The Yu-Gi-Oh! Neuron app appeared out of nowhere back in July. That was just five months ago, but it feels a lot longer; Neuron had a handful of minor bugs when it released, but they were solved pretty quickly and from there Neuron just became a regular part of the background of Yu-Gi-Oh.

It's really good at what it does, offering fast access to news and information like the F&L List, a smooth deck builder, and references that are super-handy for translating non-English cards. But as soon as everybody settled in with what Neuron could do at launch, the conversation immediately turned to what it could do in the future. And now that we've had a few months to see how players are using it, and what Yu-Gi-Oh might look like in the next year or two, I want to revisit those ideas and share some of my own.

It's no secret: 2020 was a tumultuous year for the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG, with some of the best releases of all time and some ground breaking successes, mired in the challenges of a global pandemic. I'd be hard pressed to think of a year with both greater highs and lows for Yu-Gi-Oh, but I think if we want to talk about the best parts of the year, Yu-Gi-Oh! Neuron is definitely part of that conversation.

To be clear, I don't think the majority of these ideas are revolutionary. "What Neuron Could Be" is a thought exercise we've all gone through, and I'm sure Konami's got people dedicated to this idea coming up with all sorts of stuff. But it's a fun discussion, and if big events make a safe return sometime next year, then 2021 could be the year that Neuron redefines the Yu-Gi-Oh experience.

That's an exciting possibility, and since we're standing at the cusp of the New Year, now's a great time to talk about it.

Neuron At Big Tournaments

We can't talk about this and not start here: ever since Neuron released, the number one thing everyone's hoped for has been more stuff for tournaments.

You've probably seen a lot of these ideas before, and you've probably had many of them yourself. That's for good reason: Neuron has huge potential to vastly improve the in-person tournament experience. Over the years we've watched 120-person SHONEN JUMP Championships turn into YCS events with 800 to 1200 competitors. Some of them are even bigger, and they all feature countless Public Events. Heck, even hotspot areas like Southern California regularly break quad-digit turnouts for Regionals alone. Big events are awesome, but they're increasingly tougher to manage, both as an organizer and an attendee.

Modern problems require modern solutions, and everybody can see that Neuron's the obvious way to deliver them. So what could Neuron do at Regionals, Extravaganzas, and big Championships?

The first answer on pretty much anybody's lips is online registration and deck list submission. With Yu-Gi-Oh events getting bigger and bigger, more players have to get in a physical line ad wait to register. We've seen Konami and tournament organizers deal with that by offering more opportunities to pre-register whenever possible. They've gone so far as to offer incentives like the uber-popular pre-reg promo dice to get people to show up early, a bid to counter the natural inclination for players to register as late as possible (and create a massive line half an hour before reg closes).

But realistically, TOs can't be expected to have early access to a venue for anything smaller than a YCS or WCQ, which means we don't see pre-reg at many, if any Regionals; and they're the bulk of the big events most players attend. And even when pre-reg is an option, you still have to get into town early enough to make it, and you still need to drag yourself to the venue or the hotel where pre-reg is; that means spending time, and often money for an uber, just to shift the burden of in-person registration from Saturday morning to Friday afternoon.

Neuron seems custom-crafted to solve that problem, offering player identification via your Konami ID, and a deck builder to hold your deck list. We saw just weeks ago that the OP team's already starting to integrate Neuron into registration, it's just not quite to the point of online signups. I hate making assumptions, but I don't think it's much of a leap to guess that Konami's aiming for online registration at some point. It saves tournament organizers and players a ton of hassle, it removes the challenge of corralling players into (and out of) the venue, and it means TOs, judges, and other event staff can focus their limited time and energy on other things. I'm sure this is something somebody's been working on from day one.

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But beyond that, we could see Neuron integrated into the in-person tournament experience in lots of other ways, and that could add up to a tournament experience that would feel very different, and massively improved from the model we know. If you've been to even just one big TCG tournament in your life, you know what it's like to struggle through the crush of humanity to get to a posted list of pairings and standings. And if you've ever worked one of those events as a judge or event staff, you know what a pain it is to print out a bazillion pairing sheets, tape it all together, and then try and beat the players to the posting station. Let alone trying to escape the throng afterward.

Stick that information on Neuron and suddenly life's easier for everybody. There's no crush of players creating chokepoints in the venue, tournament staff can work on other stuff, and the paperless option saves a lot of trees in the long run. Not everybody can be expected to have a smart phone; I'm sure some printing would still have to happen. But the sheer volume could be far lower, and for 99% of tournament attendees this would be a huge quality of life upgrade. And have you ever seen players misread their table number? Neuron could fix that, offering an instant recheck without having to pack up all your stuff and bolt across the tournament hall.

Round clocks are another problem. They aren't free, and power outlets aren't always available everywhere in a venue, so that can create situations where a limited number of clocks have to be positioned according to power sources and optimal player visibility. That means there are always players who struggle to see them, even if it's just because they're not facing the right way. It also means smaller Public Events rarely get their own clock. Neuron could solve all of that with a round clock feature.

Maybe we could see a future where Neuron has a "Hail A Judge!" button too, Uber-izing judge calls. Wouldn't it be nice to call a judge without having to wave your arms and yell like an idiot? And if you're trying to focus on your plays, there's no bigger distraction than two of your neighbors being as loud as possible to try and get a judge's attention.

Maybe we could even see unique features for judges too, so they could add penalty notes and time extensions digitally, instead of having to write them on match slips, just to be entered into a computer later by a scorekeeper (always one of the busiest people on event staff). There are tons of analog processes here that Neuron might be able to solve.

Now don't get me wrong, none of these ideas are easy. Redefining the tournament system is a big process, and as simple as these thoughts might sound, everything has real world logistical issues, a need for extensive testing, technical complications and a lot of potential pitfalls. That all costs money and time. It's Yu-Gi-Oh too, so everything probably has an approvals process.

But Konami's constantly improving their tournament systems. Judge tools have improved by leaps and bounds over the years, pre-registration didn't always exist, we've seen clever solutions to player behavior like those promo dice, and lots of other innovations. The OP team's a really smart group of people, and while we have no idea who has what level of interaction with Neuron, you can bet they're interested in what it could mean for high level OP.

And that's not all.

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Neuron At Local Stores

Everybody talks about what Neuron could do for big tournaments, but how about smaller tournaments, and the Official Tournament Stores that run them? Konami's done a lot to support OTS locations over the past years, continuing to create exclusive products like OTS Packs for local tournaments, re-envisioning pre-release events, and going so far as to offer hugely valuable promo cards to give brick-and-mortars an edge over backpackers and online sellers.

Not all of those programs fired out of the gates. Duelist League was a casual support program created years ago for youth duelists, but tight age restrictions meant very few stores actually ran it. The result is, to date, some of the most sought-after promo cards in the game, because they just weren't available anywhere. Pegasus League and other tournament variants that started as OTS support, either disappeared off the map or became staples of Public Events at bigger tournaments. Meanwhile Yu-Gi-Oh! Day, VIP Qualifiers and other events that operate on the bigger-than-local-but-not-quite-Regional levels persist as popular events hosted by OTS shops.

The takeaway? Konami's never shied away from innovating at the local level to try and assist OTS stores. While maintaining OTS status isn't easy, we've seen Konami get really creative to make it worthwhile. Neuron could be the next step in that process, since it could allow OTS stores direct access to players who opt in for communication.

In theory, stores could use Neuron to make themselves better known to players. The official Yu-Gi-Oh website already has an OTS and Event locator tool that lets you search for stores and events relative to where you are, but many players don't seem to know it exists. Integrating it into Neuron could make it easier for players to find it and use it, and help them discover opportunities to play locally.

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From there it might be a short leap to stores offering release dates, event schedules, product availability, and other valuable info directly to their players. Historically speaking it's always been a legal concern for big companies to allow customers, retailers, and subsidiaries to contact eachother directly via official platforms, but as more companies - including Konami - promote things like store-specific Discord servers, it seems like that stance on tech and customer communication is shifting. On a global basis.

How cool would it be if you could sign up and get notifications about tournaments from your local? Or register to get news about products, and instantly be notified when it's on the shelf? Or how about when something like a new Lost Art arrives in store? Right now, local game stores have to run a newsletter or call customers directly to deliver that sort of information. That's not impossible, but it comes with a lot of problems: people hate email spam, stores don't have the resources to call every customer they have, and so on.

That means lots of players don't know when a new product is coming out, let alone when it's actually in store and ready to go. You have to call a store or check their website to find out when events are running. Stores just don't have the bandwidth to keep players informed, let alone siloed according to their interests so they don't send info a particular player doesn't want. Neuron could fix all of that, giving OTS stores a new channel for communication and letting players opt in for the specific types of communication they want. At least in theory.

From big events and stores, let's drill down a little further and talk about player-to-player applications.

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Neuron For Player Coordination

Okay, so like… I'm not saying "Grindr for Yu-Gi-Oh," right? But… Grindr for Yu-Gi-Oh?

…Hear me out.

Lots of players don't have access to big events. Heck, I'll go out on a limb and say most people who buy Yu-Gi-Oh cards don't have the ability to get to Regionals and Championships on the reg. And while there are hundreds of Official Tournament Stores, plenty of players don't have an OTS or even a local game store in their area. Part of the beauty of TCGs is that you can throw a deck into your bag and play almost anywhere; they're designed to be ultra-portable, and if you've ever lugged around a boardgame like Catan or Wingspan or Ticket To Ride, you know the difference that makes.

But you can't play real life Yu-Gi-Oh without an opponent. And more than that, the social experience is basically why we're here. If you didn't want to interact with other people there are millions of video games and non-digital solo games you could be playing on your own right now, instead of reading this article.

People make Yu-Gi-Oh what it is. But the challenge has always been helping them find each other.

That's why big events and OTS stores are so important; organized competition is huge, but really, just getting a bunch of Yu-Gi-Oh players into one spot is an achievement, and it's one of the biggest challenges for any real life game hosting two players or more. Your game works if you can get people to get together and play it. It fails if everybody buys it, and then can't play it. We're in the middle of a pandemic right now so this probably isn't news to you.

But what if you could de-centralize that social mechanic? Again, fostering customer-to-customer relationships - in this case direct player-to-player access - is something big companies have avoided for decades. And that aversion's still going strong today. Why doesn't Pokémon Go have an in-game chat feature like just about every other big mobile game? Why doesn't Niantic, the company that operates PoGo, offer the same communication tools it uses in their earlier game, Ingress? The answer's probably legal liability; nobody running a game for kids wants to create a tool that would let predators find easy victims. And as much as the "CHiLdREN's cArd GaME" meme is old hat these days, Yu-Gi-Oh's still an all-ages product.

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But maaaaan…. how cool would it be to pop onto Neuron and instantly see that there are 50 duelists wandering around your city? Or to get really into the weeds, how close they are to you at that very moment? What kind of community could Neuron foster if it had its own integrated chat, helping you meet fellow players you might not meet otherwise?

Don't get me wrong, the problems with any sort of idea like this are really obvious. Nothing along these lines would've been possible five years ago, and it might not be possible now. But the definition of "possible" is changing pretty rapidly these days; I meet tons of people through mobile games, and a lot of them wind up being really close by. Discord's changed the way gamers communicate and right now it's got a sort of monopoly on that concept.

But lots of smaller games have integrated chat features that let players coordinate and play the game together, or work towards common goals. And I think as time goes on, we'll see bigger and bigger companies slowly embracing that sort of mechanic, provided it can be kept safe for players. Those challenges exist on two levels - legal liability, and the actual responsibility you have to not put people at risk - but the technological solutions on both of those fronts are advancing every day.

For now this is a pipe dream, and the specifics are impossible to lock down. But still, some day, Neuron could be a powerful networking tool that could let players meet and build their own communities, as well as help them integrate into existing ones revolving around OTS locations. Find people to play, find trades, find new teammates to travel to big events with… the possibilities are endless. And whether it takes a year or a decade, I think that's the direction in-person gaming is headed. Especially TCGs.

The Discord monopoly on gamer get-togethers isn't going to last forever.

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Unlockable Content

Going in a totally different direction, Neuron as a platform is a big canvas for its own innovation. Right now it exists as a pretty uniform experience: give or take some custom settings like, "Do I want to hear epic background music on loop, yes or no," everybody's using the same Neuron.

But the reality is that human beings love self-expression, and as universal as that is, it's even more true for Yu-Gi-Oh players. I don't know exactly when it happened, but for many of us, how we play this game has become an issue of fashion. Playmats, sleeves, dice, coins, tokens, deck boxes, calculators… lots of players have very particular tastes about the image they project with the stuff they use.

And that's true in all Trading Card Games. Heck, there's lots of custom gear for regular old board games these days, just ask Broken Token or the actual legion of Etsy creators laser cutting stuff out of wood, acrylic, and metal.

But honestly? Here in Yu-Gi-Oh, we take it to another level.

When SpellGround mats debuted for Magic: The Gathering, nobody cared for like, a decade. I remember being at Neutral Ground in New York City - RIP - for the Shadow of Infinity pre-release and seeing a big bucket of them in a corner of the shop. They were just rolled up all covered in dust, pretending they wouldn't cost hundreds of dollars later in life. In Kanye terms, Ralph Lauren was borin' before we wore him.

Yu-Gi-Oh made SpellGrounds cool. And we do that shit all day.

Yu-Gi-Oh players made calculator cases a thing. We were the first game to really dive into custom printed mats. We pay $50+ for dice and often far more for rare deck boxes. We all lost our minds when Konami said we could double sleeve, because we can use all the rare sleeves that were too cool to risk breaking. Lots of Yu-Gi-Oh players are big into sneaker culture and big streetwear brands, and for many of us, YCS weekends are a chance to dress up and look fresh.

Nobody wants to show up to the table looking like a slob. But lots of people want to show up looking like a professional, ready to win. Even if you're just customizing your sleeves on Dueling Book, self-expression matters.

That's why I think it's inevitable that we'll see more personality and more options in Neuron. And I think that's gonna come in two or three flavors: options that are available to everybody for free, additional options available via micro-transactions, and codes for exclusive customizations given as promos and add-ons to event prizes.

You could reskin the app in new colors and new UIs, especially the Duel interface screen with its timer and calculator - it's sitting on your table anyways, so it might as well match your aesthetic. We could see options to change the Dice and Coin in the Tools section, or even customize your background music (which is goofy AF, but let's be honest, we'd all use it at least a few times). There's no verbalized demand for this right now, but it fits the usage patterns of the Yu-Gi-Oh playerbase, and there's definitely revenue that could be generated here if the agreements and licensing surrounding Neuron allow for it.

And that's important to remember: these ideas are simple, but the ramifications, the technical hurdles, the legal issues, the licensing agreements, and everything else make Yu-Gi-Oh! Neuron a complicated beast, even by regular Yu-Gi-Oh standards - a brand that involves tons of different companies and interests spread across the game, the shows, the manga, the distribution, the merch, and so on. None of this is simple.

But Neuron's especially complicated just because the possibilities are so wide, and the ceiling is so high. If you can dream it this thing could do it, provided all the stars aligned correctly. A big part of what made Neuron so exciting when it dropped was that it was so full of potential, and at the same time it was so unpredictable. Nobody save the people working on it really know where this thing is going.

Is Neuron a revolutionary tournament utility? Is it a new chapter in Yu-Gi-Oh fashion? Is it going to bring players to stores, or to big events, or to Discord, or straight to each other? The hubbub around Neuron died down pretty quick after it released in July, but that's only because there was nothing to complain about. People are using Neuron every day to check the F&L List, build decks, search for cards, keep track of their games, and get card translations.

The question now, is what we'll use it for in the future. Personally I think that's one of the most exciting questions in the game as we head into 2021, a year full of possibilities.