Coolidge Pokémon Champ Zack Thornberg on How Battling Is Like Chess

Categories: Video Games

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Courtesy of Greg Thornberg
Coolidge's Zack Thornberg (right) and his trophy after winning the Pokémon Spring Regional Championships.
Most kids wish they had parents as cool as Zack Thornberg's mom and dad. Like most kids his age, the 14-year-old Coolidge resident has a serious video gaming habit, playing upwards of seven hours per week on his Nintendo DS and other systems. And his parents are nothing but supportive, probably because of his success as a competitive gamer.

He's a longtime player of video games from Nintendo's blockbuster and long-running Pokémon franchise, which -- for anyone who's lived in a cave for the past 15 years -- involves capturing and training freakish creatures for use in battling other players. And Thornberg is aces at doing all those things, especially on the latest game in the series, Pokémon White and Black 2, for the Nintendo DS. And a couple of weeks from now, the teenager will get a chance to become a national champion and earn himself gaming glory.

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Back in April, the ninth-grader was one of the winners of the Pokémon Spring Regional Championships in Salt Lake City, beating out hundreds of other kids and teens during battles using the game Pokémon White and Black 2. And much like the kids in the 1989 flick The Wizard, he's about to travel across the country for a big gaming battle.

With his father Greg -- who told Jackalope Ranch that he's "extremely proud" of his son -- in tow, the younger Thornberg will head to Indianapolis for the National Championships and will attempt to beat the competition using Bisharp and Scrafty, his prefered Pokémon creatures. At stake is a big trophy, the honor of being the best in the United States, and some awesome gaming gear (including a new Wii U). The winners will also nab a berth to the world championships in early August in Vancouver.

Jackalope Ranch spoke with Zach recently about his Pokémon-related pursuits and learned a thing or two about the game series, the people who play it, and some of the dastardly hackers and cheaters involved. He also compares the game to chess, something he also enjoys (natch), and how both games help hone the mind.

And although Thornberg is considered one of the best players in the nation, the teen admits that he might not wind up winning. Even if that's the case, however, he's still gonna have a blast competing.

How does it feel to be a champion Pokémon player?
It's pretty cool. It's kind of funny, because a lot of people think of it as a TV show and not as an actual competitive thing. It's very exciting.

Do you think this is as much of a sport as football or basketball?
I think it's as much of a sport as chess, how people go to chess tournaments. Football and basketball are more athletic. This is, by far, only [involving] your brain. It doesn't even have anything to do with your reflexes.

Are you a big fan of chess?
Yes. I don't play it competitively. I play online and I play with friends and family. It definitely helps give you a strategic mind.


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