5 min read

Introducing: The Pokemon Travelogue

Or, maybe, a step too far into the void
Introducing: The Pokemon Travelogue
A 17th century map of Routine Chaos, Stable Diffusion

“So, um, do you want me to let you know if you’re becoming a bit too much like Richard Williams on the one extreme, or Britney Spears’s dad on the other?” My friend asks when I tell her that I’m heading out that afternoon to accompany my children for the first of 7 international Pokemon tournaments over the next 6 months.

This is an entirely reasonable reaction to an entirely bizarre thing that we’re doing. But the children, they have a hobby that seems to have evolved into a passion. And me? To put it bluntly, I have a potential arbitrage opportunity.

Together, we have a mission.

Let me explain.

For the most part, Pokemon tournaments take place in third tier cities that you’d probably not choose to visit otherwise…the shining exception is the Pokemon World Championship, which tends to take place somewhere pretty interesting and for which the Pokemon Company goes all out. 2 years ago it was in London, complete with a stage adorned with Pokemon themed replicas of Big Ben, the London Eye, and a double decker bus and a legitimately cool punk-rock concert poster theme. Last year in Yokohama and the very desirable “Pikachu eating ramen” plushy.

Pokemon World Championships 2023 Yokohama Plush doll Pikachu Ramen New |  eBay
If you don’t think that’s super cute, you should get on the transplant list so you can replace that heart of stone.

This year? Honolulu.

The top 22 players in the juniors age group in Europe get their travel to the World Championships sponsored by the Pokemon Company. Our mission, then, is to have 2 of the top 22 players in Europe. For the kids, it means a chance to compete for the World Championship. For me, it means a free family holiday to Hawaii for all intents and purposes.

OK, technically not free.

To qualify, we need to compete and place well in both local and regional events…which means we need to spend a few weekends traveling to those third tier cities where we will hunker down in some poorly lit convention center and spend two days doing little more than playing the Pokemon card game. For some, this is a dream come true. For others, a necessary sacrifice.

I have nerded out on forecasting scenarios for this. I’ve determined the likely points threshold they’ll need to reach to land in the top 22, and I’ve looked at how players have arrived at those numbers in the past. Are there spreadsheets? Oh yes, there are spreadsheets.

It’s far from a certain proposition, but if the cards fall right then we’ll spend about $2,500 on travel, hotels, event registrations, etc. We’ll recoup somewhere between 50% and 100% of that in prize money1, and then we’ll get about $10,000 toward the world championship trip to Hawaii.

This feels like a fun bet.

The worst case scenario is that we lose all of that money, and we only get to spend 7 fun weekends together traveling around Europe2. The best case scenario is that we get all of that time together, they become globally competitive, win us a free trip to Hawaii, and score thousands of dollars in prizes3. Is this actually arbitrage? Probably not by the official definition, but we probably would have spent roughly this amount of money anyway. Without any real goal, we played 4 events last year, so 3 more this year just isn’t that big of a stretch.

Because of those 4 events, I’ve learned to temper my expectations for the experience. My time on these weekends will be spent:

  • making sure both competitors eat, drink, and use the toilet when needed
  • debriefing matches with them
  • playing Pokemon with the kids in between matches
  • shepherding them between the hotel and the venue
  • making small talk with the other parents
  • watching the finals of the competition (actually surprisingly dramatic most of the time)
  • maybe reading a little bit on the side?

So, about the travelogue

For each of these events, I’ll plan to write a brief travelogue of what another friend half-jokingly called the Pokemon Pro-Am Circuit with something like the following sections:

  • Intro to a third tier city - because, as you’ll see below with really only 1 exception, they all are. And this isn’t a bad thing! Generally, I think of a third tier city as a place that might only be notable for a good quality of life. There’s no reason you’d necessarily visit there but plenty of reason you’d live there. If you have to spend a weekend in a convention center, doing it in a third tier city is as good a place as any! (This footnote is where I poke the bear a little bit, because if you want examples of what I mean, American third tier cities are places like Portland, Austin, and San Diego. I am not speaking derisively about these cities! But there’s not a ton of reason to visit any of them.) Where are we going? Anything interesting to know about that place? What sights will we fail to see? What cuisine will we fail to sample?
  • How we’re rolling - what mode of conveyance will we use, and what interesting things will we encounter along the way?
  • Where we’re eating - realistically, this is going to be a review of the different food offerings available at each of the convention centers and how easy it was to cater to 2 gluten-free kids. We will never have dinner reservations on Saturday night, because I tried that twice last year and got burned both times.
  • What we’re playing - the two kids like to play 2 different styles, and the meta game is always evolving, so what deck will each one play and why?
  • How we did - the reckoning. Are we actually on track to make it to Hawaii? We don’t need to do spectacularly well - grinding out consistent top 16 finishes should be enough. But you never know.

I’m sure I’ll find some other random commentary as well. Will I keep this up for all 7 tournaments? Who knows? We’ll see. Should you read these or just archive them in your inbox? Same answer. But I’m writing this on the train to tournament numero uno, so we should have the first part of the answer pretty soon.

Here’s the lineup:

  • October: Lille, France
  • November: Gdansk, Poland
  • December: Stuttgart, Germany
  • January: Liverpool, England
  • February: Dortmund, Germany
  • March: Utrecht, The Netherlands
  • April: London, England

And if you’re really into this and really want to follow along, I’m tracking performance & expenses here. For those of you who are already rolling your eyes and letting your cursor hover over the unsubscribe link, I’ll send these articles out on the weekend while the normal articles will come out during the week…so if you see something land in your inbox on a Saturday or Sunday, you can just go ahead and archive it.

  1. Yes, seriously. There’s prize money for juniors players. One day, I’ll give the whole story about how we inadvertently discovered this.

  2. In reality, we’ve already eliminated the worst case scenario as they’ve won local tournaments and pulled cards from prize packs that are worth almost $1,000.

  3. In reality, this is highly unlikely. The top tier of the juniors division has been dominated by the Japanese players the past few years. Strangely, the trend doesn’t continue in the upper divisions.