As you may know, me and other expats in Korea are battling for the right to play in the Pokémon Korea Tournament. My home girl Rachel has been keeping track of what has been going on from her perspective. Take a look and see you in the next post:
A number of Pokémon enthusiasts – whether it’s gaming blogs, Korean players, or international TCG groups, have been asking for the gritty details regarding the Korea League’s xenophobia scandal. This timeline explains the event from the beginning (autumn 2017) to the current day (April 2018.)
Is this document long? Yes. But do you have to read the whole thing to get a solid understanding of why 450+ people are demanding an apology from Pokémon Korea? Yes. There’s no tl;dr version here, folks!
Buckle up, because navigating the Korea League’s ever-changing rules is a bumpy ride.
It all started well actually…in autumn of 2017.
VGC Autumn Tournament, 2017:
— This was the first time a large expat group attempted to participate in a tournament. (“Expat,” for those who don’t know, is short for “expatriate.” It means someone who lives away from their home country by choice. All the Pokémon-playing expats fighting for their tournament rights have lived in Korea for more than a year, and they all have visas and Alien Registration Cards. That makes them legal residents of the country.)
— When Rachel asked how to register, a manager said: “Only people with a Korean passport are allowed.” She mentioned that she has an ARC and has lived in Korea for five years. The manager said it doesn’t matter if you live here, non-Koreans are banned. Since no other League on Earth follows this rule, Rachel told the manager she would file a complaint with Play! Pokémon.
— Tournament day comes. The manager is silent and lets expats compete (supposedly) with full participation. Everybody went home happy. No complaint was filed. But things weren’t going to stay this way for long.
Before the VGC 2018 Winter Tournament:
— Like everyone else, expats registered for the Winter tournament in advance. They took photos of their completed online registration forms, just to be safe.
— Days later, Pokémon Korea called all participants with “foreign-sounding” names. They told them they aren’t allowed to play because they aren’t Korean. When Rachel asked why they were banning legal residents, the company representative said: “It’s secret information. I don’t need to explain why we banned foreigners, and I don’t need to tell you who I am.”
— The next day, Pokémon Korea disconnected the various numbers it used to call non-Korean players.
That’s when we knew that the managers were trying to dodge responsibility for what they were doing. From then on, we decided to screencap and/or record all interactions with staff. (Note: The numbers were apparently reconnected a few weeks later. Phone interactions were translated by Rachel’s old coworker, who is exceptionally fluent in both languages.)
— Soon after, Rachel filed a customer service ticket with Pokémon International. The ticket was escalated, and within 24 hours, Play! Pokémon launched an investigation into the Korea League for discrimination.
— The Korea Times then ran an article on the foreigner ban. It reached the #1 trending spot among digital content.
— VGC Winter Tournament, 2018 (Game Day)
Expats arrived extra early and attempt to go through the line. At first, everything seemed to be going well.
Trouble started when our last expat (who we’ll call Z) was denied entry. Pokémon Korea claimed his name is not on the list of participants, and therefore, he didn’t register for the tournament.
Well, no problem! We took photographs of our online registration, right? This must be a simple misunderstanding.
Staff said a photo of completed registration is not proof that Z registered for the tournament.
Expats immediately asked to talk to a manager, because we didn’t want to hold up the line. (At this point, Pokémon Korea was not doing Swiss rounds, and time was critical to make top cut.) Pokémon Korea staff said to stand at the front of the line and wait for a manager to arrive.
About 25 minutes passed, and still no manager arrived. At this point, the line is very clogged up and Korean competitors are angry. And who can blame them? They have no context for what’s going on, and their placement is on the line!
Expats pointed out that there are a lot of part-time staff milling around the event, just minding the store. We asked if additional staff could QR code Korean players through so the line didn’t get held up. They refused.
I just want to emphasize that for a moment. The staff knew the line was being held up and that it was preventing Korean players from accumulating points. They knew there was a way to fix the issue. They chose not to.
An additional 20 minutes passed. Finally, after approximately 45 minutes of stalling, the event manager emerged from the back room.
She spouted the usual points – that foreign players can’t qualify for World’s, they can’t win prizes…we told her that we didn’t care. We just wanted to enter the venue for the day.
This is where she began lying. She said that none of us could compete at the tournament because every player had to register a Korean 3DS serial number, and we hadn’t.
Well, we had a photo of the registration forms…and there’s text box where you can enter a serial number. That’s just false.
We took out the photo of Z’s completed online registration and asked her: “Please just be gracious and admit you made a mistake [with his registration.] It’s a video game.” The manager refused, saying a photo isn’t proof Z registered.
We then showed her Z’s cell phone call history, because her company number is in it. Remember they called us to say we weren’t welcome?
Nope, it’s still “not proof” he registered.
Well…if Z didn’t register, why were you calling him??
Anyway, the manager then returned to the back room to “check her records.” After an hour of blocking entry, Pokémon Korea FINALLY caved and let expats enter the venue. The tournament was played, and the situation got explained to some Korean players.
Everybody went home.
Later that night, the video was cut down to only interactions with the manager. Faces were blurred (out of privacy concerns) and the tape was sent to Play! Pokemon, who continues to investigate the Korea League on grounds of discrimination.
During all this, The Korea Times called Pokémon Korea and asked if they think their actions constituted racism. The representative told the reporter to stop calling because they were “worried what they said would be printed in the newspaper.”
Spring Tournament, April 1st and 2nd:
Once again, everyone with a foreign-sounding name was contacted, this time via e-mail. Pokémon Korea said expats can win prizes, but must sign a waiver disqualifying them from Worlds no matter how well they do. Additionally, they must play with a Korean 3DS and a Korean cartridge, or they’re banned. Fun fact: Our Korean-American player DIDN’T receive the waiver.
…I wonder why?
Still wanting to follow the rules, expats borrowed Korean systems and cartridges to play with. We refused to sign the waiver, however. In advance of the tournament, Andrew Murray (former top 32 in the USA in TCG) posted about Korea League’s behavior in HeyFonte, a large competitive TCG Facebook group. Following that post, our Change.org petition to have the foreigner ban removed ballooned to over 450 signatures.
Likely because of this post, newspapers and gaming blogs began to write about the xenophobia scandal in The Korean League:
South China Morning Post: https://bit.ly/2IBByQ3
Twin Galaxies: https://bit.ly/2JrXDlI
The Korea Times (ran 3 articles in total): https://bit.ly/2IzAzjq
But of course, game day is where it really matters, isn’t it?
Day of Spring Tournament:
On Saturday (the TCG tournament) Pokémon International wrote an e-mail to Rachel responding to the situation:
“Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. As a global brand that promotes good sportsmanship, community, and fun, we aim to ensure our fans have a good experience in all the brand’s expressions and experiences including Play! Pokémon events. While PKI is an organization independent from us and its tournament eligibility structure and rules are different than ours, we have reached out to our sister company to alert them to your experience. We sincerely want to thank you for your continued support.”
The next day, at the actual event, we had mixed reactions. The good news is…staff (especially that notorious manager) did NOT harass expat players upon entering the venue. They didn’t even check out 3DS systems for region-lock, which was surprising.
The bad news is…that morning, they changed their minds again – non-Korean players can’t even win small prizes, let alone go to World’s!
But this is Korean League. There don’t appear to be any real rules – it depends on how the staff feel that particular day.
Today, Pokémon Korea remains the only officially-sanctioned league in the world that bans people based on where they were born. It doesn’t matter if you’re a legal resident – you’re not welcome.
We believe Pokémon is greater than discrimination. We believe the song Kiseki – which embodies the games’ overarching theme of peace – means something. We believe that when the Korea League targets people based on how their name sounds, they denigrate everything the game stands for.
Pokémon Korea needs to do the right thing.
We’re not going anywhere.