EWU Pokémon masters reside in house of cards

By Kate Daniel, Eagle Life Editor

Illustration by Elsa Schmitz
Illustration by Elsa Schmitz

It was the final round of the tournament and Alex Koch had been teetering on the edge of his seat in the local Denny’s restaurant for approximately 30 minutes, anxiously awaiting the chance to make the winning move in the 2013 Pokémon City Masters Division Championship.

After a tight final match, Koch, a junior at EWU majoring in secondary math education, was victorious. His prizes were a trophy, a new deck of cards valued at about $100 and bragging rights amongst his friends. The championship, held in Richland, Wash., is the biggest tournament on the eastern side of the state and consists of 30-40 contestants.

“It feels good. It’s always good to win one because there are quite a few tournaments every year, and it’s always good to win a bigger one,” said Koch.

His roommate, Jory Ackerman — a freshman at EWU also majoring in secondary math education — was his final-round opponent in the championship. Ackerman claimed second place.

“It was a really close game; it wasn’t like a landslide at all. We both talk about that as one of the best games we’ve ever played, so that was kind of cool,” said Koch.

“I was happy for him, because of course he’s one of my good friends and a roommate. I was proud of him, but at the same time like ‘Damn, why couldn’t I have won?’ Either way, it was a fun experience,” said Ackerman.

Shortly after the City Masters Division Championship, Ackerman took first place against Koch in a local city tournament at the Spokane Valley Mall. Both Koch and Ackerman referred to these two matches as their favorites and most challenging.

Koch said he has been playing Pokémon since it first came out when he was a kid, but only began competing about two years ago. At the same time, he met his roommates and biggest competition, Ackerman and Chris Houser, a junior at EWU majoring in general business management who claimed third place at the City Masters Division Championship in Richland.

Ackerman said he also began playing Pokémon about two years ago, after graduating high school.

The men each said they have a strong competitive spirit. But they said their friendship takes precedence and that living with each other has been beneficial to their gaming.

“We’re all really good friends. It’s good to play against them and get better, and you know Pokémon is not a cutthroat thing at all,” said Koch. “We all get better, and we all bounce ideas off of each other. It’s a good experience.”

Houser also said that he has been playing since he was a kid. Today, he plays both the video and card games competitively, although he said his interest in the game has waned. He is becoming more invested in constructing a “new, better, efficient central idea” for the card games rather than playing.

According to Houser, there is not much of a Pokémon presence on campus, something he would like to see change in the near future. As far as he is aware, he, Ackerman and Koch, are the only competitive players at EWU. At one point, Pokémon cards were sold at the bookstore, but there was not enough demand and the decks are no longer in stock.

“I’d like to get some more interest around campus here so we could maybe generate some popularity with the new games that came out,” he said.

“We could build a better scene for this area. That’s generally the goal right now because we’ve had so many players leave or get disinterested in the game. It’s been a little sad for a couple of recent tournaments.”

Although Pokémon was originally marketed to children, Koch said he is by no means the eldest competitor.

“A lot of dads play because their kids get into it and they’re like ‘Well, instead of waiting around for my kids to get done, I think I’ll pick it up too,’ and they do,” he said.

Koch and Houser also noted that there is a certain nostalgia in playing the game as adults and said that there are various aspects of the game that make it appealing to different ages.

Ackerman and Koch both attribute much of their success to mental agility with numbers and calm nerves. Houser said his willingness to take risks and intuit the right move has often given him an upper hand. Each also noted the importance of practicing often and said they play at least three to four times a week.

In Spokane, there are weekly events at places such as the Northtown Mall and Valley Mall and sometimes on weekends at Uncle’s Games.

Ackerman, Koch and Houser plan to try to make the state tournament in March.