LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Thousands of people are in D.C. to catch them all. Local, regional and international tournaments culminated in this weekend's Pokemon World Championship. NPR's Mayowa Aina spoke with some Pokemon trainers who want to be the very best.
MAYOWA AINA, BYLINE: Spectators fill an exhibit hall in D.C. watching competitors go head-to-head on giant TV screens around the room.
AINA: Even more viewers watch the battles live online through Twitch. When they're not playing, the competitors are busy thinking about strategy and organizing their Pokemon decks.
ISABEL WRIGHT: Well, you set up your board with a seven-card hand. And then you choose however many basic Pokemon - one to be active, a couple on the bench...
AINA: That's 8-year-old Isabel Wright. And she's sharing how she trains for the trading card version of the game. She's come here to D.C. from Lakeland, Fla., with her mom.
ISABEL: We honestly did a daylong car trip to go and play in the World Championships.
AINA: And how long have you been playing Pokemon?
ISABEL: I've been playing ever since, say - it was last September.
AINA: In the last year, Isabel, like all of her opponents this weekend, has racked up enough points through local games, challenges and regional cups to get here to the World Championships. She is one of over a thousand competitors across all divisions, says Elvin Gee, a spokesperson for Pokemon.
ELVIN GEE: And so these competitors compete in three different categories, in the Pokemon trading card game, the Pokemon video game and a second video game called Pokken Tournament.
AINA: And at three different levels - juniors like Isabel, seniors for tweens and teens and masters for adults - all of them competing for bragging rights and over $1/2 million in cash and prizes. Gee expects more than 7,000 people to attend the event total, most of them spectators like Duncan Maxwell from Chicago. He's come to watch his girlfriend compete.
DUNCAN MAXWELL: She is an incredible competitor. She is fierce as heck. She will stop at nothing to crush her competition.
AINA: And her competition comes from across the globe. Almost 50 different countries are represented this year. Since debuting in 1996, Pokemon has become very popular. New iterations of the game just keep finding audiences. Pokemon GO shot to the top of the app charts when it came out in 2016. And this year, the live-action film "Detective Pikachu" has pulled in the most money of any video game movie ever. But Elvin Gee, the Pokemon spokesperson, says it's common for kids to come to the game through their parents who loved the game when they were kids. That's how Isabel, the 8-year-old trainer, learned to play.
ISABEL: So I asked my dad, can you please teach me how to play Pokemon? He knows how to play Pokemon. He's pretty good.
AINA: Now, unfortunately for Isabel, she's been knocked out of her division. But she plans to keep playing throughout the weekend.
ISABEL: So what happens now is I'm playing in the D.C. Open, which is like a regional. And if you get first place, you'll earn a ton of points, maybe some money. Who knows?
AINA: Where will Isabel place in the D.C. Open? Will Duncan's girlfriend crush the competition as she's known to do? Who will get the title of the 2019 Pokemon World Champion? All of the answers will be found out tonight at the closing ceremony. Mayowa Aina, NPR News, Washington.
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