Andy Younger is well on his way to becoming a Pokémon master. At 9 years old, Andy is a globally ranked player of the Pokémon trading card game.
Pokémon started as a video game for the Nintendo Game Boy, making its U.S. release in 1998. Since its beginning, Pokémon has become the second-most successful game-based franchise in the world, beaten only by Nintendo’s Mario franchise.
The franchise has spawned more than a dozen movies, a television series, multiple soundtracks and books. The trading card game was created not long after the franchise first came across the Pacific Ocean to the United States.
The trading card game is a strategy game similar to other popular games like “Magic: The Gathering.” Players face off one-on-one in a tournament setting. A winner is declared when one player’s Pokémon are defeated, a player collects all their prize cards or one player’s deck runs out.
More than a decade after the card game’s release, the franchise is still going strong, adding a new generation of trainers, like Andy, to its ranks.
There are three divisions for competitive play of Pokémon – junior, senior and master. The master division encompasses all players born prior to 1997. The senior division encompasses players born in 1998 to 2001 and the junior division encompasses all players born in 2002 or later.
All of the players in the junior division were born after the release of the trading card game, and none of the players outside the masters division were alive when the video game came to the United States.
Among all competitors in the junior division, Andy is ranked 74th globally, and has been steadily increasing as he racks up wins throughout the northwest.
On Dec. 28, Andy won his first City Championship in Richland, Wash. After his victory in the Tri-Cities Andy and his family drove to Spokane, where Andy defeated the rest of the competition in Eastern Washington before heading to Tacoma and winning his third City Championship in three days.
Washington hosted 14 city championships from November through the end of December. Players earn points for their wins that add to their rank and help them qualify for the game’s biggest tournament, the world championship.
The world championship is the only tournament that players must qualify. In order to receive an invitation, players must earn 400 points through their performance at other events, including city, state, regional and national championships. Andy has 227.
This weekend, Andy and his parents will travel to Salem, Ore. for the regional championship. While Andy’s stock has been rising, the competition he’ll face in Salem will likely be the toughest yet.
Andy’s friends, Carson and Derrick, from Oregon and Olympia respectively, are ranked first and tenth in the world.
Andy has beaten Derrick, “but just once,” he said. Their games have often come down to coin-flips, but Andy’s luck apparently isn’t as good as his play since the coin always seems to fall Derrick’s way.
David Nelson, a premiere tournament organizer for the state of Washington, said the competition in the Northwest is pretty fierce.
“I’d say Washington is very competitive,” Nelson said. “Over the course of the years we’ve had four or five world champions come out of Washington.”
Andy said he doesn’t expect to come in first place in Salem, but even if he doesn’t win it all, he can still come away with points. Those points will help him toward his real goal, competing in the world championship, which happens to be hosted in Vancouver, B.C, this year.
Despite all the competition, fun seems to be the unifying factor throughout.
“It’s some kids getting together and playing a game together,” Nelson said. “A lot of the time there’s a lot of friendly chatter.”
Nelson’s son, now a freshman in college, started playing Pokémon when he was a junior. Many of the friends he made through Pokémon are still with him today, according to Nelson.
He said his son will sometimes call up fellow Pokémon players from Oregon on Skype and catch up while playing the card game through the video chat.
As for Andy, he said he’s made a number of friends through the game, both locally and throughout the Northwest. Many of his friends, like Carson in Oregon, travel to the same tournaments he does. So they see each other throughout the year.
Locally, Andy has made friends with players at Discordia Games and Jeanne’s Trading Cards in Bremerton, where he plays during the week.
Andy still has work to do if he wants an invitation to the world championship in August, but he doesn’t seem worried. He’s just there to have fun.