[Courtesy Art by Ellie Halm Simmons, Concept by Vincianne Scerri, and Art Direction by Kevin Credo]

Pokémon International Championships Came to the Crescent City

10:00 June 10, 2024
By: Kevin Credo

Catchin' 'Em All in Grand Old New Orleans

A live jazz band plays at the New Orleans International Airport, greeting waves of travelers for one of the city's biggest events of the summer. The bell cover of the tuba is displaying the iconic blue and yellow logo of the highest-grossing pop-culture franchise in the world: Pokémon.

Pokémon International Championships in the Convention Center [Photo by Kevin Credo]

Being shown this by one of the event staff at the Morial Convention Center was just one example of many by which I came to understand the scale of the Pokémon International Championships for North America. Countless fans of the iconic monster catching-and-battling series had descended from across the country, even across the world, to watch and play on the competitive circuit of Pocket Monsters. The three-day Pokémon celebration was first and foremost a competition, with players from the Pokémon Trading Card Game, Video Game Competition, and the Pokémon GO and Pokémon Unite mobile games taking enough floorspace to rival the 38-float procession of Orpheus.

Main Tournament Stage [Photo by Kevin Credo]

Prizes could be redeemed for victories in the competition, but the real prize—and the real pressure—came from the live streamed, filmed competitions on the main stage of the event. The on-stage bouts received full in-depth commentary of their players strategies, from a dedicated commentary staff, for both the crowd and an audience of over 700 to 1000 Twitch subscribers. On the ground, the spectators, with their own Spectator Badges, were lucky to have the privilege of getting an autograph from the players as well as the commentary team. For the first weekend of June, the Convention Center felt host to the most in-depth competition coverage to be found anywhere south of the Belmont Stakes.

For all of the talk of competition, it's worth noting that there were several things to see and do for those looking for something a bit more casual. A "Pokémon Play Lab" was there to offer hands-on experiences for the various games being duked out a few doors down. An exclusive pop-up "Pokémon Center"—named after the in-game locations at which trainers heal their battle-weary monsters—offered exclusive rare merchandise ranging from 2024 Championships mugs and notebooks to designer hoodies and sweaters, as well as plush miniatures of dozens of different Pokémon species. Visitors in the main foyer of the venue could pose for photographs with iconic mascot Pokémon Pikachu and Eevee, and an exclusive Scarlet and Violent poster design was offered in exchange for testing out demos of the latest Nintendo Switch series titles.

Pokémon Mascot Eevee [Photo by Kevin Credo]

Upstairs, the Trading Card Game lived up to its name with both an official card swap meet area, as well as third-party vendors selling collectibles, booster packs of cards, and professionally-graded collectible cards that could easily run for hundreds of dollars. Out of curiosity, I began looking for cards of an old childhood favorite Pokémon: Articuno. By buying one booster pack and trading around, I ended up with no less than four different Articunos. If I'd bought a separate collector's prize Articuno with different stats from the ones that swappers were willing to essentially give out for free, it would've cost me several hundred bucks.

New Orleans is hardly any stranger to pop-culture fandom. Fan Expo, formerly New Orleans Comic Con, has been a mainstay of the Convention Center's winters for many years. The nearby Hilton Riverside still echoes with the distant memories of the since-disbanded MechaCon anime convention, the shoes of which have just recently begun being filled in by an event at the Sheraton named WasabiCon. And, of course, how could anyone forget Chewbacchus' grand Carnival procession from the Marigny to the Fillmore? Pokémon continues the spirit of all of these, adding in a truly national, even international attendance—an atmosphere where competitive e-sports teams can regularly be heard conversing their strategies in Spanish or Japanese. And with a massively successful event, Pokémon has already confirmed their intent to return to the Morial Convention Center in 2025. We've got a whole year left to get those competitive teams ready, or at the very least, to get a little closer to "catchin' 'em all."

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