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Why You (A Collector) Should Attend the Pokemon World Championships

Worlds takes place from August 16-18 in Washington, D.C. Here’s why you should be there.

Pokemon’s annual World Championships brings together the best of the best from around the world in the Trading Card Game, Video Game Championships, and Pokken Tournament to battle it out for the highest competitive honor: world champion. While this event is Pokemon’s most well-known tournament and results in some of the hobby’s most coveted and expensive cards, it’s mostly attended only by those who are competing and their families. Despite the low attendance by others, “Worlds,” as it is affectionately referred to, offers unique opportunities for collectors that are there in person. In this article, I’ll outline why making the trip to Worlds is a no-brainer for any collector.

Before getting into what Worlds is and why it’s so great, it’s important to discuss what Worlds isn’t. Worlds is mainly organized by the Japanese division of TPCi, which has a specific vision for the tournament and executes it to a high standard. This vision is about a celebration of the players, and does not take into account collectors or other Pokemon fans. Don’t expect to see independent vendor stalls, collectors selling cards on the convention floor, or anything that isn’t 1000% Pokemon-approved. In fact, selling cards at Worlds is quite risky. While you will likely be able to get access to exceedingly rare items (see later in the article), you need to be aware that you should do all deals outside the convention center or risk getting kicked out. I haven’t attended enough Worlds to have a sense of this myself, but I’ve been told by those who have been going for many years that Pokemon has cracked down hard on selling within the convention center. Gone are the days of where Japanese sellers had binders of mint, exclusive promos open at tables within the halls, free for you to peruse and purchase at your leisure. Again, Worlds is not designed for collectors. Your focus should be less on the event itself and more on the people and the opportunities the event draws. So without any further ado, let’s get into it.

PART 1: TROPHY CARDS

Worlds provides the best opportunity to acquire some of the rarest new cards in the hobby today: trophy cards. “Trophy card” is really just a fan-made term used to describe any extremely-limited release card which is awarded to winners of a tournament. These cards have been around since the beginning of Pokemon, from the SSBs and the Family Event Trophy Kangaskhan of the 90s to the full art Pikachus of today. The full art Pikachu artwork debuted in 2014, with Number 1 and 2 Trainer cards featuring unique gold and silver artwork, while Nos. 3 and 4 share the same artwork and differ only in the number. Distribution has varied across time periods, but in modern times trophy cards are awarded to the top four players from each age division (Juniors, Seniors, and Masters) in both the TCG and VGC. As such, only six of each trophy card are awarded every year, making these some of the most limited-release Pokemon cards out there. This limited release corresponds to high prices, with a competitive offer for any of the cards beginning in the thousands of dollars and rising depending on which card you wish to acquire. Logically and in reality, the Nos. 3 and 4 Trainer cards are on the lower end, while the Nos. 1 and 2 are higher.

Having the large sums of money necessary to pay for a trophy card is only one part of the equation, however. With only six of each copy released per year, finding someone who will sell is the key. Worlds is the only place where all the winners will be relatively accessible to hear your sales pitch. Every winner is different and none are predictable, some will consider their trophy card to be priceless and may even be offended by your offer to purchase it, while a smaller number are eager to offload it for the high value it commands. Chances are, you will also find some winners in the middle: unlikely to seek out a sale, but will listen if you approach them. There are many more ins-and-outs to purchasing trophy cards at Worlds of which I am not qualified to speak to, but the fact remains that if you want one, Worlds is your best (and often only) shot.

PART 2: UNIQUE ACCESS TO SIGNING OPPORTUNITIES

Autographed cards have quickly become a popular part of Pokemon collecting, with the public emergence of artists like Mitsuhiro Arita as a major contributing factor. Arita is the most prolific (and therefore most accessible) signer in Pokemon, but Worlds offers the opportunity to get cards signed by much more exclusive individuals. The exact lineup is rarely released ahead of time, but 2018 Worlds in Nashville featured signing opportunities from Tsunekazu Ishihara, Junichi Masuda, and the aforementioned Mitsuhiro Arita. Other artists and fixtures from the history of Pokemon such as Ken Sugimori are known to make appearances as well. Signing appearances from artists and game designers like these are exceedingly rare, and Worlds is the best place for western collectors where you can at least have the chance to get an item signed by one of them.

However, keep in mind the beginning part of this article: Worlds is not designed for collectors. Entrance to the signings is randomly determined among players who qualify for Worlds. In Nashville, players had a chance to receive a wristband in their welcome bags which granted them access to one specific signing. Getting access to the signing will require purchasing the access band (or the latest iteration of it) from a selected player. Keep in mind that these are stated to be non-transferrable, but beyond checking photo IDs at the door there isn’t much that Pokemon can do to stop them from being exchanged. You should, however, avoid drawing attention to yourself. Showing up at all the signings will likely get you at minimum some looks. In terms of cost, in Nashville prices for the bands varied based on the signer. Arita bands were the least expensive and could be had for around $40-60, while others traded hands for closer to $100. Remember that the market for these is determined on-site and may be higher or lower based on a variety of factors.

PART 3: MASSIVE, UNPARALLELED, IN-PERSON ACCESS TO UNGRADED CARDS

As this article is posted on a website dedicated to grading your cards, I would assume all readers have a significant interest in professional grading. We all know the risk we take when purchasing cards relatively blind off of eBay with only 2-3 pictures to judge its condition, and the hassle that ensues if the card isn’t as described. Relying on major marketplaces like eBay is key to getting the lowest price possible for cards, but can be less conducive to collectors who are seeking out high-quality examples of cards in hopes of the elusive Gem Mint 10 grade.

Worlds brings together Pokemon fans from all over the world, and TCG players especially are often collectors on the side. While there won’t be large numbers of graded cards or serious collectors at Worlds, trade binders are plentiful and extensive. The in-person access and large amount of cards available makes it easy to seek out cards in the condition you desire, and viewing the card in person is often enough to give one a solid idea of where it would land on a professional grading scale, and therefore whether it is worth a purchase or trade offer. As I stated previously, watch out when making purchase offers on the convention floor, as these do come with a risk. I’d strongly advise bringing a trade binder of your own for others to peruse, as trades are often more common among TCG players and less serious collectors.

While an argument could be made for the North American International Championships as bringing together a larger number of people (one must be invited to Worlds, all other Pokemon Championships are open) a comparable event which provides the level of in-person access to the variety of cards that Worlds does is yet to come to fruition. So even if you aren’t interested in trophy cards or signed cards, I can virtually guarantee that if you spend enough time in the free play area of Worlds, you will find highly unique cards that you would not have the opportunity to purchase elsewhere, and you will also find strong mint cards with the opportunity for a 10 grade.

PART 4: THE PEOPLE & THE EXPERIENCE

Collecting Pokemon cards is often a solitary affair, with much of the interaction with fellow collectors coming from social media and online forums. Few events are held which focus on card collectors, even fewer of which are well-organized and provide enough to justify the expenses of a flight and accommodations. Over the years, however, a growing number of collectors have traveled to Worlds in order to meet up in person, socialize, share stories, show off collections, trade/sell cards, and have a great time. The times I’ve traveled to meet up with fellow collectors have been some of the most rewarding, fun, and exciting times I’ve had in the hobby, both in terms of additions to my collection and personal enjoyment. Even if you’re unable to make it to this World Championships, I highly suggest you keep in mind the next year’s tournament, or at minimum make an effort to attend when the event comes closer to you.

PART 5: WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?

If I’ve convinced you to attend Worlds, there are a few logistical things you should be aware of, both for this specific tournament and in general:

  • In order to enter the convention hall as a non-competitor, you will need to purchase a spectator badge. The past few years, these have been available for purchase online in mid-late July and have cost $10. Keep an eye out for when they will be on sale. In the past they have also came with two booster packs of the most recent set.
  • Boxes of cards often show up as suspicious items on TSA scanners. If you are bringing cards in your carry-on luggage, be ready to have your cards rifled through by an airport security officer and protect them accordingly.
  • The event is being held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. I highly recommend booking a hotel close to the convention center as that will be where almost all the activity is centered. Hostel accommodations are also available close to the convention center for those on a budget.
  • D.C. features two airports: Reagan National and Dulles. Reagan National is closer to the city center and provides direct access to D.C.’s public transportation. If you fly into Dulles, which is about 25 miles outside of the city center, you will need to take a bus to connect to the public transit. Some budget airlines will market flights to D.C. but fly you to Thurgood Marshall airport outside of Baltimore. You will be able to take a train to D.C., but be aware of the increased travel time.

"FourthStarTCG is a Japanese and English PSA graded card collector, focusing on the EX series and modern (BW-on) eras. Follow him on YouTube: youtube.com/c/fourthstartcg and on instagram @fourthstartcg."

This was quoted by Ethan Pohl - Author

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