PokéJackets Embrace Community, Prepare for Regional Championship

Jessie McKenzie knew there was a vast Pokémon community beyond the walls of her dorm room during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, and as groups gathered to play Pokémon Go, she saw an opportunity to create a club for Georgia Tech students to bond over their fandom. 

Now, the PokéJackets club has more than 40 registered members, and seven players are getting ready for the upcoming regional championship in Orlando, Florida, April 13 – 14. Players will participate in card and video game competitions to win cash prizes and secure a spot in the upcoming world championship event in Honolulu, Hawaii.  

Club president Bennett McKinney also sees it as an opportunity to engage with Pokémon enthusiasts from all over, with some events drawing up to 8,000 people across three divisions.  

"It's been amazing to see this large community come together and to know that I'm going to this convention center, whether it's in Charlotte, Knoxville, or Orlando, and there's going to be thousands of people there who are all like me in some sense and all like Pokémon just as much as I do," said McKinney, a third-year industrial engineering student.   

Orlando Karam, the club's training card game director and a third-year mechanical engineering student, has been playing Pokémon since childhood, as have many PokéJackets members. McKenzie envisioned the club welcoming players of all skill levels and enabling them to thrive while exploring all that the Pokémon media universe has to offer.  

"We get new players all the time, and I love it," said McKenzie, a fourth-year chemistry major. "I specifically started this club with the intention of making the barrier to entry as low as possible. If anyone comes in and they have no idea how to play, we have players who don't hesitate to jump in and offer to help."  

The video game portion of the regional competitions is played on the Nintendo Switch, but the club practices using Showdown — a free online battle simulator — to ensure access to the game. Proxy decks are also encouraged to allow newcomers to learn the card game as they play before curating their own collection. New members can learn from Karam and McKinney, both of whom are certified Pokémon professors.  

Regardless of expertise, the club's vice president, fourth-year architecture and music technology major Sahil Parekh, sees a welcoming space for everyone.  

"Pokémon has a way of getting you hooked on the franchise, and then you get to see how everybody's interests are different. Some people love the card game, or the video games, or Pokémon Go, and there are different levels of competitiveness, but everybody you meet in the community loves Pokémon," he said.  

The club has become a fixture at local events hosted by comic book and gaming stores throughout the Atlanta area. On campus, members often play card games in West Village, and the club hosts video game tournaments that can span one weekend or even an entire semester.