At 21, James Ryszawa is at that awkward age.
Not because, like so many young people these days, he can’t find a job. He’s already got one of those, as a barista who trains others for a Michigan-based coffee shop.
No, he’s at the age where he still loves playing Pokémon card games but is too old to really admit it.
“When you break 10 or 13 years old, you kind of get shunned,” said Ryszawa, from White Lake, Mich. “It’s tougher to find people to play.”
But that wasn’t the case Saturday at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, where an entire exhibition hall was filled with long tables of Pokémon players battling for bragging rights, prizes, trophies and free or subsidized trips to a national competition.
Derek Farber, 31, of LaGrange, running the Midwest’s 2012 Autumn Regional tournament for the manufacturer of the popular trading cards and video games, says many attendees are like Ryszawa, in their teens and early 20s.
With 323 entrants, the largest of three divisions, based on age, was the masters division, for players 15 and up, Farber said. Only about 100 players were in the 11-to-14 age group, and 52 were in the 10-and-younger group, he said – the groups one usually thinks as being enthralled by the iconic characters.
“But the younger kids don’t travel for the tournaments,” Farber said. “Most of the younger kids who are playing are from around here, Fort Wayne. Most parents aren’t going to travel and spend $100 for a hotel for a weekend.”
But, he said, travel doesn’t deter the more senior players, who started when passion for Pikachu, the game’s chubby little yellow rodent creature-thingy, was peaking in the tween-age set in the early 2000s.
“A lot of the kids get into it (playing in tournaments) when they’re older,” Farber said. “They come from all over. This (regional tournament) is the only one in the Midwest. The closest one is in Dallas.”
Tournaments attract because of the “socializing,” he added.
Saturday’s registration was up about 25 percent over last year’s, Farber said.
“Guys are here in groups, and a lot of them know each other on Facebook or talk to each other on the Internet, and now they can meet,” he said.
“They are all Pokémon fans, and they have something in common.”
Daniel Musgrave, 17, of Highland, Mich., came with his friend Ryszawa “to meet some of the best players in the world and do well.”
Musgrave, a student at Lakeland High School in White Lake who works year-round as a lifeguard, says he started playing in “a little kids’ league” and previously had been to a state championship.
Playing a quick game before the official pair-ups, the two were joined by Lauren Bisher, 23, from Indianapolis, a recent Purdue University grad whom they didn’t know previously.
Bisher, at her first tournament, said she was just a spectator but was looking forward to playing in a Pokémon video game tournament that begins with registration at 9:30 a.m. today. Participation is free.
Asked what she liked about the game, Bisher said it was the interaction with the characters.
“You have these cool little pets that are like your friends that you feed and train and can control what they do,” she said.
And, now and then, you can meet some cool people.
Like, perhaps, Ryszawa. He describes himself as into “pretty typical” teenager stuff like snowboarding, despite his Pokémon pastime.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think I’m a pretty cool guy.”