Politics of Being Champion

Typhlosion

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The role of Champion is of utmost importance in the Pokémon franchise, and has been since Day 1. Aside from completing the Pokédex, the player's main explicit goal is often to become the Champion, and a Champion figure almost always serves as the game's final boss. All that aside, it can be a rather ambiguous role, and the way in which the person known as Champion in each region relates to other people and institutions is not at all clear. This is also to say nothing of the anime, where although Trainers known as "Champions" are still respected, their role appears to be minimal next to the regularly held Pokémon League tournaments.

To clarify this for the main series games, I've thought up a little headcanon related to the position which breaks it down into four separate roles. Here we go. If anyone else has put thought into this before, let me know how this stacks up to your own ideas!

League Champion -- The all-inclusive default position, if you will. This title is for anyone who's completed the Pokémon League challenge by earning 8 Gym Badges, then defeating the Elite Four and whoever's waiting in the Champion's room. There's no limit on how many League Champions there could be at a time. Examples of this would be pretty much every player character after beating the game, Blue after the events of the Kanto games, and presumably, everyone belonging to every other category on this list.

Acting Champion -- This is the most formal role: the person whose actual job it is to preside over the Pokémon League and wait for challengers, so that every new victorious challenger don't have to immediately stop their journey to sit in a fancy room all day. Each region would typically only have a single Acting Champion at a time; these would be people like Juan in Emerald, Diantha, and Lance in the Johto games. If any Champion role holds actual political power, exercising governmental authority and leadership, it would be this one. They'd have to be given the title by some kind of overseeing body like the Pokémon Association, and not just any snot-nosed 10-year-old would be considered even if they did become a League Champion.

Reigning Champion -- The strongest Trainer among a region's League Champions, and by extension, probably the strongest Trainer in the whole region. (Trainers like the Frontier Brains, leaders of villainous teams, and Benga might be stronger, but as they're not associated with the League challenge, it's hard to tell). This does not at all have to be the same person as the Acting Champion; perhaps they were unfit for the role or rejected it. There's not any formal process for how the Reigning Champion is determined; it might be decided by who has won the most battles among League Champions, or else who has been a League Champion for the longest amount of time. This is where the player ends up after beating the game. Other examples include Red in the Johto games and Wallace in Emerald, prior to battling the player. Once they lose, of course, the protagonist would automatically then take over the title of Reigning Champion. Even so, Red and Wallace are still considered League Champions at that point.

Master Champion -- A Master Champion doesn't really represent any additional rank, but this would be the official honorary title used when the Acting Champion and Reigning Champion happen to be the same person. A good number of the Acting Champions in games with independent stories (that is to say, not remakes or sequels) would probably fall into this category. The biggest example that comes to my mind is Cynthia, as she's pretty well acknowledged to be the absolute strongest Trainer in Sinnoh (in all three games) during the main story. Interestingly, I think the Alola protagonists would also fall into this category. They're shown discharging the duties of an Acting Champion through the Title Defense mechanic. Since there are no other native League Champions preceding them and no history of other strong Trainers in the Alola Region, each one could also be considered the Reigning Champion. All that together makes them Master Champions.
 
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Deva

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Imagines a simpler system.

Views the Champion as sole authority over all things Pokemon in that region. Includes creating laws and enforcing them. Loses most or all of this power once defeated. Retains some clout in the event of a long rule, though. May continue to rule if a successful challenger declines to assume the mantle too.

Reverberates beyond the original intention, however. Integrated Pokemon into society more over time. Grants the Champion power in more and more realms, such as economic laws involving Pokemon labor. Morphed into something like a monarch.

Expected someone with experience to become leader under this system. Likely designed this with an Ace Trainer, Cool Trainer, or Veteran in mind. Trained for years, if not decades. Never envisioned someone like that losing to a child with less than a month of effort. Meant far lower stakes if the impossible happened anyways.

Makes the protagonist's victory in-game far more impactful and terrifying (if they accept the position). Will lead a region with little knowledge and experience. (Could arguably create a game out of just that. Begins with both the character and player clueless about how to run things. Works in tutorials seamlessly.)
 
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