By Isaac Espinosa
The Pokémon series has always been grounded in two core aspects: catch all of the Pokémon you can, and challenge the gym leaders before eventually reaching the Elite Four and finally, the Champion. While formulaic, it’s also tried and true. This has been the foundation of the Pokémon series for decades now. But what if we were to take this formula and translate it into a real life event? Recently Rudy Blanco, the founder of the Bronx Gaming Network, sought to answer this question with the help of his mightiest trainers. With the collaboration of Tokyo Bronx ACG, the BGN held its very own IRL Pokémon Gym at BX Start (located at 1017 Home Street), an awesome free event.
At the event, anyone who was courageous enough could take the Gym Challenge. After participants signed in, they received a battle pass that listed the challenger’s name and their choice of team, which they would use throughout the event. Then each challenger would fight the different Gym Trainers across the space, which each had their own Pokémon type and team, and try to take them down. After defeating two of them, the challenger would request to fight one of the two Gym Leaders, both of whom had incredibly strong team compositions and strategies. Challengers who managed to defeat the Gym Leader received a beautiful gym badge, artfully designed by the group.
As a trainer who participated in the event, I can report that all of it felt extremely cohesive and realistic – as if I was truly immersed within a Pokémon Gym. But even if I were someone who had never even touched a Pokémon game in my life, I’d still understand what to do. Not only was I given a proper challenge; thanks to clear directions, it was very easy to tell where I needed to go and what I needed to accomplish. After defeating different teams, such as Trainer Aya’s Mono Ghost team and Gym Leader Carlos’ rain-based Mono Water team, I managed to acquire a gym badge myself!
The event had a lot of nice accommodations for anyone who wasn’t particularly interested in the Gym challenge. There were raffles, where the winners could claim a shiny Pokémon or Legendary of their choice. There were set-ups where people could play other Pokémon related games, like Pokkén Tournament and Pokémon Stadium, the latter of which had some really fun and hilarious minigames. There was even a Pokémon Bodega and a little Anime Café, where people could purchase different snacks, or small pins and artwork from franchises like Genshin Impact. In addition to feeling like I was stepping into a real Pokémon gym, the event also reminded me of a small anime convention. It was a very comfortable atmosphere, and being able to speak to my fellow trainers, some old friends and the Gym Trainers really made me excited to just hang around.
There were a few issues I wanted to bring up to Rudy, and thankfully, he was extremely receptive to feedback and criticism. One thing I felt would’ve been important to establish was a more specific set of rules on limitations. The main rules were that you couldn’t have any duplicate Pokémon, and Legendaries had to be restricted to one per team. That was clear enough, but I told Rudy I thought it would be more important to not only have a paper that each challenger could carry with them that laid out the rules, but also to have these rules in place for future events, especially since the plan is to have Gym Challenges every few months. I also mentioned that it would be cool to see a more visible sign or some other indicator that would point people towards the Pokkén and Stadium set-ups. That way, more people who are there just to look around might be attracted to the set-ups.
But those are minor points, since by any measure the IRL Pokémon Gym was an absolute success. It’s exactly what you’d envision to bring the formula of Pokémon into a real life setting. If you’d like to attend the next one, expected in September, you can easily reach BX Start via subway or bus. Rudy and the Bronx Gaming Network should be incredibly proud of successfully creating and executing the first ever real life Pokémon Gym!
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Isaac was named the Circle’s first assistant mentor. He also published his first story in The Verge. You can also follow The Bronx Gaming Network @thebronxgamingnetwork, their official Instagram account.