The Pokémon TCG has been a part of my life since early childhood – first as a collecting hobby, as I inherited a family friend’s stash of vintage Pokémon cards, and, more recently, as a tabletop gaming hobby. I consider Pokémon to be a part of my identity, as much as I understand my non-binary gender, my ADHD, and my bisexuality as aspects of myself.
I only started playing the Pokémon TCG and attending my local tournaments at the beginning of 2023, after going to one pre-release event with my partner at the end of 2022. Knowing I wouldn’t be able to leave any parts of my complex identity at home, I was a little scared to enter such a traditionally male-dominated space.
I knew that the Pokémon community as a whole was diversifying, as I converted from just a collector to a player specifically because I watched Frosted Caribou, who casts competitive Pokémon TCG, on YouTube. But knowing a particular trading card game community is generally opening up doesn’t necessarily mean that your local games store will be part of that trend.
I had a great time at my first pre-release event, but I was one of two femme-presenting people at the entire event of 20+ people. My partner witnessed another male player talking down to the other femme in the room. If I wasn’t so determined to continue with this hobby, I think that experience would have turned me away.
But I’m stubborn. I stayed. And, in my search for accepting Pokémon TCG communities, I came across Girl Power TCG, an organization dedicated to providing a safe space for women and people of marginalized genders to have fun in the hobby. I’ve since had a chance to meet and chat with Emmi Stonier (pictured top) and Natalie Miller, the founders of Girl Power TCG, about what led them to create this inclusive community – and how things are going.
Both Miller and Stonier are lifelong Pokémon fans, but came to the TCG at completely different times. “I played a combination of YuGiOh and the Naruto CCG for quite a while before switching to Pokémon a few times over the years, says Miller. “I mainly picked it up full time with the release of Black and White.”
Stonier’s journey is similar to mine – she picked up collecting again during the COVID-19 pandemic, then learned more about the game from content creators. “When Evolving Skies came out, I went to my first ‘pre-release’ (unofficial with friends because of the COVID-19 pandemic) and, out of my kit, I pulled a MoonBreon,” she recalls. “After that experience, I was completely hooked and focused on playing instead of collecting.”
I wanted to know if there was a specific driving event that spawned Girl Power TCG, or whether the need for this community emerged over time. As it turns out, it was a combination of the two.
For Stonier, it was a misogynistic encounter at her local card shop -similar to the one I witnessed – that really got the gears turning. “During the summer of 2022, I went to a local card shop for a weekly Pokémon league. I felt like it was obvious that I was there to play, since I was wearing a Pokémon shirt, and was carrying my playmat and deck box.
“However, when I walked up to the counter, the guy looked me up and down and asked me: ‘Are you looking for something for your boyfriend?’ I no longer felt welcome and I went home.”
So, not expecting much from it, she took to Twitter to ask if any other women Pokémon players wanted to be friends or make a team. She was swiftly flooded with responses. Her own experience clearly resonated with so many others in the community and exposed a larger problem that so many minority-gender players were facing around the world.
As if to underline the scale of that problem, Stonier assures me that Girl Power TCG isn’t the first or only organization with this mission, and that help from other groups was essential in creating the community as it stands today.
“I had a ton of help from other women and nonbinary Pokémon players who got the Discord organized and started,” she explains, adding that “other people have started similar missions in the Pokémon community, such as Palette of Friends (an initiative to get coaching for women and minority Pokémon TCG players), The Hatterene Series (a Pokémon videogame tournament series for women and nonbinary players), and Girls That PVP (a hashtag that started a community for women and minority Pokémon Go players).”
“I’m so grateful to these people for creating these communities and encouraging the representation that people need to feel seen, supported, and heard.”
With a community that started online and largely operates online outside of competitive events, you might expect that Girl Power TCG attracts a lot of negativity from trolls, transphobes, and misogynists.
However, the invite system for the server essentially lets Stonier, Miller, and the other moderators vet who joins, maintaining the positive vibe and safety of the space. At physical TCG tournaments, they simply offer a friendly, welcoming hand to people who arrive to find themselves in the gender minority at the tabletop.
“I think a huge part of our success is how much we do in person at events,” Stonier says. “A majority of our community members are added to our Discord because someone wearing a jersey or a shirt or a pin gets paired against someone at a regional who says ‘Hey, I’ve heard of Girl Power, what is it exactly?’”
And how do they combat the negativity that some folks feel at such events? “By being welcoming and kind!” says Miller (pictured above). “We all have similar stories on how isolating it can be to be in this community without a group.
“All we can do is try our best to be welcoming and accepting to everyone who joins and give them an opportunity to grow within the community.”
Even though Girl Power TCG is only in its infancy, the group has helped create a similar space within competitive YuGiOh. Stonier says it “just made sense” for her and Miller to reach out to their now colleague Zara (a.k.a. 5thRateDuelist) and help her to form partner group GP YGO, after they noticed a pattern of misogyny and transphobia in the game’s online spaces.
“I felt compelled to act!” says Miller. “I know the YuGiOh community well, and knew that it needed a safe space even more than Pokémon did.” GP YGO is already flourishing and inspiring Girl Power TCG with its projects, such as holding guest lectures from prominent players in its Discord server.
Tournament organizers and judges at various levels have come to Girl Power for advice on inclusivity, and the main theme from both Stonier and Miller is to make your allyship obvious. Whether that’s by wearing a pronoun badge or taking swift action against hate, they reckon these small steps can go far. Honoring leading female players is also a key ingredient, according to Stonier.
“Ensuring that your junior division girls know about the prominent women players in the history of the Pokémon TCG gives them role models to look up to,” she says.
“Women have won huge premiere events and, although we celebrate their wins as a community, we also need to celebrate them as individuals and include them as we write our history.
“If a young girl can watch Piper Lepine win her second regional in the same season, or watch Cyrus Davis win the North American International Championships, she can imagine herself in their shoes.”
The 2024 Pokémon TCG season is looking busy for Girl Power TCG – the team is looking to expand and improve its work based on community feedback, as well as branching into new areas like content creation and even potentially sponsoring a small competitive team. If you’re interested in getting involved with Girl Power TCG or GP YGO, you can find them both on Twitter under those links.
For more in the world of pocket monsters, you can check out our guide on how to build a Pokémon TCG deck, our growing tracker of the most expensive rare Pokémon cards of all time, our list of the best Pokémon cards ever, or even our primer on how to identify fake Pokémon cards.