Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The PAX Pokemon League

A few years ago, when conventions were something new and exciting for me, I simply couldn't get enough of PAX. The exhibits, the panels, the games, the concerts... there was way more there than I could ever find time to do.

After 10 PAXes, though, most of the excitement has worn away: the exhibits have huge lines for games I'm not terribly interested in, the panels are all of things I've heard before, there's only a couple of bands I really want to see, etc.

However, one thing still gets me excited for every PAX, especially PAX East: The PAX Pokemon League.

After helping my little brother beat Pokemon Silver, I just kind of stopped playing the games. I'm not sure why, but I guess I just had other things to do.

I'm not sure why I came back, either.

Oh, wait. I do know why. I was working at Gamestop when Pokemon Diamond and Pearl came out, and Gamestop employees will pre-order anything that they might be even slightly interested in, in order to give their co-workers (and the store as a whole) better numbers.

And so, I pre-ordered and eventually picked up Pokemon Pearl when it came out. The rest is history.

The PAX Pokemon League is a magical thing: a testament to the fan community. Every PAX, a selection of Pokemon fans volunteer to become "gym leaders" for a weekend. They pay dues, construct themed teams, and design and purchase "badges" to give out to people who beat them.

Just like in the games, challengers approach gym leaders and challenge them to a battle. If they win, the gym leader gives the challenger a badge. If the challenger collects eight badges, they gain the ability to find and challenge the Elite Four (though there's often more than four Elites at PAX, for convenience). If the challenger beats the Elite Four, they can battle the current Champion. If they can beat the Champion, they become Champions themselves, and their names go down in the history of the league.

These PAX gym leaders make themselves available, wearing bright green scarves to stand out among the PAX crowds, and spending hours of their precious PAX time taking challengers, usually in the handheld lounge. For me, taking challengers in the lounge is a nice break from the rigors of running a PAX booth. For them, though, they've spent lots of their own money to get a convention pass, travel to the convention, and stay in a hotel, only to give up a large chunk of their time to entertain other convention-goers.

They're heroes. I feel proud to be a part of that group.

It's a lot of fun, too; we design our teams to be fun to fight and beatable, and we're focused on maintaining a positive attitude about Pokemon. It really makes a person's day when they manage to win a hard-fought battle and you present them with proof of their victory.

And, of course, it's a blast to fight kids~

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