Every Friday, a group of Pokemon fans gather in ATEC to play games, discuss strategy and meet new people. About once a month, a tournament is held, attracting even more fans, with the winner receiving a coveted in-game item or Pokemon.
For almost three years, the Pokemon League at UTD has been organizing these meetings with the purpose of nurturing a community for enthusiasts of one of the world’s biggest franchises.
“Really, I just want people to have fun,” said Alexandra Choung, a literary studies junior and vice president of the club. “I’ve actually made a couple of my friends through Pokemon. I think it’s a good way for people to come together and talk about what they like.”
Initially, the club was just an informal gathering of friends. One of the first members, President Jonathan Popa, an applied mathematics graduate student, spearheaded the effort to make it an official student organization.
“There are a lot of benefits to being an official student organization,” he said. “We can have larger events. …. We can increase our membership through advertising as well.”
The Pokemon League’s events have varied in the past, but leaned towards competitive Pokemon battles using the teams that players had formed on the Nintendo 3DS games, the most common iteration of Pokemon today.
However, the focus on battling was not appealing to all members nor was it conducive to attracting new members to the club, so membership decreased. Based on that, Popa and Choung decided to have tournam every three weeks, with game nights and other activities in between.
“We like to have a lot of diversity in our events,” Popa said. “We’ve held trivia nights, we’ve shown Pokemon video content. We are even holding a “Pokemon Art” night, where members can color in outlines of Pokemon.”
In spite of the efforts by the officers, increased membership seems to correlate with tournament nights. On average, while 12-16 members show up to tournaments, only 5-10 members will show up to other meetings, Popa said.
“I want our bigger turnouts (at tournaments) to become the standard,” he said. “That’s why we want to do more advertising and get involved with freshman orientation. Our objective is healthy growth.”
Another issue that the club faces is balancing school work with club duties. Most officers are busy and have other responsibilities to attend to as well.
“We work as a team and pick up the slack when one person can’t commit,” Popa said. “I still hold academics above hobbies, so I am fine with my fellow officers taking time off for that.”
For Choung, the Pokemon League was a way to turn one of her passions into a way of socializing.
“In high school. I always found myself playing alone or not having anyone to talk to about it, and it became a personal thing,” she said. “Because I felt like I didn’t have a place to go, a place to hang out and talk to people regarding Pokemon, it’s really important for me that there is sort of a space for people like that.”
Popa had similar motivations for running the club and said he made personal gains as well.
“I just enjoy bringing Pokemon fans together,” he said. “I feel I’ve learned more about the game, and I feel I’ve been able to pass on my knowledge as well. It’s a good social activity and it’s entertaining.”
Choung has plans to expand the club even further, if possible, to add to the culture at UTD.
“I would like to get into a more official standing and maybe get into touch with the Pokemon Company,” she said. “I guess its part of the nerd culture — we’re part of a bigger thing.”
Although the Pokemon League is geared towards established fans of Pokemon, Popa wants to expand the club by recruiting new members, whether or not they are long-time enthusiasts.
“We are definitely open to newcomers,” Popa said. “I’m always interested in teaching new members about Pokemon.”