For those unaware, TPCi just released information on the Championship Points requirement for this year’s World Championships. For Masters, it seems that it will become much more difficult to qualify compared to past years. Let’s start by taking a look at what the goals are compared to last year.
|Rating Zone||Points Required (2013-14)||Points Required (2012-13)|
|North America||500 CP||400 CP|
|Europe||500 CP||400 CP|
|Latin America||300 CP||200 CP|
|Asia Pacific||300 CP||200 CP|
As you can see, the amount of points required for an invitation this season has increased by 100 across the board. After last year held the largest World Championships to date, it was a bit of a shock to see this change happen. Since the Best Finish Limits and point structures for events stayed the same, players will have to find a way to earn 100 more points than they did last year, which is a substantial change. Without a doubt, it will be much more difficult to earn an invitation to Worlds now.
Based on last season’s standings, just 30 players from North America hit the 500 mark. Of those 30, 20 players earned automatic invitations (500 points) from the previous World Championships or at their National Championships. Several others had “bonus” points from the 2012 World Championships or the Last Chance for Championship Points event at US Nationals. What can we take from this? Unless you had points from Worlds or earned an invite through Nationals, you probably didn’t reach 500 Championship Points.
Now the argument can be made that this statistic is flawed because once players hit 400 CP, there was no reason to continue trying to earn points. If they needed to hit 500, they would have kept playing, and probably somewhere around 40 players would have qualified. If that’s the projection for this year, then the amount of invites would decrease from 74 to 40 – a 46% difference. Compared to last year, it’s not unreasonable to say the field for the 2014 World Championships will be half of what it was in 2013.
Clearly TPCi knew this when changing the requirements. That brings us to the question on everyone’s mind. Why? What is the reasoning for this? Just this past season they added the Last Chance for Championship Points event at US Nationals to give players an extra opportunity to earn invitations! Now all of a sudden they’re trying to make it even more difficult, and it doesn’t seem to make sense. The purpose of this article is to analyze potential reasons for the change and how the game and its players will be affected.
Theory #1: TPCi wants Worlds to be more exclusive.
Whether you like it or not, the World Championships are an exclusive, invitation only event. When it comes down to it, it is supposed to be the ultimate tournament that determines the best of the best. In its 10 year history, the field for the event was roughly 128 players (normally enough for a Top 32 cut). The exceptions to this were the 2007 and 2013 World Championships.
For Worlds 2007, the event was limited to 64 players, the smallest field ever. When this happened, there was a huge backlash from the community. Prizes and invites were slashed in half compared to 2006, and the result was perhaps the most forgettable World Championship ever. In addition, many competitive players lost interest and stopped playing. After this, the event expanded back to its normal size in 2008, and we never saw a field this small again.
In 2013 we saw the opposite. Overall, 209 players competed at Worlds, the most ever. Sure, there were a lot of players, but not enough to make the event feel like it wasn’t a privilege to be in. The problem? It was a logistical nightmare. With the introduction of live streaming this year, TPCi wanted all divisions to play down to the Finals on the first day so that all of the Finals matches could be covered on the second day. But with eight rounds and a Top 32, the first day didn’t end until 1 AM – and they only played down to the Top 4! From a scheduling standpoint, having this many players just isn’t feasible.
So, the first potential reason for the change is that they need to make the World Championships more exclusive. Not only does it make the event feel more important, but it allows them to finish the tournament in a timely fashion. This leads into our next topic.
Theory #2: TPCi wants to decrease attendance at events.
At first glance, this sounds downright stupid. Why would TPCi want to decrease attendance at events? Don’t they want as many people as possible to show up? Well, maybe not. With the recent growth in the Pokémon TCG, events are getting larger than ever. City Championships regularly hit over 100 players, Regional Championships are mandatory two-day events, and we even had the first two-day State Championship this year in Illinois. If events keep growing larger, how do the tournaments accommodate for all of these people? Realistically they can’t. Many Tournament Organizers have voiced their concerns over this exact subject.
By implementing entry fees and making it more difficult to earn an invitation to the World Championships, perhaps TPCi is trying to deter casual (and maybe even some competitive) players from entering these premier events. If event sizes continued to grow, TOs would have to find larger venues, and events would run too late. How often have we seen tournaments go past midnight? I’ve had to play the Finals of tournaments at IHOP, a hotel lobby, and even someone’s dimly lit hotel room. The problem would only get worse if nothing changed.
Is this a positive direction to take competitive play? Probably not. Is it necessary? Perhaps. With the maximum top cut size being reduced to Top 8 this season, it seems clear that time constraints were a major concern heading into 2014. Other card games, like Yu-Gi-Oh!, have had similar problems. However, their solution is to stop playing when a tournament reaches Top 4, and all four players receive the same prizes. Maybe that’s a solution to consider in the future.
Theory #3: TPCi wants competitive players to attend more events.
With the announcement that players potentially can attend nine Regional Championships this season, wouldn’t it make sense for TPCi to encourage competitive players to attend as many as possible? With the increased requirement, you’re almost forced to go to as many Regionals as you can to try to get those points. Again, entry fees are a factor. The more events you attend, the more money you spend. Even though overall attendance may be down, they’ll be getting money out of the competitive players that do whatever it takes to earn that invitation. We can’t rule this possibility out either.
Since the initial community reaction to this news has been almost completely negative, I wanted to begin by providing reasons why the change may have happened from TPCi’s viewpoint. All of it is pure speculation and in no way fact, but it seems reasonable. Of course, there are two sides to the story here. Now that I’ve provided reasons why the change may have happened, let’s move on to the next subject.
How are competitive players affected? Well, this is a complicated question. For every competitive player, the big goal is to qualify for the World Championships. With the increased number of points required for that invite, the goal becomes much more difficult to attain. Let’s look at some potential ramifications of this.
Problem #1: It’s impractical to qualify for Worlds.
Even though 209 players qualified for last year’s World Championships, it wasn’t easy to earn an invitation in most places. For example, players from Mexico have a difficult time earning Championship Points because there simply aren’t enough events. Many felt that 400 was out of reach since there are no Regional Championships. Now that the requirement is 500 CP, in Mexico it’s nearly impossible to earn enough points unless you do well at the National Championships. Even if you win 6 League Challenges (90), 4 City Championships (200), and 2 State Championships (200), you’re 10 points short. Keep in mind that winning this many tournaments is practically unheard of, and it’s still not enough. Some European countries and areas of Canada will suffer the same fate. Latin America and Asia Pacific may struggle, too.
In the US, many players who earned their invites did it near the end of the season through Battle Roads. Yes, that means a lot of them struggled to reach 400 Championship Points. In fact, our current World Champion, Jason Klaczynski, failed to reach that goal despite playing in every tournament possible. The most legendary player in the history of the game still had to qualify through the Last Chance Qualifier! If that’s the case, imagine how difficult it will be to reach 500 CP. To put it into perspective, you could win 3 League Challenges (45), 2 City Championships (100), 2 State Championships (200), and 1 Regional Championship (120), but you’d still have only 465 points. In order to earn your invitation, you’ll need a nearly perfect season (or an automatic invite at Nationals). Seeing how difficult it is, we can look at the next problem.
Problem #2: It’s not worth playing competitively anymore.
The Pokémon TCG has never been a game where you can make money, but now it may be just too expensive to play competitively given the difficulty of earning an invitation. In order to have a chance at qualifying, you’ll need to attend lots of events. On average, a competitive player in the US needs to attend 10 League Challenges, 8 City Championships, 3 State Championships, and 3 Regional Championships to have a realistic shot of earning an invitation; that’s a lot of traveling. In addition to taking up tons of time, it also costs money to go to these events. Even if you do attend all of these events, you have to do well at just about all of them. If you don’t, you won’t reach 500 CP. When you also factor in the entry fees for tournaments this season, lots of players won’t bother investing the time and money when the odds of success are so low.
For most players, 400 CP was a difficult – yet attainable – goal. Everyone had a shot at making Worlds if they played enough and had an above average season. 500, though? As outlined above, even an incredible season with multiple wins at major events may not be enough to reach that plateau. When you set the bar too high, people won’t even try. Instead of simply losing attendance at events, Pokémon ends up losing players completely. It may seem like a silly jump to say that a higher Championship Point requirement leads to losing players, but think about it. If you don’t think you have a good chance of earning the invite, you won’t play the entire season. If you aren’t planning on playing the entire season, why play at all if there are entry fees now? Surely some players will quit because of this change. The only question is, how many?
Problem #3: New players have less incentive to join the game.
If there’s one thing Pokémon has done right in the past few years, it’s drawing in new players. Say what you want about the state of the game, but there’s no denying that a simpler format is appealing for new players who want to jump into the competitive scene. Recently the message has been that everyone has a chance to succeed. Even if it’s your first year, you can win tournaments and qualify for the World Championships. For example, James Good qualified and finished 3rd at the World Championships in his rookie season. Aspiring players can look at this and see that they have a realistic chance of winning right away.
Well, that appeal goes away a little with this change. Just one look at the system tells new players that they don’t have much of a chance. Simple math will tell you how many events you’ll need to win to qualify, and it’s not a pretty equation. Instead of welcoming new players, the more difficult requirement may make players change their mind about playing competitively at all. Effectively there is a big barrier for entering competitive play now. If you were trying to pick a new card game to play, would you choose Pokémon after seeing how difficult it is to succeed? I don’t think I would.
Leading up to this announcement, TPCi made tons of great changes to advance the game. Overall, entry fees and increased prizes for Masters were great ideas. On top of that, best-of-three for Swiss was a welcomed change. Honestly we were looking at one of the most promising years in the history of the Pokémon TCG. But now does it really matter? When it comes down to it, the major appeal for players is getting the opportunity to play in the World Championships. If that’s not in reach, players start to quit because the big draw is gone. As a result, the great advances go to waste. In a way, it’s like one step forward and two steps back.
How does this affect the game? Without a doubt, I expect attendance to fall significantly this season, which is disappointing given how much the game has grown lately. Even the most loyal players will have trouble justifying playing this season beyond a love for the game. Who realistically can expect to get 500 Championship Points? If you can’t, you probably won’t play competitively. Where’s the incentive? Sure, the game will survive and continue, but the change seems like it will have a negative effect overall.
Then again, maybe the change won’t be that bad. Maybe this is all just an overreaction. But the potential outcomes of this change are scary. As someone who loves this game, I don’t want to see it go backwards again. We’re at a point where the Pokémon TCG can be expanding big time. Hopefully it doesn’t end up deflating instead.