As people grow older, childhood dreams often fade into the past, but Brit Pybas has found a way to make his high school hobby last into adulthood.
Pybas, 24, plays the Pokémon Trading Card Game on the professional circuit, and on June 30, he qualified for the World Championships for the seventh time in a row.
Like many children of the ’90s, Pybas was introduced to Pokémon through the video game, cards and television show.
“My twin sister and I had cards when we were kids in 1999, when (Pokémon) was huge,” he said. “We never really played or anything, we just had them. They were cool and they were shiny. We watched the show and played the video games. That was about it, as far as the cards were concerned.”
But Pybas held his interest in the video games, and as a junior in high school ,his friends received starter decks at a white elephant gift exchange, as a joke.
“They said, ‘hey, this is pretty fun,’ so I got one too and learned to play with them for a little while,” he said. “A couple of weeks later I looked into the local competitive scene and got involved with that. Then, from there, I just kept going, really.”
This year, Pybas earned his World Championship Invite with 506 points at the final event of the season. Pybas’ top season so far was 2011-12, where he consistently stayed ranked in the top three in North America. In past years, he also qualified for travel stipends.
Believe it or not, Pokémon TCG is played in a format similar to many sports. The larger events include a livestream with commentators.
According to Claire Sikora, public relations representative for The Pokémon Company International, there are over 450,000 competitors in Play Pokémon events each year. In 2016, a total of 1,700 competitors participated in Worlds, and 1.5 million viewers livestreamed the event from home.
Pybas, who plays in the masters division, said he makes money fairly often in competition. In the last two years, he has brought home around $1,500 from Worlds. Pybas said he thinks a few of the highest ranking players have earned around five figures throughout the course of a season.
In smaller events, prizes are simply basic card packs. This past year, he gave his away.
“I have a friend who worked at an emergency care center for at-risk children,” he said. “She said ‘a lot of the kids I work with really love Pokémon,’ so I just gave them all to her.”
Pybas often travels nearby to compete, but Pokémon has taken him all over, including Hawaii and Vancouver, Canada.
The game is a mix of chance and strategy where players often create their game deck out of cards they think will play best against their opponent. Pybas believes developing concepts makes a player well rounded.
“I’ve come up with handfuls of decks where I was the first person to play it, and it became the most popular deck,” he said. “Not so much recently, but definitely in the past. That was always something I was very proud of, was being able to not only do well, but do well with something that I came up with that no one else was playing.”
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The game has also helped him to make friends from all over the world.
“I think that’s always been the best part of the game, is hanging out with the friends that you’ve made and meeting so many different people from so many walks of life,” he said.
Card games such as Pokémon sometimes get grouped into a stereotype of being ‘nerdy,’ but Pybas said he’s never worried about that.
“It’s never been something I was embarrassed about,” he said. “Even in high school, I didn’t get much flak for it.”
Pybas said some of his friends from the game do worry about it, though.
His friends outside the game have been supportive, he said, although they may not be rushing to pick it up for themselves.
“The sentiment I think is, it’s cool that you’re really good, but if you were just average, we’re not sure how we would feel about it,” he said.
Pybas has always been a competitor, inside and outside of Pokémon.
Outside of the game, Pybas recently got certified to teach yoga. He is a graduate of Drury University with a degree in philosophy and a minor in global studies and Asian studies. Additionally, he exercises at the gym practically every day.
What motivates him to compete against himself as well as others?
“I played sports when I was younger, and I just really like the concept of competing,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of interests, but the things I am interested in, I do take very seriously. I don’t see much of a purpose in doing something if there’s not potential for me to be very good or be one of the very best.”
Pybas also gets paid to write about TCG for a top strategy site, Six Prizes. He’s been writing for them about three and a half years.
How long does Pybas plan to be a part of TCG?
“Until the game just dies, I am sure I will be involved in some capacity,” he said.
Pybas is not the only Pokémon TCG player in Springfield who qualified for Worlds this year. Kolton Day, 19, has qualified for the past three years. Day has been competing for 10 years total.
Pybas and Day will both compete at Worlds Aug. 18-20, in Anaheim, California. To watch a livestream of the competition throughout the championship weekend, visit www.pokemon.com/live.
How the Pokémon TCG Tournament Circuit Works
Earning an invite to the World Championship
Each card competitor plays at sanctioned tournaments of differing sizes in various locations to earn as many championship points as possible. Each participant competes in either the masters, seniors or juniors divisions, based on age.
All regular-season events are open to all competitors, regardless of how many points they’ve earned.
Events can be located on pokemon.com, and the point payout at events is based on attendance and size of the tournament.
To qualify for the World Championships in 2017, a competitor had to earn at least 500 championship points in regular-season play. The qualifications are occasionally altered from one season to the next.