PAX Australia: Complete Pokemon Video Game Championships Finals Recap
When someone says the phrase “Competitive Gaming”, many games will come to mind. For a lot of people, Pokemon isn’t one of them. Regardless, the Pokemon series has a huge competitive community, where players train up their creatures in specific ways, and assemble a team to battle others with.
The main arena for them to showcase their skills are the Video Game Championships (or VGCs), which are a huge, annual Pokemon tournament that takes place across the world, with winners from each country getting flown to the finals at a certain location. For years Australia had been excluded from the list of participating countries- until this year. PAX Australia hosted the first ever Australian National VGCs, and it was exciting.
I got in as soon as PAX opened on the Saturday, ready to register for the tournament. Well, almost ready. I’d spent ages breeding and training my team, but hadn’t gotten all the items I needed just yet, so was going to trade them over to my copy of Black 2 from other games while in the queue. Unfortunately the game had other plans as I discovered I couldn’t transfer them over from games prior to the 5th gen.
I frantically ran through the Battle Subway as quick as I could to try and get some points up, and had to keep heading to the back of the line until I did. Each time I did so the queue seemed to be the same length, but with different people in it- there were a LOT of competitors, the total count ended up at about 180 people I believe, and this was just the first day!
The competition on the Saturday was for the older competitors, with kids and teenagers competing on the Sunday in order to make sure the younger Pokemon Trainers could come in and have fun without fear of being knocked out by adults with incredibly well built teams. The Hax Subway lived up to its nickname and I couldn’t get enough BP in time so I changed my strategy at the last minute.
Competing in a tournament like this makes you look at Pokemon in a totally different way. There’s so much you have to do beforehand if you want to succeed- First of all, you need a strategy. You need to figure out how you’re going to play, and how your team members will complement each other. you need to breed or catch Pokemon with the right natures and IVs.
This can take AGES due to the random nature of it all. Then you need to do what’s called ‘EV Training’, in which you defeat certain Pokemon to get Effort Values which raise specific stats of your Pokemon. Then you’ll need to train them up to at least Level 50 (Any Pokemon above Level 50 are brought down to Level 50) and/or until they get the moves or evolutions you need, and then give them all items. This is all before you even show up to the tournament!
When you’re there, the battles can get really intense. You get to see which 6 Pokemon your opponent will be using to form their team of 4 from, but not their moves, items, abilities etc. while you’re picking your own 4 Pokemon to use in the Double Battle out of your Battle Box. This is surprisingly one of the most gruelling and important parts of the match.
If you send out your Pokemon into a bad matchup, or send out Pokemon who can’t counter your opponent’s, then you’re in trouble. You can play mind games in order to confuse your opponent, too. My team is a sandstorm team with some really weird gimmicks that can be really useful if I can actually use them in the match, so sending out Tyranitar was a key part of my strategy so that sandstorm would be in play.
However, my first opponent had a few Water and Grass type Pokemon that would just wreck Tyranitar, and most of my team, so I had to think things through differently. I knew that since I had a Tyranitar it would be obvious I was using a sandstorm team, so my opponent would first send out any Pokemon that could counter him. Even though my strategy was based on him so much, I decided not to use him in this match. That sounds crazy, but instead I sent out Pokemon that would counter HIS counters for Tyranitar, since not using Tyranitar would be such a crazy move that he wouldn’t expect it.
And wouldn’t you know, it actually worked! My Rotom took out his Gyrados, and my Crustle went after his Grass-type Pokemon (which was a Zoroark, but Bug was still effective), and my Pokemon’s gimmicky items and abilities worked together in order to win me the match. It was such a rush seeing these Pokemon I’d raised from birth going up against another team for which my opponent had no doubt done the same. It’s a clash of tastes and personalities as much as it is a clash between creatures.
My second match was one of the most intense things I’d ever done, stretching out for close to 20 minutes. So much time was spent just thinking, when we were picking which Pokemon to enter in the match or which move to make in our turn, it’s a really strategic game on a level you wouldn’t expect from a Nintendo game. Unfortunately I lost, and was eliminated, but it was such an engaging and exciting struggle that I didn’t care, I was so happy with how I’d done, and the results my Pokemon had achieved. If you want to check the match out, search for the Battle Video ID 50-73294-67503 in your copy of Black 2 or White 2.
If, like me, you get knocked out, or competitive battling isn’t your thing, then even just attending the tournament is a great experience. You can meet plenty of new people, and there’s matches running on a big screen the whole time so you can see how the pro’s do it. There’s an atmosphere that just can’t be fully described unless you’re there, it’s like EVO for Pokemon.
When a Pokemon gets knocked out in one hit people yell in excitement. When a Pokemon just clings onto life, the crowd cringe and go wild. When a totally unexpected Pokemon gets sent out from nowhere and does well, the crowd loses it. You’ll be able to get a sense of this from the videos, but the hype and excitement going on at the tournament is just something that has to be experienced.
After a long day, the tournament came to a close at 6pm, as the expo hall was closing down. By that point heaps of people who had been doing other things during the day had crowded around Nintendo’s area of the hall, with all eyes on the big screen as the final matches took place. If things weren’t epic enough, they sure were once the Pokemon theme song started blasting through the speakers, taking things to a whole new level.
There were some interesting Pokemon used, they weren’t all shiny top-tier Pokemon gotten through manipulation of the game’s random number generator, there was some interesting variety. One of the teams was a sort of semi-Hail team, which you rarely ever see. The matches were full of exciting moments, too, like when it was down to a Kingdra with critically low health, and an Escavalier while Hail was in play.
Escavalier managed to bring up multiple Protects in a row, in an attempt to chip out the rest of Kingdra’s health, but the Kingdra managed to get a hit in and win the match with only 10 health remaining! It was an incredibly entertaining day, and at the end of it the top two players were lucky (and skilled!) enough to win a trip to Vancouver at the international finals, representing Australia. One of the winners was Hugh, the winner of a Pokemon Tournament earlier this month in Sydney, who won a trip to PAX through that.
The tournament was a huge success, which will hopefully mean Australia gets to participate in future VGCs as well. I really hope so, because the competitive play of Pokemon is a great experience that few games can offer, and proves that Nintendo’s games are as ‘hardcore’ and popular as anything from other developers. Many people on the day learnt about competitive play after watching the matches, and decided to try and get involved, which is great to see. If you’re interested in starting yourself, there’s plenty of places to head that will point you in the right direction, like these introductory guides on Smogon and PokeCommunity. With X and Y set to release at the end of this year, it will be interesting to see how the competitive metagame changes yet again.