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!

  1. Somewhat related, please everyone be aware, no Legendary raid is legitimate at this time and if you try to use any of them caught in those raids online you highly risk a ban.

  2. When is Home supposed to be released I wonder? They said Februrary but never gave a specific date, is it gonna be during Pokemon day, aka the last possible day to qualify as “In february”?

  3. Great now Disqus is now making me not only manually put in my info when I want to log in NOW I gotta prove I’m flesh and bone instead of a cold emotionless automaton aka the stupid test thing with the pictures

    And I’ve opened several new windows to test it and it had to do it every. Single. Time

    I hate life, I really do

  4. the venn diagram of pokemon i like vs pokemon that are any good competitively has, historically, been two star-crossed circles that seldom meet but for one fleeting moment, long enough for one to brush the hair from in front of the other’s ear and gently whisper sweet nothings like “hydreigon” or “corviknight” before once again parting ways

  5. Ugh I’m now 1 thing off of getting Jirachi in Go

    Thank you Battle League, if that didn’t exist I would never get to battle people to do that stuff

  6. “Join the growing community!” Well… smogon certainly hasn’t been growing since their failure to adapt to dynamax. The gen 8 OU gameplay is literally just gen 5 competitive with less mons. Uber still legalizes dynamax and it’s really the only fun en 8 format on smogon imo. But ubers is still completely overrun by zacian-c, which actually rivals mega-ray in brokenness. So smogon is really just a mess right now imo.

  7. I’ve actually been playing quite a bit of showdown with my girlfriend. My friend group in general has gotten into it. In particular she and another one of our friends have started a nuclear arms race where our friend will make a team of Pokémon with wildly illegal movesets and abilities (usually it’s all magic guard) and then my girlfriend creates a legal team that can somehow get through all the insane bullshit our friend comes up with and I think it might be the ideal way to play Pokémon

  8. Why is Gigantamax Charizard in Home just the Sugimori art. Anyways play Silksong when it comes out.

  9. Idk if it’s unpopular opinion, but I don’t really like the designs of the Urshifu (or w/e). Kubfu is “okay”.

    1. They’re okay. Dont hate them, dont like them. Better than the deer rabbit with the growth on its head. That thing is awful and should be put down

  10. So I just finished my annual replay of Paper Mario 64 and now starting Thousand Year Door but i am hoping with all my might that we get our Paper Mario Switch that isn’t garbage

    Mainly a RPG with a good story, charming gameplay and most importantly party members

    And I want to expand on my fan Paper Mario game with its partners
    Now partners need to be unique but also being the solution to overworld puzzels

    My game in a nutshell is reverse Partners in Time and Mario is taken to the future where Bowser’s forces in the present completely take over

    Goombeaux: A captured freedom fighter who meets and recognizes Mario in the prison he was sent to. His ability is Tattle (it’s traditional)

    Skud: A hotheaded Bullet Bill who was fed up with being used ammo for Bowser’s weapons factory and decides that helping Mario blow up Bowser’s forces was good revenge. He can blow up cracked walls

    Chompers: This was the “loyal” companion of the Assassin Bowser Jr hired to track down Mario and stop him. But after too many failed encounters he abandoned him and quickly joined Mario. He can lunge forward and hit switches or retrieve items from afar

    Ninjiki: a klutzy but faithful Ninji who wants to be a great hero but fails to be one but believes if he helps Mario he’ll gain the experience to be a hero someday. He pulls Mario behind his camouflage wall rendering them invisible

    Slushy: A Bumpety (Penguin) who’s frosty mountain homeland is now a blazing volcano thanks to Bowser and cannot sled anymore. In special slides and ramps Mario rides on Slushy’s back to slide down and jump the ramp for long distances

    1. Bad news…ACNH may not support cross console f up your switch and your stuff could all be gone

  11. Well I’ve restarted Pokémon sword and I’m finally using scorbunny. Enjoying it so far. Just now got to wild area taking a break so I can sleep lol. Current team is
    Lucky the scorbunny lv 9 (jolly nature)
    Anguirus the chewtle Lv 9 (adamant nature )
    Nebula the Blipbug lv 8(modest nature)
    Will probably update either after I get first badge or when I catch my fourth member

  12. Hey everybody go vote for Pokemon of the year! Its available via Google looking up “Pokemon of the Year”

    Voting ends on Valentine’s day and you can vote for one Pokemon from each region each day

  13. I just realized something, Byleth really is the best reperesentative for Fire Emblem Three Houses DLC, because both are lame and disappointing additions to a good game 😛

  14. Lmao Sakurai just said there are too many Fire Emblem characters and Swordsmen in general represented in Smash and that he doesnt decide new fighters. He straight threw dumb ass Byleth under the bus

    1. People would mind FE characters less if they didn’t all seem so similar. They take up the majority of sword fighters too which is annoying. Although nobody I want is really a sword user there’s some I’d be cool with that are. I guess at least Byleth has other weapons.

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