Feature Article

Are you Playing Pokemon Wrong? Here's how the Pros Play


Pros Play Pokemon.

Much of what makes Pokémon appealing to its most dedicated players isn't readily apparent to its more casual fans. The "pro" Pokémon player is someone who knows every in and out of the game, who goes way beyond the surface knowledge most players have and seriously commits to the breeding and training of Pokémon so they're ready for battles with other dedicated players.The series has come a long way since Pokémon Red and Blue, and it's not just about "catching 'em all" and defeating the Elite Four anymore. From the moment hardcore Pokémon players tell the professor their names at the beginning of a modern Pokémon game, they're thinking and playing differently from casual players.

Developer Game Freak doesn't want the average player to know about all the secret and semi-hidden features Pokémon masters take for granted. The developers do their best to keep these things hidden and disguised. But if you've ever felt like you might be missing something—if you've wondered why you can't win a single match online, or why two seemingly identical Pokémon can have totally different stats—it's because you're not playing like the pros. The below tips are the things they keep in mind as they embark on their Pokémon journeys.

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How Most People Play: Choosing from the three starting Pokémon is tough, but once you make up your mind you make your selection and immediately head off on your adventure.

How Pros Play: Restart and restart again, until you get a Pokémon with the right nature.

When most Pokémon players receive their first Pokémon at the beginning of each new game, they're usually just happy to get on with it and start catching whatever that generation's equivalent of Pidgey, Rattata, and Caterpie are. But a hardcore player will probably reset their game a few dozen times before they're done, just to get a starter with the right nature, a variable that can never be altered but drastically affects a Pokémon's performance in battle.

Each monster's nature raises a certain stat and lowers another. You want it to benefit your new Pokémon's strengths. And that's not even the only unalterable variable hardcore players consider when they obtain a new Pokémon. More obtuse are a Pokémon's Individual Values, referred to by fans as IVs. These hard-coded base stats are the reason why two otherwise identical Pokémon can have drastically different strengths, and although it can be difficult to determine exactly what each monster's IVs are, in-the-know players will always keep them in mind. This is why pros spend hours on hours doing nothing but breeding, as tedious as it can be.

How Most People Play: Once you've caught a particular Pokémon in the wild, you eagerly move on and try to encounter new creatures.

How Pros Play: Fight and defeat the same type of wild Pokémon over and over again to raise your Pokémon's EVs.

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There's another factor that can differentiate Pokémon who otherwise seem identical: Effort Values (also known as EVs). Pokémon gain EVs when they defeat other Pokémon in battle, or, beginning in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, when you catch a Pokémon they were fighting. These hidden points push your monsters' stats to higher levels, and different Pokémon provide different types of EVs that boost different stats. They've been present in one form or another since the very beginning (the Red/Blue/Yellow generation). EVs are why Pokémon leveled up using only rare candies turn out stunted.

Experienced players will focus on one type or another, depending on what they want each Pokémon's strengths to be. That can mean spending hours defeating the same types of wild Pokémon over and over, a chore most players would never subject themselves to. Luckily in Pokémon X and Y Game Freak introduced Super Training and hordes, features that made it easier to pump Pokémon full of EVs—though naturally they don't exactly spell that out in plain English.

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How Most People Play: You build your team based on your favorite Pokémon, making sure to try and have a good spread of elemental types.

How Pros Play: Choosing a team is a complex affair that involves planning out the perfect mix of offense, defense, and support.

A lot of players choose whatever Pokémon they like and whatever attacks they think are cool. At most, some will attempt to have a variety of different elemental types on their teams. But in truth that's not enough.

Diehard trainers think about far more when they're building their competitive teams. How many sweepers do you want (sweepers are Pokémon with high physical or special attack values)? Should your lead focus more on special or physical attacks? Or should you lead with a Pokémon that can set up traps for your opponents to fall into later, using moves like Stealth Rock and Spikes? Or one who will cause status ailments to give you an immediate advantage? What kinds of tanks will you use? Now what are your team's weaknesses, and which of these little buggers are you willing to replace with something better?

Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire will add a whole bunch of new mega evolutions (the temporarily more powerful monsters introduced in X and Y), and it will be more important than ever to have a well-balanced team with the perfect mix of offense, defense and support.

How Most People Play: You love Pokémon, and you talk about it with your other Pokémon-loving friends.

How Pros Play: Pros talk about Pokémon with their friends and other Pokémon pros. All the time.

Some Pokémon players spend more time talking about the games online than they do actually playing them. There are active and dedicated communities all over the web who are busy with tasks like establishing extraneous rule sets that they agree to follow when battling one another, or ranking every single Pokémon according to its competitive potential.

These Pokémon masters gather to discuss strategies, arrange online trades, and challenge each other to battles. When every new generation of games come out it's the masters who find every item, determine the best spots to EV train, identify every new species of Pokémon, discover every new attack, and more, and they should have plenty of work on their hands when Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire arrive.

How Most People Play: The game ends pretty much after you've beaten the Elite Four and captured some legendary Pokémon.

How Pros Play: The game pretty much only starts after you've beaten the Elite Four and captured some legendary Pokémon.

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For most gamers, playing Pokémon is still about catching as many monsters as possible on their way to the Elite Four, watching the credits roll, catching a few legendary monsters, and then letting the game gather dust. But for the truly dedicated, that's just the stuff you rush through to get to the real game, the part you'll spend hundreds of hours on.

In Pokémon X and Y, beating the Elite Four gave you access to a new town, Kiloude City, with several fixtures that are very important to competitive players. It's there you find the Friend Safari, where you can catch Pokémon that aren't found elsewhere in the game (and who are guaranteed to have good base stats, a perk casual players are probably unaware of). Kiloude also has the Battle Maison, which sells the best items and where competitive trainers can hone their skills, though most players don't last long there.

And on top of all that there's a man standing in the Pokémon center in Kiloude there who will tell you what your Pokémon's highest IVs are, and whether they're the highest they can be. This is the crux of Pokémon breeding, which is a whole other complex and lengthy conversation. Suffice to say that breeding for competitive-grade Pokémon is pointless until you have access to Kiloude CIty.

The great thing for wannabe-Pokémon masters is that each generation of games caters more and more to them. This was true in X and Y, with faster ways to EV train, awesome advancements in breeding, the helpful Friend Safari, and more online features than ever. If Game Freak holds to this pattern, then Pokémon fans have a lot to look forward to when Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire drop in November.

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