Demystifying the Tournament Scene – a New Player’s Guide

Note: This article was planned to be released before the COVID-19 pandemic, all information should still be relevant and will be kept updated for when in-person competitive play resumes.


Welcome new players! In this article I will be outlining the competitive Pokemon tournament scene, going over tournament structures, age divisions, and the tournament schedule. When I first started playing Pokemon, I was incredibly confused by the tournament series. The Pokemon often website fails to provide clear information about competitive play. I will now alleviate that confusion. Below should be nearly everything that you need to know about the Pokemon tournament series (for the Pokemon Trading Card Game in particular).


Pokemon leagues serve as a place to meet and play against other Pokemon TCG and VGC enthusiasts. Here, I have met many of my closest friends, and this is also what brought me into the tournament sphere. However, many leagues are not particularly competitive. So although they provide a good starting point to learn the game and maybe meet a few other competitive players, I would not recommend focusing your time on attending league (unless you just want to have fun!).

Pokemon Formats

Each Pokemon event has a different competitive format that will be used for the tournaments that determines the cards that you can use in your decks. Competitive Pokemon consists of two formats: standard and expanded. The standard format consists of the sets and promos printed in the last couple of years (right now the format is SM: Team Up and later). I recommend focusing on the standard format for new players as it is both less expensive and has a smaller learning curve. The expanded format consists of all sets and promos printed after the Black and White base set. Decks are generally faster, more consistent, more powerful, and of course more expensive. The standard format is more popular and is selected for most local tournaments but the expanded format is still used for some regional level events.

League Challenges

These entry level events are open to anyone with a 60-card legal deck. This is a good place to learn the ins and outs of competitive play. Prizes consist of only a few packs or nothing at all. These also do not award very many Championship Points which are required for stipends and Pokemon Worlds invites (15 for first and 12 points for second). I personally rarely attend these as they are more of a learning experience than anything else. Also as a side note, these tournaments, although very casual, still can take an entire day to finish in populated areas.

League Cups

These local events are once again open to any players. Prizes are around the same as league challenges. However, these tournaments are one of the best ways to earn points for new players with 50 Championship Points being awarded to the winner. This high point reward also tends to attract high performing local players making them more competitive than a league challenge. You can learn a lot from these high level players so strike up a conversation!


There are about 15 regional level events in the U.S. and Canada each year. They are open to anyone, but it is important to make sure to preregister to each event at least a week before the event date. You can also participate in regional events that are outside of your region although I would recommend against this as there are normally plenty of opportunities close by. These tournaments are incredibly competitive and every player is expected to have a solid understanding of the competitive scene and rules. Prizes can be up to 5000$ for first place finishers and also award 200 points to each winner with points tapering off to lower ranks. These tournaments are often separated into two days for masters division competitors. The first day is swiss rounds like any other tournament but only those with a record of 6-2-1 or better qualify for the second day. The next day has 5-6 rounds of swiss followed by a top 8 for the players with the most match points. Matches are occasionally played on stream as well!


There are four international tournaments a year, one for each of the following regions: North America, Europe, Latin America, Oceania. Just like regionals they are actually open to anyone but you have to preregister a couple weeks before the tournament date. The top players in each region and division are invited to participate in these tournaments and are given travel stipends to attend. These are some of the largest tournaments in terms of points payouts and prizing however they are often no bigger than a simple regional level tournament (with the notable exception of the North American International Championships). The structure is identical to regionals except that check in to the tournament usually takes place a day before on a Thursday and the top 8 is usually set off for the day after the second round of swiss on a Sunday. Don’t be worried about not being familiar with the local languages or that of your fellow competitors. Translators are always onsite and prepared to help in games. These are the most interesting and fun tournaments to attend and I always encourage everyone to thoroughly explore the surrounding cities when attending.

World Championships 

The World Championships is the only tournament not open to all players. Players must meet a certain points requirement in order to participate (often in the range from 400-600 Championship Points). Top performers in each region and division will receive travel stipends as well as a free pass to the second day of the competition. Worlds do not normally award championship points but do have the larges sums of prize money out of any Pokemon tournaments (also you get a really awesome Pikachu trophy and championship card for winning).

That’s all the information I have for now. More information will be added once the in-person tournaments resume. Message me on twitter @Prestcg if you have any questions that I should include in a future article. Anyways thank you for tuning in and good luck in your Pokemon adventures!

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