Ryan Schambers never thought his Pokémon habit would take him places.
Well, it has.
Ryan, 17, recently placed in a Bay Area Pokémon video game competition, which qualified him to move to the next level of play, in Indianapolis. If he wins there, he heads to Hawaii for an international Pokémon contest.
All this comes as a pleasant surprise to Ryan, who never imagined that playing a video game for a couple of hours after school every day would pay off. "I'm pretty excited," said Ryan, who graduated from Enochs High this month. "I think I have a really good chance of doing well."
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Ryan, son of Milan and Karen Schambers of Modesto, started playing Pokémon when he was 7 because, well, all the other kids were doing it. There was something about the characters and their names (think Jigglypuff and Lickitung) that appeal to a 7-year-old's sense of humor.
There's another thing about Pokémon that appeals to 7-year-old boys: battle. In the video game, players amass an army of Pokémon, train them and move on to battle other armies.
"You have to have strategy," Ryan said. "And you get to pick your own moves and your team."
Ryan heard about the competition from his brother, Alan, a 19-year-old student at California State University, Stanislaus. The two boys and a friend, Justin Petersen of Modesto, traveled to San Mateo for the tournament.
About the tournament: It's nothing like, say, a chess match. Anyone can enter. Contestants are given a hand-held computer game player and told to play. Each battle lasts five to 10 minutes.
Players quietly finish one round and head to the next. There's no applause, there are no spectators.
That's OK with Ryan, who played well enough to place fourth out of some 500 competitors. The top 16 finishers get a spot at the Indiana tournament at the end of the month; the top four get $600 toward their trips.
Alan placed 64th. Their friend Justin placed eighth, good enough to earn a spot at the next tournament, but not good enough to snag the travel money.
Still, $600 isn't going to pay for air fare and hotel, said Ryan's dad, who has been researching the possible trip. Possible, he says, because he and Ryan haven't decided if Ryan will attend.
Sure, Ryan could share a hotel room, but with who? His dad shakes his head at the thought of him bunking with another competitor he's never met.
If Ryan does go, he'll be competing against top players from other regions, including Seattle, Phoenix, Dallas and Atlanta. Thirty-two players will move on to the Hawaii event, which will include competitors from throughout the world.
All this sounds pretty fun to Ryan, who is headed to California State University, Stanislaus, in the fall to study criminal justice. He hopes to be a police detective.