A Pokémon master from Overland Park wants to be the very best in the world. He’s 7
Avery Vehlewald, a 7-year-old from Overland Park, is headed to Japan next month to compete in the Pokémon World Championship. He’ll be competing with his 9-year-old brother, Glenn, who also qualified.
Avery Vehlewald from Overland Park may be just 7 years old -- but he’s already on his way to becoming one of the top Pokémon masters in the world.
He beat 40 other players to win the junior division of the Pokémon North American International Championships earlier this month. It was a big win for Avery, who just began competing this year and is already racking up awards.
“This is my first place trophy, my second place medal and my third place medal. Third, second, first,” Avery said, showing his laurels. “I actually got them in order; Knoxville, Fort Wayne, Na-na-na-nationals in Columbus, Ohio.”
The Pokémon tournament featured several different games. Players could compete in trading cards; the latest video game releases, “Scarlet" and "Violet” and Pokémon Go.
It’s the last opportunity for players to earn enough “Championship Points” to qualify for the top competition. Players earn points by participating in regional competitions earlier in the year.
Avery hopes to add another first place trophy to his collection next month at the 2023 Pokémon World Championships in Yokohama, Japan. He’ll be competing with his 9-year-old brother, Glenn, who also qualified for the match.
Glenn began competing at 5 years old, managing to snag a third place medal at a regional tournament before the COVID-19 pandemic shut competitions down.
The brothers are part of a family of Pokémon professionals -- their mom also played the video game, and their father competed for more than a decade.
Tom Vehlewald, their father, said he started playing the day Pokémon launched in the United States in 1998, and quickly began competing with his friends in their own makeshift leagues.
He said Pokémon battles can be hard to describe since they are turn-based, rather than action-based.
“I've often heard people describe it as chess with 1,000 pieces, but you can only bring six pieces at a time,” Vehlewald said. “You kind of have to know what to prepare against. Of all of the combinations that are out there, how do you build a team that can handle hundreds of different scenarios and situations?”
Vehlewald said his children have different strategies for battling their Pokémon. He says Glenn likes a broad and balanced team that allows him the flexibility to change his strategy for every round.
On the opposite end, Avery prefers a set game plan going into a match that he can build upon. While some trainers choose to bring their strongest Pokémon to a match, he prefers to stick with his favorites.
“I think my favorites could really change some stuff, like Oranguru did,” Avery said.
Avery’s decision to use Oranguru – a dual normal and psychic Pokémon resembling an orangutan – in the finals at the International Championships allowed him to use a unique strategy called a “hard trick room” allowing his heavy-hitter Torkoal – a fire-type Pokémon resembling a tortoise with a smoldering coal shell – to move first and take down his opponent.
Avery said he was “a bit” nervous during the match, but his mother feels differently watching her sons play. Amanda Vehlewald said she gets anxious because it's hard to see your children get upset when they lose.
However, she says there are also a lot of important lessons on sportsmanship that they can learn from their competition experiences.
“It's hard for adults to lose, and it's hard for little kids to lose,” Amanda said. “So it's about learning how to lose gracefully, learning how to win gracefully.”
Amanda said she has her sons involved in a variety of activities — both play sports, take piano lessons and participate in Boy Scouts. Despite the potential trophies, both boys look forward most to the friends they get to meet and play with at competitions.
With the World Championship rapidly approaching, Tom said they are trying to treat it as a celebration – not a competition.
“We really just wanted to have an adventure. We accomplished our goal to qualify, and we want to just travel with everybody and see new things,” Tom said. “We're really trying to keep the pressure off for this tournament and just enjoy it.”
Amanda says both her sons are also super excited about the things they’ll do outside of the championship, including visits to the Pokémon Center — a retail store filled with all things Pokémon — and eating different foods.
For now, they’re still working on finalizing Avery’s team for the final competition. Tom said a new rule set was introduced right before the World Championships so it will be a challenge to figure out what teams will work well.
But for Avery’s part, he can describe how he’s feeling in anticipation of the match-up in one word: “Ready.”