I’ve played in Silph tournaments since PVP came out, where I’ve consistently reached Ace since season 2. I dabble in Go Battle League but have never tried to reach Legend for two reasons: one, because GBL is a commitment and I have other hobbies, and two, I strongly prefer pick six formats and chatting with my opponents over malding alone at pocket monster battles.
After going 1-2 in Orlando with zero practice and 2-2 in Knoxville with only a little practice, I had almost a whole month to prepare for Charlotte. Even though Toxapex was my MVP in Knoxville (and I felt justified with the rise of double fairy teams), it was also very hard to build around. I ditched my neon Bastiodon the week before Charlotte for a team of Medicham, Galarian Stunfisk, shadow Alolan Ninetales, Lickitung, Noctowl, and Lanturn.
The end result? 4-2 and finishing one win short of my stacked group’s lower bracket semifinals. That’s a significant improvement so let’s talk about the three big things that went into it.
Reading team comps
People joke that Pokemon Go PVP is an RPS game, and technically they’re not wrong; after all, Pokemon types are a large game of RPS. While some battles are decided in the team selection screen, PVP in general involves much more dynamic game play as you try to get out of bad situations–or put your opponent in bad situations.
Regionals are played in a bring 6, choose 3 format. Therefore, reading your opponent’s team and guessing what they’ll bring against you is a crucial skill. It’s also one of my weaker points, so I prioritized improving it.
Team reading may feel like magic, but a great battler can look at an an opposing team of six and identifying which Pokemon have many good matchups against their team, which ones have plenty of neutral play, and which ones have little to no play.
I got to work. I pulled up top cut teams from all the tournaments in the past three months and started comparing my team to each one, identifying good, neutral, and bad matchups, and then figured out how to do this in a tournament setting.
Eventually I was able to draw a very quick table of my Pokemon compared to my opponent’s, where I identified matchups with a clear favorite in most scenarios (e.g. Trevenant vs Noctowl), neutral-ish matchups where one Pokemon is generally favored but not always (e.g. Swampert vs Noctowl) and neutral matchups where a shield call or a debuff/lack of debuff can determines the winner (e.g. Medicham vs Lanturn). Seeing everything in a table let me visualize the matchups and identify what Pokemon of mine are good against the opponent and which of my opponent’s Pokemon are good against my team. I practiced doing this quickly even if the chart was imperfect, and this practice paid off.
Full credit for this idea goes to my carpool buddy HurricaneKaz; she showed me this in a past tournament and I realized my two-page notebook layout was perfect for such a table.
Learning move counts
I’ve counted on intuition for a long time and gotten far, but my improvement has stalled in the past couple of years. Lacking a strong grasp on move counts is a large part of why.
Move counts may feel like magic, but they’re not! Every fast move has a duration and an energy gain, and those don’t change for a given fast move if you tap harder or faster. Every charged move costs a certain amount of energy. It’s always five Mud Shots to the first Rock Slide and eight Mud Shots to the first Earthquake. It’s always four Snarls to the first Foul Play and three Snarls to the second Foul Play. Those numbers don’t change.
Even more importantly, this math is generalizable. Some moves generate the same amount of energy and have the same turn duration. Let’s look at Shadow Claw, a widely learned 2-turn fast move that gains 8 energy per use. Trevenant users may recall that 5 Shadow Claws equal the first Seed Bomb (40 energy). But hold on, Surf is also 40 energy and is considered one of Mew’s standard “mewvs”. Congratulations, you’ve learned multiple move count patterns in one lesson.
But wait, there’s more! Spark is another 2-turn, 8-energy fast move, and Spark Lanturn takes five Sparks to get to its 40 energy move Surf. Walrein also loves using its 8-energy, 2-turn Powder Snow to get to 40-energy Icicle Spear. If you played Psychic Cup, you may remember Victini’s Quick Attack to V-Create move count. You guessed it, 5 Quick Attacks because Quick Attack gains the same energy per use. On and on. I don’t need to know that it’s 5 Sparks and Shadow Claws to a Surf, I just need to know that five 8-energy fast moves equal one Surf or Icicle Spear or V-Create or Seed Bomb.
Once I realized this, something clicked in my head. Remembering all those move count charts for every Pokemon is like memorizing a bunch of Celsius to Fahrenheit conversions (0C = 32F, 100C = 212F, 20C = 68F, 10C = 50F) when I could memorize one formula (1.8C + 32, or to estimate, double the Celsius temperature and add 30). And the move count sheets were born.
With Pokemoves and PvPoke’s move list by my side, I made charts like the one above for all the most common move types: 7 energy/2 turns (Counter), 8 energy/2 turns (Wing Attack, Shadow Claw, and more), 9 energy/2 turns (Mud Shot), 13 energy/3 turns (Snarl), and so on. On each row I wrote the energy cost, the move counts (5-4-5, for example), and common moves from Pokemon that use one of those fast moves. I concentrated on Great League Pokemon but also included some of the most important Pokemon from Ultra and Master Leagues. The act of writing things down committed them to memory; after writing Shadow Ball in the 55 energy row several times, that fact was imprinted in my head.
From there, I studied the sheets regularly and quizzed myself. If I had more time I would have written a small program to quiz myself more randomly. (I asked ChatGPT to do this while trying it out. The result was… not great.) By Friday afternoon I had memorized most of the common energies and move counts. I was ready to rock.
A caveat for anyone else wanting to try this: my method does require more mental math, and in case you haven’t seen the shelf of advanced mathematics texts in my living room, I’m pretty good at math.
Okay, this is a last-minute addition.
The Saturday before Charlotte regionals was Community Day. I met up with a PVP friend (who I’ll probably never reset friendship with because we keep battling, rip) for dinner and scrims afterward, and despite me defeating him in almost ever limited meta battle when we’re paired, he was beating me in every open Great League battle that evening. At one point while he was doing the charged move minigame, he told me to breathe because I was so tense. “You’ve been holding that breath for twenty seconds,” he said.
Reader, I felt Perceived. Am I always like this? How could he know about the panic routine I go through before every remote battle, especially for those I know are a lot better than me? Or how nervous I was in Orlando before my first battles?
It’s easy to psych myself out before battles, and that’s something I’m trying to work on. Just seeing the name of a great battler makes me think “Oh gods what if I LOSE” even though I probably will anyway because I don’t put as much time and effort into this game as others do. The whole experience takes me back to middle school when I was a nervous wreck because I might make a B in something. I’m a relative nobody in the PVP community but some folks do get name recognition for being great battlers. One thing that has helped is remembering that for someone out there, I’m that person whose name makes them think “oh great now I’m gonna lose”.
Back to scrimming in that Willy’s. This friend happens to practice performance psychology professionally, which is why he noticed. So we went through some deep breaths during the charge move minigame. Deep breath in, deep breath out. Three deep breaths before each battle.
And you know what? The nerves weren’t as omnipresent in Charlotte as in the other regionals. Admittedly, I did get some momentum. My first round opponent didn’t show up, and I was in the driver’s seat for my second round opponent with a great lead and switch for both battles. I had a break before my next battle because my potential opponents for the next round were playing on the stream, so I was able to view their teams and playstyles and movesets.
Here’s the thing. Both of those potential opponents are Known Names (TM) in the PVP community. I already had low expectations, and even if I lost (which I was expecting), it would be my first loss. I’d still have a chance to climb through the lower bracket, and I did; in fact, I sat at the same table for almost an hour as lower bracket opponents approached me.
In fact, the two folks battling in my group’s lower bracket finals were the two people who took me out of the tournament, and the overall champion came from my group.
My solution for nerves: one battle at a time. Gain momentum. Unfortunately I’m not sure the last part is an easy one to reproduce.
Oh, I did a few practice battles with my team with three or four scrim partners. While these battles helped, I don’t think they were the biggest factor in my success, especially because I was practicing with a different team until the week before Charlotte regionals.
If you’ve made this far you’re either extremely curious about my story or you’re wondering: How can this help me get good quickly?
I concentrated on specific skills where I could notice small improvements reasonably quickly. Those skills may be different for you. If the skills I outlined are ones you also need to work on, please steal these methods! Calling them “my methods” feels arrogant on my part because many others have studied the same things, probably in the same way that I have.
Otherwise, figure out what those skills are for you and concentrate on a couple of those. If you’re still learning type effectiveness, do that. If you need to learn how to adapt during or between battles, do that. (This is another skill I need to improve, but that’s a future improvement.) If you need to work on charged move timing, do that. (This was my chosen skill before Orlando, and I’m better but still not perfect.) Whatever you do, don’t overwhelm yourself. Choose one thing and work from there until you see some improvement. Then choose one or two more things and work on those for awhile while not forgetting your first skill. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It’s not easy, but you’ll get better. I will too. Who knows, maybe I’ll be on the finals stage. For now, I’m content hanging out with friends for the rest of the weekend after the Bulbasaur “Bye!” button has made its way to my hoodie.
Charlotte will probably be my last regional this season; it’s the last one I can make a road trip to and I don’t have the time, money, and inclination to keep traveling to all these regionals. But maybe I’ll make one more appearance this season. We’ll see.