A young girl extends her hand to shake her opponent's as the announcer says over the speaker that the games may begin. They shuffle their cards -- hers in pink card protectors, his in light blue. They cut each other's decks before they start drawing hands. He's talkative, she's more quiet and concentrated, but both exchange friendly smiles. Parents watch from the sidelines and judges walk around with clipboards, observing games as they happen.
These were just two of hundreds of players -- from kids to adults -- all shuffling cards simultaneously in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency at DFW International Airport. The hotel was packed for the 2018 Pokemon Regional Championships, which took place Jan. 27-28.
Across the hall from the Pokemon Trading Card Game action, a different group of players was in the midst of heated duels in the video games Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon on the Nintendo 3DS. Both groups played not only for glory, but for prizes, scholarships and a chance of playing at the Pokemon World Championships in Nashville later this year.
The most serious Pokemon players of all ages end up attending a lot of events like this one. One of those players, 11-year-old Hayden Willis of Houston, has been to Worlds three times.
"It can be pretty pricey, especially with the traveling," says his mom, Tiffany. "But since we don't do sports, this is our extracurricular activity. ... The community has been great. Everyone is friendly. [Hayden] has made friends even from the U.K., and they still talk."
Hayden, who mostly plays the card game (but also plays the Pokemon video games "for fun"), first discovered Pokemon through toys in McDonald's Happy Meals and decided he wanted to learn more about the series. He later got his friend Gavin, 10, interested, and the two of them traveled to Dallas together for the Regional Championships.
"It's a fun game to play if you've got time on your hands," he says modestly, having already won his first three matches of the day.
While the championships were far and away the big draw of the event, anyone not competing could spend some time with the Super Smash Bros. tournament on the Wii U, try out board games from a local vendor or test drive Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch. Local voice actor and YouTube personality Lee "Leonhart" Steinfeld, who gained a large audience online by opening Pokemon card packs on camera, was also at the event meeting fans.
Of course, there was also merch. A variety of vendors were happily selling games, cards, toys and accessories -- mostly of the Pokemon variety -- near all of the action. Pokemon trading cards at one table ranged from $3-$80, so if you really wanted to fill out your collection, you had the opportunity to drop a lot of money on rare cards.
After several more months of tournament events across the world, the best players will all meet in Nashville to take each other on in the World Championships. Fingers crossed for some Texas representation when that time comes.