Back in the summer of 2019, I traveled to Berlin, Germany, to visit the European Pokémon Championships in person, watching video game and trading card players battle it out for a spot on the world stage. While it was of course fascinating to see the strategies on show from top tier players, by far the most interesting aspect of the event for me was seeing the tournament’s wide age range of competitors. Perhaps more than any other competitive gaming event I have ever attended, I saw children, teens, young adults and parents all competing side by side. In a world where competitive gaming is so often seen as a hobby for 18-25 year old boys, it was a delight to see a community develop that spread beyond that stereotype.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game community hasn’t always had a particularly great age or gender spread in the competitive scene, but over the past few years that has been vastly improving, in many ways demonstrated by a really charming viral tweet that spread earlier this week. There’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen the tweet if you follow a lot of gaming centric Twitter accounts, but if you’ve not yet seen it the tweet is below.
The tweet was a lovely dose of positivity, with a mix of underdog story and seeing someone unexpectedly take to a hobby without any prior experience. However, as sweet as it was to see a mom pick up a new card game with her daughter and take well to it, the story is made all the better by knowing how the event came about, and what has happened in the days since.
I had an opportunity earlier this week to chat with Pamela Director, AKA PokéMom, as well as her TCG loving daughter Caroline, about how Pokémon trading cards quickly became a point of connection between the pair.
“I use to take Caroline to Pokemon card games at our local bookstore in Vero Beach when she was five years old. She was the only girl among experienced boy players”, Pamela shared, reminiscing on her daughter’s history playing the Pokémon TCG. “Often times she would win. I was always amazed at her confidence. If you can imagine she was so short walking in with such confidence in a sea of guys engaged in excited chatter”.
“At that time I had no interest in the game. I only knew that Caroline loved the game and that was all that mattered. Hence, I took her every Saturday to build her confidence and joy.”
While Pamela had no experience playing the Pokémon TCG before the day of her first local tournament attempt, nor any knowledge of how the game was played, she did have per-existing experience of getting competitive in different card based games.
“I am a competitive person. As a side note my mother is an extremely competitive card player and she whines a lot when she looses lol. It runs in the family. I love playing Bridge, Sequence, Rummikub, and Hand and Foot. I am always interested in learning new games”.
While Pam had spent years taking Caroline to tournaments, it was with a little helpful nudging from her daughter that she decided to dip her toe into playing, rather than just watching along from the sidelines. Where Pam had wanted to come along and show support of her daughter’s hobby, it was Caroline who took the initiative to suggest Pam try her hand at playing too.
“The only reason that I went to the tournament was to get a glimmer of my daughter’s world and spend time with her.”
Considering the length of time the Pokémon TCG has been in active circulation, one of its key strengths compared to other trading card games is its simplicity, and the fact its rules have stayed consistent since its inception. The game has a predictable game pace, limited by how many Energy cards can be played at a time, and a clear concise win condition. According to Pam, the challenge in picking up the game in a morning was more about getting proper context for which cards had value and potential.
“I watched Youtube, “How to play Pokemon TCG” one time and felt a bit overwhelmed, and then Caroline played one game with me before the tournament. Understanding the potential of each card takes time to learn.”
While Pam was very new to the Pokémon TCG upon arriving at Core TCG in Pasadena, California, apparently the staff and other tournament competitors were all nothing but supportive and welcoming. In particular, Caroline and Pam note that the store’s manager, Vigen, was a huge help, and has been really supportive since the event. It didn’t take Pam long at all to understand why her daughter had been so invested in TCG tournaments for all those years.
“The atmosphere was amazing. Everyone was so nice and supportive . There was approximately 40 people and we had to wait to open up our box of multiple packs. When the owner said, “Open your boxes” the room started vibrating with excitement and high chatter. It was like opening packages at Christmas. There were a lot of ooo and ahaha in the room and the shinny beautiful cards were placed excitedly in their friends faces. Laughter and happiness zinged through the air”.
Once the tournament itself was over, a draft format based on building decks from boosters opened on the day, Pam was excited and surprised to end the day in the event’s top eight competitors, placing above her own daughter. While drafts always involve a little luck on what cards you pull to build with, Pam’s placing up the top of the day on her first attempt was still a notable achievement that caught the excitement of a lot of people online, as well as her daughter.
“I would love to go to future tournaments”, Pam excitedly shared. “It is a very special hobby that I can share with my daughter. My daughters live in Burbank and I live in Florida so now I have an opportunity to be with them more often because of the game. Hence, Pokemon game has brought our family closer together”.
However, beyond just bringing their family together, Pam’s enthusiastic engagement with her daughter’s hobby has led to support from the store where she played, fans online, and official tournament organisers. Both Pam and Caroline have been invited to the North Carolina, Charlotte Pokémon TCG Regional Championships, Pam has received a bunch of cards from Core TCG’s manager Vigen to get her started playing, and she now has her own Twitter and YouTube, where she makes really adorable videos starting to learn more about a shared hobby that has brought her and her daughter together.
“Everyone is sending loving messages. It fills my heart. All I try to do in life is create joy and happiness where ever I go. Shazam! I never thought in a million years that this is the way to make people happy. Life has it surprises and gifts and this is truly one. It is so surreal….”
“So parents get out there and play Pokemon games with your children. You may be a winner more than one way.”