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Pokémon TCG's thrilling first UK World Championships were well worth the long wait

The first Worlds held outside the US - and since COVID - offered a weekend of climactic battles and unabashed fandom.

Image credit: Emma Flint

As we said our goodbyes at the Pokémon World Championships in 2019, none of us had any idea that we’d have to wait three years before experiencing those competitive highs and lows again. It wasn’t just the absence of the battles that we missed, it was being able to experience Worlds’ first European venue.

When it was confirmed that the ExCeL in London would be the next Worlds location, we all hoped for a dramatic return to the scene. We needed it. Not only was Worlds finally coming back, it was coming to the UK. For a lot of European fans, who’ve had to stream previous Worlds from afar, being able to attend in person felt too good to be true.

Our expectations were high. But we’re pleased to say that those expectations were met and exceeded.

From 18th to 21st August, the ExCeL was alive with activity. From the moment the doors opened at 8am, competitors and spectators alike lived, breathed and consumed Pokémon. It felt like a fever dream.

This year's Pokémon World Championships were the first held outside North America. | Image credit: Emma Flint

Alongside the Pokémon Trading Card Game, there were four other Pokémon games competing for World Champion titles: Sword and Shield, Pokémon Go, Pokémon Unite, and Pokken Tournament DX. We’re used to Worlds bringing high energy, but this was on another scale - you could have powered the whole Galar Region with its intensity.

There really was something for everyone, though our sights were fixed on TCG.

Sunday was a gripping set of TCG battles from start to finish.

From Thursday to Saturday, TCG players went head-to-head to secure a place in one of the three finals categories: Junior, Senior and Masters. Hundreds of trainers pushed to qualify, with competitors needing six wins by the end of the first day to progress. All that training, of perfecting their decks to give them an edge, all came down to the Sunday finals; the atmosphere was palpable.

The spotlight often shines brightest on Pokémon Go and the Video Game Championships, arguably because they offer something that has wider visual appeal to general Pokémon fans. But don’t let the lack of graphics fool you into thinking TCG isn’t nail-biting because, honestly, Sunday was a gripping set of battles from start to finish.

Watch the last day of TCG matches at the 2022 Pokémon World Championships, including the Masters finalWatch on YouTube

The main hall bustled in the early afternoon as TCG fans lined up to get front row seats to the hotly anticipated Masters final between Ondřej Škubal and Daichi Shimada. Neither was an outright favourite to win. Although Shimada had two Champion League titles to his name, Škubal had amassed more points over their career in both regional and international tournaments; it felt too close to call.

Ultimately, it was Škubal who stole the show, securing their first-ever TCG Worlds win with a well-timed Boss’s Orders. Although the Masters final dominated, both the Junior and Senior finals brought equal amounts of drama.

It can sometimes be hard to tap into the energy of the card game. Pokémon Worlds 2022 got it right.

It was their matches that set the tone of the day’s schedule, with Rikuto O. becoming TCG Juniors Champion, and Liam H. winning the Senior division. The action was more tangible thanks to the commentary from experts including OmniPoke’s Joe Bernard and Ross ‘Wossy’ Gilbert of PTCGRadio. The way they were able to convey the emotions of the game to less in-the-know fans was phenomenal, with their enthusiasm and knowledge helping to amplify TCG into something that held its own against the other games.

Any TCG fan knows that these matches aren’t for the faint-hearted, that they bring just as many twists and turns as the video games, but unless you’re an avid lover of the card game it can sometimes be hard to tap into that energy. Pokémon Worlds 2022 got it right. You could see that from the way the crowd cheered at well-timed moves, and gasped when the deck didn’t play as expected; as a collective, we all embarked on a rollercoaster of emotions.

The Worlds crowd cheered and gasped at each match's twists and turns. | Image credit: Emma Flint

It wasn’t just the Pokémon TCG that put on a show. Every single game did, with the Video Game Championships rounding off a packed day of dynamic gameplay. Masters Champion, Eduardo “EmbC” Cunha, secured their victory through two-hit KOs - a masterpiece in tactics that had the audience literally on the edge of their seats.

The calibre of the trainers and their clever use of type advantages, paired with ample amounts of tenacity, guaranteed that we were shaking with adrenaline by the time staff prepared the stage for the closing ceremony.

The return of Pokémon-ex in Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is sure to take the TCG into a new era.

While the action on the stage was second to none, there was far more than battles to whet your appetite. You could enjoy a lot of excitement before even entering the ExCeL Arena, thanks to the giant Pikachu in the Pokémon Square and the brightly decorated cable cars that floated above London. The Royal Victoria Docks were awash with some of the most popular, and classic, Pokémon.

There were also dozens of Pokémon Go stops to explore that offered special field research tasks, including the chance to catch yourself a shiny Beefeater Pikachu, as well as in-game gifts of exclusive outfits and postcards.

We take a look at the rarest Pokémon cards of all timeWatch on YouTube

For those who preferred to play on their Switch, there were plenty of side events to get stuck into as well, including a Worlds-exclusive Sinistea for Sword and Shield with the special move Celebrate. Between the swathes of players embarking on unique adventures on their mobiles and Switches, there were dedicated trading areas for Pokémon card collectors. There were some high-value Pokémon cards on display, like the 1999 first-edition Shadowless Charizard, in addition to fan merch you couldn’t buy in the Pokémon Centre.

The Pokémon Centre itself, which witnessed long queues and wait times, is where Worlds 2022 lost a little of its shine. Not because the shop didn’t deliver the goods - there were a lot of great plushies, artwork and clothes to get your hands on - but because of the chaos of it all.

An event of this magnitude is naturally going to struggle to maintain order at some point. But the shop felt like a dash-and-grab by Sunday afternoon. What started out as a packed shop that sold the iconic Beefeater Pikachu and giant Psyduck plush devolved into a lucky dip for items that, generally, were less sought-after.

The Pokémon Centre store had some fun exclusive merch, but long queues and chaos tarnished the excitement. | Image credit: Emma Flint

Don’t get us wrong, the pop-up shop was a fantastic experience. However, it was one that eventually ended up more stress-inducing than magical, at least by the tail end of the week. Despite its less than polished setup, the Pokémon Centre was a chance to indulge in our love for collecting all things Pokémon on a scale few of us have previously experienced.

As with all good things, Worlds 2022 had to come to an end. But, like with the rest of the four-day extravaganza, it did so in style. Not only did we get to see all the TCG and VGC finalists receive their awards, we also got several exclusive announcements from Pokémon Company president Tsunekazu Ishihara.

We all fizzed with elation when we saw the big reveal that Pokémon-ex would be coming back to the TCG. We’ve not seen the ex ability since the days of Pokémon Sapphire and Ruby, almost 20 years ago, so to see them returning for the upcoming Pokémon Scarlet and Violet generation is sure to take TCG into a new era. Boasting new, unique abilities, high HP and strong moves, we’re excited to see where this leads trainers.

The trailer for the Pokémon TCG's upcoming expansion Scarlet and VioletWatch on YouTube

We also got an exclusive look at some previously undisclosed Pokémon Scarlet and Violet features, including the unveiling of a new dragon/normal-type Pokémon called Cyclizar. Speculated to be a pre-evolution of Koraidon and Miraidon, Cyclizar has the added appeal of being a Mount Pokémon. Yes, trainers will be seen sprinting all over the Paldea Region on the backs of one of these.

After all the hype and whispered rumours were confirmed, president Ishihara gave one last announcement: where the Pokémon World Championships 2023 will take place. Much to the delight of the fans, Worlds 2023 will take place in Yokohama, Japan. This will be the first time the event has been hosted in Japan, and the second time ever that it’s taken place outside North America.

We have no doubt that witnessing Worlds in the home country of Pokémon will elevate the tournament to new heights - and possibly even rival the spectacle we all witnessed at Worlds 2022.

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