Gather round boys and girls for what very well might be the nerdiest story of my childhood. With many, many moments to choose from, I have to say I’ll never forget the time I went to a mall for a Pokemon tournament, and got to play a Nintendo Grandmaster.
But first, the backstory. This was way back in the days of Red and Blue, and I was 12 or 13 and it was still socially appropriate to like Pokemon. I liked it so much, in fact, I begged my parents to take me to a local mall which was having a Poke-extravaganza. I’m not really sure what else to call it.
Hundreds of kids my age, older or younger, swarmed the central area of the mall as parents tried to keep track of them. Accompanied by my friend Mike, we were in heaven, and it was hard to know what to do first.
Back in those days, Pokemon enthusiasm was split into two categories, the Game Boy games (duh) and the collectible card game. I considered myself a master of both, having every Pokemon maxed to level 100 across two copies of the game, and also having collected every single card in the original, Fossil and Jungle series, which were all the ones that were out at the time.
I brought my Pokemon binder which had all my cards laid out neatly in plastic sleeves. Kids started trading cards like they were swapping stocks at the NYSE. People were crowded around my collection to see my pages and pages of holofoils.
“Is that a first edition Charizard?” one asked.
“Yep, got it in my very first pack,” I replied.
And it was true. At the time, the card was worth $100 in the store.
My mind worked quickly, and I quickly spun a few trades that almost felt like I was taking advantage of poor ten year olds. I landed a 2nd edition Charizard by swapping a Bulbsaur and a Gyrados for it. I had doubles of both. I negotiated my friend Mike’s trades to the point where he ended up with a fresh page of holofoils by the end of the day.
My version of bling in middle school.
But that was just a warm up, the best was yet to come. There was a tournament. A glorious tournament. Some kids were too scared to enter, or didn’t have powerful enough Pokemon yet. I had no such reservations.
The rules were simple. It was a 3v3 match, whoever lost went down to a lower bracket. Lose twice and you were gone. Oh and no Gameshark hacked Mew, that shit was cheating.
I knew who my dream team would be, three Pokemon that had been with me the longest from three separate playthroughs of the game. Charizard, Venusaur and Blastoise. Who else?
Well, “who else” was Mewtwo, a champion that practically every single other kid had in their arsenal. Except for my first opponent, luckily, who was something of a dolt. He had a level 100 Kabutops, Omastar and Dragonite, I believe. They may have been his favorites, but the rock/water combo his two dinosaur era picks were shredded by my leafy Venusaur and murderous Blastoise. Dragonite got outdueled by his rival Charizard. Kid never had a chance.
During all this, I was listening in on Mike’s game, who was next to me. He was playing some kid who was boasting about his level 83 Mewtwo.
“I bet you used the rare candy trick, didn’t you?” he taunted.
“Uh yeah,” Mike replied, glancing down at his own level 100 Mewtwo who was dying rather quickly.
“I raised mine from capture, they’re much stronger that way.”
Kid needed a good punch in the face.
Missingno. does not approve of your judgement.
Fortunately, I would have my chance. Mike lost and the kid was my next opponent. His Mewtwo didn’t much care for being set on fire or drowned, and all the tender love and care he’d given it didn’t matter as I beat that psychic little shit into the ground. I don’t even remember his other two picks, that’s how little of a fight they put up.
They thought that the tournament was taking too long, and as we were all little kids, they tried to pull a fast one on us. There were a few of these playoffs scheduled throughout the day, and they wanted to keep moving.
“Alright, everyone who won both games goes into a pool, we’ll draw a name and he’ll play the Grandmaster.”
The luck of the draw, that’s what it call came down to in the end.
God answers prayer, yes he does (sorry Remy). When my name was called, that was probably one of the happiest moments of my life. In shock, I walked toward the “big board,” where a large, square TV would show the game to everyone around. I was sweating. Was I ready for this? Did I need to ditch one of my starters for Mewtwo?
I couldn’t. I couldn’t betray any of them like that. I’d stick with them until the end. We’d come this far together.
The Grandmaster was a pimply faced 18 year old kid, but at my age, he seemed like a geeky Greek god. Who was this guy that Nintendo paid to play Pokemon? Also, how I could I get that job?
Alright, he didn’t exactly look like this, but close.
My eyes widened when I saw the prize. A genuine Ash Ketchum hat in all its red and white glory. I had to have it. I had to.
We connected our cables and the match was on. He opened with a Venusaur, and I laughed in his face. I started roasting it with Charizard, but was quickly doused with Toxic, the most deadly poison spell in the game. A few turns later and Charizard was struggling, but he still managed to singe Venusaur to a crisp. I was one step closer.
Next up was Jolteon, who was a real sonofabitch, and he nearly KO’d my Blastoise before I had a chance to swap him out. Fortunately for me, Venusaur’s roofie drug, Sleep Powder, knocked that motherf***er right out. He was breathing Z’s, the Grandmaster had to recall him lest I annihilate him with a charging Solar Beam.
Then came his final form, Mewtwo. I should have expected it. It was of course the most powerful Pokemon in the game, genetically engineered to end lives. But with one Psychic, he crippled my Venusaur past what any Mewtwo had before it. He resisted sleep and next turn, a hyper beam killed my poor leafy friend. The thing was unholy. It wasn’t a Pokemon, but a demon. They must give Grandmasters special mutant Mewtwos, I thought, there’s no way he could be this powerful.
Blastoise gave it his all but he too fell to the might of the monster before him. In my heart, I knew it was over already. Mewtwo had barely been scratched. Even with his Venusaur dead and Jolteon asleep, if I could get past this brick wall, it wouldn’t matter.
“Charizard, I choose you.” I said weakly.
Charizard had been with me for years. He was my first starter, chosen without hesitation five minutes into Pokemon Blue. With his help I got all the badges, hunted down all the Pokemon and smashed through the Elite Four more times than I could count. He was level a hundred, raised on a diet of war, not rare candy. My only true max level. Stupid level 83 Mewtwo kid would be proud.
I almost shed a tear as I watch Charizard square off against the psionic monster before him. His health bar was so low it could barely be seen. Toxic had ravaged him to this core. There was only time for one last move.
“Fly, Charizard,” I whispered. “Fly.”
He rose up into their air out of sight, out of the battle. Mewtwo’s hyper beam missed.
“Don’t come back,” I said. “Just get out of here. You can’t win. He’ll kill you.”
I pressed A. I waited.
Charizard didn’t listen. With everything he had he dove straight into Mewtwo. He’d come back. I should have known he’d never leave me.
Mewtwo wasn’t hurt, but perhaps a bit surprised Charizard he dared challenge him in such a state. He readied a mind-blasting Psychic.
But it was too late. Charizard had already fallen, succumbing at last to the toxic poison coursing through his veins.
“It’s okay,” I said. “You did good buddy.”
The battle was lost.
The Grandmaster shook my hand as I jealously eyed the hat next to him.
“All three starters, interesting team comp. I haven’t seen anyone without a Mewtwo yet today.”
I walked away and looked at my Gameboy. It was okay, they’d all revived. They would live to fight another day. But it hadn’t felt like it at the time.
For years after that I went over that battle in my head. What could I have done differently? What if I’d had Toxic? What if I brought out Articuno or Zapdos? What if I’d brought my own Mewtwo to the fight? But that was the last chance I’d ever have to fight someone so strong, and I never encountered another Grandmaster in the wild after that.
So ends the tale of how I almost beat a Pokemon Grandmaster, one of the best geek memories I’m ever likely to have. Sometimes I still think about my Pokemon, resting inside my Game Boy which still works after all these years. I should pay them a visit and read them this story. I think they’d like it.
Living the dream, a decade later. I think Charizard would be proud.