So you want to play competitive Pokemon! Great, now that that’s out of the way, where do we begin? This is a question that we have heard time and time again, and it’s a topic that’s not actually very straightforward to find answers on. Let’s dive in!
When it comes to competitive Pokemon, there are a number of different ways you can play, and they actually will change the game tremendously based on which one(s) you choose. These different kinds of play are commonly referred to as “formats,” and there are a lot of them.
There are two kinds of formats, those laid out and promoted directly by the Pokemon Company (these are our official formats), and those which are community organized. The community-led formats are often born out of a website called Smogon, the unofficial leader in all sorts of competitive Pokemon play.
The term “format” may not be very self-explanatory in this sense, so to summarize, a format in competitive Pokemon play refers to the restrictions and set of rules placed around the gameplay. For example, the most popular format is referred to as VGC (Video Game Championships), and is based on 2v2 style gameplay, with a unique-Pokemon clause (no duplicates on your team) only drawing from the latest game’s Pokedex. Sounds pretty restrictive right? Well it is! The reason a restrictive ruleset is beneficial for a format is that it allows for more complete balancing and tuning within the format’s own meta-game. Instead of having to worry about how all 802 Pokemon interact and synergize, the organizer of the format can worry about a small subset of that count allowing for better balance and more fun gameplay.. usually.
Conversely, a smaller pool of Pokemon to choose from can often lead to a “stale meta game” in which players don’t have all that much room to innovate because some Pokemon just handle entire format better than can be prevented. A popular example is the top 8 teams from VGC2015’s World Championships. A strong majority of the teams included Landorus-Therian, Kangaskhan-Mega, Amoonguss, and Heatran.
That’s great, those Pokemon are strong, so why wouldn’t you want to use them? Well the problem with this is that the competitive team building now becomes “pick 2 Pokemon” instead of the usual 6 Pokemon team building, due to the fact that not choosing those 4 Pokemon will likely mean you’re playing sub-optimally.
All of that said, it takes a good amount of time for a format to become solved, as in the screenshot above, and even then top players will bring meta-breaking team selections all the time (Sejun Park’s Pachirisu in 2014 anyone?).
Enough introduction about formats, let’s get on to the real content! Let’s talk about some of the most popular formats, and get you to decide on which of these suits you best. If you try clicking on the headers of each of those formats, you’ll be brought to the usage stats on Pikalytics for that format. There, you can see which Pokemon are used most frequently in each format, as well their top moves, teammates, and other details.
As you may have seen from the usage stats for these various formats, every one looks very different from one another, and thus you get the beauty of restricted formats! If one format doesn’t suit you, or you tire of it, there are a ton that you can try out which may better suit your play style than these listed above. Other popular formats include UnderUsed, RarelyUsed, and Monotype. If you want to see the full list of formats, pop over to Smogon’s Format List and browse through them, there are a few!
Aright, so we’ve chosen a format! For the sake of these tutorial guides, we’re going to pick the VGC2018 format, as it’s the most common and accessible format out there. What comes next you may ask? While that’s not a binary answer, there are a few things to make sure of before moving forward. First, have you completed Pokemon Sun or Moon? To train and play competitively, you’re going to want to have a completed copy of the game so that you have access to the post-game content (some of which is going to assist us in our training).
Done that? Alright, so we’ve finished the game, and we know which format we’d like to play. Next of course, comes choosing a team! This is not a trivial decision, and you’ll soon find that it is an iterative process which you can always learn and improve at. Luckily we have some statistics, some tournament results, and some general guidelines that will help us get off the ground.
Stay tuned for the next part of this guide, where we’ll take a look at team building!
Did you like this introduction? Have any questions or comments on it? Leave a response below!