DIANE HIRES / BLADE Enlarge
By late afternoon yesterday, Mark Despoth, 20, had lost his chance for a free trip to San Diego, but that didn't diminish his experience at the Regional Pokemon Trading Card Game championship.
"I enjoy playing the game, and I decided I would give it a shot," the Holland resident said. "I like the competition just because it's relaxing."
The chance for scholarships and a free trip to San Diego to compete in the Trading Card Game World Championship Pokemon tournament brought more than 100 players, ages 5 and up, to Hotel SeaGate yesterday to compete against enthusiasts from Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, Illinois, Toronto, and Indiana. The card game is based on the Japanese animated creatures featured in Nintendo Game Boy games and the popular TV show. Card players assume the role of a Pokemon trainer trying to capture all the Pokemon creatures to become a Pokemon master.
Six players from yesterday's competition - the top two winners in each of three age categories - will win all-expenses-paid trips to San Diego for the August 19-21 tournament where about 450 competitors will vie for the world title and a $7,500 college scholarship, said David Schwimmer, a program manager at Pokemon USA Inc.
Prizes are at stake, but ask competitors and they'll likely tell you they play for fun. "It's a lot of fun," said Ryan Winkelman, 19, of Dundee. "It's pretty easy to learn and there's a lot of strategies to use."
Fun was definitely the atmosphere surrounding yesterday's competitions. Across the banquet tables friendly chatter was heard. Younger opponents discussed their next move. More seasoned players joked as they played.
Chris Fulop, 19, of North Olmsted, Ohio, has been making the tournament rounds for years. "I've met most of my friends through Pokemon," he said. Mr. Fulop holds the first-place national title and second-place slot worldwide.
Typically, he spends about 11 hours a week playing the game against friends across a table or online. He owns "hundreds of thousands" of cards he uses to create his 60-card deck for each competition.
He and a couple of friends decided to stand out from the crowd yesterday. Mr. Fulop wore a pink feather boa over a blazer atop a pink shirt and pink polka-dot tie. His buddy across the room was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and grass skirt.
"We just wanted to stand out and have fun," Mr. Fulop said.
Decked out in a Pokemon hat, T-shirt, and shorts, a fidgety Hayley Patterson, 5, said she likes playing competitively. "I win a lot of prizes. I win some cards and some pins," she says explaining why her parents drove from Mansfield, Ohio, to let her participate in this regional Pokemon card tournament.
She likes the competition but it doesn't compare to playing against her favorite opponent: "My Mommy," Hayley says. "She beats me. I beat her."
Many parents say playing Pokemon is a great way to connect with their kids, said Mr. Despoth's father, Mark Allen. He started playing years ago with his sons, Matt, now 19, and Mark Anthony. "They were interested in it and always begging," the elder Mr. Despoth said. The time spent together was about more than capturing Pokemon, he said. "You talk to them about the game. It opens the doorway and it brings you closer."
Richard Lucas, 53, of Chicago, a judge at yesterday's competition, said he encouraged his kids to learn the game. "It's a great opportunity for us to nurture our relationship. It's helping to develop their cognitive skills, problem-solving skills, reading comprehension, and math," Mr. Lucas said.
The winners in the 10 and under age group were David Richards, of Rochester Hills, Mich., and Ty Wheeler, Centerville, Ohio. In the 11-to-14 age group, Steven Davis, of East Liverpool, Ohio, and Andrew Mondak, of Wellington, Ohio, were selected. Ceena Ghaziaskar, of Columbus, and Jason Gossett, of West Jefferson, Ohio, won the 15-and-older category.