Player Skill Be Damned! RNG is a Critical Part of the Pokémon Formula
RNG Is All Around Us… But What Is It?
RNG, or Random Number Generator, is a term used to describe a background process for decision making. Much the same as luck, it is used in games such a Pokémon to determine things like critical hits and status effects. In other types of games, such as MMOs, RNG is used to determine what monsters drop from their loot pool. Think of it like the result from the flip of a coin, or roll of the dice.
RNG is a controversial topic when it comes to eSports, and in particular competitive Pokémon. One of the main critiques of competitive Pokémon is its reliance on RNG. There are many that feel that due to the fact that these elements are not affected by players skill, they have little to no place in competitive sports/eSports. However, others feel the inclusion of RNG tests a competitors risk management.
So which side is right? While reliance on player skill is an important factor in all competitive sports and eSports, so is unpredictability. It is when both skill and luck come together that a truly great competition is born.
Milotic Goes for the Scald on Celesteela, HE GETS THE BURN!
There is no doubt that RNG plays a large roll in all Pokémon matches. Critical hits and Status effect are the two biggest examples of RNG altering matches. It is also true that in some cases, no matter the skill of a trainer, RNG will lead to their defeat. This does not mean that each match is won by the flip of a coin though. The fact you see many of the same great trainers winning tournaments over and over again is proof that skill is the ultimate deciding factor in win-rate.
Sure, a Trainer can’t force a critical hit to kill that Celesteela, but they certainly can predict a Leech Seed and swap a Sap Sipper Goodra into it. This type of play only comes with lots of training and practice. Understanding the meta, observing your opponents play style, and getting into their head are huge parts of competitive Pokémon. The best players are reacting to what their opponent will do before they even do it. This is the level of play that separate the good from the great.
At the end of the day, even the best Trainers will inevitably lose matches that they have no business losing due to RNG. Normally though, this is not enough to prevent great Trainers from winning consecutively. Official matches are even structured in a way to prevent the influence of RNG. Rather than each match ending with a winner and loser, all matches are played in a best of three series. This not only helps to prevent RNG from determining winners and losers, but also allows Trainers to get a feel for each other as the series progresses.
Do You Feel Lucky? Well Do Ya Punk?
Let’s be honest, RNG or luck influences many of the sports and eSports that we know and love also. Actually if you step back and look at all of these activities, you will see they all fall on a continuum. On the left is pure luck, like playing the lottery, and on the right is pure skill. Chess would be the best example of purely skill based gameplay. Every other sport or eSport falls somewhere on this continuum.
Think about things like weather and coin flips. These are excellent examples of RNG at play in popular sports. Baseball has variable field sizes, Basketballl has game winning shots from half court; the list goes on and on. Then look at eSports. League has crit chance, DOTA has crit chance, accuracy penalties, and much more. Even CS:GO has shot variance, creating some situations where a long range shot is missed simply due to luck. Yet all of these games are leading the charge in the eSport market.
Going even further, even the Super Bowl’s outcome can be determined by luck. Think back to Super Bowl 46 when Wes Welker dropped an easily catchable ball that would have won the game and the Super Bowl for the Patriots. There is not even a best-of series for the Super Bowl, so if luck is the deciding factor, that is it. This has not stopped the popularity however, and very few games have come down to pure luck.
At the end of the day, the best way to think about it is great competitors create their own luck. This is, in essence, the risk management of competition.
Luck vs Skill: The Ratings
Looking at ratings alone, luck is actually the more important factor for spectators. Consider the continuum, while very luck-based games such as Texas Hold’em have aired all over ESPN and cable television, you would be hard pressed to see a Chess Tournament in primetime. The fact is, unexpected results create drama, and drama is good for viewership. Some of the most memorable sporting moments have been upsets that were part skill and part luck, but amazing television.
This is why the focus on the influence of RNG on not just Pokémon, but eSports in general is misguided. Rather than making RNG the end all be all, it should be another element that adds to the fun. Great competitors will understand RNG, and even bend it to their advantage. This will lead to those “Oh My God” moments, and who doesn’t want more of those in their sport?
For Pokémon this means learning to blend the elements of range subtly into the playing experience. If something like burns or critical hits seems to be too powerful, tweak it until you get the right mix. However, you can never forget the three dimensional game that Pokémon is. Between subtle things like team building and dynamic actions (like masterful switches), Trainers have a multitude of methods to tip a match in their favor.
Full Stop. Pure Skill Based Gameplay is Boring
RNG or luck makes for excitement, and observers like excitement. It keeps competitors on their toes and keeps games from getting stale. While taking all reliance on skill out of a game is a terrible idea, so too is removing all aspects of luck. Finding the perfect formula of gameplay, skill, and luck should be the ultimate objective of aspiring sports. While Pokémon by no means has the mix perfect, TPCI should not let the critics convince them RNG has no place in an eSport.
Follow me on Twitter: @aeroashwind