Friend: “I’ve watched the anime. Charizard is the most powerful Pokémon!”
Ralph: “Palossand, use Stealth Rock.”
Friend: “Charizard, I choose you! (see the rocks chip away half of Charizard’s health) WHAAAAT!!?? What sorcery is this!!?? Charizard, use Fire Blast!!!”
Ralph: “I switch to Jellicent. It’s not very effective.”
Pokémon is a great game. However, there is also little doubt that Pokémon, as a competitive game, has its problems, such as type chart balance (which I talked about in one of my previous articles). Today, I am feeling the need to discuss Rock-type, or more specifically, the controversy regarding a certain Rock-type move – Stealth Rock.
Stealth Rock is a support move first introduced in Gen 4. When used, it lays down an entry hazard on the opponent’s side of the battlefield. Every time a Pokémon switches into a field with Stealth Rock, it loses health. The amount of health lost normally equals 1/8 of that Pokémon’s max health, BUT type effectiveness applies – e.g., Charizard, who is 4x weak to Rock, loses health equal to 1/2 of its max health when switched into Stealth Rock.
All hail Stealth Rock, our omnipresent lord.
When it comes to Stealth Rock, an issue I have seen many players raise is its seeming omnipresence. According to these players, Stealth Rock is basically a must-have on any serious competitive team, and that’s not good.
The observation of Stealth Rock being omnipresent does have a basis: When I drafted this article, I did a survey on Smogon’s Strategy Pokédex, a website where Smogon people discussed each Pokémon’s competitive viability and strategies. I studied their Gen 7 Strategy dex entries on Pokémon that have 4x weakness to Rock – Charizard, Butterfree, Articuno, etc. My result is that aside from Delibird’s and Ledian’s, every single one of these entries pointed at the 4x Rock weakness as a major factor that hurts the Pokémon’s viability in competitive, and explicitly named Stealth Rock when discussing the why. This is quite telling.
The omnipresence of a move is indeed a concerning issue: In a PvP game, if every player picks the same character or uses the same strategies, matches tend to become repetitive and players tend to feel bored, and bored players spell troubles for a game – that’s why game balance is a vital consideration when designing PvP games.
(Non-mega) Charizard wanna be usable!
Stealth Rock’s omnipresence leads to another issue: due to how prevalent it is, a Pokémon’s ability to cope with Stealth Rock will significantly impact its competitive viability. From a game design standpoint, this isn’t inherently a bad thing, as it can add strategic depth to the game if used correctly, e.g., the ubiquitous Earthquake drives players to think whether they should switch to a Flying-type or levitating Pokémon. However, while it is generally good that a frequently used strategy could affect how we strategize when using a beloved character, it is a bit less ideal if the character’s inability to deal with the said strategy leaves it unusable.
After all, we are promised a game in which we get to have fantasy monsters fight, not a game in which we watch our favorite monsters being decimated by floating pieces of rocks.
If we are to assume that player discontent with Stealth Rock has reached a level where actions are needed. What can Game Freak do? Well, I can think of at least three ways to address the problems:
Get rid of the ‘type effectiveness applies’ clause: This means Stealth Rock will stay the same, except its damage no longer uses type effectiveness, i.e., Charizard will now receive the same amount of damage from Stealth Rock as Steelix (4x resistant to Rock). This will surely solve the problem of Stealth Rock selectively crippling certain Pokémon. However, this might increase the frequency of seeing Stealth Rock- as it will then become more effective against lots of Pokémon that used to resist it. Therefore, this plan is quite a risky option.
Reduce the absolute power level of Stealth Rock: This means just making Stealth Rock less powerful in general, which includes reducing the amount of damage it inflicts, or making it last a certain number of turns rather than having it last until removed. This will reduce the frequency at which Stealth Rock shows up in competitive, and if the move’s pick rate gets sufficiently low, this will solve the issue of Pokémon being left unusable due to Stealth Rock weakness.
Give Pokémon weak to Stealth Rock more anti-entry hazard support: I could think of a solution that is seldom discussed – giving better anti-entry hazard support to common teammates of Pokémon that are hurt badly by Stealth Rock. For instance, non-mega Charizard can potentially be viable in Sunny teams, the problem here is that adding it to your Sunny team’s roster will require you to provide anti-Stealth Rock support, which means you will need to add Rapid Spin (which is useless outside removing entry hazards). Game Freak can create a new move, Rapid Spin+, that does what Rapid Spin does and more (i.e., Rapid Spin+ is strictly better than Rapid Spin), and give this move only to common members of Sunny teams.
Please share your thoughts on this issue: Are you annoyed that Stealth Rock is ubiquitous? Are you annoyed that non-mega Charizard is at low tier, due at least partly to its Stealth Rock weakness? Do you think your sentiment is shared by most competitive Pokémon players? Do you believe that the level of player discontent has reached a point where actions are required? If yes, what solution do you think is most likely to make everyone happy?