As my eyes registered the sights presented to me in the Vue at Manchester Printworks, I discovered that no one was exempt from joining the fun. Roughly 20 teenagers, students, and children had turned up to indulge in their shared passion. Even the parents who accompanied their children had no interest in removing the smiles from their faces.
On the subject of passion, I had only to take one fleeting glance at any 3DS that sat on the tables arranged in a speed date style to get a feel for how much of it was in that room. Each one was adorned with a custom design – often relating to Pokémon – which demonstrated each participant’s individuality.
On that 18th day of May, my gaming senses identified an overarching feeling of community and comradery. Indeed, this may have something to do with the fact that many of the players present in that room were regulars to the event. As well as this, not many of them are shy to the other tournaments that run throughout this great country.
However, when my presence was announced, even the simple act of a participant striking conversation with me was enough to make me feel like part of the community. Thus, that is the word I wish to use as I recount my time at the Manchester Ultra MSS and PC Weekend: community.
The Main Event – Midseason Showdown
After a slight delay, the main event was underway. A Midseason Showdown (MSS) is a semi-frequent affair. Therefore, it is quite the event. This was evident right from the word go as silence filled the room. Each and every participant displayed unwavering focus and concentration. Needless to say, it was very tense.
This intensity would continue for 4 rounds of best of 3 actions capped at 50 minutes. Once a round had concluded, the participants turned their gazes to the big screen to catch the stats. With each win came a wealth of Championship Points. However, these points are not simply for bragging rights.
As a matter of fact, one of the participants I spoke with Informed me that he was but a few points away from securing the amount necessary to be invited to the World Championships. Certainly, this is something that one of the event organisers, Daniel King, wishes to see in the future.
“Personally, I want to see a strong local scene for my players”, he stated in our brief interview. As well as this, Daniel went on to say that he wished for this local scene to help them “to do better and go on to bigger tournament successes”.
Undoubtedly, this is a man who cares deeply for the players that form the backbone of his community. Daniel has been running these tournaments in Manchester since 2017 which have attracted players from Birmingham, Dublin, London and Aberystwyth.
Before I knew it, all 4 rounds had finished. The best of each division were brought forth to receive their prizes: the Juniors (children), the Seniors (teenagers), the Masters (young adults). What really struck me about the whole presentation was that I could not detect a single hint of jealousy. Instead, I found only respect, just as it should be in any community.
Process of Elimination – Top Cut
Up until this point in the day, it had all been fun and games since no one was facing the threat of elimination. However, this was all about to change.
As it turned out, all losses accrued during the 4 prior rounds incurred greater consequences than previously believed as only the top 4 players from those battles were granted access to the next stage.
The tension was dialled up to 11 as those who made the Top Cut were paired up and made to do battle once more. Although the best of 3 rule and 50-minute time limit still applied, suffering even a single loss could have meant the difference between securing the top prize and going home relatively empty handed.
50 minutes passed, the first round ended, and two participants were eliminated. However, if this were not tense enough, what came next was guaranteed to get the heart racing.
With the top prize hanging in the balance, the top 2 competitors took their seats. Meanwhile, those who were not so lucky could only watch as the deciding duel was displayed in all of its glory on the big screen. The pressure was on, and both of the successful Pokémon trainers knew this. If it bothered them, they expertly concealed it.
Following a long, gruelling, and close battle, the victor claimed a reward of his own choosing. However, not before displaying respect for his opponent. A respect that was admirably reciprocated.
Being but a mere observer to what was unfolding, I was taken aback by just how much better these e-warriors were at understanding what makes a strong community compared to those in sports that drop the “e”. They treat each other as revered equals and never fail to focus on the positives that arise from a loss such as the knowledge that it supplies them with.
Double Trouble – Premier Challenge
Although the Midseason Showdown was the star attraction, this should, by no means, take anything away from the thrill of the Premier Challenge (PC).
In fact, these thrills were twofold. Not only was there a shot at redemption for those who had not previously breached the Top Cut, but there was also only one opportunity for victory as the PC operated on best of 1 rules. With a shorter, 20-minute time limit, participants had to employ more effective and efficient strategies.
Other than this, the Midseason Showdown and Premier Challenge play out in mostly the same way. A blessing in disguise as this granted me the necessary time to simply spectate each player and gain a greater understanding of this ever-growing gaming community through my observations.
Most notable among these observations was the players who took their dedication to this craft to the next level, casting a razor-sharp eye on their nemesis’ every move and seeking out any sign of weakness. Once that critical flaw was revealed, they took note of it, using this to assist them in making their one chance for victory the only one they would need.
Fortunately, for the defeated combatants, learning from their mistakes to better themselves as players is all part of the fun. This was reinforced by one of the regulars I spoke to who told me that he attends the event to indulge in the unmitigated joy of doing what he loves while simultaneously learning from the other players who eclipse his skill and experience.
However, it was another sentence that escaped his lips which had the most staying power with me. This being that he believed the tournament to have the power to break down barriers. If this does not say all that needs to be said about gaming and its ability to unite disparate individuals through a mutual interest, then I know not what to add.
As the Top Cut Elimination Rounds came and went for the second time that evening all that was left for this reporter to do was rest, enjoy the conclusion, and reflect on what had lead up to this moment.
The highly skilled, dedicated and passionate individuals I surrounded myself with had endured at least 8 rounds of Pokémon battling action, all coming away with gleaming smiles.
Those who demonstrated the most admirable of skills on the battlefield were then afforded the opportunity to establish their dominance in a friendly and respectful manner.
Now, that time had come again. However, the crowning of the overall winner was not the focus. Instead, it lay in the fact that everyone was having an unforgettable time together as lovers of Pokémon.
As the old adage claims, it is not about the destination, but rather the journey that brings you there, and that journey will always feel far more rewarding with friends coming along for the ride.