Teen sets sights on Pokemon world championship
BY FRANK VAISVILAS Correspondent February 2, 2014 8:32PM
Jacob Waller, 13, displays his Pokemon video game on a Nintendo DS. | Frank Vaisvilas~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 4, 2014 6:14AM
When Robert Waller brought his son Jacob to his first Pokemon regional championship tournament last fall, he thought it would include only a handful of people in a small room.
Instead, the event was held at a large convention center with dozens of competitors and hundreds of their family members and friends.
Pokemon, which is part of the Japanese anime cultural phenomenon, first was introduced to the United States in 1998. It is a card game and a video game in which users collect Pokemon avatars to do battle against one another in turn-based play.
Although the game arrived before Jacob, 13, was born, it continues to attract a new generation of players.
Jacob became hooked at a young age.
“I saw the first commercial when I was 5 or 6, and I thought it was so cool,” he said. “ ... It’s so addicting.”
Jacob plays the video game version on the Nintendo DS portable game system. He won his second regional tournament championship in a row Jan. 18 in St. Charles, Mo. The victory almost assures Jacob a place in the national championship in July in Indianapolis.
But first, Jacob said, he’ll compete in another regional tournament on April 13 in Madison, Wis., to continue to rack up points and hone his skills.
And he has prizes from his tournaments, such as trophies, a $100 gift card and a Nintendo DS.
To win, Jacob has to outthink his opponent almost as if playing in a poker game. He has to anticipate whether his foe is going to put a Pokemon in defense mode or attack mode. And he has to keep in mind that certain Pokemon types are immune to other Pokemon types, such as a “ghost” being immune to “normal,” and the new “fairy” type being immune to “dragon.”
“I think of what my opponent can do,” Jacob said.
Jacob has collected more than 200 Pokemon through the years, but he can choose only six to compete in a tournament, per the rules.
He knows he must choose the right six for team synergy.
“If my opponent doesn’t have team synergy, I can just go straightforward with attacks (and win),” Jacob said.
If Jacob is victorious in the national tournament he’ll earn an all-expenses-paid trip to the world championship in Washington, D.C. later this year. There, he would compete against kids from Japan and other parts of the world.
To prepare, Jacob plays the battle simulator Pokemon Showdown on his computer against the artificial intelligence in the unit.
“I practice every day until my dad or mom tells me to get off,” Jacob said.
He also plays against his friends. Most of Jacob’s friends who play Pokemon live in his dad’s neighborhood in New Lenox, where he spends about half his week. His parents are divorced, and he also lives with his mom in Oak Forest, where he attends Arbor Park Middle School.
Jacob competes in the senior division, which includes children up to 14 years old.
The next division up is the masters and includes teens from 15 to adults, some of whom are in their 40s.
Jacob said he’d like to compete for some time in the masters division. And although he hasn’t completely decided on a career, he said he probably would like to design video games.