Player Skill Be Damned! RNG is a Critical Part of the Pokémon Formula

RNG Is All Around Us… But What Is It?

Pokémon Pokéball shakes using RNG to capture

Image courtesy of Game Freak

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!

Pokémon Milotic uses Scald and RNG grants a burn

Image courtesy of Make A Gif

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.

Patriots Tight End Wes Welker drops game winning pass in Super Bowl 46. Demonstrating lucks influence in traditional sports.

Image courtesy of NBC

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.

Pokémon VGC world championship 2015 Wolf Glick shows expert prediction during finals match

Image courtesy of Game Freak

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.

 

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Pokémon Pokésport competitive logo

Pokésports VI: Satoshi’s Dream and the Future of Pokémon

Generations Come and Go

Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri appearing on a Pokémon Direct presentation

Image courtesy of Game Freak

Twenty years ago, Pokémon existed as 151 8-bit sprites players attempting to catch on the original Nintendo Game Boy. Envisioned by its creator, Satoshi Tajiri, to be a catalyst for interaction in a culture that was spending more and more time indoors. Satoshi had a passion for collecting bugs and turned this passion into Pokémon. The idea went full speed ahead when the Game Boy Link Cable was introduced, allowing data to be transferred between Game Boys. This inspired Satoshi to press forward with turning his idea for a social video game into a reality.

Two Game Boys trading Pokémon using a Game Boy Link Cable

Image courtesy of GameSkinny

Twenty years later, Satoshi’s vision has paid off. Pokémon has grown from two Game Boy games into a multifaceted franchise. Containing a TCG, long running anime, multiple Manga series, multiple video game spin-offs (including a new Tekken-based fighting game), and much much much more. The common theme always being Trainers coming together to trade and battle.

What does the next twenty years hold for TPCI, Game Freak, and the Pokémon franchise? This is the exciting proposition that inspired me to start working on this series to begin with. The same vision that saw a social phenomenon in the Game Boy Link Cable is exactly what is needed to move Pokémon into esports.

Pokémon Jirachi using Future Sight on Pokémon Warlord

Image courtesy of Game Freak

Future Sight 

From Game Boy to 3DS, Pokémon has come a long way. Just like the Game Boy Link Cable allowed the original Pokémon trainers to trade and battle, smartphones today have allowed new and old Trainers alike to catch Pokémon in the real world. Trainers around the world can bond over the joy of Pokémon in ways Satoshi never even imagined back in the 90’s. However, moving forward, what could be the next platform to really push Pokémon to its limit?

Fans cheer at a concert of Splatoon sisters Calie and Marie performing as holograms

Image courtesy of neoGAF

Simply put, Holograms. Augmented and Virtual Technology are both being fast tracked by Silicon Valley. These new types of technologies are breaking down the walls between the physical and the digital. Allowing users to create and enjoy experiences beyond their wildest imaginations. Pairing Hologram technology with the Pokémon franchise would potentially yield an eSport juggernaut.

Consider sitting in an arena, lights dim, and the announcers voice breaks over the intercom and announces two trainers as they walk onto the field. Lining up across from one another, they take time to consider their options, and then like lighting, four monsters appear in the middle of the field ready to do battle.

Hologram of Charizard and Latios

Image courtesy of Nerdist

This type of imagery is precisely what is needed to give the extra oomph to a competitive Pokémon battle. The type of drama and energy that could be created by this type of spectacle would be hard to rival. I have no doubt that if TPCI and Game Freak were to pioneer the systems to make something like this happen, they would easily create an esport phenomenon. While unlikely TPCI will pursue this, chances are some ambitious competitor will see this new tech being developed. Then just like Satoshi with the Link Cable, they will be inspired to change the world.

 

Esports Glass Ceiling

Pokémon GO fans gather in chicago

Image courtesy of Ubergizmo

Simply put, Pokémon as a brand stands for more than just collecting Pokémon. Where Pokémon truly shines is using innovative technology to break down barriers and bring people together. TPCI, Game Freak, and Nintendo should truly take heed of this point.

Throughout this series, my focus has been to identify both the reason Pokémon would work as an esport, as well as the struggles it would face. My hope was to show that ultimately the reward for TPCI was much greater than the risk.

The Pokémon brand has stood the test of time. Sustaining and growing over two decades is an incredible feat. Stagnation, however, leads to a collapse of market share. This is why taking the majority of market share in the new and fast growing esports market should be imperative to TPCI and Game Freak. So many new potential fans, with more interest growing every day could be at TPCI’s fingertips.

With a brand focused on bringing people together via trading and battling, as well as an already established tournament circuit in the VGC, puts Pokémon well on the path. Though the viewing experience and prize pool need a lot of work, there is still so much potential. Putting the focus on the Trainers, and pushing match commentary to be exciting and engaging would be easy first steps that could yield a lot of results. Working on refining competitive match tempo and fostering diverse metas would then create a seriously competitive esport product.

Trainers battle with Pokémon in real life

Image courtesy of Game Freak

Satoshi Was Right

In the end, Satoshi had it right from the start. Use new and evolving technology to bring people together. This theme underpins the core of appeal for Pokémon. It is why such things as the Pokémon GO phenomenon can happen. Pokémon has become a cultural brand due to more than just cute monsters.

Being a sports fan, and now esports, has always been to me about bringing people together. This is the underlying theme that I see between Pokémon and the traditional sports our societies love. I know that if TPCI and Game Freak took this idea seriously, Pokémon could be a success as an esport. It could even revolutionize sports as we know them.

Thank you for reading this series. Pokémon means a lot to me and I want to share that passion with the world. A future with competitive Pokémon is a future I want to live in. If not than I just wonder… What will be the Game Boy Link Cable of the 21st century?

Pokémon Train On logo

Image courtesy of Game Freak

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Pokémon Hits DreamHack! – VGC 2017 Leipzig, Germany Regional Championships Recap

Our first European tournament coverage comes to us from DreamHack Germany, which happened last weekend, along with the Georgia Regional Championships in the US. Despite being held at such a huge event, the tournament itself was not given any stream coverage (more on this later). It was a bit of a smaller tournament compared to Georgia, but there were still some cool teams and Pokémon to break into the Top Cut. Check them out below!

Results & Teams (Top 8 Cut)

1.Markus Stadter

https://i0.wp.com/www.trainertower.com/wp-content/uploads/pokedexminisprites/143.pnghttps://i0.wp.com/www.trainertower.com/wp-content/uploads/pokedexminisprites/630.png

2.Davide Carrer

https://i0.wp.com/www.trainertower.com/wp-content/uploads/pokedexminisprites/630.png

3.Baris Ackos

https://i0.wp.com/www.trainertower.com/wp-content/uploads/pokedexminisprites/89-1.png

4.Alexander Fijalkowski

East Sea

5.Joshua Schmidt

https://i0.wp.com/www.trainertower.com/wp-content/uploads/pokedexminisprites/89-1.png

6.Nico Davide Cognetta

7.Andrea Di Francesco

East Sea

8.Andrea Sala

https://i0.wp.com/www.trainertower.com/wp-content/uploads/pokedexminisprites/778.png

 

No Stream?

You’d think at an event like DreamHack, who advertised the Regional a ton on their website and their promo video, would stream the tournament knowing that it would draw a lot of viewership. That wasn’t the case, however. To be fair, Leipzig was a relatively small tournament for Masters (only 129 competitors), so that most likely would explain the lack of a stream from the local scene. I hope that Pokémon VGC events in the future will be held at events like DreamHack due to the amount of exposure Pokémon could gain as an esport from that large of an event. Hopefully if there is another event like this, DreamHack (or whoever is hosting) will recognize that there are people that would love to see Pokémon streamed with the quality they can provide.

Also, a quick note:

Since there wasn’t any significant coverage (like a stream) analyzing specific Pokémon and strategies that were used, spectators may be left in the dark. Plus, many of the “niche” Pokémon that appeared in Leipzig I’ve already covered in other pieces. In addition to some new thoughts, I’ll provide links to the pieces where certain Pokémon were covered.

The Niche Picks

Mandibuzz Image result for mandibuzz

We haven’t seen a Mandibuzz since Dallas, and this time there were two! Both in the finals! Mandibuzz could be something that jumps up in popularity since it has cut a Regional twice. It now also has a Regional win under its belt, thanks to the current third best player in the world. Markus mentioned in one of his streams that he usually brings Mandibuzz when he faces a team that is fast and without speed control. Tailwind, and speed control outside of Trick Room, haven’t seen much use in this format, and I’m not sure why. It’s most likely that most teams don’t have room for a Flying-type Pokémon, but Mandibuzz has a lot more utility than just setting up Tailwind. You can read my other thoughts on Mandibuzz here.

Snorlax  Image result for snorlax

Speaking of Pokémon who are going to jump in popularity thanks to a Regional win; here’s Snorlax again. Another Eastern trend is making its way to the Western meta game, and now I think we all know how good Snorlax can be. Here are my thoughts on Snorlax as a Pokémon.

Lapras Image result for lapras

All I’m going to say is that Lapras cut two Regionals in one weekend. I have an entire piece dedicated to why this Pokémon is good.

Final Words

In conclusion, this event should’ve been streamed. Congratulations to Markus Stadter for his win, solidifying his spot among the top players in Europe (according to Championship Points, but also you know…current 3rd in the world). The meta game looks pretty concrete for now, but we’re only three months into the season, so anything could happen. The next Regional Championships are coming up in February in Anaheim, California, where the World Championships will be held later this year.

Art of Pokemon courtesy of Pokémon and Ken Sugimori

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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

A New Tapu on Top? – VGC 2017 Dallas, TX Regional Championships Recap

The second North American Regional for the 2017 format has concluded in the midst of celebration bringing in the New Year. In such a young meta game it’s astounding how much variety we’ve seen develop for VGC 2017, and Dallas brought us a plethora of new strategies and teams that may shape the meta game for tournaments to come.

Results & Teams (Top 16 Cut)

1. Drew Nowak

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2. Collin Heir

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3. Sam Schweitzer

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4. Nick Naverre

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5. Austin Bastida-Ramos

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6. Justin Burns

7. Kimo Nishimura

8. Caleb Ryor

9. Alberto Lara

10. Kamran Jahadi

11. Patrick Smith

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12. Jeremy Rodrigues

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13. Giovanni Costa

14. Joseph Brummet

15. Dylan Salvanera

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16. Eugene Tarlton

Pokémon Sprite Images courtesy of Game Freak

Tapu Fini Makes Waves in Dallas

As you can see, Tapu Fini was a popular pick for this tournament, appearing in nine of the sixteen teams in Top
Cut. In the format’s early stages, Tapu Fini was practically non-existent as it was not a popular pick for either a Tapu or bulky Water-type on a majority of early meta game teams.

Tapu Fini made its first major tournament Top Cut appearance a few weeks ago in San Jose as a member of finalist, Enosh Shachar’s, team. In fact, Enosh’s exact same team composition made it into Dallas’ Top Cut three times piloted by Justin Burns (6th), Caleb Ryor (8th), and Kamran Jahadi (10th). Enosh himself was left out of Top 16 due to some unfortunate resistance at a 7-2 record which left him at 17th place. Bummer.

Is Tapu Fini the Real Deal?

Anyway back to Tapu Fini’s viability. I think Dallas’ results prove exactly how viable Tapu Fini is, and it’s quite a nice Pokémon in the format right now. Tapu Fini has found itself a Fire/Water/Grass core with Pokemon like Kartana and Arcanine which can help it both offensively and defensively.

Kartana is able to switch into Electric, Grass, and Poison-type moves while also being able to one-hit KO Gastrodon which can absorb Tapu Fini’s Water-Type attacks with Storm Drain.

Arcanine provides Intimidate & Snarl support to further increase Tapu Fini’s already impressive defenses, while also being a nice way to scare away Grass-Type Pokemon like opposing Kartana.

The remaining three slots to compliment this core are honestly pretty flexible. Teams utilizing this core in Dallas’ Top Cut mainly opted for a Ground-Type Pokemon (Like Garchomp or Mudsdale), some slower Pokemon to add a possible Trick Room component (Like Porygon2, Muk, or Gigalith), and an Electric-type for a sixth slot (Like Tapu Koko or the less common Vikavolt). Or you could run a team like Giovanni Costa’s who just Baton Passes or has Tapu Fini Psych Up raised stats from his Evoboosted Eevee (more on this later).

What Tapu Fini Does

The most common sets right now for Tapu Fini are either Enosh’s Substitute plus Calm Mind set with Leftovers, or a more offensive set utilizing Choice Specs. Speed control options such as Tailwind or Trick Room are common alongside Tapu Fini to take advantage of Calm Mind boosts or the raw power of Choice Specs boosted attacks.

Water and Fairy-type attacks like Muddy Water, Moonblast, Dazzling Gleam, and Hydro Pump are the extent of what most Tapu Fini run in terms of offense. Though Tapu Fini does get a lot of other cool options like Ice Beam, Grass Knot, Nature’s Madness, and Shadow Ball.

Tapu Fini also gets access to a few supportive moves like Toxic, Heal Pulse, Reflect, Light Screen, and Taunt if a defensive Tapu Fini ever peaks interest in the future.

Can It Be Beat?

Naturally when something like Tapu Fini becomes popular, the next big thing to do will be to try and counter it. Currently, Tapu Fini and Kartana plus a Pokemon with Intimidate (like Krookodile or the aforementioned Arcanine) does not seem to have a single Pokémon weakness.

However, a team with its own Kartana and/or a Tapu Koko (much like Drew Nowak’s Team) can put on some decent pressure if properly supported. I guess we’ll just have to see if Tapu Fini will continue to thrive in the meta game as a Tapu to be reckoned with.

Giovanni Costa’s Extreme Evoboost Shenanigans

Image Courtesy of Pokemon Sun & Moon

I never thought I would ever see an Eevee that hasn’t evolved in a game of competitive Pokémon. Well thanks to Pokémon Sun and Moon we were given the Eevium Z; one of the new Z Crystals which allows for an Eevee with the move Last Resort to double all of its stats with its exclusive Z-Move: Extreme Evoboost.

And now thanks to Giovanni Costa, we now have a standard for the Extreme Evoboost strategy. This strategy is nothing but a gimmick but is terrifyingly consistent.

Giovanni has proven his talent as a player through his 10th place finish at the 2016 World Championships so it’s no wonder the team he built to support Eevee did this well.

Unfortunately, despite being featured on stream, Costa was not able to make it to Day Two of the European International Championships, but since then has changed minor aspects of the team.

How Does This Work?

Well it’s actually VERY simple. You start off by leading with Eevee and Clefairy. Clefairy uses Follow Me to redirect any potential attacks away from Eevee; then Eevee becomes enveloped in the power given to it by its evolved brethren giving it +2 in all of its stats. Next, Clefairy uses Follow Me again as Eevee Baton Passes into either Tapu Fini (there it is again) or Krookodile. Then you clean up from there!

How it Performed

But if it’s this easy, how come Giovanni didn’t win it all? Well unfortunately for Giovanni, he met his end in Top 16 in the form of a Mandibuzz with Taunt. Giovanni was able to take one game in the set, however could not find a way to beat Mandibuzz.

If you are able to Taunt a majority of Giovanni’s team you can shut down the strategy pretty easily. Clefairy can’t use Follow Me, Tapu Fini can’t Psych Up, and Eevee can still boost but can’t Baton Pass. Mandibuzz was even more annoying for Giovanni as it had Tailwind to boost the speed of its teammates as well as Roost to heal itself when Giovanni would Protect his Pokémon to stall out Tailwind or Taunt.

Will It Become the New Meta?

While I don’t think this strategy will catch on, I can’t deny its consistency and how easily it can be pulled off. I’m eager to see if Giovanni will continue to develop the team or even have greater success with it in the future. I do think this makes a better case for Taunt to be included on more teams to combat this strategy as well as Trick Room, Celesteela, and Toxic stall, but that’s a discussion for another time.

The Blade over The Blaster

Kartana is quickly climbing to the top of usage, appearing on half the teams in Dallas’ Top Cut including the Champion’s. In San Jose, Celesteela beat Kartana six to four in Top Cut appearances, but in Dallas Celesteela dropped to half as many appearances as its more offensive counterpart.

The Blade

The most popular Kartana we saw in Dallas was an Assault Vest variant adding Night Slash over Protect, which players would run on Focus Sash variants of Kartana. This new Kartana build favors more bulk to increase Kartana’s pitiful Special Defense while also complimenting its phenomenal Defense and Attack power.

Grass and Steel is both a great defensive typing seen in the likes of Ferrothorn in past formats, and a great offensive typing, having good matchups against common Pokemon like Gastrodon, Tapu Lele, Tapu Bulu, and Garchomp.

As it’s able to score valuable knock-outs, Beast Boost increases Kartana’s Attack to make it even more of a threat to deal with. A fast, bulky, boosting sweeper like Kartana makes a Fire-Type move an essential on any team this format.

The End of The Blaster?

Now wait a minute, just because Kartana’s all the rage now doesn’t mean Celesteela is going away. Celesteela is still the insanely bulky, win-condition of a Pokémon that it was in the beginning of the format, but now we might see some new tricks from it going forward.

One thing Celesteela has going for it is that it’s an excellent counter to Kartana, with the ability to resist both of Kartana’s STAB moves while also having access to Flamethrower to easily one-hit-KO it.

We actually saw Patrick Smith use a Life Orb Celesteela with Flamethrower perhaps as a way to deal with Kartana. I wouldn’t be surprised if Flamethrower replaced Substitute on a lot of Celesteela because I know I’m not the only one who would LOVE to avoid hour-long Celesteela Leech Seed stall wars. I hope for our sake Flamethrower becomes the preferred move.

The Niche Picks

This is a segment I want to use to talk about some of the more interesting Pokémon choices that have success in big tournaments. Dallas gave us a few that I think could pop up in a few more Top Cuts later in the season.

Mudsdale   

With Trick Room being such a popular strategy and Ground-types appearing on a majority of teams, Mudsdale seems like a natural choice. Making two appearances in the Top 4, I think Mudsdale has a lot of potential in a meta game favoring Trick Room modes.

It’s bulky with its Stamina ability, has access to a powerful, single-target Ground-type move without the need for Groundium Z, and a fair amount of solid move options for a Trick Room attacker. Whether Trick Room is the centerpiece or just a mode on a team, Mudsdale is a solid pick for a Ground-Type.

Krookodile  

Another Ground-type that’s been creeping into the realm of relevance is Krookodile. Dark I feel is a pretty underrepresented and underrated type in this format, and a Pokémon like Krookodile gives you a good option when considering one for your team.

Access to Intimidate and a middle-tier speed stat allows Krookodile to function on a variety of teams (including ones with Trick Room modes) while also being able to run a nice assortment of moves (with interesting choices like Snarl, Rock Tomb, and Taunt) to fill a unique role as an offensive Pokémon with support options. Not to mention its Ground typing is good for handling the abundance of Electric and Fire Pokémon which are present on pretty much every successful team in the format.

Mandibuzz 

Mandibuzz is such a weird pick, but honestly is a pretty good Pokemon when used correctly. Filling mainly a support role, Mandibuzz can control speed with Tailwind, Toxic stall with Roost for recovery, and also can deal decent damage to physical attackers with STAB Foul Play. So many options, yet only four move slots. Access to Taunt is pretty nice too. Don’t sleep on this bird, it can be really annoying if you don’t have an answer for it.

Braviary  

USA! USA! USA!

Ok but seriously, Braviary is another bird you shouldn’t sleep on. Only used by Patrick Smith with success in Dallas, but Braviary fills a pretty neat role as a sort of physical attacking Pelipper without rain (if that makes any sense).

Access to Tailwind and a cool ability in Defiant to take advantage of the abundance of Intimidate instantly makes Braviary a threat. Also, Braviary gets some pretty good moves for a Flying-type such as Rock Slide and Superpower giving it some decent coverage. I’m not sure if it’ll skyrocket in usage, but a cool pick nonetheless.

Pheromosa 

The first Ultra Beast that is not named Kartana or Celesteela that I’d like to touch on. It’s fast (like REALLY fast), strong, but its defenses are equivalent to wet paper. I would’ve thought that the item of choice would be a Focus Sash, but a majority of the Pheromosa we saw in Dallas held the Fightinium Z.

All-Out-Pummeling from Pheromosa could easily wipe a Porygon2 off the field, and even something switching in would not appreciate the hit (unless the Pokémon switching in is a Ghost). It has a pretty nice move pool of both physical and special attacks, giving it a lot of options to score quick KO’s and Beast Boosts. Typically paired next to Tapu Lele to stop priority moves and Arcanine to support with Intimidate, it has some solid synergy with popular Pokémon.

Nihilego

There was only one Nihilego in Top Cut, but it carried Austin Bastida-Ramos to the number one seed heading into cut and a 5th place finish overall. Nihilego’s superb Special Defense, Special Attack, Speed, and assortment of attacks easily makes viable. Power Gem and Sludge Bomb (its two most popular attacks) hit most of the meta game for neutral or super-effective damage, making it easy to start racking up Beast Boosts.

Vikavolt 

The final Pokémon that made a shocking impact in Dallas is the levitating, electric bug: Vikavolt. I, among others, love Vikavolt’s design but was severely let down once I saw its stats. 145 base Special Attack but mediocre…everything else. Yet somehow this Pokémon managed to make its way deep into the tournament.

Levitate is nice as it pairs well next to a Ground-type Pokémon, and its low speed makes it a viable Trick Room sweeper. We saw some fun item choices like Assault Vest, Wiki Berry, and Iapapa Berry likely trying to increase Vikavolt’s time on the field to dish out damage.

String Shot was a move I never would’ve expected, but Sam Schweitzer’s Vikavolt made very good use of it, being able to decrease both of the opposing Pokémon’s Speed. This format could use more viable Electric-types, and I think Vikavolt definitely made its case in Dallas.

Final Thoughts

Dallas was a fun tournament to watch, with a ton of new Pokémon solidifying their place in the meta game. I would like to personally give a huge shout out to @PokeCenter_VGC who streamed the event with a surprising level of quality. Also have to give props to the commentators: Gabby Snyder (@iBidoof) and Adam Dorricott (@Dozzalon) for their fantastic job giving solid commentary and analysis. Lastly, congratulations to Drew Nowak for his win in Dallas earning him $3,000 and 200 Championship Points. The next set of Regionals are coming up in just over a week in Athens, Georgia and Leipzig, Germany. Hopefully we’ll have live coverage from these events, but come back to The Game Haus for a full recap of results and analysis from both tournaments! Thanks for reading!

Art of Pokemon courtesy of Pokémon and Ken Sugimori

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