Eighth grader becomes national Pokémon champ, runner-up world champion

Graphic by Annya Dahmani
Eighth grader Connor Pedersen has over 5,000 Pokémon Trading Cards.

No, that’s not a typo. More than 5,000.

Pedersen may seem like a typical middle-school student at Country Day, but what most don’t know is that he just won $40,000 as a finalist in the 2016 Pokémon Trading Card Game World Championships.

Pedersen competed among 300 other players from 35 different countries.

And he finished as runner-up among the senior division finalists (players who were born from 2001-04), falling behind only Jesper Eriksen from Denmark,  the world champion.

Not only is Pedersen the runner-up in the Pokémon Trading Card Game, but he is also the national champion.

Pedersen’s card-trading career began roughly three years ago.

“I started collecting cards because they looked cool,” Pedersen said. “Then, (after collecting a lot of cards), I wanted to start playing.”

The Pokémon Trading Card Game, also known as Pokémon TCG, is a two-player game. Each player makes their own deck of 60 cards that contain Pokémon cards, Trainer cards and Energy cards.

Players take seven cards from the top of their shuffled decks and keep these cards in their hand. Then players take six more cards, called Prize cards, from their decks and place these to the left of them, face down.

The objective of Pokémon Trading Cards is to take the six Prize cards of their opponent. In order to do this, one has to knock out the opponent’s Pokémon by using attacks. Different Pokémon cards differ in the level of their attack.

Pokémon attacks reduce the power of other Pokémon until they reach zero HP, also known as Hit Points. HP represents the health of a Pokémon.  Once a Pokémon reaches zero HP, it is knocked out.

Once a player takes all the Prize cards, the player wins.

The game is very strategic and requires many hours of practice, according to Pedersen.

“Before Worlds I was spending more than three hours a day practicing,” he said. “I would practice against myself and my friends.”

On Aug. 19, Pedersen attended Worlds for his third time, hoping to do better than he had in previous years.

In 2014, Pedersen went to his first Worlds in Washington, D.C., and finished in the top 32; in 2015 he attended Worlds in Boston and made top 32 once again.

This year, Worlds happened to be in San Francisco, conveniently close to home.

In order to qualify for Worlds, players have to accrue champion points by doing well in other tournaments, such as a regional championship, according to Pedersen.

Pedersen qualified for Worlds at the Seattle Regionals last May.

“I met a lot of new people (at Worlds) from around the world,” Pedersen said.

Language barriers don’t cause any problems while playing Pokémon Trading Cards, he said, because translators are hired to help players communicate with each other.

In addition to translators, there are commentators at the final match at Worlds.

“It was cool,” Pedersen said. “But (Eriksen and I) had to be muted. They gave us headphones with these water sounds so we couldn’t hear what the commentators were saying.”

Although Pedersen didn’t win the world champion title, he won over $25,000 in prizes and $15,000 in scholarship money, four Master Sets of cards and the opportunity to meet the Japanese president and CEO of the Pokémon Company, Tsunekazu Ishihara.

Pedersen was at Worlds from Aug. 19-21. Two of those days he was competing from 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

And the work continued once he got home.

Not long after returning, Pedersen said that news stations began calling to set up interviews.

On Sept. 5 he appeared on Fox 40, and on Sept. 11 he was on ABC.

And his fame won’t stop there, as he will definitely be attending Worlds next year, he said. This time the Pokémon Company will pay for his trip to Anaheim.

Although Pedersen is the only Pokémon Trading Card competitor at the school, Pokémon in general is popular with students.

In fact, in a poll taken on Sept. 6, 70 of 117 high-school students said that they have played or currently play some form of a Pokémon game.

Junior Yasmin Gupta, for instance, plays the recently released Pokémon Go mobile app.

Pokémon Go is a mobile game available for iPhones and Androids that allows players to catch, train and battle Pokémon characters in augmented reality.

The game was released on July 6 and was tried by many students.

However, despite the app breaking multiple records in both the Android and Apple app stores, the Pokémon Go craze quickly diminished after the initial hype.

But Gupta is one of the few who still has the app on her phone.

“I just play it whenever I babysit or when I’m in a different city like San Francisco,” she said.

Senior Alexa Mathisen started playing Pokémon video games when she was around 5 years old.

“When I was little, all my friends had Game Boys, but I didn’t have any video games at my house,” she said. “But I do remember playing (Pokémon video games) at other people’s houses, and it was really fun. I feel like we were living in a Pokémon culture when we were younger.”

Although Mathisen stopped playing the games when she was 9, she was “super pumped” when she heard Pokémon Go was coming out.

“I got it the first day,” she said.

While Mathisen said that she thinks the Pokémon culture is dying out, senior Mac Scott doesn’t agree.

“I think Pokémon is bigger than ever,” Scott said. “Ever since video games were available for pre-order, (Pokémon games) were at the very top of Amazon’s top selling. I think Pokémon is more popular now (than when) it came out 20 years ago.”

In fact, Scott plays mainly Pokémon video games, his favorites being HeartGold and SoulSilver.

“I got HeartGold and SoulSilver for my eighth birthday,” Scott said. “And I’ve been playing ever since.”

There are many aspects that draw Scott to Pokémon, especially the complexity and strategy.

“Pokémon does a very good job in presenting rules that are simple to understand but are complex enough to not know which options are the best,” he said. “It’s like a multi-layer rock-paper-scissors game.”

By Annya Dahmani

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