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Act Locally: Building a Local VGC Community

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blog-article1.jpgHello and welcome to my first Nugget Bridge article! This guide is meant to help both new and old players become more active in the Video Game Championship community, whether that means starting your own local VGC group or finding one that already exists. If you’re running an event, how can you be more welcoming to new players? How can you attract new players, and how can you get them interested in our format? These are just a few of the questions I hope to get you thinking about. VGC is expanding more than ever every year, and now is your chance to get involved and make a difference.

I’m new. Where can I go to play locally?

Congratulations! You’ve come to the right people, and hopefully we can get you started here at Nugget Bridge. It’s great to play online, but nothing quite compares to meeting up in real life. One of the best things you can do is introduce yourself on the forums and get to know where everyone is, and if they already have regular area meet-ups (even if it isn’t exclusively for playing VGC). You can often find updates on local events in the Local Tournaments section of the forums. Are you anywhere near a Battle Roads TCG event? It might be worth stopping by, as a lot of TCG players are also interested in VGC and actively play both. Some PTOs (Premier Tournament Organizers) are very interested in expanding into VGC, and it wouldn’t hurt to ask them about local players. If any of your local video game stores host tournaments, try and make an effort to get to them even if the battle format is different. VGC players are everywhere, but unfortunately we don’t have a lot of resources to host regular VGC events at the moment. This is where you can come in and make a difference!

Alright, but what can I do?

Good question! Here are some suggestions:

  • Join or start a Pokémon club at your school
  • Grab your friends, host your own tournament!
  • Does your EB Games, GameStop, or any other game store host Pokémon Tournaments? If not, go fix it!
  • Do you live near a comic or pop culture store? Even if they don’t host TCG, VGC can always be a good start.
  • Video game events like Video Games Live or conventions big and small are a GREAT place to meet new people interested in playing.

Clubs

One of the best places you can go to play with other people is your school’s Pokémon club. If there is one in place already, you’re in luck! There are already people actively participating that you can meet up with, and you won’t have to push for starting a new club. If there isn’t one but you know people might be interested, take the initiative and propose it. Don’t limit yourself to VGC only: let people know they’re welcome to come by and play TCG or talk about the anime. Pokémon is a huge community and it’s worth it to get to know anyone and everyone you can. Advertise your club via social networking and the traditional poster, and don’t give up if you only end up with a few people. Everyone counts and every expansion is another step, no matter how small.

I want to play with my friends! Where should I start?

You have friends who are interested in VGC? You’re lucky and you should definitely take advantage of that. The best thing about playing with your friends is that you don’t really have to provide ulterior motivation (such as tournament prizes etc), your friends will probably play with you either way. If they’re new to competitive Pokémon, you can talk to them about starting with singles or jumping right into doubles. If they’re really new, then you could probably direct them to the Beginners section here on Nugget Bridge before you dive straight into playing.

The best thing about playing with your friends is that you can play as long as you want even with a very small group. You can decide when you’re all available, and you don’t have to fiddle around with people that might not understand VGC as a whole or deal with slow club days. It’s the easiest way to ease yourself into hosting an event of your own and practice organizing other players besides yourself.

I began hosting my own tournaments with friends for every new game release, since it kept everyone who couldn’t travel to events playing the game in person even in the off season. It was difficult for us because we lived in Canada and, until last year, the closest Regional was over two hours away in another country. I hosted a mix of both singles and doubles tournaments with a group of about 5 people, and we would spend literally all day battling each other. My tournaments set some of them on the path to competitive VGC with better and more creative teams being used each time we played. I did end up offering prizes, though, since I had neat Pokémon merchandise available to me and it was an option, but I’m sure bragging rights would have been good enough as well.

If your friends are opposed to playing competitively but enjoy Pokémon as a game, try appealing to the social aspect. I have made some truly amazing friendships thanks to the VGC community, and because of them I’ve been able to travel to places I otherwise never would have gone. All it took was looking at some photos from the 2010 World Finals to get myself going, and I’ve never looked back.

Local Game stores, Comic stores, and Pop Culture

If you live in the United States and you play Pokémon, you’ve probably been to or at least heard of the various GameStop and EB Games tournaments. They’re usually the only places a more casual player will go to for live tournaments, even though game stores can sometimes use odd rules. The problem with these tournaments is that the store only wants to use them to promote new game releases or sales, which makes sense, but is often unfortunate for the more serious players and new players alike. If the person in charge of the tournament doesn’t play or understand Pokémon, they aren’t going to make very informed decisions when it comes to rules. No proper judges and often no hack checking is a true curse, and it would be great if someone could go out and fix that.

Is there anything to lose in asking the store manager if you can be that fix? If you show them that you know your stuff and that you can dedicate time to hosting, they might just let you play in their store. And the best thing about playing in a popular store is the advertising! Store tournaments, oddly enough, have more advertising than TPCi’s sanctioned events, which is kind of terrible and needs to change if we want to attract more players.

If your thing isn’t games and Pokémon is second to the mighty board, then you’re still in luck because Comic and Pop Culture stores are awesome, and they want you to host tournaments without having to spend any money. It’s even better if people play Pokémon TCG there already, and it gets even more awesome if your store hosts Battle Roads! Assuming there are no Pokémon events there already, it’s a great opportunity to build your own group since groups happen to stick really well in independent stores. Get yourself familiarized with the normal crowd and find out if they’re interested in playing, or even just learning to play. But again, don’t limit others to just a tournament for VGC. Make all people interested in Pokémon feel welcome and find out what they like to play and how serious they are about it. Maybe not everyone will fall into your groove, but you’re still expanding your horizons.

I had my first larger hosting experience at my local independent comic store. I knew the owners, and I knew some of the players. I went every week for games night on Wednesdays, and even though they had never hosted a Pokémon event ever before, they were excited to do it and I was excited to introduce new players. It started as an actual VGC tournament, but as it progressed I realized a lot of the people coming were interested in learning or getting back into Pokémon in general. In the end, I hosted the first official Pokémon Day, advertised over Facebook and a poster in the window of the store. The owner was even nice enough to put all Pokémon in his store at 20% off. It was a successful day of introductions and battling in VGC and TCG, until I had to leave when it lasted much longer than I thought it would. Remember that players of all ages are going to show up, and as the host you have to keep them occupied! If there is anything the members of this community have taught me, it’s that nobody is ever too young to play seriously. That’s why we have the juniors and seniors divisions, after all.

What about other events?

Pokémon is first and foremost, a video game. If you’re going anywhere for any kind of gaming event, find out if Pokémon will be involved! If it isn’t, you can try and make it happen. All kinds of conventions already have their own mini Pokémon leagues, and those are a GREAT way to meet and play with new people of all levels of play. Is there a gaming concert coming to town? Ask if you can arrange something during the pre-show -- most concerts like Video Games Live have a few hours of tournaments before the show starts.  If you think Pokémon can fit, then it probably can, and it never hurts to ask.

Before I wrap things up, I have a quick interview from Mark H. (Crawdaunt) who manages the Pokémon club at the University of Victoria, a great example of a successful and welcoming club for fans of all ages.

Hi Mark! Why don't you begin by telling us a bit about the Uvic Pokémon club and yourself?

The UVic Pokémon Club is a place where people can go for both weekly League play (as in the official type of league sponsored by TPCi) as well as just casual hangout time. We pride ourselves on reaching out to the community at large, and are set to try and expand the Pokémon community here in Victoria (which we have done pretty darned well I'd say!).

As for myself, I've been a fan ever since I was 7 or 8. In grade 3, I remember I made a Pokéball out of a tennis ball, where I chopped it almost in half and removed the felt, then just colored the top red and gave it the Pokéball button. It was awesome. I lost it behind a bookcase in my math classroom. That made me sad.

Then I got back into the game in 4th gen, and I've been super into the game since. I never realized it was so strategic until I was already in university. I've taken more to the TCG since there are so many events and such an active community. But my roots lie in VGC, and I am still playing the metagame even if I don't get to enter events.

How did the club start (or the VGC/TCG portion if you weren't around at the start) and what was it like at first? Busy? Slow?

The UVic Pokémon Club actually has an interesting history. How we started was through the local anime convention "Tsukino Con." At the convention, I decided it would be super awesome to come up with a Pokémon League event where trainers challenged the E4 on their 4th gen cartridges, and 1st place won a reserve copy of Black or White (yet to be released). And in that first year, we got like... 55 people from around the area that came out and competed. And that doesn't include the 8 gym leaders and 3 E4 members we had on staff. So after all that, we decided we needed a Pokémon Community.

That said, I founded the club by going to our student society and applying to start a club. We advertised through the anime convention, and through the university, but it was still not too active at the start. We got around 5-10 people per week, which was still a fun time. We allowed both VG and TCG, though TCG wasn't as active yet.

What does the club focus on regarding TCG and VGC? (for example, team building/deck building, hosting live tournaments etc)

Well... we allow both VG and TCG at league. And as for tournaments, we try and keep a healthy mix of TCG and VGC. We admittedly have better turnouts for TCG, though. After starting our league, I also became an official TO for TPCi, which means I can sanction tournaments for organized play. I don't think this has helped turnouts at tournaments in the slightest, but I think it is very good for trying to show TPCi that our community exists and is thriving.

How many members are there, and how did you or others promote the club?

Right now, we have some ridiculous number, like 140 people, on our mailing list. However, we actually get anywhere from 15-40 people stop by in a week. The best promotion I've had is simply word of mouth. Despite starting through the anime convention, the big thing that got us going was club signup days and just actively promoting the club at school.

Whenever I get into a conversation with someone, and Pokémon comes up in some fashion, I'm sure to let them know about the club. However, some other things we've done is advertising at local comic shops or putting up posters on campus. Lately, I've been leaving my 3DS on with my streetpass message saying "FacebookUVicPkMn" so that anyone I streetpass finds out about us. And from a massive advertising campaign, I consider even 1 new member a success.

That said, if you have any gaming conventions, or anime conventions nearby... That is a great place to recruit.

How often do you host events (VGC or TCG) and what is the turnout like? Do a lot of TCG players also play VGC?

We host a weekly league of course, where players come and play games every week. But for tournaments, we've had numbers around 15 for TCG, and 10 for VGC. A lot of TCG players play VG, but I wouldn't say the majority. The same goes vice versa.

Where are people coming from to play? (eg, the campus, the mainland etc)

We mostly have university students coming from in and around campus to play. However we've had a significant growth of kids lately, who come from the surrounding area.

Roughly how many players there are students at Uvic?

This is a great one. Cause really... I'd say only 30-50% of club attendees are UVic students. We are made up of the community at large.

How did you get involved in VGC? What's your current status in the TCG world and how did you get there?

I got involved in VGC through Smogon. I found out about competitive Pokémon, started playing Smogon, and then found out about VGC. My first VGC tourney was Seattle Regionals 2011, where I flopped miserably. I have only played in Canadian Nationals 2012 since then, but I'm hoping to up my activity this year, at least in online play.

In TCG, I just got involved through the influence of other locals. TCG is a bigger community, so it's easier to dip your feet in, since it's easier to find someone local to play (especially competitively). I'm big on competition, so I got hooked pretty quick.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to start their own community?

As for general advice... I'd say a basic organizational tool that you need is both something like a Facebook group or Twitter or whatever and an email list. If you want to make sure people don't forget about you, you need to have constant reminders there for them.

Also, it's been awkward in the last couple weeks, where a couple of kids have been coming to club and we've had pre-last-minute changes in location, and I have had no way of contacting them. So now, whenever a parent brings their kids to weekly league, I get them to sign up to our email list to ensure things are communicated.

One other thing I think I've learned over the last year of hosting the club, is that you need to embrace the casual. Becoming an official TPCi league has been a great experience, but our roots were based in just hanging out and enjoying the game and the friends around us. The weekly league focuses too much around cards and prizes and feels like you're forced to either play the game or step outside. So I recommend anyone starting their own club out there to try and make sure that if you do apply for a league (it's very easy to do), that you make sure everyone still feels welcome at your group. And if people are just sitting in the corner, then you need to make sure you provide an experience everyone can enjoy.

The other challenge I've had in this period of growth is just that I am personally reaching out to every single one of our members. And as such, each one of them is directly identifying their club experience with me. I am only one person, and I have like... 5-20 people asking me for games or help with decks etc... simultaneously. I need to figure out a way to get people to interact with each other. I think tournaments are great for this since you help people past that awkward "I don't know you and you don't know me, but want to battle?" stage. Once you've had a game with another player, it's like there's some psychological barrier that's broken down and suddenly you're free to play that person at any time.

I've seen this time and time again, so it's important to keep in mind.

Thanks for your time Mark, excellent advice!

In conclusion

Go play some games with your friends! Find members that are local and get together when you can. Inspire your friends to play, host some matches! Anything and everything is worth it and is a small triumph for the VGC community as a whole. Don't limit yourself or others -- the next tournament at our comic shop, for example, is a singles gym leader type tournament!

So yeah, do those things. Because VGC is awesome.

Article image created by Aryana for Nugget Bridge. View more of her artwork on her tumblr.


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