Going beyond Pokemon Go
Two fans turn passion for game into projects even before game was released
You might have spent the past week hunting down PokeStops all over Singapore.
But you probably have yet to hear of the ultimate PokeStop where you can get actual Poke Balls.
It is in Punggol - the home of Mr Ramzul Ihsan. There, hundreds of Poke Balls lie in boxes waiting to be assembled and shipped to customers around the globe.
The 29-year-old is the founder of The Phoenix Orb Project, a local business that produces Pokemon collectibles ranging from keychains to physical Poke Balls.
Mr Ramzul, who wanted to be a "Pokemon Master" when he was younger, says his love for the game began at 13 when his parents gave him a Game Boy console.
"I played Pokemon Red every day for a year and could finish the entire game within six hours," says Mr Ramzul.
And his favourite thing about the game was Poke Balls, the item used to catch and keep Pokemon.
He says: "There was nothing like Poke Balls before the game came out. I really liked the idea of capturing things using equipment."
And so, Poke Balls was the first Pokemon merchandise Mr Ramzul was inspired to create. Now, he is planning to implement the upcoming Pokemon Go Plus into his Poke Balls.
His Poke Balls started as sketches that he drew during his free time working as a caricature artist at Universal Studios Singapore (USS).
Later, fuelled by his childhood desire for real life Poke Balls, Mr Ramzul decided to manufacture them.
He posted pictures of his Poke Balls on his Instagram account, where they gained traction and eventually went viral last April.
Although they are not official products, the demand for Mr Ramzul's Poke Balls grew and he started making and selling them in small batches.
Recognising the profitability of the business, Mr Ramzul left his job at USS, gathered his girlfriend and younger brother, and focused on his online business.
Ever since the announcement and release of Pokemon Go, Mr Ramzul, whose customers are mostly from the United States, has been receiving up to 30 orders a day, a big jump from an average of three orders previously.
Today, Mr Ramzul is producing the third generation of his Poke Balls.
When the front button is pressed, the Poke Balls, powered by button cell lithium batteries, light up and vibrate to simulate what happens when a Pokemon is caught.
There are even sound effects.
Mr Ramzul had dropped out of school at Primary 4, going back to school only at 15, when he enrolled in the Institute of Technical Education.
He says he is grateful for how far he has come. He also credits his parents for being supportive.
"Initially, when he started off with the business, we thought that he wouldn't make it," says his mother, Madam Zaleha.
"But now with Pokemon becoming more popular, I think that his business is taking off and I'm very proud of him."
The 52-year-old also joins her son in the Pokemon Go fun.
They went hunting for Pokemons at East Coast Park on Wednesday night and caught a few rare ones, including Magmar.
Mr Ramzul also goes hunting with his friends after midnight to find rare Pokemons in secluded areas.
"I went to Woodlands Waterfront Park in the middle of the night and found a lot of rare Pokemons there. It's a very good spot, I definitely recommend it," he says.
On Pokemon Go, Mr Ramzul says: "It's very good. It's a very new concept and it can be improved in so many ways.
"I can see a huge future for this game."
'Pokemon Professor' was head judge at international Pokemon championships
He was a fan of Pokemon even before the wildly popular Pokemon Go was launched.
Mr Ng Soon Aik, 28, is a "Pokemon Professor", a title he received after taking an exam on Pokemon.com.
The frenzy surrounding Pokemon Go does not surprise him.
"The craziest thing I have seen so far was the crowd that poured onto the roads in Hougang, but I expected it," Mr Ng says.
"The more surprising factor was that it was Hougang, a neighbourhood, instead of places like VivoCity, the Orchard Road shopping belt, Suntec City or even Fort Canning Park."
FANS: Mr Ng Soon Aik (right) with his friend Wilson at the Malaysian Pokemon Tournament. PHOTO COURTESY OF NG SOON AIK
In recent days, hundreds of Pokemon Go players were seen at Block 401, Hougang Avenue 10 trying to catch the rare Pokemon Snorlax. Some dashed across roads without first looking out for traffic.
Mr Ng says: "Pokemon Go trainers should take care of themselves and not play while walking in carparks or crossing the road."
Mr Ng was deep in the Pokemon world before many other players.
Last year, he organised the first Pokemon Video Game National Championships here, and was selected as head judge of the Pokemon Video Game World Championships, which he says was a great honour.
As head judge, Mr Ng had the final say at the championships. His love for Pokemon has also taken him around the globe. He has met Mr Masuda Junichi, the composer of the iconic Pokemon game music, in Taiwan.
"That was one of the most memorable experiences," says Mr Ng.
He has also been working to unite the video game trainers here to get Singapore to officially enter the Pokemon Video Game Circuit.
After the national championships here, the top players were sent to take part in the world championships.
Mr Ng says: "I am proud that this dream of Singapore entering the official game circuit has been fulfilled after years of hard work by the Singapore video game community."
His girlfriend, Ms Yoko Taguma, 29, is supportive of his passion.
She says: "He is doing a great job as he is expanding the view of Singapore to the world by organising events that have overseas participants,"
Mr Ng is aiming to assemble his own team to take part in the world championships.
"I do it for the satisfaction of seeing your own players compete, win, and grow with the game," says Mr Ng.
"I will be extremely happy to coach anyone with the same passion on Pokemon video game organising."