How Pokemon games create a positive competitive scene


Game mechanics translate to physical events

This past weekend I attended the UK Pokemon Nationals in Liverpool, the first live competitive Pokemon event I have ever attended. I’ve played Pokemon religiously since the release of the first generation, but that has never translated in my wanting to attend any kind of competitive event connected to the series. A lot of this comes down to my mixed past experiences with competitive communities, which felt a lot more isolated from outsider perspectives such as my own.

Competitive gaming events have, in my experience, had too much of a focus on victory to be enjoyable, diluting the community spirit with a healthy dose of smack talk and determined focus. You can make friends there, but there’s an amount of judgement if you’re not as talented as those you face.There’s no room for beginners, tournament environments are just not designed for you to feel welcome at.

It’s a competition, you either win or you lose.ThePokemon Nationals,however, had a different feel to past competitive events I have attended, and werewelcoming and inclusive for all skill levels.

There was a sense of community, a desire to support others and welcome young, inexperienced or new player into the scene. There was guidance, friendship and challenge for players of all skill levels, contrasting strongly with other my previous experience of competitive events. I think the game itself may be part of the reason for the difference in audience perception.

The Pokemon games feature an inherent mechanical framework baked into it for competitive, supportive tournament play which no other competitive video game seems to have. They show the right level of smack talk to throw down before a fight, the right level of humble response to give upon defeat, the etiquette for challenging another player, and the correct ways to manage trading.

The games set up a system where tournament victory is an end goal, but defeat along the way is a sign of progression and not failure. It has a setup where those you play against will help you improve, where losses don’t negate progression and where it’s okay to play a non-optimal team if you enjoy playing it.

By starting all players who pick up the game at the same level of strength, everybody involved comes from the same place of weakness and has to work their way slowly up to that skill ceiling, with a hard and fast limit on how quickly they can improve. Every Pokemon player had to spend a lengthy period of time not strong enough for competitive play, which seems to stick with people and keep them from being too hard on new players.

The games even tell you upon defeat that things are okay, that it’s okay that you lost and if you keep working at it you might be able to win next time. I can’t think of any other competitive scene where in-game mechanics tell you that loss is an acceptable outcome, one that can be worked past given the right time and dedication.

The result of this mechanic set in-game is that the competitive scene for Pokemon is seemingly more open to players of various skill levels, experience levels, ages and play styles. There’s a supportive nature to the event that I rarely see in other competitive scenes, and I think the way the video game itselfis set up brokers the right expectations to make that kind of community possible.

Thankfully, nobody at nationals was knocking losers unconscious and stealing half of their money.