When 10-year-old Samson Drake was given Pokémon cards a little more than a year ago, he couldn’t have known where the gift from his cousin would take him.
Now, the Durangoan will compete in the 2018 Pokémon World Championships that will be held at the end of the month in Nashville, Tennessee. Samson earned his spot in the invite-only competition when he placed 11th out of about 160 players at the North America International Championship in July at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.
Samson, whose parents are Jonathan and Heather Drake of Durango, competed against kids from all over the world. He now heads to a competition where he stands a chance of winning $25,000.
“It’s a pretty big thing for him to go for as a first-year player,” said his father, Jonathan.
The Pokémon Trading Card Game – not to be confused with the Pokémon Go! app – was created in 1996. Players compete against each other with a deck of 60 cards. Each card represents a Pokémon character that has certain strengths and weaknesses. Characters battle each other, and there are a few ways to win a game.
When Samson started playing, he and his family were living in Cleveland, and started playing at their local library. Samson soon discovered there’s a big Pokémon world out there.
He took to the game pretty quickly, participating in league play, which are games held primarily for fun and practice; and then league challenges and cups, where players can rack up points that earn them spots in official rankings. Players can also compete in regional competitions and then the bigger games, like the North American International Championship and the World Championships.
The Drake family, which also includes Samson’s siblings Nadine, 13, Bruno, 7, and Eva, 3, moved back to Durango from Cleveland a little more than a month ago and want to get Pokémon going here.
Every Tuesday night, Guild House Games Durango in the Main Mall hosts Pokémon Play! where players can meet to battle it out. The hope is that the store can start up leagues, and then tournaments can be held. Right now, the Drakes said, the only real opportunity to earn points is by competing in Denver – not exactly a quick jaunt up the road.
On Tuesdays, Samson is on hand at Guild House to teach new players what he knows.
“It’s not that hard to pick up – it probably might take a day or two of practice,” Samson said. “I like the strategy; it’s like chess, but more intense.”
And for parents, Jonathan said, Pokémon is more than just a game – it also helps reinforce lessons children are learning and helps the kids learn to handle their emotions.
“As a parent, when I first got the cards, I was actually discouraging because I didn’t know what it was, and then they started playing, and I realized pretty quickly you have to strategize; there’s logic, there’s math,” Jonathan said. “Our youngest son, who is 7 now, was learning to play, and he was learning to read by reading the Pokémon cards. It’s something the kids can play and not be on a screen; kids are playing together.”
Samson said he plays just about every day. There’s also a card game to play online as well; physical cards come with digital versions that can be used in online battle. It’s a way he can keep in touch with fellow competitors and play online against each other. “We didn’t allow him to play online for the first year: that’s more of a recent thing,” Jonathan said.
“I like that he’s invested enough: You learn to win, you learn to lose, you learn how to handle those emotions around it,” Jonathan said. “There’s the intensity of the bigger tournaments like the one we went to.”
The Pokémon Play! sessions are held at 6 p.m. Tuesdays at Guild House Games Durango. And don’t be shy: All levels of players are welcome.