Multiple Pokémon players have spoken out about an unfair ruling that didn’t take disability into consideration during a TCG tournament.
The Knoxville Regionals recently wrapped up, concluding another week of Pokémon TCG, video game, and GO tournaments on the road to Worlds. While regionals are usually a time for Pokémon trainers to get together and enjoy some comradery and competition. But one competitor has called out Play! Pokémon for how they handled their disability at the Knoxville Regional.
Ahmed Ali took to Twitter to share his experience at Knoxville, stating that he feels that there is "systematic exclusion" of neurodivergent people.
Pokémon accused of mishandling disabilities at regionals
According to Ali, there was a deck check after the 11th round. This is when players have to bring their 60-card Pokémon deck to the judges to ensure that their cards match what's written on the deck list they submitted before the tournament began. Judges will also check for anything they find suspicious about the state of the cards and sleeves, which is what led to Ali's issue with the event.
Four of Ali's cards were found to have bent corners, which is often considered a concern since players might be able to spot these certain cards in their deck and cheat based on that unfair information. For this reason, Ali was given a game loss since the judges felt the cards were marked purposefully based on the cards inside the sleeves.
Ali decided to appeal to a head judge to appeal the game loss decision since he felt there was no pattern in the marked cards and that he had ADHD. He explained that one symptom he has impacts his dexterity, making it difficult to shuffle his cards without damaging the sleeves.
"My ADHD means I lack the ability to notice when I damage sleeves and I’m more likely to damage them. [The head judge] was completely dismissive and unempathetic to my disability and carried out the ruling. Imagine telling a paraplegic to walk to the table or get a game loss," Ali tweeted.
During his next game, Ali claimed a judge "stood over" him and "micromanaged" the game. This made him feel "antagonized" and he accused the top officials of lacking compassion and not recognizing the game's diverse playerbase.
Unfortunately, this wasn't the first time that Ali ran into a similar problem at a Pokémon regional. Ali told Esports.gg that he attended a regional around 2015 where he was deck checked five out of nine rounds. At that time, Ali finally made a comment that it felt like he was being targeted at an airport, which is when the deck checks stopped.
"I’m sharing my experience in hopes that, in the future, we do better. The premium price we pay warrants knowledgeable judges that don’t negatively impact tournament integrity. I also think it warrants some guarantee for accommodations to people with disabilities," Ali concluded.
Other Pokémon players with ADHD responded that they also damage sleeves very frequently for the same reason. Some also said that the situation was "unacceptable," noting the ongoing inconsistencies with sleeve issues at each event. Popular pro Pokémon TCG players also chimed in, claiming they have experienced similar problems and calling the game loss punishment "ridiculous."
"Thank you so much for speaking up. Frankly, I fear that these situations might be far more frequent than we can imagine, and with no standardized process to train judges in how to deal with people, much less people with disabilities, it’s clear that something NEEDS to change," one player added.
Ali told Esports.gg that Pokémon should provide a third party accommodations officer that has "no skin in the game" and "knows how to handle disabilities." He expressed that there are a lot of neurodivergent players that need to be advocated for.
There's a lot more women in the game now than when I started — there could be a lot more. I see this as a sign of growth. I think we can do the same for all types of underrepresented players."
He told us: "I'm optimistic that Pokémon will make changes and be open to being accommodating. I think there's a lot of cynical 'old guard' judges that rely more on their seniority for positioning rather than understanding the game, fair play, or equitable treatment of players. Eventually they will need remediation or removal so that the game can progress."