at Worlds, so enjoy the experience and make the most of it.”

This year's Pokémon World Championships in London were the first to be held outside North America. | Image credit: The Pokémon Company

The future of Worlds is extremely bright right now, arguably more than it’s ever been. Yet, despite its success, Worlds 2022 highlighted some areas that the event’s organisers need to improve on.

Although the ExCeL in London tried to accommodate all the foot traffic, seating for the main stage was scarce, even up in the bleachers. By the time the event’s Closing Ceremony started on Sunday afternoon, many spectators - including Dicebreaker - were sitting on the floor to try to get a decent view.

It’s a problem that Derbyshire YouTuber Ace Trainer Liam - aka Liam Scott Andrews - noticed during his time there. “The only thing I would change is to increase the amount of seating at the main stage, as the bleachers filled up very quickly and a lot of the floor seating was too far forward for people in them to see the gameplay screens.”

A mint shiny Charizard Pokémon card is put through the ultimate survival testWatch on YouTube

A lack of organisational consistency was also mentioned by Pockey: “I think this is a common theme when it comes to large-scale tournaments, but people often get left waiting hours between matches or get easily confused with the current system.

“You'd have thought by now that the organisers would have learned to have contingencies in place for issues like this. There's really no excuse when it comes to large-scale delays, especially when it's a recurring, but fixable problem.”

With regionals for the 2023 season imminent, the potential scope of Worlds 2023 is limitless. Will the current champions be able to defend their titles in Yokohama, or will other challengers emerge victorious? As all Pokémon lovers know, the path to Victory Road is an unpredictable one - just when you think you’ve found your footing, your party can faint in the blink of an eye. The best we can hope for, besides having a lot of hyper potions to hand, is that organisers, trainers and fans alike build on the solid foundations that Worlds 2022 laid.

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