The Problem Facing Competitive Pokemon
With all the talk of Pokemon becoming a legitimate competitive game there are a lot of opinions regarding RNG and what needs to happen for Pokemon to be taken seriously among the blossoming popularity of e-sports. Many respected players have hit upon great points regarding the future of our beloved game, but one thing remains aloof from the conversation. I'm here to shed a little light on this and give my take on what needs to happen for competitive Pokemon to grow. I'll be outlining it into sections for the sake of an easy read, so enjoy and feel free to comment and share your thoughts as well.
Resistance is probably my least favorite thing about competitive Pokemon and I wasn’t terribly familiar with it at first, so take what I say about it with a grain of salt. But if you aren’t too savvy to it either, it’s basically a tie-break system calculated by how your opponents do in competition. For example, when I played at the Lancaster Regional I went 7-2. Even though a few other players also had the same personal score, not all of us made cut and that was calculated by resistance. Me and several other players failed to make Top Cut because our opponents played worse than other players’ opponents. Which I totally understand the logic behind. You have to make the cut off somewhere and if your draw in the competition was harder than the other X-2 person’s draw then you statistically are the better player. However, what this means to the player is that he has to worry about getting hax’d too heavily as well as worry about his opponents getting hax’d out during their matches. Basically what I’m saying is, I shouldn’t have to worry about my opponents’ luck as well as my own to determine who gets to make cut. I understand that RNG is part of the game (probably a bigger part than it should be), but that much variable should not decide high stakes outcomes found in top level competitions.
While RNG creates a little chaos which is what makes the game exciting it has a time and a place. And that, my friends, is called "Free Play" or unrated battles. There's no impact on ratings and you can even use the full spread of Legendary Pokemon. When you bring a Dunsparce to a Lugia battle, you're probably going to need a little RNG. And with that matchup it's definitely going to be exciting. The chaos makes it exciting. But when it comes to team building for a competition where the player is trying to set a plan and execute it with clever flare, that's exciting in its own right. Remember the Junior World Championship match for 2015? Machamp? People were so hyped to see that Pokemon the potential RNG excitement was second spectacle in that match.
Part of the reason people were so excited to see an obscure Pokemon like that may also have been due to the fact that CHALK dominated 2015 Worlds and the meta in general for a couple years now. And with good reason, CHALK is one of the easiest teams to pick up and mixes with just about any sixth Pokemon you'd like to use while putting out some solid RNG potential in your favor. Anyone who has played against CHALK + Thundurus-Incarnate knows exactly what I'm talking about. It's a safe response to an unpredictable game. Because players want to play competitively and increase their odds of winning, they use CHALK. Removing RNG would not only encourage new team designs more quickly and frequently. It would also encourage a more respected competitive format.
That brings me to my next point which I've already eluded to: the competitive format should just eliminate RNG. While you eliminate the chance of randomly stopping your opponent you still have option of intentionally stopping them. With a loss in flinch and full para potential you'll see an increase in clever timing involving redirection or speed control as well as see more underrated moves like encore or disable. It would level the playing field and encourage uniqueness. I'll also add that accuracy is perfectly fine with me. The risk/reward of running a more powerful move with the chance to miss rather than a weaker move with a more consistent hit percentage is well within the player's control of choice. However, make all the big moves like Thunder, Hydro Pump, Fire Blast, etc have the same hit percentage. Seriously, Thunder still at 70%? Come on.
For example, how exciting would Smash Bros be if competitive play had items on? A random Smash Ball appears and suddenly it's GG. While that would add a little extra excitement and chaos to the match, imagine if the players were both equally skilled, running characters in a way that was clever and unique. In a sense, it would almost be an injustice to have the match decided by a random, OP item that dropped onto the field. That match would basically be decided by whoever was closest to the item when it fell, no matter how great the back and forth between the competitors.
Kudos to Sakurai for having the good sense of allowing items to be allowed or banned from matches. He helped put the format of the game in the hands of the players. With item selection and frequency it allows the player to adjust the level of chaos and consistency to their liking. And when it comes to hyper-serious competitive play, consistency is key. The format of Smash allows for a perfect switch between competitive and casual. What's better is that with Smash entering the era of DLC there's even been a balance to the characters as certain moves and abilities get nerfs or buffs. Even after the character has been released, through the magic of the internet, they can be altered to keep the game fresh and balanced.
And that brings me to my final point: the formula of Pokemon. While the Smash formula strikes a perfect separation from casual and competitive with the ability to change as the game needs it to, the Pokemon formula does not. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to eliminate secondary effects of moves from competitive play, but keep them in casual? Maybe nerf Parental Bond so that the second strike does 30% damage instead of 50% after realizing it was too OP? The problem with competitive Pokemon is, in fact, the Pokemon formula itself. The creators remain adamant in that Pokemon should be played how they see fit. This may partially be why Pokemon isn't crazy about "Nuzzlocke Let's Plays" and genning Pokemon.
In fact, Pokemon was always based around the concept of catching and trading Pokemon, not battling. It's even the Pokemon catch phrase, "Gotta Catch 'Em All!" Still don't believe me? Take a look at some of the earliest Pokemon commercials:
As creepy as those were (I mean, crushing Pokemon in a bus... That's pretty dark...) there's not one glimpse of Pokemon battles. As some of the first advertisements for the Pokemon games, you'd think the marketers would highlight battles as at least part of their materials if the games truly revolved around them. In fact the first commercial to spotlight battling didn't really happen until Generation 3, which is when the first real national Pokemon battling competition took place. I mean, think about it. Even in the games, becoming Champion has always been secondary to completing the Pokedex. Your journey always starts with the expectation of you completing the Dex for your resident Poke-Prof; you're not given a starter Pokemon with the hopes that you'll one day become Champion. Even in the original games once you become the new Champ you're rewarded with the opportunity to catch Mewtwo, the most powerful Pokemon in the first generations and arguably still one of the most powerful Pokemon to date overall. Why? Not to make being the strongest trainer in the game easier, no, to complete the Pokedex.
We, as players, are trying to make the game's purpose something the creators didn't originally intend it to be. Which is great because it shows the depth within the game we all love. Except the original formula hasn't changed. Granted it has been limited by banning certain Legendary Pokemon and changing the format's rules. Even the power of certain moves have been buffed and nerfed. But the overall intent of Pokemon being a game about catching and trading hasn't. For Pokemon to become a more viably competitive game, the creators need to create two truly separate formats: a casual format where friends can battle each other to their liking and a competitive format where chance is reduced or eliminated altogether so that player’s strategy and process can shine. In short, Pokemon needs to make the jump from being all about catching and trading to battling.
For what it's worth this is just my humble opinion and I don't believe my take holds any more water than the next person's. For our game to grow the way we want it to we all need to give input and share our thoughts, for better or worse. If the game is truly going to evolve into some new competitive format, we are at a turning point where we have the opportunity to get it right for generations to come. Yes, I did just make two Pokemon puns in one sentence, you're welcome. But in all seriousness , despite the rather negative implication the title of this piece alludes to, I'm hopeful for the future of competitive Pokemon. Why? Despite all the RNG, the losses we snatched from the brink of victory, the bubbling out from resistance, the crits, the scald burns, the full paras and, of course, the rock slide flinches we still choose to play this game. At its core the Pokemon community has stuck together because the game is based around interacting with friends and strangers a like: a formula that hasn't changed since the original Red and Blue.