Pok?PImon Club is Evolving!
"Gotta catch'em ALL!"
Those who grew up in the '90s recognize this phrase as the iconic slogan to the hit trading card and video game franchise: Pokémon.
For those who participated in the poké-phenomenon that involved spending more money on cards with pictures of different battling monsters on them than they would ever cough up for textbooks today, UB has some news: Pokémon still has some fight left in it.
Joshua Cao, a junior accounting major, is the mind behind the evolution of the Pokémon Club. He hoped to get the name out there and catch everyone's attention.
It all started last fall at a Pokémon event. Surrounded by about 20 of his fellow Pokémon enthusiasts, a thought struck him like a Pikachu thunderbolt.
"I [thought] if 20 people without even a club formed are playing Pokémon, what if we all made a club where we could all meet at a time and place," Cao said.
By the spring semester, the club was established with meetings every Thursday in Student Union 145A from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
"It started off with 10 people," Cao said. "It slowly grew and grew, and now we get about 30 or 35 people each time."
Although Cao says that he is not embarrassed about still playing Pokémon as a college student, he also never dreamed of playing Pokémon so openly.
"It started with an event at UB; a lot of people were playing Pokémon and I was very surprised by that because I secretly played Pokémon," Cao said. "But I didn't think anyone else would actually play Pokémon at UB."
Not one member of the club is hesitant to publicly play this frequently criticized game. In fact, members stand by their hobby proudly. Treasurer Christopher Herzog, a senior psychology major, hugged his Pikachu stuffed animal tightly during the Student Association Club Fair and declared, "No shame."
Secretary Allyn Weilacher, a junior linguistics major, said that she hears people make derogatory statements about the club but she doesn't let the comments affect her.
"It's not about that," Weilacher said. "So you don't let it bother you."
On the other hand, Cao has not received much criticism about his love for the game.
"I always get, ‘I haven't played this since I was a child!' But never any criticism, more playful respect, in a way," Cao said. "I don't think many people have bad experiences while playing Pokémon – so being back in college, I think a lot of people are really happy about it."
They really are. Each Thursday, these dedicated individuals challenge each other with games, cards, and trivia contests, as well as join together to watch the Pokémon television show. Cao often gives lectures on game strategies at the meetings, adding to the competitiveness.
Tournaments are the most competitive aspect of the club. One of the largest and most super effective tournaments was held last spring: the winner won five booster packs and a booster deck. Although it is competitive, Pokémon also brings members together as a community.
"A lot of freshmen who don't really know anything about UB are joining, and I already see niches forming of really good friends," Cao said. "It started with 20 people and we were all friends because of that, and now the freshmen of this semester are starting to become friends with them, and I feel like we all grow as a community like that."
Pokémon is truly a communal activity and anyone is allowed to join. Weilacher says Pokémon is a big part of some people's childhood and it's the reason many people gravitate toward the club.
Harry Haggard, senior biology and psychology major and vice president of the club, tosses out a pretty simple reason to join.
"Cause it's Pokémon! What more reason do you need than that? I mean, you get to meet a bunch of cool people, we have lots of childhood memories, we create new memories with new friends, and, you know, too many people don't take advantage of the club system," Haggard said.
The club is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Yu Xie, a first year education leadership and policy graduate student, recently moved to Buffalo from China and is intrigued by the club. Although she does not yet know how to play Pokémon, she appreciates how the club embraces all those interested.
"It's a really good experience," Xie said. "You can meet a lot of people and you can enjoy the experience of being together to learn how to learn this kind of stuff."
Likewise, Anthony Mirabelli, a freshman undecided major, signed up for the club at orientation. He said that he felt a pang of nostalgia and wanted to relive his childhood memories.
Haggard realizes that Pokémon played an important role in the lives of those growing up in his generation.
"Who wasn't a Pokémon kid?" Haggard said. "Who doesn't still have the cards hoping to one day, you know, sell them. One day I realized, I'm not the type of person that's going to sell them, I'm going to be the guy buying cards."
Haggard's realization that he is the guy on the other side marked a point in his life where he understood what the game is truly about. It was Pokémon's grasp on how to bring people together as one that truly triggered his emotional attachment.
Cao also has the same genuine sense for what Pokémon is about. He hopes to one day expand the Pokémon community at UB by competing with other schools, but for now is focusing on his group here and making sure it keeps growing – in both members and passion.
Additional reporting by Nathaniel Smith