When Northeastern State University student Tyler Smith picked up his first deck of Pokémon trading cards a little over a year ago, he had no idea he’d be vying at the national level this June.
Smith recently competed with over 100 others in the 2012 Arkansas Pokémon State Championship, and walked away with the title. He is now ranked among the top 20 players in the nation.
“I just got involved a little over a year ago,” said Smith. “I played the video games when I was little, and got involved, I guess out of nostalgia, playing the card game in the online community. I seem to be pretty good at it.”
For those unfamiliar with the Japanese franchise, Pokémon – short for Pocket Monsters – took hold in the United States in 1996 via the Nintendo video game, and have since morphed into merchandise including full-length videos, anime, trading cards, toys, books and other media.
As of the latest game release, there are over 646 Pokémon in the “Pokédex.” Avid fans have favorite characters, including Pikachu, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur.
Each Pokémon can be captured by a trainer using a Poké Ball, and once captured obeys whatever its new master’s commands. Trainers send out their Pokémon to wage battles against other Pokémon – all of which are non-lethal. At worst, a Pokémon “faints,” and at best, it evolves into a more powerful species of Pokémon.
Smith’s favorite Pokémon is Typhlosion, which, according to the National Pokédex, looks something like a blue and tan dinosaur with a mane of fire. The Pokédex states Typhlosion attacks using blasts of fire. It creates heat shimmer with intense fire to hid itself. Its weaknesses are ground, water and rock.
“It’s my favorite because it goes with my name – Tyler,” said Smith. “Typhlosion is my nickname online.”
Top finishers from the Arkansas tournament, including Smith, earned points that help gain entry into high-level events, including the national contest and the 2012 Pokémon World Championships, slated for August in Hawaii.
“By winning the Arkansas contest, I got $300, a first-round bye in the national championship, which means I’ll start the competition at 1-0,” said Smith. “My hotel room and everything is paid for.”
Smith is also competing at a regional tournament in Houston, Texas.
It’s not necessary for him to win this competition to continue to the national event, but should he come out on top, it could provide him valuable travel awards, bye status and championship points - all of which will help, if he’s invited to participate in this summer’s world event.
“The world competition is invitation-only,” said Smith. “You have to be ranked among the top 40 players in the U.S. to be invited. I have the ranking, but I still have to find a way to pay for the trip to Hawaii.”
The national championship in Indianapolis will be held June 29-July 1. If Smith wins first place, he will receive an invitation to the world event, 20 championship points, a travel award for the world event, a scholarship worth $5,000, and other Pokémon merchandise.
“Only a couple of people here in town play Pokémon,” said Smith. “But after playing in these tournaments, I have friends all over the country.”
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