How to Play Competitive 'Pokemon' Like a Pro

There's a whole lot that goes into being real good.

The Pokémon Company International

The Pokémon World Championships came to a close recently as competitors from around the world faced off with their carefully crafted teams and creative strategies. Going into the competition, you might have been expecting your typical turn-based Pokématch. If so, they were most likely thwarted as commentators spouted lingo befitting your average esport while competitors put complex strategies the likes of which the world has never seen before into play.

Competitive Pokémon, it turns out, is no simple walk in the tall grass. In actuality, it’s an at-times gruelling sport that takes months, if not years, of preparation and practice in order to excel. Pokémon have to be bred for excellence, while movesets are carefully considered and tweaked before Pokémon even learn their abilities. In short, the world of competitive Pokémon takes Game Freak’s classic RPG series and turns it into something else entirely.

Things can get pretty complex, but we’re going to break it down so you can get a better feel for just what it is that goes into competitive Pokémon — along with a few resources in case you’re interested in joining in the fun. And why wouldn’t you? Some of he best things about Pokémon as competitive sport are the incredible friendships that are forged at live competitions and the general positivity and good sportsmanship that radiates from the community. But it all begins with a team…

Official tournaments tend to have age bracket divisions, so you can play at any age.

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Choosing a Team

Playing through your standard game of Pokémon, it’s possible you built up your team based on which monsters you thought were the coolest. Maybe you liked to play only with critters that resemble dogs. Maybe you favor dragons. With 726 Pokémon out and about in the world today — and more on the way — you certainly have plenty of options.

But that’s not exactly the best composition when it comes to the competitive metagame — the sort of contextual scaffolding of competitive play. Generally, Pokémon are been split into tiers based on how they hold up in competition — Uber, OverUsed (OU), Borderline (BL), UnderUsed (UU), NeverUsed (NU), and Limbo. Most found in competitive play are found in the Uber or OverUsed tiers.

Which Pokémon fall into which tier can be a bit surprising at first. Competitive matches flow differently than other battles, with lots of switch outs and defensive setups and what have you. Pokémon need to have intensely high speed, physical or special attack, or physical or special defense. There’s no room for your average Bidoof here.

All right, so you have a bunch of OU Pokémon to choose from. It’s time to get creative. Don’t go too crazy though—there’s a lot to consider. Some folks build their teams around one Pokémon while others go for a particular strategy. Whichever you choose, you’ll want to constantly be thinking about your potential weaknesses and what you’re opponents might throw at you to take you down.

Just to give you a taste, teams often feature offensive “sweepers” with a high speed stat and powerful moves that do heavy damage as soon as the critter enters the field. You might also see high defense Pokémon like Hitmontop that use their ability — “Intimidate” — to lower a pokémon’s attack stat whenever Hitmontop joins the fray. There’s a lot more going on than your standard type matching.

Building a team is tough, but there are tons of people out there willing to help. Smogon, the leading community for the Pokémon meta has a super popular mentor program, and active forums dedicated to rating teams. Checking in there means you’ll have your teams picked apart by veterans who can tell you how your team will play out in pretty much every situation while also giving you suggestions for movesets and EV training advice — and don’t worry, because we’ll get to that soon!

One day, you could be as cool as this dude. Look at that statue!

The Pokémon Company International

A Little Selective Breeding

Choosing the composition of your team is only one part of the battle. Next you’ll want to catch and breed Pokémon to fit your team perfectly. Based on which role you want a specific Pokémon to play on your team, you’ll need to first catch or breed one with an appropriate nature and set of Individual Values (IVs). Natures, for their part, boost one stat while lowering another, and come in a nuanced number of combinations. Bulbapedia, a trusty resource for all things Pokémon, has you covered if you need charts to figure this out. It’s not overly complicated, but neither is it simple.

For example, say you want a Sylveon with an Impish nature. That means catching an Impish Eevee, or breeding a non-Impish Eevee with an Impish Pokémon within the same egg group (egg groups are kind of like the species of the Pokémon world) that’s holding an Everstone (which ensures that Pokémon holding its nature is passed down). It takes some doing, but all of that work is worth it in the end.

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the details, we recommend Smogon’s breeding guide, which breaks down the whole process.

It takes work to get to the top.

Time for Bootcamp

Once you have a Pokémon with the perfect pedigree, you’ll want to build up their Effort Values (EVs) to get them into prime fighting shape. Defeating different Pokémon in the wild will net you different EVs. So, if you find a wild Psyduck, beating that Psyduck earns the winning pokémon one Special Attack EV point.

As you might’ve guessed, EV training requires a ton of grinding, but the game’s developers have done a lot in recent generations to make this process easier. For one, you can now check your Pokémon’s EVs in the game. Before Pokémon X and Y, these stats were invisible. More importantly, you can now find “hordes” of pokémon that truly expedite the EV training process. These hordes let you fight five of the same pokémon at once, meaning instead of fighting 250 different battles to top out your EVs, you’ll only need to fight 50 hordes. Thanks, Game Freak!

As before, the folks at Smogon are the go-to experts for all matters meta. The community regularly sends several members to the world championships, after all. They have a fantastic guide dedicated to efficient EV training that will get you in tip-top shape in no time at all.

Go Forth Young Trainers

The competitive Pokémon scene is deeper and more, well, competitive that the game might at first seem on its own. It requires a great amount of strategy, planning, and time. But it’s also rewarding, and offers a far different way to play and enjoy the various incarnations of the franchise.

If, after watching this year’s World Championships, you have your own aspirations to become the very best, we recommend checking out the resources listed above to help you get started. It’s a tough journey, but who knows? Maybe some day we’ll see you on Twitch carrying home one of those coveted (and so very adorable) Pikachu trophies.

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