What Would You Do?

Ethical Dilemmas in the Pokémon TCG

As children we are taught to see the decisions we make as good or bad. However, as we get older we learn that many of the choices we face aren’t so black or white and instead tend to be shades of grey. What I want to do today is look at three ethical dilemmas that you could easily encounter at a Pokémon tournament. I’ll state the predicament, tell you where I stand on it, attempt to make a compelling argument as to why I believe I’m right, and lastly I’ll try to refute any popular counter-arguments.

I’ve purposely chosen topics that seem to divide the community, with players holding ground on both sides of the issues. If you have a different view or belief than mine that’s perfectly fine and not something you should shy away from. My hope is to spark discussion about these issues and perhaps provide you another perspective to consider.

1. Asking for Concessions

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Asking for a concession is when one player asks their opponent to let them have the win. This happens more and more commonly as players get closer earning their World Championships invites. This is a pretty hot-button issue right now and for the first time TPCi has actually made it illegal to ask your opponent for a concession. According to this year’s tournament guidelines (section 10.1), repeatedly doing so can be penalized as coercion.

I think it was a smart call by TPCi to stop players from being able to ask for concessions. Being asked made a lot of players feel uncomfortable, especially with the frequency of it happening. Often the request comes with the added pressure of the player’s friends. It became extremely bad in some areas with where one player would literally be surrounded by their opponent and his or her friends all telling the player to scoop. Many times the request would also come with sob stories about how close their opponent is to their invite or how important the invite is to them. These are all in attempts to make the player feel sorry for their opponent.

The new rule in the tournament guidelines does not stop players from conceding. I understand that there are going to be situations where concessions are going to happen, such as parent not wanting to play against their children or close friends and teammates making a calculated decision of who has a better chance at advancing in the tournament. All the rule stops is players being put in awkward situations by their opponents or trying to get concessions out of everybody they play.

A common counter-argument is there is nothing wrong with asking an opponent to think about conceding a game. You’re not forcing them to do so and they can of course say no. I would refute this by saying players go to Pokémon tournaments to play Pokémon and getting asked by an opponent to not play Pokémon after they have spent time and money to go to a tournament not only doesn’t make much sense, but also goes against the Spirit of the Game and the spirit of competition.

Once again, the rule doesn’t stop concessions outright and players that want to concede to their opponents are still able to do so. All the rule does is make sure the concessions come directly from the player and are not influenced by their opponent.

2. Expectations of Scooping

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Although asking for concessions and scooping have a lot of crossover, for the purpose of this article I’m going to tackle the matters separately. Concession requests I see as issues of dishonorable intent, while scooping on the other hand coincides with maintaining the competitive integrity.

Scooping, by definition, is when one player forfeits a match to their opponent for no compensation. This has become a major issue over the last several years when players scoop matches to their friends when they know the friend is going for a Worlds invite when they themselves are not. You also see parents or more casual players scoop to somebody they know is going for an invite.

This has been a personal issue for me over the last few years and something I’ve been very vocal about. I’m a very competitive person and enjoy the competitive aspect that the Pokémon TCG offers. After finishing in the T4 of Worlds in 2012 and earning a paid invite to Worlds 2013 my attitude toward tournaments stayed roughly the same. I hit the 2013 season just has hard as I ever had before. I wanted to see my friends and of course play Pokémon. That competitive attitude and competitive play are the only ways to get to the top of your game.

I started off the season strong with a T16 Regionals finish and numerous good showings at Cities, including five wins. However, it didn’t take long before I started hearing people talk about how mean-spirited I was for denying Points to players who actually needed them. This wasn’t just one or two people, rather a group in the community. I was even told that I should have scooped the finals of each of my Cities wins.

I got asked questions like if I valued a few packs over the happiness of somebody getting the chance to play in Worlds. I even got the nickname the “Grinch” which I found funny enough that I embraced it. I have thick skin, so I could take the hate from a small group of people. But it still bothered me that a player could be subjected to this level of hatred (even by just a small group) for just doing something he or she loved: playing Pokémon. I’ve heard similar sentiments from players over the years when they were close to their invites and their opponents wouldn’t scoop to them.

Here are some of the arguments I’ve heard along with my responses:

“Do you really value somebody else’s happiness more than value a few packs?”

These packs have a monetary value and the cards inside of them could have a much higher monetary value. The difference between first and second at a Cities really is quite a few packs. I wouldn’t hand a random stranger $40; why would I hand that to you?

“Do you really pride yourself that much on winning tournaments?”

Honestly yes I do, even though I don’t keep track of the exact number of smaller level events I win, it does give me a sense of accomplishment when I win one. I proudly display my trophies, medals, and stamped cards in my trophy case. To me these tokens symbolize that all of my hard work has paid off.

“Why would you deny somebody the happiness of playing in Worlds at very little cost to yourself?”

My refutation of this statement is really a three-part answer. Firstly, it’s my belief that Worlds should be only for the best players in the world. The best players should be able to earn their invite without somebody else handing it to them. I’ve been in numerous tournaments and games where my invite has been on the line. My attitude has always been if I can’t earn it then I don’t deserve it. I am not forcing a belief on my opponent that I’m not willing to follow myself.

Secondly, to give you happiness you’re asking me to deny myself the happiness of playing competitive Pokémon, the pride in winning a tournament, or the momentary gain. Some people can call me selfish for wanting that stuff, but I feel they’re being more selfish by asking me to give up my happiness for theirs.

Lastly, ultimately I’m not putting my happiness above your well-being, I’m just simply not willing to hand you something for nothing. In the real world hard work and determination pay off and in my mind it’s the same way in Pokémon. If you work hard building and testing your deck in preparation then you shouldn’t needed something handed to you.

Going through all of these arguments and counter-arguments, it really bothers me that this game is heading in the direction where players want to qualify for the most prestigious Pokémon tournament of the year without actually having to play Pokémon. It would be like a person want to play in the Olympics without actually being good enough to make it through the qualifiers. Worlds should be filled with the best and most qualified players in the world, not the players who have the most friends.

3. Flipping a Coin to Determine a Match

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Officially it’s worded as “using a random means to decided the outcome of a game or match.” The situation that comes up is two players have a match end in a tie and they both know a tie will knock them out of contention for top cut. Instead of letting the game end in a tie they flip a coin to see who wins. This has become a major deal lately with so many games ending in ties and in the later rounds of a tournament a tie is almost always as bad as a loss. It should be noted that this is 100% against the rules (see section 10.2). I know of at least one player who got disqualified from Nationals this year for doing just this.

In Pokémon when it comes down to game and tournament rules I’m a total Boy Scout. I would never do this just simply based on the fact that it’s against the rules. It also has drastic implications on everybody else’s standings. A player who plays fairly all day and legitimately earns a record of 5-1-1 might get bumped out of top cut by a player who went 4-1-2, but had his last round tie turn into a win based on a coin flip.

Having a tie turn into a win or loss also affect the tiebreakers of everybody those two players played against earlier. The most compelling argument I can make for not flipping is because it’s against the rules. Looking the situation and understanding how drastically altering the outcomes affects the rest of the tournament helps to understand why it is illegal. To put it simply, two players who cheat are screwing over at least one if not more players that didn’t.

A common counter-argument is that if the game ends in a tie then both players are hurt since neither can make top cut now. It would be far better those players in this situation take a 50-50 chance of being able to advance than accept the fact that neither of them will. I would refute this by saying you’re not going to stack your deck to advance, you’re not going to bribe your opponent to advance, and the majority of the player base would never dream of cheating to advance in a tournament. If a player would never dream of doing any of those other cheating methods, then why should a player consider doing this?

Getting the playerbase to understand that this is cheating and why it’s so harmful to the game is the best way to get it to stop.


I hoped you all enjoyed the article and I certainly enjoyed the change of pace of writing something a bit different. I’m sure some of you agree with my statements and sentiments, while others I’m sure I struck a chord or two. I would like to welcome all of you to share your sentiments or beliefs on the message board. I would love to hear some different viewpoints and I’d be more than happy to discuss any of these issues with you.

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