2019 Bakugan Invitational Tournament & Sneak Peek Wrap-Up

Last weekend, I was invited to the 2019 Bakugan Invitational Tournament and Sneak Peek, which included a tour of the Spin Master Los Angeles office, a look at the upcoming line of products, a preview of the new season of the anime, and of course, the tournament itself. I had an amazing time, met some great people, and came away with a strong desire to learn Bakugan (as if I needed a new thing to spend money on!).

Bakugan, for those who (like me) don’t really know a whole lot about it, is an anime as well as a game. It originally came out in 2007 and was relaunched in 2019 (last year’s preview weekend was the first Bakugan Invitational Tournament) with a new series and a brand new line of products.

Think of it as Pokemon meets advanced marbles. Bakugan collapse into little balls. When they are rolled over the hexagonal Bakucores, the magnets in each attract each other, causing the Bakugan to flip open. Players use a combination of the Bakugan and their trading cards to deal damage to their opponent, and the game ends essentially when someone runs out of cards. (Although I saw in the tournament that sometimes players can make it a couple of turns – even win the game – with absolutely no cards left in their deck.)

Spin Master spared no expense to put on a really fun weekend. Everyone attending the 2nd Annual Bakugan Invitational Tournament had an all-expenses-paid trip to LA, with travel (including transportation to and from the airport), accommodation, and food all covered by the company. We all got a Bakugan backpack full of Bakugan swag (check out my unboxing – unbagging? – video to see all the neat stuff that we got), and competitors in the tournament received an all-new set of Bakugan and card packs from the upcoming Bakugan: Armored Alliance line. I did not compete in the tournament (thankfully! I would have embarrassed myself heavily), but Spin Master still gave me a sample of the new products. 

Bakugan Invitational Tournament
(c) Bakugan Official Twitter

The attendees were mostly Bakugan influencers – people with YouTube channels dedicated to gaming and hobbies – with me and a couple of other media people tagging along for the ride. We were joined by voice actors Deven Mack (Wynton) and Julius Cho (Magnus), who came everywhere that we did and even competed in the tournament, as well as multiple Spin Master staff members.

We spent much of the day (Saturday) at Spin Master HQ, getting a VIP presentation in the Bakugan showroom from brand manager AJ Miller and designer Michael Lee. (I was able to interview Michael about the new line, so keep an eye out for that soon.) The presentation included a history of Bakugan and the recent re-launch, as well as a pretty interesting look at how a Bakugan is produced, from concept to manufacturing.

Armored Alliance is the title of season 2, and the Bakugan have gotten a re-design to go along with the name change. The new designs seem more intricate and detailed than the previous designs, which could look very chunky.

The primary focus in 2020 is on the new Bakugear – weapons that can be attached to the Bakugan to increase their power – and the new “pro” line of products, which are meant to focus on the advanced card game and are designed to lure in more serious collectors and hobbyists. (I use the term “new” loosely; from what I can tell from listening to the other attendees, they’ve simply renamed the trading card game as “Bakugan Pro” to differentiate it from the more basic battle game that just uses the toys.) Bakugan can be purchased with their accompanying gear, which attaches magnetically and can be attached to any Bakugan, but they are also separate cards in the TCG, and you do not need the gear itself to play the card.

Something else new in the newly rebranded Bakugan Pro is dual faction cards, which can only be played if you have both factions in your deck. But the Bakugear and dual faction cards are only a sample of the new cards that will be released with the Armored Alliance line. Hanging on the wall of Spin Master HQ were the uncut card sheets, featuring a lot of new cards, new moves, new characters, and new character art.

They also teased that there would be Bakugan rarer than diamonds (the clear plastic ones) hitting the shelves sometime this summer. They wouldn’t give any indication of what they will be, just that they will be extremely limited edition; basically, if you don’t grab one as soon as it’s available, you won’t be able to get it at all (except on eBay, of course). Just something to obsess over for the next several months!

We also got a screening of the first two episodes (well, technically I think it was just one episode) of the new season. I’m obviously not allowed to say much, and I’m a little confused as to what I am actually able to talk about, but here is one thing I can tell you about the new season that isn’t that much of a spoiler, because it was announced at the presentation: we meet a new character, Ajit, and Pharol, his Aurelus Bakugan (the first Aurelus brawler in the series). Season 2 will also introduce a concept much like pro-bending in The Legend of Korra – officially sanctioned, professional Bakugan battles.

Speaking of Bakugan battles, the 2nd annual Bakugan Invitational Tournament was held on the final day of the weekend, with the winner receiving a fancy glass trophy as well as the honor of getting to name a Bakugan after themselves. It was a draft tournament, which meant that participants were not allowed to use their own decks; they were instead given five Bakugan and ten card packs from the new Armored Alliance line and had all day Saturday to prepare their decks.

The tournament was single elimination with four rounds. As someone unfamiliar with the game, it was pretty interesting to observe the different matches. Some went rather quickly, and some had a tense final few rounds and a sort of “come from behind” victory. The final – live-streamed on the official Bakugan YouTube channel – was between JettKuso, one of the invited influencers, and Phoenixnighttt, who was invited after winning the Bakugan tournament at Anime Expo over the summer. JettKuso was ultimately the winner.

One of the great things about the weekend was getting to witness the sense of community exhibited by all of the attendees. Some of them met at last year’s tournament, but for those who hadn’t, everyone was at least aware of each other; many follow each other on YouTube. The sense of community was especially obvious during the tournament itself; people consoled each other over losses and celebrated each others’ wins. Obviously those who lost were disappointed, but they all seemed genuinely supportive of each other, and everyone gathered around to watch the final match. And on a personal note, everyone was very nice to me, a few of them even taking the opportunity to explain the game.

It isn’t just the sense of community from the fandom, either. Many of the Spin Master staff knew the attendees by name, and when I spoke to Michael Lee, he said that they often watch their videos. Staff made themselves available during the entire weekend – not just while we were at the offices but during the meals out as well – to answer questions and listen to concerns. It’s refreshing to see a company interact so heavily with its own community in order to build a better product.

In the same way I often end up watching a television show because I see gifsets constantly reblogged on my Tumblr dash, seeing other people excited about something made me want to learn more. Since coming home, I’ve followed everyone on YouTube and have spent time watching their videos to learn more about Bakugan.

It was a really fun weekend, and I’d like to thank Spin Master, again, for inviting me!

If anyone wants the chance to attend next year’s Bakugan Invitational Tournament, it was mentioned on the livestream by Justin Gary (designer of the card game), that they intend to hold many smaller tournaments over the course of the year – like the one at Anime Expo that Phoenixnighttt won – for the chance to play at the main tournament. So keep an eye on Bakugan’s social media outlets, and keep practicing!

For anyone interested, I compiled some of my footage into a video recapping the weekend! It’s mostly video from the presentation with some added footage of the Spin Master offices and a behind-the-scenes look at the tournament. (Please make sure to check out the video on YouTube as well, because I’ve linked to the channels of all the attendees in the description.)

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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