Despite attracting controversy ahead of release, PokÃ©mon Sword and Shield have, minus some quibbles, been a resounding success â€“ becoming the fastest-selling Nintendo Switch game ever in its first week of release.
The legacy and staying power of Sword & Shield, however, will likely be determined on the competitive scene next year. It promises to be the biggest year for competitive PokÃ©mon yet, which will climax with the 2020 PokÃ©mon World Championships in London.
Despite the inevitable influx of new players, the arrival of a new generation of PokÃ©mon poses new mechanics, new rules and a new evolving meta to contend with for veterans.
But are all the changes for the better? We asked PokÃ©mon pro players James â€œJamesspeed1â€ Baek, Aaron â€œCybertron" Zheng and Paul â€œralfdude90â€ Ruiz about the major shake-ups, concerns and hopes for the competitive scene in 2020.
The format rules for competitive PokÃ©mon Sword & Shield, effective from 4 January 2020, were released earlier this month. While they largely follow previous rules, like only double battles and the exclusion of mythical PokÃ©mon, notable additions like Dynamax and Gigantamax have split the community.
The rules allow for Dynamaxing and permit certain monsters to Gigantamax; an even stronger version of Dynamax which only applies to certain PokÃ©mon and boosts stats over three turns. Only ten Pokemon from a specific list are permitted for tournaments, although this will expand as certain Gigantamax PokÃ©mon become more common in-game.
Cybertron: â€œFor the most part, the ruleset is pretty close to what I was expecting. I like it because I think G-max is a cool feature of the game and most of the Pokemon with G-max attacks donâ€™t look overly strong.
â€œThere are worries about a few G-max Pokemon being a bit broken but players doing tests are finding side effects from some really strong moves, like Snorlaxâ€™s or Grimmsnarlâ€™s G-max attack, isnâ€™t actually guaranteed. Itâ€™s by random chance.
"I think that will make people feel better about some of the potentially stronger G-max attacks.â€
Gigantamax Charizard is allowed in tournaments (Picture: Nintendo)
The reintroduction of a battle timer, which wasnâ€™t featured in the 2017, 2018 or 2019 season, has also proved a sticking point. The cap is at 15 minutes of â€œgame timeâ€ for each battle, while players are entitled to seven minutes of â€œyour timeâ€ to plan strategies.
Extended animations for Dynamax transformations and moves however could prove time-consuming in battle â€“ sparking concern it could be exploited by players to run down the clock.
Ralfdude90:â€œThe battle timer should be 20 minutes at the very minimum if they want to keep it, or even considering reducing â€œyour timeâ€ a bit to make a real impact in a match. Why? Because the battle timer being that low, factoring in animations, means its easily abusable.
â€œThe most intense battles Iâ€™ve had in my life were around 20-25 turns with a lot of turn-by-turn analysis and positioning for each side. I cannot stop thinking those amazing battles would never happen with this new timer.â€
The inclusion of Dynamax, which unlike Gigantamax applies to every PokÃ©mon, is arguably the biggest game-changer.
While it opens strategies in choosing when to deploy it for maximum effect across three turns, thereâ€™s early uncertainty around exactly how much Dynamax boosts stats and whether it could be exploited.
Jamesspeed1: â€œDynamax is something Iâ€™m a little concerned about as I think it will be really strong early on, especially since we donâ€™t truly understand everything about it and when is effective to use it.
â€œThereâ€™s so many options and team possibilities you can do with Dynamax, however Iâ€™m not too sure how weâ€™re going to see this later in the game. Right now, at the beginning, itâ€™s going to be really strong, overwhelming and pretty hectic.â€
Dynamax fights could change the competitive scene drastically (Picture: Nintendo)
The ability to drastically increase stats through unique evolutions isnâ€™t a new concept for PokÃ©mon. Mega Evolutions in past games were a controversial inclusion in competitive circles, which saw certain PokÃ©mon temporarily transform to a superior form.
While similar in theory, the differences in Dynamaxing have made some players more positive about the options and exciting flexibility it affords.
Cybertron:â€œDynamax feels like a mechanic designed for doubles matches; the fact you can increase your stats as well as your partnerâ€™s stats is really cool for a bunch of attacks.
â€œThe fact any PokÃ©mon can Dynamax makes team building really interesting. In previous formats we had Mega Evolutions or Z-Crystals, where you could only really have one or two on a team, now we have a concept where you can theoretically Dynamax any PokÃ©mon at any given point.
â€œA lot of people see PokÃ©mon as just doing heavy damage and trading blows left and right, but with Dynamax you can play it offensively for big knockouts, or defensively for raising your own stats or decreasing your opponentâ€™s stats. I think the mark of a good team will be one thatâ€™s super flexible and can pull off Dynamaxing at any given point.â€
As with any turn-based system, achieving the chance to strike first is key in turning the tide of battle. A subtle change in how speed stats operate in Sword & Shield has opened new strategies when it comes to landing the first attack in a turn.
Previously a move like Tailwind, which doubles the speed of the party for three turns, would apply the stat boost for the following turn after being used. In Sword & Shield, this has been changed so itâ€™s calculated on the same turn â€“ meaning you can speed boost your partner and dynamically affect the attack order on the fly.
Coupled with weather effects which affect stats too, this small adjustment to the speed mechanics opens up a wealth of new strategies in combining attacks, abilities and stat boosts within a single turn.
Cybertron: â€œFor example, you can now use the Prankster ability and Thunder Wave with Grimmsnarl to immediately slow down your opponentâ€™s PokÃ©mon and get a big attack against it. Thatâ€™s a big change.â€
Weaker berries and abilities
Berries were previously key in competitive PokÃ©mon, with many players regularly using specific types which heal 50% health when a PokÃ©mon falls below 25% health (or 50% if they have the Gluttony ability). The impact of these berries has been reduced to 33% in Sword & Shield, making them less vital in matches.
Some abilities, triggered upon entering a battle, have also had their effectiveness reduced. The impact of Intimidate, for example, has been negated by changed abilities like Inner Focus and Own Tempo, which now block it.
Jamesspeed1: â€œThe move Fake Out too is kind of weaker because Dynamax PokÃ©mon are immune to flinching, so thatâ€™s also going to be another mind game.â€
Smaller pool of PokÃ©mon
A new generation and a smaller amount of Pokemon too (Picture: Nintendo)
While developer Game Freak caused uproar by announcing Sword & Shield wouldnâ€™t feature every PokÃ©mon, the smaller monster pool has forced players to utilise PokÃ©mon which previously weren't competitive favourites.
There are 400 Pokemon in Sword and Shield out of 800+ monsters in the complete Pokedex. Some players believe this could give the competitive scene the jolt it needs, after many old favourites failed to make the cut.
Cybertron: â€œIt feels super balanced. Part of the problem with previous games is youâ€™d have all these legendary PokÃ©mon that were allowed and competitive play felt kind of stale, at least from the outside perspective, because you always saw those PokÃ©mon.
â€œItâ€™s not like we needed this cut in order to have the best competitive set of PokÃ©mon because they could have easily created a banned list. But from my perspective, I was okay with it. Iâ€™m quite happy the PokÃ©mon that made it through are pretty balanced overall.â€
In many ways, Sword & Shield has streamlined the PokÃ©mon experience. Tutorials are optional for expert players, levelling up is quicker through new items like EXP candy and thereâ€™s even a rental code feature where you can share and play with other peopleâ€™s teams.
Itâ€™s an experience which is far more welcoming to new players than other recent games, which have generally applied more complex systems with each entry. The back to basics approach, coupled with the more streamlined path to assembling a formidable roster, means competitive PokÃ©mon has never been so accessible.
Cybertron:â€œWith every new PokÃ©mon, it feels like thereâ€™s a new wave of players that really want to get into it but then after a month or two, they get discouraged because they see it as really time consuming and it takes a lot to get a team in-game.
â€œBut because Sword & Shield has improved so many things now, I think 2020 might be the biggest year for competitive PokÃ©mon yet.â€
So is the future bright for competitive Pokemon?
Could 2020 be the year of competitive Pokemon? (Picture: Nintendo)
Ralfdude90: â€œPositive is the first word I think of when I talk about this year's season.
â€œIt's not perfect by any means, specially the CP structure, but the new games are very well done in the competitive aspect so they will for sure have a big impact on newer players and the scene as a whole.
â€œI think 2020 could be a very important year for competitive Pokemon."
Jamesspeed1: â€œI think overall there are big concerns like Dynamax for the competitive part, but looking forward to VGC 2020, I think itâ€™s a really exciting time and it could cause huge growth for the scene.â€
Cybertron: "Less concern and more optimistic. There's so many people interested in it. This always happens [with new games] but with Sword & Shield this feels like a whole other level. This is a huge opportunity for our scene so I hope that it grows to its potential.
"I always felt like this is such a cool game, thereâ€™s so much behind it and people donâ€™t know enough about it. Hopefully in the next couple months, the whole scene will lure people in, get more people playing and show them this is actually really cool and you should stick around.â€