OAK RIDGE, Tennessee — Hiding in East Tennessee is a Pokémon Master in the making.
Jackson Sutton, 8, has been playing the Pokémon Trading Card Game for just about a year now, and he's already heading to the World Championships in Washington D.C.
Jackson picked up the game after his second-grade teacher began giving out the cards as prizes during class. His father, Ryan Sutton, was shocked when they started playing.
"We began to play our first game, and that first game Jackson beat me hands down, and I thought, 'Okay, some beginner's luck on an 8-year-old's part,'" Sutton said.
Turns out, it wasn't luck.
Jackson wanted to be the best like no one before him, so he studied, collected a lot of cards and, subsequently, won a lot of tournaments.
He earned enough points through those tournaments to qualify for the World Championships set for Aug. 16 to 18.
"It's really hard because you have to think," Jackson said.
It's not just about the game though.
Ryan Sutton believes there are a lot of real-world applications; things that have already made a big difference in Jackson's life.
"I think Pokémon as a card game has absolutely improved his reading comprehension, his reading ability, as well as the in-game math he has to do," he explained. "Whether one Pokémon hits another Pokémon for 100 plus 60, he's able to do all that math in his head."
Not to mention building bonds with others over a love for Pokémon.
"It's about community, he's got friends that range from six to 60 years old, and he can go up to those guys and talk shop," Ryan Sutton explained.
Tennessee's got national titles, music superstars, and, if things go well in August, the state might just add a World Champion to the mix.
The next Pokémon tournament competitors can earn points in is the North American International Championships in Columbus, Ohio starting on Friday, June 21 and continuing through Sunday, June 23, 2019.