Published on June 9th, 2014 | by Werford41
Three Habits of Ineffective Players
Competitive Pokémon is a game that has been growing rapidly, with Regional and National Championships in North America and Europe having as much as a 300% increase in participation from last year. One of the effects of this growth is a larger field of increasingly competent players, and as such, becoming an effective competitive player is more difficult.
How does a player become more effective? One way to go about it is to think about what ineffective players tend to do, and to do the opposite of those things. It’s true that you may be able to find success even if you do practice the three habits outlined in this article, and indeed, some players have in the past. However, choosing to become more effective by rejecting these habits can only make you a better and more consistent player.
Not Utilizing All of Your Available Options
Many of you may have read Sirlin’s article on what makes a competitive game player a “scrub”, but if you have not, the gist of the article is that ineffective players will put arbitrary limits on what techniques or strategies they will use because they consider those strategies “cheap” or “unfair”. This is especially egregious in Sirlin’s field of expertise, fighting games, given that the format of the games themselves promote competition against others above all else. However, the attitude of these “scrubs” actually seems to be encouraged in the Pokémon games with its message of putting love and trust in your favorites to win. This attitude is further encouraged by a fandom that often has a healthy disdain for “overused” Pokémon like Kangaskhan and Talonflame, due to their perception as overpowered, overly common, or uncreative.
In a casual setting, there is no problem with limiting yourself to your “bros” or to not using Pokémon you feel are overpowered or uninteresting. However, given that you are on this site and reading this article, I’m assuming that you are interested in competitive battling, where your primary goal should be winning. Placing arbitrary limitations, like deciding not to use Kangaskhan because you perceive it to be broken, will not help you achieve your goal of winning. In fact, as Sirlin points out in his article, this arbitrary limit can often be a bad thing. Refusing to use certain Pokémon on principle is a good way to get absolutely trounced by them, especially given that many of the popular targets of scorn in the metagame are some combination of powerful, bulky, and speedy. Practicing with these Pokémon is an excellent way to understand how to defeat them, and an effective player takes advantage of this practice to better understand and even help develop the metagame. You don’t necessarily need to use a team of “The Big Six” in tournaments in order to do well, but understanding what popular threats can do is a big part of what makes a player effective.
Somewhat related to this is the idea, especially pervasive in the Pokémon community, that creativity is the most important part of team building. It may be tempting to build your team in a way that allows you to use a more “creative” Pokémon over a more standard one, and creativity certainly has its place. When all is said and done, though, you do not get CP or tournament wins for style points. To be an effective team builder, each Pokémon choice must be the most effective one for the role you want that Pokémon to fill. Ray’s Wigglytuff is a great example of an effective but creative Pokémon choice, as he felt it fulfilled the role he wanted for that slot in his team more effectively than anything else. While there was novelty value in using Wigglytuff in a competitive setting, especially in the North American metagame at the time, Ray put more weight on Wigglytuff’s effectiveness on his team than on its creativity as a Pokémon choice.
Complaining About Luck
Unlike many other competitive games, Pokémon has a large reliance on luck. Unlike in a fighting game when you are guaranteed to do the same amount of damage each time you execute the same attack, or in an RTS where your units will always cost the same and will always provide the same damage output at the same level of upgrade, your Pokémon’s damage output (or whether or not your Pokémon even gets to act) is determined by the RNG. As a result, there will be times where a seemingly sure victory is taken away by the unlikeliest of outcomes occurring. It’s only natural for a player to pinpoint the RNG as the reason for losing. However, there are three reasons why an effective player does not blame the RNG in their losses.
The first of these reasons is a simple understanding of the game itself. Pokémon, like poker, is first and foremost a game of probability management. Before you even begin battling, you must select a team of Pokémon based in part on what you are likely to see in a tournament setting. You then must select moves for those Pokémon, and part of this process is deciding whether or not a move’s accuracy is worth a drop in power, or vice versa. Then, once you are in battle, you choose your actions based on what you think is best given your position and your opponent’s position at the time. Every single one of these considerations involves some sort of probability management on your part, whether it’s picking a Pokémon that counters a popular threat, choosing to use a move that nets you a KO you’d otherwise miss with a weaker but more accurate move, or fishing for the flinch in the midst of battle because that seems to be your best move. An ineffective player may blame a loss on what they view as a critical Hydro Pump miss, but does not acknowledge things that were in their control that may have also influenced the battle. It’s obviously heartbreaking to miss on a move that would have won you the game (or to be flinched before you can even get the move off), causing you to lose, but your position was not as good as you thought it was if counting on an inaccurate move to hit was your best option. An effective player, in contrast, will choose more consistent options in order to dictate field position, and if their best play is to use an unreliable move, then they will not complain if that move happens to fail or miss. They knew that there was a chance that their move choice would not pan out, but they still made the choice knowing that it was the correct move.
The second reason for not complaining about the RNG is that, like complaining about “overpowered” Pokémon, doing so prevents you from learning and improving as a player. It’s easy to get fixated on the RNG not going your way and claiming that as the reason why you lost. However, doing this prevents you from examining the rest of your game. What if you could have made a different play three turns earlier and improved your position enough that you wouldn’t have to rely on not getting flinched to win? There are many different variables at play in a Pokémon match, and to single out something outside the realm of your control and claim that as your reason for losing means you are ignoring those things that were in your control — things that you can learn from. An effective player will try to learn from their mistakes, rather than blame the RNG for not acting in their favor.
The last reason for why you shouldn’t complain about “hax” is a more human one. Much like refusing to shake an opponent’s hand before a match or saying “gg” before the game is over when it seems like you are about to win, complaining about the rolls the RNG gives you is poor sportsmanship. It is human nature to attribute your successes to your own ability and your opponent’s successes to luck, but by removing the other player’s agency you are invalidating your opponent as a player. Granted, you are playing competitive Pokémon to win rather than make friends, but being a jerk is a good way to deny yourself practice partners or other sources of feedback on your own game. It’s even possible for you to lose a match you’d otherwise have won if your bad manners are deemed by judges to cross the line into harassment. In a community such as this one, I’d recommend being a gracious loser, if only because it means that it will make other people more likely to want to help you out.
Going on Tilt
In the game of poker, there is a concept called “going on tilt”, which means that as you lose, your mental state becomes more frantic and it becomes harder for you to make logical or safe plays. This concept easily transfers over to the game of competitive Pokémon. It’s normal for any player to get upset when they lose, especially if they feel the loss is outside the realm of their control. It’s how you react to this feeling that helps determine whether or not you’re an effective player. An ineffective player will allow their anger to fester in their mind and poison their ability to think critically in their next game, which will in turn lead to a higher probability of losing, sparking an even stronger reaction and making it even harder to think critically. This creates a negative feedback loop that makes it hard for that player to play at the top of their game.
How does an effective player avoid going on tilt? In an online tournament setting, it’s simple enough to just get up and walk away for a cooldown period. Spending a half hour or more doing something else in order to “reset” your frame of mind is effective and easy. However, in a live tournament setting you are not afforded this luxury, and effective players have to come up with other ways to avoid going on tilt. Some players may briefly reflect on what they could have done better in their losses, and then mentally move on to the next match without dwelling on their loss in the previous one. Meditation or some other way of taking yourself out of the tournament briefly may also be helpful. There’s something to be said for just taking a few deep breaths and counting to 10 when you’re angry over a loss.
In order to become an effective competitive Pokémon player, a competitor must avoid placing unnecessary restrictions on themselves, and instead explore all of the options available to them. They must also realize that the RNG may not always work in their favor, but that the ultimate responsibility for their results is with the choices they make at all points of the team building and battling processes. Finally, an effective player keeps their cool, not dwelling on losses and allowing those losses to affect their performance in the rest of the tournament. There are many other factors dictating what makes a player effective or not, and it’s possible to succeed even if a player doesn’t always adhere (or even never adheres) to the three habits listed above. However, making a habit of these three things is relatively easy, and will almost certainly lead to an improvement in play for the player who implements them.