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Push Buttons: Meet the Little Pokémon Pros

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Botany Manor Windmill Wort.

Yo I spent much of my weekend at the ExCeL convention center in London, where around 10,000 people from all over Europe gathered for the Pokémon European Championships. There were 4,500 competitors, playing the ever-popular trading card game Pokémon Go, the arena battle game Pokémon Unite, and of course, video games (currently Scarlet and Violet).

The Pokémon Championships aren’t like many of the other esports events I’ve attended over the years. The prizes are only a few thousand dollars, and many of the 340 Pokémon teachers (who act as judges and facilitators) attended on their own. The audience is also significantly younger, as expected. There were many children and teenagers among the competitors, and there were even more among the spectators.

It feels like a family event, which couldn’t be further from the almost teenage, testosterone-filled atmosphere of other competitive gaming events. There were coloring tables and carnival games in the corner, and a giant inflatable Pikachu hung above the flashy stages where players competed. Most of the room was filled with tables where people were throwing Pokémon cards almost too fast to keep up with, and the number of competitors slowly dwindled as the qualifying rounds progressed.

When I was a kid, my dream was to go to the first Pokémon World Championship, in 2000. I never made it, and the next time a Pokémon World Tournament was held in 2009, I had long since given up on these games. . I finally made it to a Pokémon tournament in 2014, when the finals were held in Washington DC. The event is much bigger and better organized now than it was then: the Pokémon Company has leaned into the competitive gaming scene, hosting and livestreaming regional events that culminate in a final tournament in an exciting location (this year’s is in Hawaii). in August, and last year it was in Yokohama). The best players from the regionals will be able to spend a dream summer vacation to try to win a trophy.

Kevin Han, winner of the youth division of the Pokémon European International Championship. Photography: The Pokémon Company

I spoke with one of the youngest victors, 11-year-old Kevin Han from Pennsylvania, after his final showdown against Ismael Hoggui, a French boy in his first year competing. His older brother, Chris, had been competing in the senior division (for players up to 16 years old), but had not made the finals. “I helped Kevin a lot prepare for this final match,” Chris said. “We stayed up until 10.30 and then after I got ready in the morning we came here and played on the Switches together until I felt like he knew what to do. I am very proud!”

Kevin got into competitive Pokémon by watching his brother play: Chris used to go to tournaments alone, but Kevin started joining in after the whole family attended one together in Florida. Chris won the US Seniors division in 2022, making both brothers Pokémon champions. “My dad was the one who took me to my first tournament,” Chris tells me. “He told me, ‘If you’re going to play this so much, you might as well compete in it!’ And they devastated me. I don’t think he’s won a single game. But I had a great time; For me, that’s what playing Pokémon is all about. For me, competing is what brings me fun.”

Like any other sport, competitive Pokémon is an opportunity for kids to connect with other kids who share their interests and build resilience when they lose. “Most of the other competitors are very friendly and no one talks down or is mean to each other or anything like that,” says Kevin. “We all talk between games.” On stage, with hundreds (or thousands) of people watching him live and on Twitch, he says he tries not to look away from the screen: “I try to stay really focused on the game and not everything else.”

I took my own kids to a championship day to soak up the energy and I won’t lie: I’d be delighted if they ever ended up competing like the Hans. The cross-generational (and adorable) nature of Pokémon makes it the most welcoming competitive gaming scene out there. Almost 25 years since I first played Pokémon, it’s heartwarming to see kids making their trainer dreams come true.

What to play

Botany Manor Windmill Wort. Photography: Whitethorn Games

A mix of period drama and puzzle game. botanical mansion It casts you as a retired Victorian botanist wandering around a large inherited mansion tending to rare plants. The puzzles are challenging enough to make me frown, but not difficult enough to leave me stuck, the atmosphere is calm and relaxing, and it’s a bit like The Witness (although less abstract and austere). If you’ve never managed to keep a houseplant alive, don’t worry: its lead designer, Laure de Mey, isn’t particularly interested in gardening either. It’s a topic that came up naturally while she was playing with ideas for a first-person puzzle game.

Available in: PC, Xbox, Nintendo Switch
Estimated playing time:
4 hours

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what to read

Super Mario Maker 2015. Photography: Nintendo
  • An update to this story about the people who tried to finish all 80,000 levels of Super Mario Maker before the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS servers shut down last Monday: they did it! There was one last (illegal) level pending early last week, but out of sheer determination, Team 0% completed it anyway. Related: See how players celebrated/commiserated together over the server shutdown here.

  • A new team is being established at Microsoft to ensure future compatibility and preservation of the game for Xbox, according to Windows Center. Given how much Xbox has spent acquiring its library and its history of offering backwards compatibility, it makes sense that the company would want to preserve gamers’ access to it when a new generation of hardware arrives.

  • The sad, slow decline of video game retail continues: Eurogamer Reports that almost all staff at GAME, the only remaining video games store on the high street, have been moved to zero-hours contracts and told to expect redundancies. This may not surprise anyone who has visited a GAME branch in the last year, as the shelves are mostly filled with EA FC merchandise, jerseys, and copies.

  • London Games Festival takes place this week and comprises several public events across the capital and a mini developers conference. I’m giving a short talk about the book I’m working on. Super nintendoin Thursday tomorrow. If there are any Pushing Buttons readers there, come say hi!

Question block

Shock Bandicoot. Photography: Sony Computer Entertainment

Reader cloe ask:

My five year old son wanted to try Operation Ouch Snot defense – he announced on CBBC – that it seemed like a good introduction to tower defense games. It started well, but the difficulty peak is wild (For both of us). What other games marketed to children have tested your gaming skills as an adult?

For a long time, many games marketed to children simply weren’t very good, especially those tied to a movie or a big franchise, because developers were often given maybe 10 months, if they were lucky, to develop something playable. play remotely. As a result, the games were often extremely Difficult to play because they were a little broken. When my stepson was younger, my partner played stubbornly throughout the horrible Ben 10 connection game, with its complicated jumps and floating combat, because it was too difficult for him to complete.

Then there are games that are unexpectedly difficult because design, like basically all 2D Mario. Only the most talented and dedicated child could reasonably complete any of those games without help. Even now, the post-game challenge in something like mario marvel it’s wild. In fact, most of the cute video games of the 1990s were secretly evil: crash bandicoot, Sonic the Hedgehogeven the old Lion King and mickey mouse games. That’s not to mention the extreme difficulty of basically any game made for 80s home computers. Generation X kids were simply built differently.

If you have any questions for the ask block, or anything else to say about the newsletter, hit reply or email us at pushbuttons@theguardian.com.

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