Is competitive Pokémon only for the hardcore?
Pokémon is a vastly different game to different people. On the surface, it's a kid's game, full of cute monsters and trainers that even beginners should be able to beat. If you delve a little deeper, you'll find a surprisingly intricate game beneath Pokémon's adorable exterior. If you look deeper still, you'll discover the exhaustingly complex world of competitive Pokémon.
Competitive play should be an integral part of the Pokémon experience. In-game trainers have terrible AI, and it's only through battling real people that you can see if your team is really up to snuff. However, Pokémon's hidden complexities have managed to scare many people away from ever giving competitive battles a try. Putting together a battling team isn't just about assembling a group of Pokémon with good type coverage and a decent range of moves. It's about hours of breeding for the right nature, catching Ditto after Ditto in the hopes of finding one with perfect IVs, and carefully EV training each Pokémon before ever letting them get a glimpse of a battle. It takes a tremendous amount of effort, and it's enough to put many people off of competitive Pokémon entirely.
Adding to the issue are competitive Pokémon communities like Smogon. These sites are a fantastic resource that can aide many players, but they're also filled with rules, restrictions, and a laundry list of guidelines. When you look at all the work it takes to put together a viable team, it's hard not to wonder if there's a place in competitive Pokémon for anyone but the most hardcore.
To test that line of thought, I decided to try battling in a decidedly non-hardcore way. I quickly threw together a team of Pokémon I'd enjoyed using in the game, not bothering to change up their moveset. I didn't give much thought to things like team synergy or strategies. I just clicked on Battle Zone and went hunting for an opponent.
While I did my share of losing, my experiences with wifi battling were overwhelmingly positive. I wasn't paired with players who'd spent weeks prepairing the perfect team. I was pitted against players who, like myself, were just starting to give competitive Pokémon a try. During battle, statistics about both players flash across the screen, and it was nice to see that neither I or my opponent had sunk hours into EV training.
In X and Y's Battle Zone, you have the option of choosing a free battle or a rated one. The latter option places beginners at the lowest possible ranking, and lets them battle their way up to the perfect opponent. It's exciting to watch yourself rise through the rankings, but it's also nice to battle people who are at a similar skill level. I've seen a number of ranking systems fall flat, but this system seemed to work exactly the way it was supposed to. Many of my matches were thrillingly close, and each move I made felt like it counted.
Competitive Pokémon has often required a more defensive approach, but Single Battles are perfect for players who prefer a good offense. These fights have players choose 3 of their Pokémon to face off against 3 of their opponent's. The matches are extremely fast paced, and are sometimes decided the moment players choose their Pokémon. On some occasions, a Pokémon will be able to tear through a team in the blink of an eye, while in the next battle, it may be rendered helpless. Sometimes, crippling one Pokémon or having a Pokémon that's hard for the other player to take out is enough to turn the tide of battle. Sometimes it's more about luck than skill, but it's always exciting.
That's not to say X and Y's Battle Zone is without its faults. If you want to battle with a full team of 6, your only option is a Triple Battle. For standard 6 versus 6 fights, you'll have to turn to your friends or go looking for battles on forums. Game Freak developed a solid ranking system that does a great job of matching opponents, and it seems like a waste not to use it for the most popular form of battle. Some players may be able to find suitable battling partners, but others will be stuck with the limited options Game Freak offers.
In spite of its faults, Battle Zone offers a great experience for both hardcore and casual players. If your eyes glaze over when people talk about IVs, it offers all the fun of competitive Pokémon without the extra work. If you're willing to breed a dream team, you'll be able to rise through the ranks and play some of the best players in the world. Competitive Pokémon is incredibly fun, and it's great that all kinds of players will be able to enjoy it.
For battles, pictures of toys, and musings about Pokémon and life, follow me on Twitter @maskedndi