Pokemon Organized Play or POP has been responsible for hosting a variety of different levels of tournament play for pokemon tcg players for almost as long as pokemon has been in existence. Speaking for myself, I've been to a Pennsylvania State Championships as well as the 2005 National Championships in Columbus, Ohio. I've been to a couple smaller league events and stuff before as well. POP has long been, for the tcg, what every pokemon player has wanted for the video games; a true competitive level tournament organizer responsible for hosting and running tournaments. An organization which did the same thing, but for the video games has always been in high demand. With the advent of the Journey Across America in addition to the Pokemon VideoGame Showdowns, it seems like we've finally been answered. Last I heard, there was some speculation that there would be some kind of world tournament for video game players which would be merged with the tcg world's tournament.
But I digress. http://go-pokemon.com is the current home site for pokemon organized play. In their own words, POP is:
Pokémon Organized Play (POP) is an international organization that promotes good sportsmanship and enjoyment of the Pokémon Trading Card Game through competitive and casual play. Leagues and Prerelease events support a casual and fun gaming environment while preparing players for the challenges of our more competitive tournament series. That series of City Championships, State Championships, Regional Championships, National Championships, and Battle Road events are meant to provide players opportunities to earn great prizes and hone their Pokémon TCG playing skills en route to the pinnacle event of the year, The Pokémon TCG World Championships.
Pokémon Organized Play is supported by Pokémon USA, Inc, a subsidiary of The Pokémon Company.
POP thus hosts several different tournaments throughout the year, and does so on an international scale with tournaments throughout North America and Europe. POP refers to these major tournaments as "Premier Events" on go-pokemon.com. Furthermore POP recognizes three distinct groups of players, separated by age, with a winner in each group. The 3 groups are Junior, Senior, and Masters.
City Championships are one of the first events in POP's tournament season followed by State/Province/Territory Championships. Both of these two tournaments are pretty basic and self-explanatory with city championships taking place in hundreds of cities around the world and state championships taking place on a one tournament to state/territory/province basis.
Regional Championships essentially constitute a level below National Championships and effectively create large regions between the United States and Canada with individual cities in each of these "regions" hosting a championship tournament. Winners of a regional championship also stand a chance of getting an invite to the World Championships.
Battle Road tournaments as described on go-pokemon.com are "small, entry-level events on a local scale. Battle Road Spring tournaments give players another opportunity to work on their premier ratings, potentially earning an invite and trip to Worlds." The Battle Road tournaments seem on a different level than the City, State, and Regional Championships given that they are specifically referred to as "entry level." At the same time though they are clearly important, on a competitive level, since winners can potentially earn an invite to Worlds.
The National Championships separates the winners from the losers and provides winners with scholarships worth up to 5000 dollars. Unlike previous tournaments, winning a National Championship 'gives' the winner a guaranteed spot in participating at the Worlds Championships. For the 2009 U.S. National Championships the site for the event has been moved from the Origin Convention in Columbus, Ohio to the America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri; thus opening the National Championship to being within reach of a much greater number of players (hopefully anyway.)
World Championships were previously held in Orlando, Florida, but for the 2009 World Championships the site has been moved to the Hilston San Diego Bayfront, in California. Now as you may have seen reference to on go-pokemon, POP keeps track of participants success in tournaments through a system called "premier ratings" which basically keeps track of a player's win-loss record. If one has a high enough premier rating it is possible that based upon your premier rating alone you can receive an invite to Worlds. As was mentioned above, players can receive invitations to Worlds from National Championships, but one can also receive an invitation to Worlds based upon their performance at the previous (last year's) World Championship. There's also a last chance qualifier event for top-ranked players who can possibly receive an invitation to participate. A scholarship worth up to 7,500 dollars, in addition to other presitgious prizes to make any pokemon fan's mouth water, are available as prizes.
For almost all of their major events, POP uses a "modified format" type of play which restricts the number of card sets from which you can use cards for your deck. Thus being active in POP really requires a decent amount of money, so that you keep your deck up to date and in accord with the rules established by the "modified format."
If you're interested in looking at the specific rules, they can be found here: http://www.go-pokemon.com/op/tournaments/docs/2008-2009/Tournament_Rules.pdf
Post a comment if you really hate pdfs and want me to copy and paste it into a separate article here on the site.