My brother introduced me to Pokémon as a kid. On the long car rides we used to take when visiting family for the holidays, I would lean over his shoulder to watch him travel from Pallet Town to Viridian to Pewter, challenging gym owners and capturing wild Pokémon along the way. Whenever I glanced through the car window, the tedious landscape of trees transformed into a mysterious world full of hidden creatures and delightful possibilities.
In 1996, it seemed that another one of Pandora’s Boxes had been opened. The public was introduced to 151 monsters, small enough to fit in a pocket, known as Pokémon. Today, 26 years later, the role-playing game is known internationally for delighting a broad range of gamers and fans of various ages and cultures.
How did Pokémon build such a loyal following of fans? A look at the most recent Pokémon World Championships, held in the ExCeL Convention Center in London, UK, gives several surprising clues for uncovering how the beloved game continues to attract new fans and keep old ones interested.
Pokémon Senior Event Planner, Justin Helling, notes, “For many of our fans, Worlds and other Pokémon champion events are the highlight social events of the year, they feel like they belong, but it’s a larger community.” As a matter of fact, the event hosted by Pokémon Company International has been recognized by Cynopsis Media as the esports event with the Best Social Experience.
Here are five reasons why Pokémon continues to be loved in households across the globe.
1. Pokémon created something their audience loves
Kids have been fascinated by talking animals for millennia. Take Aesop’s fables as an example or Disney’s Bambi. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, suggests that one reason why we love stories with talking animals is because we have a desire for communion with the natural world. Pokémon was able to capitalize on this desire in a unique way through a new medium: video games.
Video games are an interactive experience – it’s like a story, except you are the one making the choices. Pokémon are imaginary creatures that resemble real-life animals, but with a big difference. They have special powers; you can capture and train them, and they evolve. For the first time, kids could interact with creatures (even if they are imaginable) in a safe and real way. It’s also interesting to note that the video game came before the television show.
Pokémon is far from the only successful gaming platform to tap into this desire. Other popular games and stories include Digimon, Harvest Moon, and Yu-Gi-Oh. But why is Pokémon the most popular? Well, they created something their audience loves – and they did it first. Pokémon is the oldest of the Japanese anime role-playing games.
2. Finding unique applications for new technologies
Another reason why Pokémon continues to stay relevant, even though many of their games follow a similar plot, is that they adapt their story to new features and mediums. For example, the first Pokémon versions – Green and Blue – debuted on the Game Boy without color but were updated with advancing technology, getting graphic and sound upgrades. This has been routine with every new portable gaming device and Nintendo console.
Another great example of massive innovation is Pokémon Go. The geolocation-based mobile game was the first large-scale, popular augmented reality (AR) game to enter the mainstream. Here’s a brief highlight of Pokémon’s evolution:
- February 1996: Pokémon Red and Green Versions debuts in Japan for Game Boy
- October 1996: Pokémon trading card game released
- March 1997: Pokémon Manga first appears in Japan
- April 1997: Pokémon series debuts on television
- July 1998: First Pokémon movie hits theaters
- December 1998: Pokémon Snap debuts for the N64
- November 2002: Ruby and Saphire Versions debut with Game Boy Advance
- November 2003: Pokémon Coliseum appears for Game Cube
- August 2004: First Pokémon Trading Card Game Championships take place
- December 2004: Pokémon Dash Released for Nintendo DS
- September 2005: Game Boy Micro introduced
- December 2006: Pokémon Battle Revolution released for Nintendo Wii
- August 2008: Pokémon World Championships first held
- October 2010: Pokémon Global Link established (went offline, discontinued in 2020)
- June 2011: Pokedex released for Nintendo 3DS
- February 2013: Pokémon TV App released
- July 2016: Pokémon Go released
- December 2019: Pokémon Sword and Shield Released
Not every venture Pokémon undertook panned out, but the franchise’s innovative nature is another reason they have stayed top of mind for over 26 years. And, of course, many of the new technologies are supported by relatable characters and multi-player channels. There’s no reason to suspect Pokémon will slow down as virtual reality (VR) becomes more commonplace.
3. Multi-Channel Marketing
Pokémon is not just a game or a show. It’s a community – an accessible community. There are clubs, online forums, in-person events and tournaments, trading cards, and merchandise like clothes and memorabilia. Multi-channel marketing, from TV shows to movies to games to playing cards to a YouTube channel, has helped Pokémon enter new markets and maintain a significant presence online and offline.
4. Pokémon used live events to strengthen the community
The first Pokémon Trading Card Championship occurred in 2004 in Orlando, FL. Since then, there have been regional, national and international events, and championships throughout North America and, most recently, Europe.
In-person events are still incredibly important for community building. Face-to-face events and experiential marketing help build a community around a brand through shared experiences – people bond by doing things with one another. In the age of social media, experiences are rising in demand since they can be shared online for all to see. Furthermore, events like tournaments create prestige and give people opportunities to excel at something.
After three years of delays, the Pokémon World Championships in London, UK, returned with an astonishing amount of global interest. Competitors from Japan, North America, South Korea, and Europe competed under one roof. This competitive element is a part of Pokémon’s identity from the very beginning. The lyrics of the original T.V. show’s theme song go like this:
I wanna be the very best
Like no one ever was
To catch them is my real test
To train them is my cause
The amazing thing is Pokémon fans are given the opportunity to share this goal.
5. Pokémon tells a story
Facts tell. Stories sell. At least, that’s how the saying goes. Anyone trying to cut above the noise must tell a compelling story. The story of Pokémon is a quest, a journey. And, as mentioned earlier, this is a story people not only watch but are a part of and are engaged in.
And that’s why Pokémon has been so loved worldwide and will continue to be loved.
The Trade Group is a full-service event marketing company. We acted as general contractor for the 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022 Pokémon World Championships. Contact us here or give us a call at 972-734-8585.
Cameron Wilkinson is a writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. His writing for the events industry pairs with his interests in sales and marketing. He also holds a B.A. in English Literature from the University of North Texas.