How to start competitive battling in Pokémon & join the growing community

Two months in Galar with Pokémon Sword & Shield and we already have more content on the way with the release of Pokémon HOME this month and the Expansion Pass in June. We’ll certainly have our hands full with new content to explore and Pokémon to look capture in 2020. Yet, you may be itching to try your hand at competitive Pokémon battling in the meantime!

In this article, I’ll identify ways main series Pokémon players have chosen to play competitively, mention popular formats, and then extrapolate on possibilities available to players of all skill levels. Disclaimer: although I am competing in the Amateur Battle League, I was not paid to promote their channel and have received no compensation from any of the organizations or persons highlighted in this article.

Every Pokémon player knows the basics of a Pokémon battle, and has some underlying knowledge of Pokémon typing, moves, abilities, stats, and hold items. However, as there are so many Pokémon and numerous ways to build each Pokémon, approaching the competitive scene can feel a bit daunting.


Smogon has builds for Pokémon in every generation.

In an attempt to streamline and promote use of all Pokémon, a group of players formed Smogon. Smogon tiers Pokémon based on their usage (OU refers to Over-Used, UU refers to Under-Used, etc). Decisions on tiering are made by vote within the community, and the community also provides Pokémon builds, analysis, and competition via Pokémon Showdown. Most, if not all, competitive players have at one point referenced Smogon. Because Smogon gives complete analysis as to each build, it’s a wonderful learning resource. A limitation to keep in mind is that their analyses are based on their own tiering system. In other words, if you are looking at a Smogon Pokémon in UU (e.g., Hippowdon), they are not considering OU Pokémon (e.g., Dragapult) in the EV spread and movepool.

Other limiting factors are that Smogon has specific clauses and rules which seek to make gameplay fair. As Smogon is primarily a single battles community, they have voted to ban Dynamax from their SwSh singles meta. Regardless, Smogon and Pokémon Showdown are invaluable resources to build Pokémon teams and try them out before choosing to breed/train them in-game.

Video Game Championships (VGC)

The in-game Doubles format Ranked Battles use VGC rules.

Pokémon Company hosts its own Video Game Championships with its own set of rules, this is VGC. Recently, VGC competitors’ channels have grown tremendously on YouTube and Twitch as the attention of console gamers and long-term Pokémon fans turn to Pokémon Sword & Shield on the Switch. Using Capture Cards, players are able to stream their gameplay live for viewers to participate in competitive battles as active spectators. VGC as a format generally has fewer rules than Smogon. It bans mythicals and, currently, non-event Gigantamax forms. The VGC rules are most consistent with in-game Ranked Battles. So, if you’re climbing to the Masterball Tier in Sword & Shield ranked battles, you’re in essence playing VGC rules. The largest discrepancy being that official VGC events are double battles format, and they promote the use of Dynamax.

Whereas Smogon presents builds which can function in its format, VGC does not have an official website promoting builds. However, one resource is Trainer Tower. Here, you can easily find rental teams which you can use to practice battling by VGC rules, as well as, analyses of why these Pokémon were selected and how you can show their strengths. After using rental teams, consider breeding and/or training your own version of those Pokémon or Pokémon from several teams you enjoy.

Community Competitions

Game Freak has allowed players to create their own competitions in-game using software in Pokémon Sword & Shield. You can select rules and host competitions that are monitored in-game, or you can use external resources.

Draft Leagues

A draft league is a Pokémon competition where players take turns selecting Pokémon to draft to their team one at a time. AutoMatthic is a competitive Pokémon player who created the ultimate Draft League resource: Using his website, many Pokémon YouTubers, such as aDrive and WolfeyVGC, have organized their own YouTube-televised competitions. Yes battling in a league with Wolfey may seem daunting, but there are leagues for all skill levels. For some, all you’ll need to join is a capture card and a time commitment.

These community-based competitions often featured team analysis videos similar to the articles you’ll find on Smogon and Trainer Tower. Furthermore, you’ll likely also get insight into how to better use your own Pokémon from listening to trainers narrate their battles and choices as they stream.

For those of you hoping to grow and compete consider the Amateur Battle League. The Amateur Battle League (ABL) is in its third season, after having started in the days of Let’s Go! Pikachu and Eevee. It welcomes all skill levels to compete, provided they are able to stream. The current season features 18 coaches who each drafted 11 Pokémon available in Galar. Since it’s draft format, only one team can have Togekiss, Darmanitan, or Excadrill!

The ABL streams Primetime on Twitch weekly at around 8pm EST and all battles are uploaded from both team’s perspectives each weekend. Check it out and consider joining the Discord as a part of your path as a competitive trainer. Keep in mind that around the release of the Expansion Pass, the ABL will be hosting its fourth season this year!

What formats do you use for battle? Will 2020 be your year to grow in the competitive Pokémon scene? You can also ask questions on our Discord server!