The competitive battling scene is one of Pokémon’s more popular, if at times controversial, features. For every player who loves its quirks and hardcore, obsessive elements — like EV training, which the casual player likely will never bother with during their Pokémon playthroughs — there’s one who can’t stand some of the less strategic aspects.
Shofu, a popular Pokémon streamer who regularly broadcasts his Pokémon battles on Twitch, encapsulated the most annoying part of competitive play in a recent tweet. Culled from a late-night stream, the match below shows Shofu admitting defeat in no time at all.
POKEMON IS THE WORST FUCKING COMPETITIVE GAME KNOWN TO MANKIND pic.twitter.com/vJGW2UTCdi— Elevate shofu (@shofu) January 5, 2017
Although Shofu’s bug/flying-type Masquerain is at a disadvantage against the fire/ghost-type Marowak, that’s not the reason the player loses so quickly. It’s the sheer amount of luck involved in competition that did him in. Whether or not a Pokémon gets burned is left up to chance — even when there’s a very low probability of an attack leaving a status effect — and Shofu pulled the shortest stick in this round.
Pokémon trainers have long decried just how much luck factors into the competitive scene.
@shofu Bruh i hate when that shit happens, don't know how a game that relies on chance can have a competitive scene— Enrique Justiniano (@SupahBananaBois) January 5, 2017
“Anyone who plays competitive Pokémon realizes this game is part strategy and part luck,” reads an entry on the effects of chance on Smogon University, the premier competitive Pokémon fansite. “We've all been in a situation where a certain Pokémon critical hits your designated counter opening a sweep, or flinches you to death, or freezes you with an Ice Beam.”
“In a game where luck is the biggest factor, I fail to see how it can be said that its a competitive game,” wrote a user on the Smogon forums, who questioned whether Pokémon was truly competitive. “You just need to use prediction and hope the enemy doesnt see through it or overthinks it as if youre doing advanced calculus when in reality; youre just having an average battle.”
Others argue that it’s skill that’s the determining factor in any Pokémon battle, not just chance.
“The presence of luck does not imply the absence of strategic depth/skill,” wrote a Reddit user in a similar thread years back. “Games such as poker or [Magic: The Gathering] have an even larger luck component but are still regarded as some of the most interesting strategic games around. There's no reason Pokemon can't be similar.”
The poker argument is a popular one, appearing in most discussions of how competitive Pokémon actually is, considering its dependence on chance.
“Luck doesn't make a game non-competitive; poker competitions are quite popular, for instance,” a player wrote on Smogon. “They're also somewhat strategic, in that you have to read your opponent, assess whether you can afford to take a loss, what your odds of winning are, and make the necessary plays to win.”
Even without Lady Luck on their sides, thousands of players compete in Pokémon tournaments annually. The games remain hugely popular for professional players, and the Pokémon Company sponsors a major international tournament each year, alongside smaller fan-held ones.