9 min read

The Pokemon Travelogue: London

Is this the end, or just the beginning?
The Pokemon Travelogue: London

Welp, folks, we did it...we have reached the end of our planned 8 edition guide through the European competitive Pokemon scene, culminating with the European International Championship in London. If you're just joining the party and want to dig into the previous editions, they're here:

Of course, the original purpose behind this exercise was to make it to the World Championships in Hawaii this August...and as of this writing, both kids have qualified. So maybe we've got a little more juice in the battery.

Intro to a Third Tier City the Third Tier Part of A First Tier City

Maybe you saw London and thought, “heeeeey, finally they’re going somewhere that I’ve heard of.” And you’re not wrong, but if you’re imagining that we’re playing in the shadows of Big Ben, Parliament, and the London Eye, well - let me encourage you to look a little bit farther east. And if you’re remembering someone saying recently that actually East London is the kind of grungy, hip part of London these days, well - keep going even farther east. Because we are in Docklands. I am not surprised that you’ve never heard of it before and are in fact dubious of its existence, but it is real and actually in London, and the only reason you might ever go there if you’re in London for something that is non-Pokemon related is because you have a flight from London City Airport. The best thing about London Docklands is that it sits on the Elizabeth Line, so it doesn’t take you long to get into central London. Did we do that? Of course not. We’re here for the Pokemon. We’re not leaving the Docklands area. We may as well be in Liverpool for all I care [1].

But we’ve been here before. This is, in fact, our 3rd time in London for an international Pokemon tournament. The World Championships were here in 2022, and the European Championships followed suit in 2023. The same venue all 3 times, so at this point we navigate on autopilot from the airport to our hotel, from our hotel to the venue, and back again. We have stayed at the same hotel every time too because the kids erroneously believe that it has a great breakfast buffet, and because they’ve seen other Pokemon players who stay there - and this time proved to be no exception on either front. The breakfast was exactly as it has been for the last two years, and as we ate breakfast on Saturday, who should stride in but Azul Garcia Griego - Pokemon streamer and 2 time international champion.

The third tier part of a first tier city does still benefit from that whole first tier thing…public transit is generally better than in most third tier cities. It’s easier to find a grocery store. There are more restaurants. And, of course, the people - we know so many people in London. Last year I organized to meet up for dinner with a dozen good friends…and arrived an hour late because - as we’ll get into below - an international championship is a longer, more intense affair. So that was kind of a bust, and this year I didn’t even try - though surrogate uncle Jorian, he who provided the throwback water energy that propelled Tommy to victory in Dortmund, made the long train ride out to see us on Sunday.

Comparing apples to apples, the 2022 European Championship was in Frankfurt - for my money, the worst city over 500,000 people in Western Europe - so I’ll happily take third tier London over that.

How we’re rolling

In the past, we have taken the train to London and then flown home…but last year that meant we barely got to the venue in time to get the kids checked in for competition the following day, so this year we flew both ways.

And much as I dislike flying, let me sing the praises of KLM because if I have to fly these days I am a KLM ride or die.

I wish we were on this concept plane. Alas, we were not. (Source)

Amsterdam to London is a “45 minutes in the air, you might not finish a full episode of a TV show” kind of affair. The KLM flight crew pulled off a whole drinks & snack service on that flight, and it didn’t even feel rushed. They are hallmarks of friendly efficiency, very on brand for the Netherlands.

Where we’re eating

You have to hand it to London ExCel, the hosting venue: it has an incredible variety of mediocre food. Within the gargantuan building, you can find mediocre burritos, mediocre sushi & poke, mediocre fried chicken, even mediocre Afghani.

And that is light years better than every single other venue we’ve been to this year. Do I really have to tell you that the food in a convention center is mediocre? Probably not. It’s almost like it’s in the nature of the industrial packaging that necessitates convention centers in the first place that they must have mediocre food. Most of them, though, have a single kind of mediocre food - generally some sort of sandwich - and heaven help you if you have any sort of dietary restriction.

So, sincerely, kudos to ExCel for the fact that I never had to worry about keeping the kids fed.

Let me also say that even third tier London is still a very, very good food city once you get outside of its business hotels and convention centers. We had dinner Friday night at a wood-fired pizza place that also had gluten free crusts, and not only was the food wholly satisfying, the service was so friendly.

The same was true of the cafe where we met up with Jorian - the pastries were delicious, the staff was friendly, the environment was colorful and comfortable.

Yeah, sure we also ate McDonalds takeaway on Saturday night because competition finished so late that every restaurant in ExCel had closed for the day…and supposedly it’s interesting to explore the different options at McDonalds in different countries, but - aside from the fact that you can get beer with a value menu in Spain - I generally find that not to be true. We did, however, get some limited time only Cadbury Cream Egg McFlurrys…so no complaints.

What we’re playing

Um…it’s complicated. And it’s complicated for 2 reasons. The first reason? Only 1 Trudeau child was competing in the card game (TCG).

When registration opened for the tournament, all of the spots were taken in less than a minute! While we applied for both kids simultaneously, only Tommy managed to snag a spot. Websites were refreshed fervently, tears were shed, appeals were sent to the organizers, but all for naught. Despite being ranked #21 in Europe ahead of the tournament, Nate was unable to compete in Pokemon TCG at the European championships and thus was almost guaranteed to drop out of the top 22 that qualifies for a travel award to the World Championships.

But then we noticed something: yeah, sure, TCG was full and seemed destined to stay so, but the videogame competition (VGC) still had open spots…and a single top 8 finish in what was sure to be a small field would be enough to get Nate a top 16 finish in Europe for the videogame, allowing him to collect the travel award and still play TCG at worlds. It was a desperate attempt at a fluke outcome, but we decided it was better than not playing at all.

However, I will spare you all of the details of Nate’s team, because the dynamics of VGC are completely different from TCG, and I find it much less interesting and really really don’t want to recount it. All you need to know is that at 11:30pm on Thursday before out 8:30am flight on Friday, both kids were still awake trying to refine Nate’s team. Who doesn’t love managing airport logistics with 2 kids running on 5 hours of sleep?

The second complication, as alluded to in the previous edition, is that TCG had a huge card rotation. A bunch of cards became ineligible for competition and a bunch of new cards came into play, with this tournament being the first time those cards were eligible; this completely upended the meta - almost everyone was going to be playing a new deck in this tournament, even the players who were still riding with Snorlax Stall. The only exception would be those darn Charizard players, who might have changed a few cards in their deck but were still basically playing the same thing…and while this might seem like an advantage, what it really meant was that Charizard was the one deck that everyone was prepared for [2].

Tommy decided to dust off an old classic, a deck that had been somewhat popular about a year ago but receded when some new cards came into play in a previous rotation: the combination of Arceus VStar and Alolan Vulpix VStar…but they threw in some spice, adding in the newly released Noivern ex.

Turning off all Basic attacks - that's Noivern's jam.

This was a deck designed to disrupt the other player by blocking their abilities and their attacks, and Tommy was into it but also thought it might be a little bit of a placeholder because there is another set of new cards coming in the next 2 months and one in particular that they have their heart set on…

How we did

London was not a same old, same old run of the mill regional tournament like I’ve been writing about in previous installments. London was an international championship (IC). That is not a semantic difference; for the ICs, top competitors from around the world get travel awards to attend, so there’s a healthy mix of non-European players thrown into the mix - and the best non-European players to boot. It is a different level of competition, and as a result even more championship points are at play. It’s also a larger field - 200 players in the junior division of TCG this time, almost 50% bigger than the biggest regional this year. 55 players for VGC, almost 3 times the size of most European regionals.

Nate sat down for his first round of VGC and immediately had a minor panic attack. I still don’t know why exactly, but he felt sick to his stomach - which at first I thought was the Holiday Inn Express breakfast, but turned out to be entirely nerves. We talked it over, he calmed down, and went out and won his first match. In the second round, he faced off against a previous World Championship top 4 player and somehow won again. It was all downhill from there, though. In round 3, he was one move away from beating the eventual runner up at the event, and then he dropped his final 3 matches for a record of 2-4. Our dream of the fluke top 8 was not to be. No one was too disappointed. It would have been hilarious though.

Tommy say down for his first round of TCG across from a Canadian player who had received a travel award to compete. They had actually faced each other before at the beginning of the season in Lille, and the other kid had barely pulled off the win. This time would not prove to be quite so close, and Tommy was Yohann’s first victim of many. When the dust settled on the tournament, it was Yohann who was the last junior standing as the champion of the whole tournament. The ArcPix deck was built to dominate Charizards and Snorlaxes, and there were plenty of them in the field - but Tommy didn’t match up with any until the final 3 rounds. At the end of 8 rounds, Tommy’s record was 4-3-1; they finished 72nd in a tournament where the top 64 players took championship points. The margin of error between a top 64 finish literally just came down to resistance - the kids who finished 55-64 had the same record, but they had played better opponents.

That means that for the first time all season, neither competitor took points in a competition.

…but I have a secret: I care less about points and more about position. All of this non-European players? They showed up in force, grabbing 33 of the top 64 spots. Of the remaining 31 spots, most of them went to players who were already ranked above Nate in the standings. Several of them went to European players who weren’t even in the top 100 coming into this tournament.

Sure, both kids slid down the table a little bit, but as of today Tommy is #15 - still firmly in the top 22 - and Nate only dropped to #26. And both of them have only scored in 5 regional tournaments, so they could technically still play one of the last two events of the season? That wasn’t in the plan at the beginning of the season…but, um, watch this space.

  1. kidding! kidding…we’d definitely rather not be in Liverpool.
  2. and ultimately that didn’t matter in the Masters tournament where living legend Tord Reklev rocked up with a unique build of the Charizard and ran the table