WAXHAW – Does the world’s greatest Pokémon player live in Waxhaw? We’ll soon know.
Fourteen-year-old Jake Dudzik says he isn’t clearing off space on the mantle in his Lawson neighborhood home just yet as he prepares to head to the Pokémon World Championship in Vancouver, British Columbia. Ask him, and he’ll modestly say he’s just shooting for the Top 35 in order to have some fun and bring home some Pokémon swag to add to the roughly 10,000 cards he already has, give or take a few hundred.
But watch him shuffle a stack of 60 Pokémon cards with the speed and intensity of a blackjack dealer and you can’t help but think the kids in Canada are going to be a bit intimidated.
“I really just want to play against people from other countries,” Jake said while in a state of constant motion, slapping cards down on his kitchen table seemingly by instinct. The cards come quick – way too quick if you’re trying to learn the game at his hand. And the Pokémon language all sounds made up if you aren’t used to hearing it on a regular basis. But the game, like most, comes down to a few simple steps: get the best players, give them the right tools and knock out the other guy.
It all starts with building the best “deck” of 60 cards that will give you the best chance of coming out on top. Players are “always tweaking their deck,” Jake said, and he’ll be working out his final deck all the way up to the competition next weekend. There’s all kinds of different cards, but the important points are the character cards, which have different powers and can sustain different amounts of “damage;” attacks allow you to hurt the other player’s characters; and stadiums dictate where the match is played and can change how much damage a player can sustain and what attacks can be used.
The goal is to cause enough damage to knock out a character, which earns two “prize cards.” Once a player earns all six of his or her prize cards, they win.
That’s gross simplification for a game that has hundreds of new cards released each year, thousands of different player and attack combinations and the need to constantly guess your opponent’s next move in order to stay in front in a game that could last a few seconds or half an hour.
It all comes as second nature to Jake, even though he’s only been playing the game for two years. And he’s not nervous about the upcoming competition, even though he will be up against the world’s best.
Jake played his way into the worldwide event at a recent Last Chance Qualifier, snagging one of the coveted spots in the Aug. 9 to 11 tournament. Most of his time the last few days has been spent practicing his moves and preparing for what he might see from opponents – both foreign and domestic. Jake could run into one of his playing partners from Above Board Games in Fort Mill, S.C., that he’s used to trading cards with among the hundreds of competitors in Vancouver.
He’ll have some good-luck charms with him at the competition – including stuffed animals of two of his favorite characters – Wailord, a whale, and Eevee, a fox. He’ll also have six of his most valued cards he’s earned through trading with friends.
Jake’s mom, Robin, will be watching from the sidelines – when she’s not playing against the other parents. She’s picked up the game through watching Jake and playing with him nearly every day. Wearing a pink Pokémon T-shirt and set of Poké Ball earrings, mom nearly pulled off the upset in a practice round on Monday, July 29. It didn’t help that Jake was being hammered with a hundred questions about what card does what while he was trying to concentrate.
Robin Dudzik, whose favorite character is the “fiery pig” Tepig, doesn’t want to hazard a guess on how much money the family has spent on Pokémon over the last two years. She compares the cost to what a parent typically would pay if their child was in a club sport and traveled a lot.
But it could all be worth it if Jake comes out the victor in Vancouver – the top few players can earn college scholarships. If not, he’ll rework his deck, hit the local Pokémon circuit for some practice and get ready for the 2014 world championship. The location of next year’s tournament hasn’t been announced, but Jake is hoping for Paris.
Confused? Learn more about the tournament and how to play online at www.pokemon.com/us/play-pokemon/championship-series/tcg-world-championships/