The Pokémon “25th Anniversary” poster. Photo by: Poké

With the Pokémon Trading Card Game (Pokémon TCG) rising in popularity once again due to Youtubers such as Logan Paul spending well over $2,000,000 on the valuable trading cards along with fans of the game celebrating its 25th anniversary, it seemed fitting to talk about the number one world champion here at Klein Cain. And while not every teacher is a Pokémon Trading Card Game world champion, this particular one is. 

Feature Photo of Mr. Cloninger
Mr. Eric Cloninger holds a photo of his son and daughter standing in front a Pokémon car while at a Pokémon Trading Card Game world competition. Photo taken by: Charlotte Gottfried.

Meet Eric Cloninger (Pokémon Master & AP English Teacher)

Before he was a Pokémon Master and came to Klein ISD to teach, in 2007, Eric Cloninger was your ordinary dad. Wanting to find an enjoyable game to play with his kids that helped them build critical thinking skills and practice their math and reading, he sought out to find something that would help. And one day, he did.

“[One afternoon,] my son came home [from] school with some cards that one of his friends gave him,“ said Cloninger. “He was interested in collecting them, which I wasn’t too keen on.”

But despite his initial prejudice against the game, after figuring out how connected his son was to the game, Cloninger took it upon himself to drive to the store and purchase a few card decks to try out. From there—he decided—he would be able to both spend time bonding with his kids and teach them a bit about math and reading.

“We bought a couple of theme decks, and that was that. We were hooked,” said Cloninger. “The game ha[d] a solid concept.”

Despite his initial playstyle being far from competitive, as Cloninger learned the mechanics of the game and its intricacies, he gradually became better at the game and learned what types of decks he played best. Even more, he also saw what worked best for his son as they battled their decks out against each other every so often. Soon after, Cloninger registered himself and his son into their first competition to see how well they could do. And at that first competition, Cloninger noticed many things that the players did that would help him and his son out later on as they competed in more difficult competitions.

“The real reason I started to play was to help [my] son. When I took him to his first competition, I quickly noticed that the kids weren’t the ones building the decks. It was older brothers and sisters, parents, or ‘pro’ players that parents paid to build decks for their kids. I realized that if my son was going to have a chance to compete in these tournaments, he would need a top-tier deck.”

From this realization, Cloninger began playing more and more to help his son out in the “Junior” (12 years of age and under) division as he began playing in the “Masters” (16 years of age and over) division at competitions (those in between that age range play in the “Seniors” division). At those competitions, Cloninger began developing his expertise in creating powerful decks that he and his son could use. During this time, his daughter also began playing, so he helped her out as well.

A Youtube video screenshot of Cloninger at the 2009 Tomball Championship.

“My job was to test and build decks that he could learn and use effectively in the ‘Junior’ division,” said Cloninger. “I built decks for my daughter’s aggressive style and my son’s more playful, creative side. It is amazing how there are decks for any personality. The trick is making and mastering one that suits your personality and play style.”

Once Cloninger had figured out both his kids’ playstyle and what decks worked best for them along with what worked best for him, the family began to move up the competitive Pokémon TCG ladder.

“We had a family of [three] win all divisions tonight,” said Team Cook (in September 2008), a poster on The PokéGym forum. “Abby C. – Undefeated in Juniors | Patrick C – Won Seniors | Dad, Eric Cloninger – won Masters. | Texas kids rockin’ & rollin’ GREAT JOB.”

The next month, even more players took notice of Cloninger as he moved from rank 49 (which he had July 2008) to rank 15 with forum poster Team Cook even telling others to watch Cloninger “move to the top like a bullet.” By Dec. 2008. Cloninger had officially become one out of the top ten players in the world.

“The top ten best players in the game (in no specific order): Eric Cloninger[,] Dana Lynch[,] Andy Meier…That is all,” said Cyrus, another PokéGym forum poster.

A ranking of the top ten Pokémon TCG players taken from the PokéGym Forum (Oct. 28, 2008).

Shortly thereafter, Cloninger became the best one in the world as he demolished every player he went against at local, state, and global competitions. During this journey, his kids were also able to move up to the top global ranks too.

“I was the #1 ranked Pokémon TCG player in the world for about six weeks. Not the longest run, but I got there,” said Cloninger.

Despite eventually losing his number one global rank, however, Cloninger still remained as a top player in the world alongside his kids. And after many more games played, Cloninger finally retired from the game after his kids aged out of it, officializing his status as one of the best players to ever play the game.

“I think it was when they hit high school,” said Cloninger. “By that time we had reached our goals. They competed at the [w]orld [c]hampionship[] and won multiple city and state titles. Also, we got into Call of Duty around that time.”

Today, Mr. Cloninger now teaches AP Literature, AP Capstone Seminar, alongside other courses. Furthermore, he also serves as one of the founding advisers for the school’s eSports team (which has had many players win awards). To see more about Mr. Cloninger’s career as a Pokémon Master, you can check out The PokéGym forum as well.