TPCI Competitive Pokemon Logo

Pokésports V: Good Job TPCI, But Your Work Is Not Done

A Brand New Look

This series has sought to outline the viability of Pokémon as an eSport. Taking time to detail both the benefits from such a move, as well as the challenges the brand would face. Such things as game mechanics, tournament structure, and brand awareness have all been touched on. One major point, however, has not been sufficiently covered. Pokémon is a casual brand focused on children. Why would TPCI change that?

Pokemon Trainer Ash thinking about TPCI future

Image Courtesy of Game Freak

The Pokémon brand is indeed, at its core, focused on kids. The protagonist in the stories is always an adolescent, and growing, learning, and adapting to change are always major themes. Pokémon as a game is also indeed casual. The primary focus has always been on providing audiences with lots of marketable characters for them to become attached to. However, these two points do not detract from the ability for the Pokémon franchise to be a smash eSport success. To the contrary, they would in fact bolster Pokémon’s chances at eSports fame.

 

Kids Grow Up, Dreams Never Fade

Kids competing a Pokemon TPCI tournament

Image Courtesy of Pokemon.com

Pokémon is not precluded from eSports simply because it targets children. Considering the fact that the Pokémon brand has existed successfully for 20 years now means that it has already penetrated multiple generations of people. This ability to connect with all generations is extremely important from a marketing perspective.

World-wide, one thing that ties almost all major sports franchises together is a shared passion by all ages. This was touched on briefly in issue three, though I think its importance cannot be understated. Basketball, Baseball, Field Hockey, and both types of football are all played extensively by children. Few kids actually go on to play these sports professionally. Most do carry on a passion for their sport and competition in general. This is generally then passed down to their children and the cycle repeats itself.

Child Pokemon Trainer get TPCI trophy

Image Courtesy of Pokemon.com

There is one potentially fatal difference. Successful, traditional sports are driven by the spirit of competition and the memories that are made. By comparison, Pokémon’s fate is tied to Nintendo’s handheld consoles. One misstep by Nintendo could cause tremendous damage to the Pokémon brand. If this where to happen, what recourse would TPCI be left with? To build their own console and strike off on their own? The most likely result is a decline in the value of the brand.

Casual Is Key To Success

Some decry Pokémon as being a casual game targeting a casual audience. Why would such a game chase eSports fame? I would suggest that time and time again, the company that provides the most casual solution generally dominates their market.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, or MMORPGs, are a perfect example. In the late 90’s the MMORPG market began to blossom. Games like Ultima Online. Everquest, and Final Fantasy XI, soon took center stage. Players were given incredible worlds to adventure with their friends in. Utilizing the power of the internet, this new genre of game started to command a very loyal following. MMORPGs were considered hardcore by their very nature. They took a large commitment in time and resources to accomplish anything. In fact, back then they were considered by many to be mainly for college kids and basement dwellers.

Chart showing difference between WoW and other MMORPGS

Image Courtesy of inanage.com

Everything changed when a little game called World of Warcraft was launched into the MMORPG market by Blizzard. Where successful subscription MMORPGs were lucky to have 500k subscribers in 2005, by 2010 WoW had rocketed to 12 Million subscribers. One thing drove WoW’s success, it focused its model on making MMORPGs more accessible to average people. Blizzard made MMORPGs casual. In doing so, they forever reshaped the MMORPG market.

 

The Choice Is Yours

In the end, TPCI really must decide what their goal for the franchise is. Maybe relying on Nintendo while pushing out marketable creatures for licensing revenue is what TPCI is content with. I would suggest this is an erroneous path.

Utilizing the growing eSports market to present an easy-to-access competitive product, wrapped in a Pokémon package, could provide a WoW-effect. Bringing in tons of new fans and changing eSports, and Pokémon, forever. Finally, no more would The Pokémon Company’s destiny be tied to Nintendo. In fact, at that point, TPCI could feasibly design their own system specifically to cater to competitive play. The only question is, does TPCI want to define an industry while taking back their destiny?

Pokemon Wobuffet using Destiny Bond on Hoot Hoot

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Pokésports Pokemon esports logo

Pokésports IV: Pokémon Can Put The Everyone In eSports

The eSport For Everyone

Pokémon 20th anniversary logo

With the wide reach of its 20 year old brand, Pokémon not only attracts young and old alike, it gives them all places to play competitively. Currently, officially sanctioned Tournaments are divided into three groupings based on age. Due to this, all ages can compete against like minded fans for glory. Being able to entertain the entire family unit is very important. Just like kids have their favorite Quarterback or Goalie, kids being able to cling to a Pokémon or Trainer is crucial for future widespread success as an eSport.

Other eSports have also tried to reach out to a wider audience. League of Legends, most notably, is being played competitively in High School and College circuits. This type of forward thinking is fantastic! eSports are much more cost effective to pick up for a school then traditional sports. Building a venue and buying equipment can be very costly endeavors. However, eSports provide the same type of team building and competition, but in a much more feasible package. This can especially become appealing for schools such as charter schools and other private schools.

 

Accessible But Not Accessible

Pokémon finds itself in a unique position to exploit these facets of the new and emerging eSports market. One fatal flaw really stands in its way, accessibility. While the Pokémon franchise is totally accessible from a gameplay standpoint, it has a long way to go from a hardware standpoint.

Diagram showing steps to install a capture card into a 3DS

Image courtesy of 3DSHACKS

Fact is, the main series of Pokémon games can only be played on a 3DS, or one of the DS spinoff consoles. This alone means that anyone who is interested in playing Pokémon competitively must invest in a 3DS, even if they have no interest in any other game on the console. Furthermore, the 3DS prevents Trainers from being able to stream or compile otherwise interesting content related to the games without hacking or modding their console. Such restrictions really put a stranglehold on the competitive community.

Contrast that with the ease and openness of most of the popular eSports out there currently. DOTA and LOL both provide play with a free to play PC client, with modest minimum requirements. Pair that with the ease of streaming gameplay and hosting content such as Let’s Plays. Letting passionate fans share their experiences helps to spread the energy of the competitive community. This usually results in new people chasing a dream of playing in the top tier.

 

It All Comes Back To Money

Pokémon tournament trophies.

Image courtesy of Nintendo Life

Promoting a successful sport comes down to one thing, money. Providing enticing rewards provokes competition. This draws competitors, which can bring in viewership, which can then be marketed. Pokémon fails utterly and completely on this point, compared to DOTA’s million dollar prize pools. Such as the DOTA International 2016 where the winning team took home a prize of over nine million dollars. While Miguel Marti de la Torre, who took place at Pokémon’s European International, won a measly five thousand dollars.

That disparity in winnings just cannot stand if Pokémon is to be taken seriously as an eSport. There is no doubt that Pokémon is a lucrative brand, TPCI should open it up and share it with the fans. Maybe turn the World Champion into a figurehead of the Pokémon brand for a year. Let Trainers share their passion with their friends, and just make loving competitive Pokémon easier all around.

In the age of viral marketing, Pokémon’s place on such a restricted console really hurts it. Couple that with a lack of substantial rewards for the work it takes to compete and it is not hard to see why so many shun competitive Pokémon.

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Pokémon Squirtle giving a thumbs up

Image courtesy of Game Freak

Pokésports pokemon sports crest

Pokésports III: Pokémon Look to Sports, Turn to Teams

Pikachu and The Patriots

Pikachu and other Pokémon huddle during sports.

Everybody has heard of Pokémon. This single fact cannot be understated. Creating a cultural brand is something that requires time, hard work, and a lot of luck. Once a brand becomes a part of a culture though, its impact can be hard to measure. Think Coca-Cola, Google, and the major sports leagues. One thing these brands have in common is they all command tremendous strength in their respective markets.

The NFL, NBA, and other sports leagues are so successful due to the fact that they have managed to become ingrained into society. Kids play sports for their schools team, get scholarships to go to college, and eventually go to the pros. Billions of dollars in TV contracts and merchandising, as well as fans young and old chanting the names of local teams. This is the phenomenon of a cultural brand, and this is the exact thing Pokémon has at its disposal.

 

Money Money Money

Team Rocket's James pets a Persian while sitting surrounded by money.Sports are serious business. Year after year, the NFL Super Bowl brings in over 100,000 viewers, counting only home viewership, and in 2016 charged $5,000,000 per 30 second ad. In addition, the NFL’s 2015 revenue was 11.8 billion dollars, while the NBA’s was 4.7 billion dollars. Compare that to Pokémon’s 2015 revenue of 2.1 billion dollars. Using the sport model, TPCI could supercharge their money making potential and change generations to come.

A majority of sports revenue comes from TV contracts. Just look at the NFL, it is by far the most lucrative sports league in the world. Almost two thirds of its over 10 billion dollar income comes from TV revenue. That is around seven billion dollars from TV alone. Earning the rest from a variety of things, such as merchandising, ticket sales, and sponsorship deals. Pokémon’s TV show, on the other hand, has been falling in popularity. Like all markets, competition eventually comes along, and in the case of Pokémon, Yokai Watch has begun to slowly unravel its brand.

Unlike Pokémon, Yokai Watch has not established itself as a cultural brand. Pokémon can use this advantage. If it can pivot into eSports, TPCI could aim to achieve monetization similar to the NFL. Though unlike the NFL, Pokémon would be able to work on a global scale. Assuming Pokémon could achieve success as an eSport, it is safe to assume TV revenue alone would surpass anything TPCI has ever seen. Just imagine families across the world sitting down throughout the week to watch their favorite Trainers battle it out.

 

Generation Game

Think about it, a child throwing a baseball with their father, and that same family playing Pokémon GO together are practically interchangeable today. This is why Pokémon’s transition into a major eSport is a serious proposition. Just like traditional sports, parents are passing down a passion for Pokémon to their children. Due to the multi-generational connection of the brand, there are plenty of potential fans worldwide. A proverbial fire is ready to be started.

The spark that sets the blaze just needs to be created by TPCI. Between changes to gameplay and tournament structure, along with rethinking broadcasting and viewability, TPCI has some work to do in order to make Pokémon a successful eSport. However, Pokémon could achieve unparalleled competitive market advantage if they are up to the challenge. Memorable Pokémon and awesome Trainers won’t be enough though, one key component is needed to help turn Pokémon into an eSports success: Teams.

Pokémon Team Skull posing together

Pokémon could benefit from teams in a plethora of ways. Teams offer better opportunities for sponsorships, and visibility at professional events. Teams can also practice together and help each other get stronger. When 5 people enter a tournament as a team, if one of them wins, the team wins. This mentality could change the scope of competitive Pokémon. More buy-in could be expected from both players and sponsors. Hobby shops could set up competitive teams and act as local anchors of fandom. Maybe one day even schools and universities could employ their own competitive Pokémon Trainers.

There Can Only Be One

Pokémon Machoke and his Trainer practice together.

At the end of the day, as the eSports market grows, one or two brands will stand above the rest. Pokémon could be that brand. TPCI just needs to refine Pokémon’s model, while at the same time exploiting its place as a cultural brand. Many of the eSports brands, such as League, DOTA, and CS:GO, have a lot brand awareness building to do, but they are growing fast. TPCI does not have forever to act. Should Pokémon not make the move, it may slowly start to cede its market share to competitors such as Yokai Watch.

Pokémon could potentially become not only the most successful eSport, but the most successful sport in the world. Many of the factors needed for such a success are in Pokémon’s favor. The eSports market has many new brands blooming and Pokémon must be poised for battle, or be prepared for mediocrity.

 

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Need to catch up on a previous issue?

Team Rocket blasting off again.

All images courtesy of Game Freak

 

Pokesports II competitive Pokemon logo

Pokésports II: Not Quite There, Not Farfetch’d

Segue, I Choose You

Last time we established the impressive growth of eSports along with the power of the Pokémon brand. This time we will cover what competitive Pokémon entails and how that translates into a successful eSports brand. Or does it?

Pokemon "Psyduck" holds heads in hands and shrugs.

Image courtesy of Game Freak

Pikachu, Team Rocket, and Ash’s inability to win anything of significance are common Pokémon themes. These themes however, have little in common with the world of Competitive Pokémon Battling. Trainers in the real world spend hours developing tricks and strategies using the hundreds of available Pokémon. Forming teams of six to compete in varying levels of Tournaments. From local Premier Challenges, to massive International Championships, Trainers battle each other for a chance to compete at the annual World Championship.

A Wild Pokémon Appears

Before a Trainer can even think about battling, they must decide which six Pokémon will be on their team. Teambuilding involves deciding stat spreads, natures, and abilities for each Pokémon along with the four attacks to be used in battle. This process is crucial to success as a Trainer. Once a match begins, the choices made during Teambuilding will effect the Trainers options in battle and can have a major impact on matchups.

Pokemon and Construction Workers gather together and grimace.

Image courtesy of Game Freak

While a critical part of competitive play, Teambuilding can also be long and tedious, involving countless in-game hours breeding Pokémon and practicing with different strategies. The tedious time investment Teambuilding requires is often cited as a major reason aspiring Trainers abandon Competitive Pokémon. Worst yet, Teambuilding provides no actual benefit to spectators since it all happens behind the scenes. In the end, many Trainers come away feeling the many hours spent breeding and leveling Pokémon is a needless time sink that prevents access to high level competitive play.

In all fairness, TPCI has slowly worked to make it easier to train competitive teams; slowly is the key word. Streamlining Teambuilding, or creating an independent system for tournament play is truly needed to help grow the competitive scene.

 

Double, What’s Doubles!?

Zebstrika smashes head into wall.

Image courtesy of Tumblr

While playing the games or watching the anime, you might think Pokémon battles were one on one matches. You would be wrong. All officially sanctioned Pokémon matches are in the Doubles format. A Trainer brings a team of six Pokémon and picks four at the start of each match. Each Trainer then sends two Pokémon at a time on to the field. For many fans this is a major shock compared to what they know and love from the series.

While this disconnect from the traditional series can be startling, it is not without it’s benefits. Double Battles provide a fast-paced style of gameplay compared to Singles matches. Many new strategies also become viable when there are two Pokémon on the field together. These factors help keep matches fresh and moving swiftly. Working to build awareness of just what Doubles is could help build fan acceptance through further ingraining them into the soul of the brand.

Another interesting change that could take place in competitive Doubles is the introduction of two Trainer teams. As it stands now, one Trainer controls both Pokémon on their side of the field. If, however, TPCI incorporated teams of two Trainers, each controlling their own Pokémon, we could see some new and interesting dynamics appear.

 

See You at VGC

Play Pokemon banner

Image courtesy of Play Pokemon

TPCI sanctioned Pokémon tournaments are referred to collectively as VGC. Given Pokémon’s place as a global brand, it is a surprise how few people are actually aware VGC exists. During the VGC season, Trainers collect points at Premier Challenges, Midseason Showdowns, Regional Championships, and International Championships. Collect 400 of these points by the end of the season and you will be invited to compete at the World Championship. The tournament structure is rather straightforward, but not without its flaws.

Tournaments can be plagued with poor organization and rule enforcement. Matches involve two Trainers sitting on either side of a table in front of their respective 3DS’s with a judge off to one side. Gameplay is then streamed from one of the Trainers so that spectators can join in on the action. As you can imagine, many of these things do not make for exciting television. Revamping how Pokémon tournaments work and what they have to offer is an absolute must. Especially considering the most successful sport in the world, the NFL, makes the majority of its revenue through TV and TV related contracts.

Team Rocket's James being showered in Gold Coins

Image courtesy of Game Freak

Worst yet is what is at stake for each Trainer. The prize money awarded at the end of each tournament is a sad fraction of what it should be. In an effort to grow the competitive side of the Pokémon franchise, wealth needs to be shared with Professional Trainers. If TPCI showed the willingness to invest into its own competitive scene, sponsors would react in kind. Regardless, $5,000 and $10,000 first place prizes for major international tournaments is really a shame. You can do better TPCI.

 

What You See is What You Get

Viewership, it all boils down to viewership. Sports and eSports live and die by the viewership numbers they bring in. This is a place where Pokémon has a built in advantage. Its exposure around the world and ability to resonate with all age ranges is a huge boon as an aspiring eSport. Combine that with Pokémon’s ability to merchandise means some serious revenue potential.

While Pokémon is not lacking fans, viewership is one of the weaker aspects of the competitive Pokémon scene. There is only one thing responsible for the lack of competitive viewership, get ready for it. Competitive Pokémon is boring to watch. That’s right, I love you TPCI but this is the major hurdle that stands between the niche that competitive Pokémon maintains, and the runaway success it could be. That is not to say boring matches can’t be fixed.

Changes to the way matches work, such as two Trainer teams and shorter turn timers, could serve to alter match dynamics. Ultimately though, new approaches to broadcasting the matches are needed most. Being a Turn-based Strategy Game at its core, creative methods for animating action between turns and capturing that with exciting camera angles and transitions would serve to keep momentum building throughout matches. Add on exciting commentary to complete the package.

Pokemon battle in an arena between Bisharp and Emboar.

Image courtesy of Bulbagarden

Ultimately TPCI should work to make watching a Pokémon match more like sitting in an arena and watching powerful monsters battle, and less like watching two Trainers take turns picking what to do from one trainers perspective. If a dynamic, and exciting broadcast of exciting Pokémon matches can be achieved, fans will watch. The rest will be history.

 

Wrap It Up Will You

A massive fanbase and established competitive scene puts Pokémon in a great position as a potential eSport. The ability to attract young new fans, as well as merchandise, invites lucrative sponsorship potential. With these things in mind, TPCI must make some changes.

Making these changes could lead to a formula of success only seen in the traditional sports world though. Capitalize on this, TPCI, and you could redefine sports for generations.

Until next time Trainers.

 

Missed the first issue? Check it out! Pokesports: Power of a Brand and One Fans Plea

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Gary Oak driving away.

Image courtesy of Game Freak

Pokésports Crest

Pokésports: The Power of a Brand and One Fans Plea

The Year of eSports

One of the big showings this year at CES Conference is eSports. Being a relatively new phenomenon, eSports is experiencing a surge of growth. Reporting a 2016 revenue of 493 million dollars. On top of that analysts project annual revenue to surpass 1 billion dollars by 2019.

Customers enjoying food and eSports at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Image courtesy of youtube.com user sapphiRe

Furthermore, recent studies have shown eSports rise in popularity. Now they are rating as high as Baseball and Ice Hockey among American Millennial Males. Turner Broadcasting is even getting in on the action with ELEAGUE, a professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive league. First being aired on TBS. Then picked up and shown in Buffalo Wild Wings throughout the United States.

Building a Brand

Half a billion dollars is still relatively small for a global industry. While poised for growth, eSports lacks a strong brand. That brings us to Pokémon. A 20 year old series revolving around Trainers capturing, raising, and battling monsters in the game world. Pokémon already has an existing competitive tournament series referred to as the Video Game Championships (VGC) with multiple tournaments each year culminating in a World Championship. However, Pokémon is generally not thought of as under the eSports umbrella. As an effect both Pokémon and eSports find themselves as somewhat of an odd couple. Both could benefit from being with the other, but neither will make a move.

The reason for the odd relationship between Pokémon and eSports comes down to marketing. The Pokémon Company International (TPCI) has not really worked to market the competitive aspect of the franchise. Even though Pokémon commands a massive following worldwide, competitive Pokémon still remains rather niche. While TPCI does little to nurture their growing competitive community.

Massive crowd cheering inside arena during Nintendo eSports tournament.

Image courtesy of Nintendo

Nintendo is showing signs of moving into eSports with the launch trailer debuting the new Nintendo Switch. The time has come for Nintendo, Game Freak, and TPCI to take a long and serious look at what they have with the Pokémon brand and its ability to translate into massive growth potential inside the eSports market. This would not only benefit the coffers of those companies, but serve as a springboard for the already fast growing eSport movement.

Perfect Match

The Pokémon brand carries a significant amount of weight. Generating 2.1 billion dollars annual revenue in 2015 and expected to report higher returns for 2016. Pokémon GO, an augmented reality game for Android and iPhone, launched in 2016. Going so far as to produce revenues of over 1 billion dollars in its first year. That’s right, a Free To Play app for smartphones generated double the revenue of the entire eSports industry, simply due to the Pokémon brand. Now consider an actual concerted effort to market Pokémon as the next big eSport.

I challenge you to imagine a world where Pokémon reaches its full potential as an eSport. A world where, just like football and basketball today, a kid can become a professional Trainer. Making a living mastering what is essentially a game of 3D chess, constructing teams out of 100’s of available Pokémon. The fanbase and brand power is undoubtedly there and I would hazard a guess that many corporations would get in bed with the Pokémon brand in the realm of sports. VGC Tournaments already look like what they show off in the Nintendo Switch trailer.

Large crowd gathers for competitive Pokémon tournament.

Image courtesy of Kotaku

This series I will dive into what it would take for Pokémon to become a respected eSports franchise, what that would look like, and the overall impact of such an event. Everything from the structure of the competitive community to the way matches are broadcast will be examined. With hope TPCI takes these points to heart and gifts the magic of Pokémon to future generations. A world of dreams and adventures with Pokémon awaits! Let’s go!

Opening scene from G1 Pokémon games.

Image courtesy of Game Freak

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