Duy Ha doesn’t feel the need to “catch ’em all.” Rather, the first-year psychology major is satisfied with his 200 caught Pokémon, and invitation to the National Pokémon Video Game Championships in this summer.
On May 15, Ha came out on top in the West Coast regional competition – living out childhood dreams as one of the best Pokémon trainers in the U.S.
“Everyone at some point has wanted to be the best Pokémon trainer,” Ha said. “They’ll deny it, but we all know it’s true.”
Ha argues that Pokémon is not just a collector’s card game or a videogame for kids. In a Pokémon tournament in Seattle, Ha saw a 40-year-old man competing along with his three kids.
“The game is deeper than people think it is,” he said. “It’s not just fighting. You have to strategize how your team is raised so that your stats will do well against other Pokémon.”
Ha battled for five hours in the San Francisco tournament with Cresselia, Rhydon, Kyogre and Abomasnow – his ideal lineup. He won a trophy, airfare and accommodations for Nationals in Indiana.
“I was in shock,” he said. “It was my first year playing [competitively] and a lot of people there already knew what they were doing.”
Pokémon has vastly changed since the days of the original 151. There are now 493 Pokémon and more are on the way. There is even a God of Pokémon now – Arceus, which possibly created the entire Pokémon universe.
“I don’t really pay attention to the story though, I just fight,” Ha said.
As long as the new Pokémon are aesthetically pleasing, Ha sees no problem with more additions. Competitively, Ha looks for Pokémon that can hit hard, are fast and preferably look cool, which are often the newer Pokémon. Ha also favors the newest Pokémon games for their improved graphics.
To prepare for tournaments, Ha will play with his brother, Huy Ha, and floor mates.
“I don’t get how Duy can remember half the stuff he does,” said Liam Fox, a first-year history and art major and Duy’s floor mate. “He’s definitely head and shoulders above anyone else I’ve seen play.”
Fox thinks Duy’s success can largely be attributed to his ability to understand all of the minute details required for competitive play.
“It’s all about knowing the game and knowing what to do any given situation,” Fox said.
Huy, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major, battled in five official Pokémon tournaments already. He went to nationals and the world’s championships last year, which gave his brother the motivation to compete this year.
Even though Huy has played Pokémon longer than Duy and will also compete in nationals, he said there is no sibling rivalry.
“I wanted him to win San Francisco,” Huy said of his brother. “He deserves his chance at the spotlight.”
With his experience, Huy knows what to expect at nationals and thinks Duy has the ability to succeed.
“I think he’s learned really fast and has picked up the game really well,” Huy said.
Huy is nervous for nationals, feeling like there are high expectations for him given his past accomplishments. Duy isn’t feeling the pressure quite yet.
“I’m feeling pretty calm about it right now, but we’ll see in a month,” he said. “I’ll probably be nervous.”
The Ha brothers will both compete against Pokémon trainers from the Seattle, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta and New Jersey regions June 26 to 27. From there, the top 16 will compete in the Pokémon Video Game World Championships in Hawaii on Aug. 13 to 15.
If they qualify for the world’s championships, Duy and Huy will compete against 65 of their international rivals from Japan and Europe. Players fight to win travel packages, trophies and other Pokémon prizes.
Preparing for these tournaments will not consume their lives though, Duy said.
“We have our Pokémon lives and then we have our normal, regular lives,” he said. “We don’t spend most of our days just playing.”
This is typical of most Pokémon players, Duy said. Pokémon players generally are not like other gamers who may spend many hours a day in front of a computer.
Huy said he plays Pokémon between one and two hours per day at most. Duy also said he doesn’t devote that much time to Pokémon, rather, he enjoys playing soccer, basketball, hanging out with friends and having a normal college life.
JANELLE BITKER can be reached at email@example.com.