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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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

 

You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles written by other great TGH writers like Drew!

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Gary Oak driving away.

Image courtesy of Game Freak