Gresham pair prepare for international Pokémon competition in Nashville Aug. 24-26

For Ryder Johansen, Pokemon is a bonding experience.

"I like the community," the Gresham resident said.

Ryder, 10, and his 14-year-old brother Daden are heading to Nashville, Tenn., next month to compete in the invitation-only Pokémon World Championships, the top contest for gamers. To qualify for the world championship, the Johansen brothers had to rack up points by winning or placing in local and regional competitions. Both are in the top 100 of their age divisions. OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Daden and Ryder begin a game, which usually takes about 20 minutes to complete.

"Daden and Ryder are crazy excited for the World Championships," said Melissa Johansen, their mother. "No matter where they end up placing, Nashville will be a great adventure."

Daden, who has been playing the card game for about four years, says he's attracted by the strategy involved. It's also a way to be competitive outside of athletics.

"Anyone can be good at it," Melissa said.

Ryder, who's played competitively for about a year, explained that part of being a good player is "staying calm. If you start getting stressed, you miss a play." OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Daden and Ryder Johansen are headed to Nashville for the World Pokémon championships. Little Ronan cant wait to start playing.

Pokémon — the word is short for Pocket Monsters — was created in 1995 in Japan. The "monsters" are cute little animal-like creatures with different "powers." Of the 802 Pokémon characters, Daden's favorite is Jolteon and Ryder's is Umbreon, although they are not the most important cards for the game.

The phenomenon started out as video games for 1990s hand-held Game Boy players. The franchise expanded to the trading card games, a television series, comics, music, toys and more. More than 25.7 billion Pokémon cards have been sold.

Pokémon cards have different strengths and weaknesses. Players "battle" each other to win the game. Each game takes about 20 minutes to play, although that can vary. OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Daden and Ryder begin a game, which usually takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Music City bound

The Johansen brothers will be among the thousands of contestants who earned spots to do battle at the 2018 Pokémon World Championships the weekend of Aug. 24-26. The event is not just for bragging rights, as the Nashville prize pool totals $500,000.

At the Portland Regional Championship held in March at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Daden brought home a $750 purse and points as part of his fourth-place finish. OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Ronan, 4, is anxious to learn to read so he can start playing Pokémon like his big brothers.

"We traveled to regional championships in Vancouver, B.C., as well as Costa Mesa and San Jose California," Melissa Johansen said.

"We also hit up every local league challenge and league cup that we could drive to, some as far as Springfield, Ore., and Bellevue, Wash.," she added.

In early July, the Johansen family traveled to Columbus, Ohio, so the boys could compete in the North American Intercontinental Championships. OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Some tools of the trade.

"Even though the boys didn't place as well as they had hoped, it truly was an amazing weekend of fun and friends," Melissa said, adding they also explored parts of the city by playing Pokémon Go, a popular augmented reality game using cellphones.

The brothers play as many as five times per week and have made lots of friends among other players. They play regularly at "Mr. Raichu's Thunder Gym" at Round Table Pizza in Milwaukie in a league run by Chris Clanton, who also heads up Oregon Pokémon.

But the family does most of their Pokémon play closer to home at Troutdale's Goin' Gaming store, 27084 S.E. Stark St., where they run their own free Pokémon league.

Learning, teaching

To accommodate their traveling for tournaments, the Johansen children attend the statewide online public charter school, Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA).

"We can take school with us," Melissa said.

Daden, Ryder and their 12 year-old sister Tess are all enrolled in ORCA. Daden will be a freshman in the fall, while Ryder is entering fifth grade. Four-year-old little brother — and possible future Pokémon master — Ronan will likely enroll in ORCA in a few years.

Melissa also said Ryder needed to be challenged in school, and the academy allows students to move ahead as their abilities allow and not be moored in a specific grade.

Pokémon also reinforces school, and teaches kids math, reading, analytical skills, strategy and sportsmanship, Melissa noted.

"Ryder is really good at teaching other kids how to play," she added.

Inspired by Pokémon's Japanese heritage, Daden plans to take Japanese language next year at ORCA. The big tournaments also give Daden a chance to play with other children from around the world, many of them from Japan.

"Even though they couldn't speak the same language, the cards to the same things and they were able to communicate," Melissa said.

Would the boys recommend other kids learn and play the game?

"Do it," advised Daden.

Ryder was bit more circumspect.

"I'd probably say, do what your heart wants you to do," he said.

And in the words of Pokémon character Rayquaza, "Take charge of your destiny!"

Connect to ORCA

Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) is a tuition-free, statewide online charter school serving students in grades K-12.

Students learn at home or while traveling, anywhere with an internet connection, with easy-to-use technology and hands-on materials the school ships to them. The curriculum meets state education standards.

ORCA said "the combination of Oregon-certified teachers, a proven curriculum, unique electives, technology tools and community experiences creates a supportive and successful online learning opportunity for families and children who want an individualized approach to education."

The school is sponsored by the Santiam Canyon School District.

For more information, call 800-382-6010, or visit OregonConnections

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