There are all sorts of perks to being a Pokémon world champion. Prize money for playing your favorite game. Meeting new people who are just as obsessed with Pikachu and his pals as you are. A free trip to Hawaii for the competition.
But what would really win the battle, according to Toler Webb of Apex, is if he is selected to be made into a Pokémon trainer avatar in a new version of the video game to be released next month.
“I think that’s one of the biggest perks of it, that everyone gets to play against me in a video game,” said Toler, 14, who is in the running for that honor after emerging from the Pokémon World Championships last month ranked No. 1 among players in the senior division, which is for players born between 1997 and 2000. The Pokémon Company will officially announce next month which champions will be “immortalized into a video game,” as Toler put it.
Toler, who plays Pokémon on the Nintendo DS under the name Dim, started playing when he was “really young” and began tournament play when he was 11.
At first, he was just following the crowd, but he soon began to appreciate the game for its own merits.
“There’s a lot of creativity you can have, and it’s fun to play through the game and see all the creatures and see everything new and kind of get an understanding for everything,” said Toler, a freshman at Enloe High School in Raleigh. “It’s fun just playing the game.”
Playing in tournaments grew out of a desire to challenge himself.
“It was never about figuring out whether or not I was good at it, really,” he said. “When I started and I lost in the first tournament that I ever played in, it was more about doing better than whether or not I was bad.”
That first tournament wouldn’t be his last loss, but there started to be a lot of wins. He won a regional competition in Athens, Ga., then got third place in the national tournament, which earned him an invitation, as well as a free trip, to the World Championship, held this year in Hawaii.
In tournament play, competitors bring their own game systems and play seated across from each other, their systems linked by an infared connection.
“I’m the type who talks, probably too much, when we play people,” Toler said, adding that he makes sure to greet his opponent before each match and to shake hands after playing.
The games go fast – there’s a 15-minute time limit – but they are many. Toler said he played 22 games over the course of the two-day championship.
“It’s actually really mentally tiring to play that much Pokémon,” he said. “I was exhausted after the first day.”
During the school year, when many of the regional competitions are held – most of them far from North Carolina – he has to split his time among Pokémon, homework and hobbies that include playing basketball and acting. But over the summer, ahead of the world competition, he spent “upwards of 30 hours a week, probably” on preparations.
Game play, of course, is a big part of honing your skills. But you don’t get to be world champion in a vacuum.
“I generally played a lot and talked to other people about what I was doing and saw if they had any ideas,” Toler said. “ … Pretty much everyone who does well at events, they brainstorm with other people on ideas, because there are so many different options, based on the number of Pokémon available, that you really have to have a view of everything.”
So what’s left after being crowned a Pokémon world champion?
“Of course, there’s always worlds next year,” Toler said, explaining that he’ll be competing in the division for the oldest, most experienced players by then.
“And that’s going to be a fun experience going into that and trying to play through it,” he said.
Plus, his win this year came with one more perk: an all-expenses-paid trip to next year’s worlds, to be held in Vancouver.