Pokémon is known throughout the world as one of the most influential and loved franchises of all time. From video games and TV shows to trading cards and cuddly toys, there’s no end to the Pokémon hype, and there isn’t a person in the entire universe who hasn’t heard of Ash Ketchum and Pikachu.
But did you know that some people actually make money from playing Pokémon video games? Welcome to the world of competitive Pokémon my friends, where players from across the globe battle it out to see who has what it takes to be the true Pokémon Master and make a tidy sum along the way—if they’re good enough, that is.
Competitive Pokémon is a fast-paced, play-to-win environment. Unlike your normal playthrough of a Pokémon game where most people would usually choose their favourite Pokémon and teach them the strongest moves possible, competitive players have to take into account a few key factors when building their teams.
Here, you’re not against easy-to-beat AI here, which is relatively simple to outsmart or can be beaten with brute force. Instead, you’re playing against real people with their own strategies—thinking and adjusting on the fly. So, get your training caps on because things are about to get real nerdy.
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When talking about ‘mechanics’, we are referring to the internal workings of Pokémon.
All casual players most likely have been able to progress without understanding, or even knowing, about the existence of these mechanics. After all, they’re not essential to comprehend in order to complete a Pokémon game in the first place. However, this is a different story for competitive players. Understanding the mechanics of the game is essential if you want to win in this environment.
In order to nail a competitive match, you must knock out all of your opponents’ Pokémons before they do the same to you. A simple concept. But from here onwards, things start to get complicated. Don’t worry though, we’ve got you covered.
The entire strategy is essentially focused on damage—be it dealing, withstanding or avoiding damage. Let’s take a look at what all this means now, shall we?
These are the types of mechanics that affect the damage dealt by any given move while in battle.
This one’s a staple of the series and something you may already be familiar with. Each type in Pokémon has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Fire is strong against Grass but weak against Water.
Type effectiveness is how these type matchups affect each other—ultimately boiling down to three things: super effective moves, neutrally effective moves and, well, not very effective moves. Here, super effective moves deal double damage, neutral moves don’t have any damage boost and not very effective moves deal half damage.
Additionally, Pokémons have something called a Same Type Attack Bonus (STAB). If a Pokémon uses a move that is the same type as itself (for example, a Fire type using a Fire type move) then it will deal one and a half times more damage on top of any super effective boost it may get.
The ability for a single Pokémon or a full team to withstand damage across a variety of types is called “Type Coverage,” or just “Coverage.”
All damage-dealing moves are either physical or special. Physical moves calculate damage based on the Pokémon’s ‘Attack’ stat, whereas special moves use the ‘Special Attack’ stat.
For the first three generations of Pokémon games, the type of attack was what determined whether it was physical or special. Bug, Flying, Fighting, Ground, Normal, Poison, Rock, Ghost and Steel moves were physical, and Dark, Dragon, Electric, Fire, Grass, Ice, Psychic and Water moves were special.
From generation four and onwards, the physical-special split was based on the style of the attack. You can check the types by heading to the ‘Battle Moves’ section of a Pokémon’s summary. A yellow and red box next to the move indicates a physical attack, whereas a purple box means a special type.
This split means you must pay particular attention to what moves you teach a Pokémon. For instance, Charizard has a high Special Attack stat. Teaching it the Fire type move ‘Fire Punch’ sounds like a good idea because of the STAB bonus (which was discussed earlier), but because Fire Punch is classed as a physical move, it wouldn’t be as effective as say, Flamethrower, which pairs much better with Charizard’s high special attack.
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These mechanics affect the different statistics of a Pokémon: HP, Attack, Defence, Special Attack, Special Defence and Speed. These, in turn, determine how good a Pokémon is at dealing, taking and avoiding damage.
Natures are more than just a fun little piece of additional information about your ‘mons. They actually increase and decrease your stats depending on which one you have. Overall, there are 25 different natures and each Pokémon is randomly bestowed with one of these.
Each nature gives a ten per cent boost in one stat and a ten per cent decrease in another. Because of this, it’s important to make sure your Pokémon has a nature that benefits it the most. For example, if your Pokémon was only using physical type moves, you would make sure it had an Adamant nature, which boosts Attack by ten per cent and decreases Special Attack by the same quantity.
At the same time, there are five natures that don’t provide any kind of increase or decrease: Hardy, Serious, Bashful, Quirky and Docile. These natures are useless in competitive battling since they provide no useful stat boost, so it’s recommended to avoid them.
Here’s a sneaky trick to make your Pokémon a little bit more powerful.
Effort Values (EV’s) are a hidden number that can be used to beef your Pokémon up in a way normal training could never do. Every single Pokémon, when defeated, yields an EV in a particular stat. Mankey, for example, gives one Attack EV upon defeat.
For every four EV’s gained in a particular stat, that stat will be increased by one point. A total of 510 EV’s can be gained, with 255 able to go into any one stat. However, because 510 and 255 are not divisible by four, you only need 508 EV’s in total (252 in one stat) to fully EV train your Pokémon.
Individual Values (IV’s) are similar to EV’s given how they’re an invisible number that affects a Pokémon’s stats, but that’s where the similarities end. IV’s are permanent numbers that cannot be changed and are determined when you obtain a Pokémon. These numbers range from zero to 31 and there’s one for each stat. The lower the number, the worse the stat. So zero would mean the worst a stat could be and 31 would be the best, also known as a perfect IV.
Because IV’s cannot be changed, it can be very hard to get a Pokémon with perfect IV’s across the board. The easiest way is through Pokémon breeding, but that’s another topic for another day. Competitive Pokémon players use level 100 Pokémon, with perfect IV’s, perfectly trained EV’s, the perfect set of moves and a carefully chosen item.
While all this is achievable on your own, it can take months to forge the perfect team. That’s where battle simulators come in. They allow players to quickly and easily assemble a team of perfect Pokémon to battle without the hassle of breeding and EV training, and this is where a majority of the competitive battling takes place outside of official Pokémon tournaments.
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Phew! Quite a lot to unpack there, I know. But if you want to be a Pokémon master, you’ve got to put in the work! While it may seem daunting, getting into competitive Pokémon isn’t as hard as it seems. All you need is a Pokémon game—preferably one of the most recent games—and a willingness to learn. There are tons of online resources available to help you understand the ins and outs of competitive battling such as Smogon, as well as countless YouTube channels dedicated to the scene.
But the absolute best and most surefire way to get going is to build a team and battle it out. Theorising is all well and good, but if you don’t practice what you preach, you won’t see actual results. Thankfully, due to the power of technology, you can battle with players from all over the world as of today.
Using this feature will allow you to test out teams, move sets and use different strategies. Eventually you’ll find a winning formula and will be ready for the big leagues, namely, the Pokémon World Championship. Being held in London this year, the competition sees the best of the best battling it out for more than $500,000 in prize money. Just think, one day you could earn your living from battling Pokémon. Wild.
Pokémon is such a popular franchise and for valid reasons. From cute characters to the depth of the video games, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. But what do those who play competitively get out of the practice? SCREENSHOT spoke to Colin Hicks, an avid member of the competitive scene, to get a better understanding of why it’s so enjoyable.
Pokémon is primarily aimed at children, but with a vast majority of the fandom being adults who grew up with the franchise, it’s something they still enjoy today, and even share with their kids. Hicks’ first Pokémon game was Pokémon Sword and Shield for the Nintendo Switch, which he bought for his kid. In an attempt to help his child complete the Pokédex—an in-game record of Pokémon seen and captured—Hicks got sucked into the world of Pokémon.
“I got it for my kid and talked to a heap of people in the Facebook community to help complete the Pokédex,” he said.
Through this, Hicks got to spend quality time with his child, enjoying Pokémon and slowly improving his skills. “I learnt the basics of battling and then wanted to improve,” he continued. The competitive scene has many draws but for Hicks, it was seeing how fast he could move up the ranks and mess with different teams.
“Two things excite me,” the enthusiast said. “Seeing how fast I can get to Masterball Rank, and trying out shenanigans. My most recent shenanigans have been using a Lunala holding a Power Herb and an Oranguru with an Assault Vest and the ability Symbiosis… it worked out okay but not as good as [Blacephalon] the clown.”
It’s not just the excitement of messing around with new teams and seeing how fast he can move up the ladder that has given Hicks his love for the scene. Recently, he went through a harrowing ordeal involving his leg, and the people he had met through playing were by his side the entire journey. “I’ve made some great friends along the way. Many of which checked in on me during a recent ordeal when I almost had to have my leg amputated,” he admitted in this regard.
These wonderful people, who Hicks wouldn’t have met if not for competitive Pokémon, stood by him as he recovered from his injuries and provided support when he needed it the most. And for those who are still on the fence about jumping into the competitive arena, Hicks had this to say: “Do it. Learn from your losses and make changes, not excuses. And most of all, have fun.”
Well, there you have it folks! From intricate number crunching to finding pals that lift you higher, competitive Pokémon is one of the most diverse and exciting communities around. I bet you would be hard pressed to find a more fulfilling game to get obsessed with. So come on trainers, what are you waiting for? Grab those Poké balls and get battling!