Video Games

Coolidge Pokémon Champ Zack Thornberg on How Battling Is Like Chess

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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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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.