By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
Opponents faced each other under bright lights, on stage, in front of a crowd of spectators while commentators analyzed their every move. But it wasn’t a boxing match. It was the official Pokémon Trading Card Game 2013 World Championships, and one Sultan resident knows exactly what it’s like to be a winner.
In his first year of playing competitive Pokémon, 27-year-old James Good finished as third place Pokémon World Champion during the championship tournament that took place from Aug. 9 through Aug. 11 in Vancouver B.C., Canada.
Earning an invite to what Pokémon enthusiasts refer to as “Worlds” is an accomplishment in itself, and once there, Good battled it out in an intense series of tournament games with over 175 players competing in his division.
Not bad for a rookie.
“I finished third, which is incredible, and the response I’ve gotten has been overwhelming,” said Good. “On Facebook the messages just don’t stop… I get friend requests from people all over the world.”
Throughout the weekend, Good competed against players from Japan, Austria, Europe and the United States.
“It’s just a bunch of different cultures all meeting together in one area just for the love of Pokémon,” said Good.
The Pokémon trading card game is a unique card game that combines elements of skill and luck. The collectible cards are colorful, sometimes dazzling, with bright characters and otherworldly concepts. In Pokémon, the name of the game is fun with a healthy dose of friendly competition. Players build their own 60-card decks, striving to use the most effective combinations of the different types of Pokémon cards.
Good has always enjoyed Pokémon.
“Pokémon is something that I liked when I was a kid… I think I was 12 when it came out,” said Good. “It’s just kind of something that’s always stuck with me.”
He decided to purchase some cards and start by getting his feet wet; playing the game, practicing, asking questions, and even competing in one of the 2012 season tournaments.
One of the things that really appealed to Good about playing competitive Pokémon was the camaraderie between players.
“The community kind of just took me on as one of their own and helped me get better,” said Good.
And even though he only just completed his rookie year, Good has learned the importance of strategy.
“As soon as the game starts and your opponent flips over their very first Pokémon, you have to have a solid idea of what they’re trying to accomplish,” said Good.
The year-long Pokémon season begins in September, with the first series of tournaments called Battle Roads. Each tournament series serves as an opportunity for players to earn points. A certain number of championship points are necessary to qualify for an invite to the official Pokémon World Championship, which is held every year in August. Tournament play is divided up into three different age divisions: Junior Division is age 11 and under; Senior Division is ages 12 through 15; and Masters Division is age 16 and above.
The individual tournament series builds in momentum throughout the year, as players work to earn enough points for an invite to the world championship. The 2013 competition required players to earn 400 points throughout the season, which included two Battle Roads events, three different regional events, one state event, one city event and a national event.
Throughout the season, players are also given occasional opportunities to earn additional points in last chance qualifying tournaments.
Good earned his invite at the national event which was held in Indiana in early July.
“To get my invite to play in the world championship at Nationals…halfway across the country, was definitely one of the highlights of my season,” said Good. “My rookie year and I’m going to go play in the world championship!”
At the world championship, players participate in an eight-round single match elimination tournament known as a “Swiss” tournament structure. Once the top 32 players remain, the tournament shifts into the playoffs, in which opponents play in a three-game series. The player who achieves the best out of three wins, and moves on to the next level of competition.
Good worked his way up the ranks making it into the top eight, and then faced off against the undefeated player from Japan, Takuya Yoneda. Yoneda’s entire Worlds experience at that point included 16 wins and zero losses.
“It was the biggest match of my life,” said Good. “It was the most intense game of my season.”
Good prevailed against Yoneda, winning two out of three. The loss was unexpected to the young Japanese man.
“He was stunned and he was shocked. I extended my hand and it took him like 30 seconds to finally shake it,” said Good. “It obviously meant a lot to him, but it meant a lot to me too.”
Good’s top four match was against somebody he knew, a friend from Oregon, Simon Narode.
The game had an interesting dynamic from the start. Due to his performance throughout the tournament which earned him a very high ranking at that point, Good could do no worse than third place, regardless of the outcome of his match with Narode.
Good conceded to Narode after realizing without a doubt that his friend had beaten him.
“He played flawlessly,” said Good. “He just got the better of me.”
Happy for his friend, Good announced the win, rising from his seat and introducing Narode to the crowd.
“I wasn’t going to feel bad about being the third best player in the world,” said Good.
Good then went on to watch and support his friend, as Narode competed against two-time world champion Jason Klaczynski. Klaczynski took the win, becoming the first ever three-time Pokémon World Champion.
Good cannot deny Klaczynski’s skill.
“He is by far the greatest player ever in the game,” said Good. “He is the Michael Jordan of Pokémon.”
Coming in as the third place world champion has been an incredible experience for Good. His prizes included a $5,000 scholarship, a trophy and exclusive sets of Pokémon trading cards, including a number three Pikachu card of which there are only six in the world. He also won a semi-finalist hat, a book bag, and most importantly, a guaranteed invite to next year’s Worlds competition in Washington, D.C., complete with airfare and lodging.
Technically, Good could take it easy next season and ride on the momentum of his 2013 win. But he plans to jump right back into competition when the season starts again in September. He doesn’t want to take a break from playing Pokémon.
“I’d miss my friends,” said Good. “I’d miss the game. I love this game to death.”
For now Good is enjoying meeting new players and talking about the game. He loves to help people with their decks, give deck critiques and advice, and talk about the merits of his own deck.
“In my life I like to be super positive and I like to be sort of a role model,” said Good. “I just like to inspire people.”
Good has worked for his newfound attitude. Since July of 2012 he has lost 100 pounds and seeks to remove negativity from his life.
“You get older and you realize that there’s more to life than just hating everything,” said Good.
Good works for an online collectables company based out of Redmond. He also has a music blog called http://postrockstar.com/. He has lived in the Sky Valley nearly his entire life.