Still catching ’em all: the secret society of Pokemon

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Three judges. Fifty-eight players. Adult men hollering out orders in a medieval accent. No sitting. No swearing. No rough-housing. For some, the quest to “Catch ’em all” began early Saturday afternoon in a muggy basement at the Dragons Keep comic book store in  downtown Provo.

Pokemon aficionados gathered to compete in one of the early season tournaments held in Utah for the popular card game. Competitors, ranging from 6 to 35 years old, traveled across the state to take part in the tournament — Provo’s first Pokemon tournament of the year. Saturday’s tournament unveiled only a sliver of Provo’s underground Pokemon scene, a scene many BYU students are familiar with, while others are oblivious to.

Pokemon devotees flock to tournaments across the nation like hermit crabs gravitating toward a new shell. Students from universities in Salt Lake and Utah Valleys attend weekly Pokemon practices in order to prepare for such tournaments. A hobby that was once glorified in childhood is creeping back into the light of adulthood in small pockets around the globe.

Dustin Hardy, a 35-year-old BYU graduate from Pleasant Grove, is getting back into the hobby in order to spend time with his children.

“I asked my two oldest if Pokemon was popular and they told me it was very popular and lots of kids had the cards at school,” Hardy said. “I searched through the storage shed and found my old cards and showed them the cards. They thought it was cool.”

Hardy said he took a hiatus from the game after he sold many of his cards to pay for his wife’s engagement ring, but is returning to the tournament scene along with his two oldest children.

“I might be embarrassed if I went to tournaments by myself at age 35,” Hardy said. “However, it is really fun to go with my kids and to cheer on each other as a family.”

Pokemon is not a hobby for children and their parents alone, as the majority of  competitors are between 18 to 25 years old. Small bands of students can be found playing the Pokemon card game across BYU campus in desolate lab rooms and hidden hallways.

Levi Pratt, an exercise and wellness major from Forest Grove, Ore., trains anywhere possible in order to prepare himself for larger tournaments. Pratt came in second place in the Utah state tournament in 2010 and traveled to Pokemon’s World tournament in August.

“Sometimes I carry my cards in my backpack,” Pratt said. “You never know when you’re going to run into a friendly game of Pokemon. It’s kind of like running into a gun-slinger nemesis in an old Western movie. I meet up with one of my competitors, and we have an old fashioned Pokemon duel.”

Although Pokemon tournaments are growing bigger each year, many students in Provo are unaware that Pokemon is a card game that can be played competitively.

Nicole Huntsman, an advertising student from Coppell, Texas, said she is dumbfounded that Pokemon tournaments exist.

“I really don’t know what to say about Pokemon,” Huntsman said. “I remember kids had cards in elementary school, but I thought that trend faded away a long time ago. At the end of the day, I don’t know what I would say if a guy told me on a date that he played Pokemon. Fake a stomach ache maybe?”

Brooks Forrest, a finance student from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., said he never had the chance to play Pokemon.

“In my house there were two rules,” Forrest said. “My dad told us boys that we were forbidden to play Pokemon and soccer.”

Despite the fact that many young women and parents are Pokemon haters, the game has an army of devoted supporters who proudly defend their hobby.

Tyler Westover, a former BYU student from Freemont, Calif., said he encourages anyone interested in Pokemon to get involved.

“Tournaments are meant for anyone who wants to come,” Westover said. “There are players of all skill levels and everyone is willing to help you figure out what you are doing. They are fun for everyone.”

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