Some of us want to be the very best, like no one ever was. They want to be like Happy Valley's Jacob Van Wagner.
While the entire world freaks out playing Pokémon Go on their phones, the 24-year-old security officer is preparing to defend his title as world champion of the old-school, trading-card version of Pokémon—the monster-fighting game that once made national headlines for starting fights among schoolchildren over holographic, first-edition Charizard cards.
Van Wagner started his journey seven years ago, at the now-closed Loki's Games in Woodstock. He won his first tournament in 2010, after less than a year playing.
In August 2015, he bested 600 other competitors in Boston to become the greatest in the world—with a purse of $25,000. He did it with a risky and aggressive strategy. He would use the "Rain Dance" ability of a blue turtle called Blastoise to power up a mohawked unicorn called Keldeo-EX to deal massive damage early—or fail utterly if the right cards didn't fall.
"And the crowd goes wild!" the announcers shouted as "underdog" Van Wagner made his championship foe concede the first round after a single turn. "It's easy to see who's the fan favorite."
He'll be back to defend his title Aug. 19 in San Francisco. "I just love the feeling of knowing that all the effort you put into putting a cool deck together paid off, either just in that you got that one combo to work a few times in a tournament, or you actually managed to take the deck all the way to a win," says Wagner. "That and getting to use it as an outlet to see all the friends I've made throughout the world over the years."