Esports
Esports

A Spectator’s Introduction to Competitive Pokémon (VGC)

A Spectator’s Introduction to Competitive Pokémon (VGC)

I love Pokémon. But, when people watch competitive Pokémon, there’s one question that frequently comes up: “what in the bloody hell is going on?” Whether you already play or are a bewildered daddy stood in the corner with your hands in your pockets, this is a question I aim to answer.

What’s the Point?

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It should go without saying that the aim of competitive Pokémon is to win the game. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised just how many players are seemingly unaware of this. You win the game by defeating your opponent or, alternatively, by not losing. To do this, you’re allowed to bring a ragtag team of 6 Pokémon creatures of your choice (Using 4 per game, 2 active at a time) from a selection of 802 narrowed down to the 295 legal in tournament play. Around 50 of these are actually worth using, the rest being crap and chosen only by casuals, village idiots and clueless posers. Essentially: Dunsparce usage is correlated with “the friend zone”, silk screen Goku shirts and crayons jammed in orifices.

DunsparceThe rules of the game

Each player takes turns to tell their Pokémon what to do. Pokémon each have their own inherent and player-influenced stat values (Around 30% are assigned by you) which are used to calculate damage and turn order, ability effect (Each species gets up to 3 to choose from) and elemental typing, that determines which other Pokémon it’s good and bad against. For example, you will need a Fire-type Pokémon. If you want to win most of your games, your choice is between an offensive Arcanine, a defensive Arcanine, or a supportive Arcanine (Arcanine has been the #1 most-used Pokémon from the start of the format not because it’s particularly good, but because it’s the only good legal Fire-type). Fire-types beat Grass-types, like Kartana, but are weak to the Ground-type, also known as Garchomp, which due to being objectively superior to every other Ground-type is the only one you’ll ever see placing in a tournament. The Ground-type is supposed to be bad against the Bug-type, which has less authority than a pantsless substitute teacher. [caption id="attachment_77102" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Basic B Take This is how things are supposed to happen.[/caption] Your Pokémon all know 4 moves, which are the things they actually do in a battle, whether it’s damage or support. Most Pokémon have around 50 moves to choose from, but, including Protect (Used on most Pokémon, comparable to block/shield in a fighting game) there’s typically only 5-6 they have any business actually using: it’s often pretty clear-cut how a Pokémon can best do its job. Other choices are called “tech”s, and basically mean said Pokémon can beat one thing it usually loses to, at the cost of losing to several things it’s supposed to beat. E.g. Garchomp usually loses to Kartana, but if it brings the move Fire Fang (Especially with a Choice Scarf, too), then Garchomp turns the matchup on its head and KOs Kartana before it can do anything. this is how things often happen: How Things Often HappenThe last part of a Pokémon you’re left to customise is its item to hold. This can be anything from a Z-Crystal, which lets you use a powerful once-per-game move, to a critical hit-rate booster or a one-use berry that heals hitpoints or reduces damage taken from a move. The most controversial items are the Choice items, which give a 1.5x boost to damage or speed at the cost of extreme inflexibility- once you pick a move to use you can’t choose another. Which, especially in the case of our Choice Scarf Garchomp, is a real drawback: Fire Fang is only good against Kartana, so once you’ve KOed it (Or if your opponent sees it coming and switches out…), you’re at a huge disadvantage. You find Choice items and other unusual movesets (Especially the Scarf, the only way to move before a faster Pokémon un-telegraphed) completely change how a Pokémon works and allow it to KO some things it wouldn’t usually, at the cost of being impractical and causing you to lose matchups you would’ve won otherwise. Using a Scarf Pokémon is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Fortunately, in Pokémon you fight a lot of cheese. For example, Choice Scarf lets Garchomp beat things it would usually lose to: Scarf Good...at the expense of losing to what it usually beats. scarfbad_edited-1-1-300x200.jpgOnce you’ve picked your Pokémon, it’s time to actually play. The first thing to remember about Pokémon is: it’s like a dance. A dance between two people who probably can’t dance, and their Pokémon, which also can’t dance. That is, it’s all about board control, and who’s in a position to do the most damage to the other person’s Pokémon. Sometimes you do that by being prepared and offensively dominating your opponent, as Gary Qian does here. Sometimes, somebody falls flat on their face, as Gary does this time Vs. Cesar Reyes of Mexico. Cesar doesn’t so much destroy Gary as slowly overwhelm and immobilise him, like a very big burrito. More evenly-matched games become a painful, tense game of chicken, as demonstrated by this gorgeous young man with a lovely shirt. If you can remotely understand what’s going on in these videos and do, for whatever reason, find it enjoyable, then I think we’re good: you get competitive Pokémon. It’s a wonderful game with a unique community and if you want a go, come and do it! There’s events all over, and they’re honestly really fun. I’ve met strippers, cat breeders, Olympians, done bailar con chicas, won a lot of money, (accidentally) punched a sea turtle in the face. It’s been great. The new season starts up in November – European Internationals at the London ExCeL – and you’re welcome to join. Until then, you can catch the World Championships, livecasted by my good friends on the official stream team from the 18th-20th this month and get a taste for this very beautiful, often very stupid game.