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Pokémon masters weigh in on the lack of competitive modes in upcoming games

Fans got more information last week regarding the new Pokémon games Brilliant Diamond, Shining Pearl, and Pokémon Legends: Arceus. We got to see new Pokémon and mechanics with Arceus and returning functions such as Super Contest Shows and Capsule Decorations in the new remakes. Then, during the last moments of the Pokémon Presents, it was quickly announced that Shining Pearl, Brilliant Diamond, and Arceus will not have ranked battles.

This may not have registered for many people, as the competitive scene in the Pokémon series is relatively minor compared to the overwhelming casual play. However, this does have implications for those who play Pokémon competitively. This means that the next three games will not have a home for competitive players and that the scene will continue to exist exclusively in Pokémon Sword and Shield for at least another year.

What will this mean for competitive players? Will these games form their own grassroots competitive scene? Do players really want another full year of competitive Sword and Shield? Instead of trying to answer these questions myself, I decided to reach out to two of the best players in the world.

The next generation

With Shining Pearl and Brilliant Diamond, one could argue that a new chapter of Pokémon is beginning — especially with the introduction of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, a completely new take on the Pokémon formula. With no competitive mode in these games, there’s always a fear that Nintendo could be deprioritizing competitive play. After all, recent Pokémon games like Sword, Shield, and Let’s Go Pikachu have homed in on the more casual side of the franchise.

Davide Carrer and Wolfe Glick are two professional Pokémon players with a multitude of wins under their belts, and they faced each other in the VG Grand Finals of the Pokémon Players Cup II in 2020. For both players, the lack of ranked play in the upcoming remakes isn’t much of a deal-breaker.

“I don’t feel bad about ranked battles being excluded, to be honest,” Glick tells Digital Trends. “If BDSP (Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl) were going to be full new Pokémon games, it would be devastating, but to be honest, playing the game with only the first four generations would probably get old really quickly. I’m especially grateful that we won’t have official tournaments using BDSP as I don’t imagine the game would be super fun to play.”

Garchomp facing off against Lucario
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Carrer has similar feelings regarding a lack of ranked battles in the upcoming games, saying: “I think it’s understandable, because it looks like Arceus and the remakes aren’t going to have a very large Pokédex. It makes sense to play gen-8 (Video Games Championship) on the only games that have every gen-8 Pokémon and also the old legendries (very much needed to alternate between regional, national and restricted formats). I’d just be glad if we had more series without Dynamax, like series 10, or also a third DLC to shake things up.”

Both players are less interested in ranked play appearing in every game and more invested in a competitive scene with an expansive Pokédex, which allows for a wide variety of teams and strategies. The upcoming remakes, as well as the new Arceus game, will not include the full roster of Pokémon, which would make creating a fleshed-out competitive team more difficult.

Pokemon Legends Arceus battle system
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Despite not having a baked-in ranked system, this does not mean that players cannot create their own competitive scene. Glick thinks that a grassroots scene is possible, but is uncertain about the scope for it.

“I’m sure there are some people that will battle when BDSP comes out,” says Glick, “but I don’t expect there to be a serious competitive scene. We can probably expect a similar level of competitive play as we saw with Let’s Go Pikachu! and Eevee!, if I had to guess.”

Carrer also shares the same feelings on the limited scope of the competitive scene for Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, though he notes that there will always be a place for new competition potential in any new Pokémon game, regardless of whether or not Nintendo bakes it in.

“I’m sure there will [be a scene], especially because the online grassroots tournaments have been increasing during the pandemic,” says Carrer. “In Italy, Francesco Pardini organized an online tour on the Let’s Go games, and I expect many similar initiatives for the upcoming games.”

Live by the sword

Since the new games will not have a ranked system, competitive play will remain exclusively in Sword and Shield, likely until the next mainline Pokémon game drops. That created some initial concern when Sword and Shield first landed. Originally, the Sword and Shield Pokédex was significantly smaller than previous generations, with only 400 Pokémon available to players. This caused a significant divide among trainers who were missing their preferred Pokémon. Fortunately, expansions have widened the roster significantly since then, making the situation less dire.

While the state of competitive Pokémon gaming is polarizing, pro players are willing to roll with the punches for now, though they think things will need to change to keep it from getting stale. Carrer believes that there is still life in the competitive Sword and Shield scene, but Nintendo will need to show players a light at the end of the tunnel soon for it to remain viable.

“Without a third DLC, I expect that gen 9 will come out in fall 2022, since the last few gens are all three years apart, and I’d be perfectly fine with that,” says Davide. “If not, two more years on Sword and Shield without any addition would be too much.”

Glick seems to think that Sword and Shield competitive play can still be interesting as long as Nintendo returns to creating live events to help shape the meta. He notes that much of the innovation in the series ultimately comes from those in-person competitions.

“It’s hard to say whether Sword and Shield are stale or need something new, because we’ve had almost no live events, which is the driving force behind metagame development,” said Glick. “Pokémon continues to change the rules for competitive play, though, more than we’ve ever seen before, so I’m excited to see what new rule sets they still have planned.”

There’s also one last elephant in the room when it comes to Pokémon Legends: Arceus: It seemingly lacks any form of trainer-versus-trainer content at all. It would be fair for fans to worry that this could mark the start of a new direction that Pokémon games will pursue, especially if Arceus sells well. Glick isn’t worried about that, though, as he believes the mainline series is here to stay regardless of how well Arceus sells.

Legends Arceus is a spinoff game like Pokémon Ranger and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon,” Glick says. “There’s no doubt in my mind Pokémon will continue to develop the main series games”

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