PokéSports: En Route To Acceptance?

ESPORTS! It’s a young but flourishing field of human endeavor, competitiveness, and entertainment. First-person shooters like Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, and Counter-Strike; MOBAs like League of Legends and DoTA 2; and real-time strategies like Starcraft II – these are just some of the few titles that have an eSports scene, making them go beyond mere games and become tests of skill. So, why not a turn-based RPG? If so, then what title would be a good one? Well, how about Pokémon? And why not? After all, it’s probably high time we had a “real-life” Pokémon League that will get thousands of trainers watching and competing to become Pokémon Master.

Then again, Pokémon, believe it or not, is already considered as an eSport, at least technically. Because according to a study written by Dr. Juho Hamari and Dr. Max Sjoblom, eSports refers to “competitive (pro and amateur) video gaming that is often coordinated by different leagues, ladders and tournaments.” there already is a real-life “Pokemon League”, the Video Game Championship series by Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. This annual competition, where players from all walks of life – main games, not those with Pokémon GO accounts – fight each other in a bid to become the year’s ultimate Pokémon Champion. But despite this lively and massive competitive scene, a lot of gamers still refuse to give Nintendo’s monster-versus-monster craze the eSports treatment, and for many arguably good reasons.


Luck and Skill

One of those reasons is the fact that this child-friendly and cuddly creature-collecting romp doesn’t seem to fit the current eSports climate that is mostly made up of fast-paced, real-time, and motor skill-intensive titles. In Pokémon you don’t aim, strafe, bunny-hop, gank, blink in, or at least position; instead, you make a team of six, assign them moves and held items, and then go into a turn-based battle in hopes that you win by pulling off the strategy you have come up with, which may work or otherwise, or coming up with a new one on the fly. This point seems valid enough, until someone brings up the fact that chess and bridge – both of which don’t require speed, accuracy, and strength, only mental sharpness – is considered as an Olympic sport.

Another reason why a lot of gamers – even Pokémon players themselves – do not call the main games an eSport is because the battles can get “luck-based”.  Yes, DoTA 2 and LoL has luck too, but a good or bad RNG in those games are nowhere near as devastating in Pokémon, as there other factors can save you from it. Besides it does seem unfair to win simply because you lucked out on a critical hit or a status condition, or lose because your Hydro Pump missed on a game-deciding turn. But isn’t risk-taking and relying on probability also a strategy? After all, according to either Penn jillette or Chip Denman, luck is probability taken personally.


Time, Knowledge, and Money

There’s also the staggering level of preparation necessary to get on a competitive level, serving as a barrier for trainers who’d like to take their battling to the next level. Because if you are to succeed in having a well-rounded battle-ready team, you’d have to catch, EV train, IV breed, and strategize – all of which are time-consuming and honestly, a bit boring. But then again, don’t all eSports games require prep time? The only difference is that instead of spending the pre-tournament season on practicing team plays and formations, it is spent on learning about and doing those things.

Or maybe the problem lies not only in potential competitive players’ unwillingness to take the time and effort in delving into EV training and IV breeding, but in their perceived esotericism and difficulty these competitive necessities give off. If Game Freak would make these game elements less of a daunting open “secret” and more of an enriching addition that can be learned from the main game itself, then maybe we’d see a boom of even more tourney-going trainers.

Last but definitely not least would be the lack of sponsorship and a massive prize pool. As of VGC last year, the cash prize for 1st place of was $25,000. While nothing to scoff at, it’s a far cry when compared to other eSports events. That’s “alright” though, because most of those who participate are after the glory and honor of being the VGC champion and not on the money anyway, but imagine how bigger the scene would be if they offered a hundred thousand dollars, or even a million!


But will The Pokémon Company shell out that much for what is to them an unintended offshoot of the games? More likely than not, no, but they can crowdfund it, the same way DoTA 2 has been doing for years. They can sell Pokémon or VGC-related items for a fair price, and then use the profits for the prize pool.  And with that large sum of cash, companies might finally take interest in sponsoring players, saving them from having to pull money from their own pockets – another deterrent for players to go competitive.

Like what’s been said before, Pokémon is technically an eSport, but it has yet to earn the same degree of respect as an eSport other titles receive. Hopefully, in the next few years, and through the suggestions and efforts of trainers who wish to have a more evolved Pokémon eSports scene, it finally will. After all, there’s no championship like a Pokémon championship.