Two years have passed since Pokémon Sword and Shield inaugurated the eighth generation of Pokémon games. With it came outrage from some fans, though most agreed that Sword and Shield didn’t falter when it came to its competitive scene.
Pokémon tournaments are played under the umbrella of the Video Game Championship (VGC), and Online Ranked Battles in Sword and Shield reflect the VGC set of rules. Tournaments, both grassroots and official, are frequent, and every three months there are exciting rule changes, restricting and not restricting the availability of certain Pokémon.
However, we are now getting closer to the release of the next games, the Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl remakes, which will have little to no effect on competitive Pokémon. During the Pokémon Presents in August, The Pokémon Company stated that the November remakes will not include ranked battles. Pokemon Legends: Arceus coming January, while an intriguing departure from the usual formula, will put online battles aside entirely.
Without Gen XI on the horizon yet, where does that leave competitive Pokémon? We asked Aaron “Cybertron” Zheng, a real life Pokémon Master, that very question.
“I imagine we will basically be playing Sword and Shield for the next year,” Zheng tells us. “If Gen XI doesn’t come out in 2023, and we play Sword and Shield for two more years, well that’s a long period. That makes me a little anxious. “
When we call Zheng a Pokémon Master, we mean it. He has qualified for eight different VGC World Championships since 2008 and won several Regional and National Championships. It also runs an informative Youtube Channel which has been frequently updated since 2014. The Pokémon Company International recruited Zheng to comment on multiple international tournaments and world championships, making him one of the foremost experts on competitive Pokémon. He knows his stuff well.
Zheng’s dedication makes him the perfect person to comment on the challenges competitive Pokémon players face and the difficulty of growing the scene. In particular, we asked him what he thought about the inaccessibility of Pokémon. Despite being a deceptively simple game, it takes a considerable amount of time and requires knowledge of many esoteric mechanics to build a competitive team. You can’t just grab your favorite ‘mon and find success online.
For example, raising a Torkoal with a zero speed IV to allow it to attack first when under Trick Room can take hours. If that sounds like another language to you, it’s just the tip of the Avalugg. It is necessary to understand the values of effort, nature, egg movements, hidden abilities, retained elements, etc., and Sword and Shield do not explain these complexities well. It’s up to people like Zheng to break down battle by battle on platforms like YouTube. And even with help, jumping into competitive Pokémon is a daunting task.
I think League of Legends. Yes, you play casually, but anyone who does can still tune in to the major tournaments and move on. For Pokémon, it’s such an intricate part of the game that you have to find and invest.
“Competitive Pokémon have always felt that a lot of people don’t know it or find it somewhat inaccessible,” Zheng said. “It’s such a small component of the Pokémon brand, whereas other games are based on the competitive scene. I think League of Legends. Yes, you play casually, but anyone who does can still tune in to the major tournaments and move on. For Pokémon, it’s such an intricate part of the game that you have to find and invest. “
Sword and Shield introduced natural mints and made it easy to rent gear built by other players, but developer Game Freak could still clear up a lot of things. However, Zheng does not believe that accessibility is the main problem. Rather, you’d like to see competitive Pokémon promoted more within the games themselves. He mentioned how the League of Legends game client announces the World Championships when you open it. Pokémon is not promoted much in the game, causing players to come across tournaments elsewhere.
Despite all this, it’s not all Houndoom and Darkness for competitive Pokémon. Like literally everything, the Pokémon events in person were shelved when the pandemic hit. Zheng attended an event before then and said the following:
“The Regional Championship we had in Dallas was wild. They were the biggest Regionals we had in years, and I really felt like 2020 was going to be a great year for the scene to explode. “
Zheng is hopeful that when the in-person events return next year, the competitive scene will see a resurgence of interest. That is not to say that the pandemic stopped Zheng from gambling. On his YouTube channel, Zheng introduces a new team every other day created by players around the world, keeping up to date with meta changes as they occur, while explaining his thought process behind each play in great detail. The video below highlights what to expect from your channel:
“It’s mostly passion,” Zheng said when asked how he managed to upload a series of matches almost daily for two years. “Sword and Shield was so exciting. Just seeing so many people get into it. There are so many great equipment to try. People share their equipment with me all the time. “
Outside of seeing the Zheng Canal and navigating communities like the VGC subreddit, offered some tips for those looking to learn to compete:
It’s a game where even the best players lose all the time. Don’t be afraid of losing … There is no right way to play Pokémon – see what works for you and move on.
“It’s a game where even the best players lose all the time. Don’t be afraid of losing. Losses are really the best way to learn. Team building can also be quite daunting, which is why I typically recommend people looking to improve to give some of the more successful teams a try. And in general, remember to have fun. If you’re not having fun with the game, walk away, try a new team, or take a break. There is no right way to play Pokémon – see what works for you and start from there. “
The Pokémon Company recently announced Ranked Battles will soon revamp a set of rules first introduced last February, which has disappointed many players. We also likely won’t hear about Generation XI until long after Pokémon Legends: Arceus launches early next year. However, with content creators and competitors as passionate as Zheng continuing to keep the torches burning, making a complicated, inaccessible, and under-hyped game more palatable to thousands, the future of competitive Pokémon looks as bright as a Pikachu. using Flash in the depths of Mt. Moon.