The Problem with Competitive Pokémon

One of the biggest appeals to playing Pokémon these days is building a team, forming complex strategies, and challenging others to competitive Pokémon. However, this may be the precise reason that Pokémon, especially its competitive scene, has been becoming more insular over the past few generations.

Pokémon is notoriously hard for new players to join. With games such as Mario and even to some extent Zelda, newcomers can essentially pick up the controller and begin playing as the gameplay is extremely intuitive. On the other hand, Pokémon’s battle system turns many people off from joining and getting involved in competitive battling. Why is this, and what can Pokémon do to improve the problem?

From the very start, Pokémon battling has always been quite complex. One of the biggest obstacles in getting involved in Pokémon battles is the type chart. With the 15 types from Generation I now expanded to 18, it’s nearly impossible for a non-veteran player to learn all the type match-ups, many of which are quite unintuitive. (I mean, why is cold effective against dragons? I don’t know either.) Furthermore, Pokémon stats have always been quite hard to understand with DVs and EVs and Eevees and IVs playing a role that no casual player could ever hope to understand. And that’s just Generation I, when everybody around town was playing Pokémon. Ever since then, more and more complex battle mechanics have been added with held items, abilities, and natures further complicating the matter. In essence, quite a bit of a Pokémon’s performance is out of the regular player player’s control not only in gameplay but also in the competitive scene.

Just battling is one thing; competitive viability is a whole other ordeal. During the days before Wi-fi Battles, competitive Pokémon battling was just a fun diversion. Now it’s a part-time job.

Obtaining a viable competitive Pokémon is quite the difficult feat now. It begins with breeding. And breeding and breeding. For hours, over and over again for just the right IVs and the perfect nature with the desired egg moves. Then EV-training follows with stat-boosting vitamins and knocking out just the right amount of Poochyena to get that perfect attack stat. Never mind that some Pokémon moves are exclusive to events anyway! Even if one decides to try out competitive battling, the advanced team composition and battle strategies create a steep learning curve in a harsh environment. It’s no wonder that newcomers may not be too keen in dipping their toes in the water.

So those are some of the issues, but what steps can be taken to make improvements?

Pokémon has already seen quite a few attempts to bring competitive play into the light for casual players with battle facilities such as the Battle Frontier, Battle Resort, Battle Maison, and Battle Tree. These area are featured quite prominently in the post-game and introduce many players to basic team-building and strategies through opponents’ teams, rented Pokémon, and just battling experience. While this is great for giving players a taste of competitive battling, it is only a small chunk of what competitive has to offer, and still leaves out the massive tedium of training.

Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee take a different approach: simplifying the battle system. With the exclusion of hundreds of Pokémon as well as abilities and items, battling has become much easier in this game. Obtaining competitively viable Pokémon has also become easier with combos and candy. While this game was a major step toward making competitive battling more accessible, it did also remove some of the nuance that makes competitive such a dynamic playing field.

So what can be done to relieve the insularity of the Pokémon competitive community? Obtaining viable Pokémon would definitely have to be much simpler; perhaps having IV-breeding and EV-training play a smaller role could make the process much easier to understand. Easing players into complex strategies integrated into the game itself would go a long way in introducing players to competitive strategies. An ELO system would further serve to make the learning curve less harsh.

For those looking to get into competitive Pokémon battling, check out Pokémon Showdown: The team-building aspects are much more accessible with all moves and strategies available at your fingertips without the hassle of training. There is a built-in ELO system and a multitude of strategies to see in the variety of battle types. While it isn’t perfect, it’s great for people who are interested in trying competitive battling.

There is no doubt that competitive battling needs a massive overhaul if it wants to become relevant in the majority of the player base. The upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield games seem to be changing up the formula quite a bit. Hopefully, Pokémon will take steps to make competitive battling a more prominent aspect of playing the games and get more new players excited.