Following AI art complaints, Pokémon Company boots contest finalists who allegedly already robbed themselves of the joy of drawing a little guy

A player shuffles through a deck of Pokemon TCG cards.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Is nothing sacred? If anything is, the delight of drawing a little creature is one of our strongest contenders. Let's do a little experiment. Grab a pencil or pen, open up a new tab, Google "Pikachu," and draw that little guy. It doesn't have to be good; it's just for you. That joy we're feeling? That's what some entrants in a recent Pokémon TCG art contest were being accused of denying themselves by submitting AI-generated images and occupying finalist slots that could've gone to artists who hand-drew (or hand-sculpted!) their work.

Yesterday, the official Pokémon TCG Twitter account released a statement saying that "select entrants from the top 300 finalists of the Pokémon TCG Illustration Contest 2024 have violated the official contest rules." Those entrants, the statement says, have been disqualified and will be replaced with other artists who'd submitted entries.

While the statement doesn't specify what contest rules were violated, a quick look at the replies to the reveal of the original 300 finalists on June 14 provide a potential explanation. A significant amount of the artwork submitted by those 300 finalists, in the words of Twitter user @CheezBurgrLuvr, seemed to "have that ai stank to them."

Users noted that a number of entries had that hard-to-quantify but distinct AI weirdness to them, and started posting results from AI content detection services like Hive. While services like Hive are by no means infallible, many of the submissions that failed that sniff test also happened to be submitted under conspicuously similar names: first name Vigen or Vigo, last name K or Khachadoorian. 

I took a quick look at the TCG art contest submission guidelines, and while they forbid "material that violates or infringes another's rights," including intellectual property rights, I didn't catch anything explicitly forbidding generative AI art imagery. They do, however, limit an artist to three submissions, which in itself is probably enough to disqualify the scoundrel known as Vigo K.

While Pokémon is a particularly tragic venue for the ongoing concerns with AI-generated imagery, this is nowhere near the first time art contests have been derailed by machine-made submissions. In April 2023, after winning a celebrated photography contest with a generated image, German artist Boris Elgadsen refused the award to indicate that, hey, maybe this stuff's getting a bit off the rails, yeah? Since then, it's gotten even goofier: Earlier this month, a photographer was disqualified from an AI photography contest for submitting an actual photo, because we're in a bizarro nonsense future.

In the meantime, let me extend an early congratulations to whichever artists The Pokémon Company selects as the new finalists. I'm rooting for the hand-sculpted Charizard:

Lincoln Carpenter

Lincoln spent his formative years in World of Warcraft, and hopes to someday recover from the experience. Having earned a Creative Writing degree by convincing professors to accept his papers about Dwarf Fortress, he leverages that expertise in his most important work: judging a video game’s lore purely on the quality of its proper nouns. With writing at Waypoint and Fanbyte, Lincoln started freelancing for PC Gamer in Fall of 2021, and will take any excuse to insist that games are storytelling toolkits—whether we’re shaping those stories for ourselves, or sharing them with others. Or to gush about Monster Hunter.