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Luck, staleness, and earmuffs: what pro players want from Pokémon Sword and Shield


It feels like Pokmon’s competitive scene is in a pretty good place.

At least that’s my impression. Even if I was something of an outsider at this past weekend’s big European International Championships (I’ve a good understanding of competitive play, I think, but then I was also beaten in a casual Let’s Go side tournament by an eight-year-old), the sense I got from mingling with the crowds and players, watching them cheer and shout in that uniquely rowdy-but-somehow-still-rather-polite way that Pokmon crowds can, was that it was a competition in rude health.

And yet there are plenty, inside the competitive world and out, who’ll argue that Pokmon esports is often quite stale. It certainly moves much slower than others: Pokmon’s only balance changes come with entirely new games or, for the first time this year, changes to the actual rules of the tournaments. Where other games like League of Legends or Counter Strike get game-changing tweaks once or twice a month, Pokmon’s current way of doing things means one entirely new game once a year, at best.

With Pokmon Sword and Shield out later this year, the big move to the Nintendo Switch seems like the perfect time for a shake-up. But there’s still a lingering question for players: is it enough to continue course and rely on players themselves to innovate their way through a slow, sometimes stale metagame? Or do Pokmon and Game Freak need to speed things up with actual, wholesale change in how the whole thing works? I thought I’d put it to them.

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Simone Sanvito – 2017 European Champion

On staleness and Pokmon’s meta:

“This year it was the first time we got three formats instead of one – they are kind of similar but also really different from each other. Even though some people didn’t, I enjoyed this idea, because in 2018 we got the same rules from the beginning to the end of the format, which was like 10 months.

“In that [previous] format it became really stale really quickly, so as something that changes the environment I really enjoyed it this time. I really enjoyed having that.

“Xerneas, Geomancy and Fairy Aura [have dominated this year]. A lot of people do [have counters] but also those counters often fail because of just how good Xerneas is. It was the same in 2016 and it remains the same in these last formats.”

On what he wants from Pokmon Sword and Shield:

“Maybe they should change the Fairy type a bit…

“In terms of the competitive scene, I’m hoping luck becomes less and less of a factor, but that’s about it. I don’t like there being this much luck in the game.”

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Labhaosia “Lou Lou” Cromie – European Championships commentator

On overused Pokmon and the current meta:

“Since it got Intimidate, Incineroar is everywhere. I don’t mind that neccessarily, but it is a Pokmon that… it’s got so many facets to it, it’s got Fake Out, Intimidate, and that’s a Pokmon that’s really established itself.

“Throughout the rest of the season… I think over the past year Xerneas is a Pokmon that’s not going away, everybody loves Xerneas, and particularly in big formats you’re always going to have weather, so you’re always going to have Groudon and Kyogre and Rayquaza, they’re Pokmon that have always been really consistent.”

On what she wants from Pokmon Sword and Shield:

“I would really like some quirky types to come into effect at the moment. We saw with X and Y there were a few new types that came into the fold and I’d like maybe some more of those to come out. Some new abilities would be cool, potentially – at the minute Intimidate is such a big thing in the competitive world where it reduces the Physical attack stat of the opposing Pokmon, if there’s maybe something that does the same for Special Attack that would be really cool, and that would definitely shake things up with competitive play.

“At the moment you have to use a move, which obviously uses up a move slot in game, wheareas if it’s your ability that can really change things up. So I think competitively that would be really cool, and some new typings as well, so maybe if some more obscure Pokmon could come into play that would be cool.”

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Markus Stadter – European Championships commentator, Top 3 at 2016 World Championships

On staleness and Pokmon’s meta:

“Well of course if you want to be competitive and compete then you want to use some of those really really powerful Pokmon, but within those, there’s also some variety, so for example you could use the most common one which would be Xerneas, and then the most common partner is Primal Groudon, but then there’s also some other niche picks.

“For example, a team with Ho-oh and Rayquaza was doing decently in the tournament, and Ultra Necrozma – which is also a new Pokmon that just got recently added with the rule change – is also viable. So there’s definitely variety in the Pokmon the trainers are using.

“With the next generation [of mainline Pokmon games], they have a look at what happened in the last season and try to switch things up, so for example with the 2013 World Championships in the semi-final, there was a very iconic match where the Japanese player was using Thunder Wave and Swagger to stop the other player’s Pokmon from moving… that was pretty frustrating, at the time, because that strategy was pretty strong.