Trainers challenge each other for the Iron Throne during Pokémon Go community tournament

Mercer Park brings Pokémon Go players to a Game of Thrones-inspired PvP tournament.


Adrian Enzastiga

Trainers gather to take down a nearby Alolan Raichu raid after the tournament.

Adrian Enzastiga, Arts Reporter

On a cold, blustery April Sunday, Pokémon trainers from all around Iowa gathered to test their skills against others in their area. Every person was bundled up, hoods on, dressed in only their finest Pokémon gear from hats to pins. Players craned their necks down to look at their phones as they tapped their screens furiously, trying to charge up one last attack to knock out their opponents.

This was the scene on April 28 at Mercer Park during Iowa City’s fourth Pokémon Go player vs. player tournament, titled “The Kingdom Cup.” Players were allowed to use ice, fire, steel, and dragon types, in homage to Game of Thrones “A Song of Ice and Fire,” which recently began airing its final season on HBO, featuring knights and dragons.

Pokémon Go slowly fizzled out from the peak craze that took place when the game launched in July 2016. However, select players have stuck with it through countless crashes, glitches, and bugs in the game, and they have created a community to share something they all love.

The Kingdom Cup lasted a little more than three hours with 22 participants. It began with any regular tournament with playoffs, followed by four more battles for each player.

In the game, once players reach Level 5, they must choose from three teams: Mystic (blue), Valor (red), or Instinct (yellow). Team rivalries persist during tournaments.

Proud Instinct player Vincente Sanchez, trainer name TacoDog8, was a co-coordinator of the tournament.

“We’re in charge of getting venues, basically putting it on the website, and advertising,” Sanchez said. “One day, my Facebook feed blew up with all these screenshots of Pokémon Go that it’s been released, and so I downloaded it, and I’ve been playing ever since.”

The tournament was run through the use of the Silph Road, a global network created at the start of the game’s launch to connect trainers globally by allowing them to post about strategies and inform others about nests and common spawns in their area.

“[The Silph Road] took Pokémon Go from an augmented reality game to a global augmented reality game where you can meet everyone in the community,” Sanchez said. “When player vs. player rolled out in December, they gave us the tools that we can use to have tournaments and basically have everything for fun.”

After moving from southern Texas to Iowa City, he found that the Pokémon Go community was very inclusive.

“I kind of became a leader, just stumbling my way into it,” he said. “Here, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, what people think of you, your play style, because this community has something for everyone. Meeting a whole bunch of new people and seeing the smile it puts on everyone’s faces, that’s what keeps me playing.”

Pizza and muffins from Costco were brought for everyone, and special pins were given to the top three winners. A handmade painting was bestowed upon tournament champion Ethan Sabri, trainer name Nardhab, another co-coordinator of the tournament.

“I worked hard, and I stayed up late nights, sometimes until 4 in the morning, sometimes 6 in the morning, watching PvP videos about the Kingdom Cup and polishing my team,” he said. “I’m really thankful to TacoDog, all of the mods that did a lot of work behind the scenes. We work hard together, and they do so much more than me. I believe Iowa City is the best [Pokémon Go] community.”

Sabri won with his team of the Pokémon Lucario, Alolan Maroak, and Bastiodon , dethroning his fellow Valor, Shane McChurch (Lazerdollarz), a third-year law student, who was the formerly undefeated player of the last two tournaments.

“I got into [Pokémon Go] because my girlfriend played it. It’s a fun way to waste time, I guess,” McChurch said. “With my hobbies, I tend to dig in. When I’m into something, I want to be the best at it. It’s a video game that you play by walking around outside, so that’s a good outlet for my gaming habits.”

Before his loss in the tournament, he was globally ranked in the 400s. Now, he is ranked 1,385.

Many new features have been added to the game since its initial launch. Raids were added in the summer of 2017, in which players group together to defeat and catch one boss Pokémon. Trading and friends were added in the summer of 2018 and PvP battles were not added until December 2018.

These new features might pave the way for Pokémon Go to return to its grand popularity.

“It seems that there are more now than there were a year ago,” McChurch said. “I think that with all the different features that have been added in, there is something for everybody. PvP adds an entire strategic and competitive element that wasn’t present in the game prior to it. With someone with a competitive gaming experience like me, that gives a whole new dimension to the game.”