Counter Strike Global Offensive. dota 2. call of Duty. Fourteen days. League of Legends – These games are dominating the esports scene with viewership and prize pools so large you’ll wonder if you should have practiced your one-tap kills with the Desert Eagle instead of going to college. But despite being part of one of the best-selling video game franchises in the world, the official competitive format of Pokemon doesn’t sit well with those esports juggernauts of sweaty palms and pop-offs.
Incidentally called the Video Game Championship (VGC for short), the competitive Pokemon Format deserves more recognition as a seriously deep esport that requires significant dedication to master. Unlike most Pokémon trainer battles against NPCs, VGC battles consist entirely of double battles. Trainers choose four of their six Pokémon to bring into battle each match. Tournament matches are best-of-three (outside of Japan, anyway), which means choosing a different Pokemon combo per match becomes a necessary strategy. The Pokémon Company International hosts these tournaments, which are held around the world with regional, national, and world championships. The 2022 World Cup was held in London and was by far the largest to date, and the 2023 World Cup will be held in Yokohama, Japan.
Why are Pikachu and his friends getting less recognition than their esports peers? money or lack of it. The Pokémon Company International also hosts trading card game tournaments and (from 2022) Pokemon GOand the company pays poorly in all cases.
Take Eduardo Cunha for example. He won the World Championships in London this summer and took home the top prize of $10,000. Compare that to Team DRX, who won the 2022 World Championship for Riot Games. League of Legends and took home $489,500 – 22% of the total prize pool. Yes, Riot Games pays out to five players, but still – play Pokemon Professional isn’t a career option unless you hit it big streaming. This isn’t new to Nintendo franchises as a pro Super Smash Bros. Players also get lackluster support.
Less money, less dedicated players, smaller scene. VGC’s high barrier to entry doesn’t help either. Building a team properly, breeding for perfect IVs, and training for specific EV spreads can take dozens of hours. This isn’t a game where you can pick a character you like and learn the basics against similarly low-ranked opponents. Assembling a team of your favorite Pokémon without the proper training and consideration for the meta will result in a thorough strike akin to a Rattata taking on Mewtwo, even at the lowest ranks of online ranked play.
Regardless of these barriers Pokemon VGC features an ever-growing list of fierce competitors and nuanced gameplay. VGC plays more like a card game and less like an intense, action-per-minute MOBA or reactionary FPS. Yes, specific Pokemon will dominate each specific meta. Pokémon sword‘s boxing legend Zacian, for example, ruled the last generation with his Intrepid Sword ability and amazing Fairy/Steel typing. (It received a super effective nerf Pokemon scarlet and violet also for boldness). But since each Pokemon has move pools to choose from, different abilities, and customizable stats, even metas centralized around a few Pokemon have a significant difference. For example, one Zacian might perform the Fairy-type move Play Rough while another might have Substitute — a small but significant difference that affects the outcome of matches.
While an extra point of speed can decide an entire game, a player’s reads about their opponent are more important, much like in a poker game. With two Pokémon on the field at the same time, the possible scenarios multiply tenfold: Which four Pokémon does my opponent bring with them and how do they interact together on the field? Which two Pokemon will they lead with? In combat, will they attack, use Protect, Mega Evolve/Z-Move/Dynax/Terastalize, switch out, or use a utility move like Helping Hand or Tailwind? How do you respond to each of these scenarios, and which is the most likely?
In the best of three Pokemon In tournament matches, pros even refrain from using moves to distract their opponent until a later match. It all adds up to an intense game of bluffs, calls, and odds that deserves a much larger audience and community.
And the only way to grow the community is to bring in new players, because – and I don’t think that’s an overstatement – The Pokémon Company International will not be offering any Riot- or Epic Games-level prize pools. We need fresh Pokéblood. With the recent release of Pokemon scarlet and violet and ranked seasons that are likely to gain momentum like a colossal hit with an Aqua Jet, there’s no better time than now to jump in, whether you’re new to the series or started a long time ago with the original Game Boy to have.
Sure, enter the competition Pokemon can be quite daunting, but there is an ever-expanding support network. From friendly online communities like Reddit’s r/VGC to highly recommended and informative content creators like Aaron “Cybertron” Zheng, there are plenty of options to help you get started. And if all that stuff about Pokémon stats and breeding sounds like too much hassle, professional players often share teams you can borrow, along with descriptions of how to control them. The VGC website Victory Road will also share codes for some of the best teams from the most innovative team builders Pokemon scarlet and violet, and this will be my first Pokéstop once the competitive scene gets going. With all these resources, participating in online tournaments and local regional championships in the future doesn’t seem to be a piece of cake.
Just don’t expect any competition Pokemon to pay your electricity bill.