Players returned in full force for intense battles with powerful Pokémon in Frankfurt, Germany.
By Barış Akcoş, Contributing Writer
After a long two-year break, players from all around the world travelled to Frankfurt, Germany, to compete for the coveted title of Europe International Champion once again. Players started to get a first impression of this year's format at the Regional Championships leading into EUIC in Brisbane, Salt Lake City, and Liverpool, leading to some exciting teams in Frankfurt. Check out the official 2022 VGC Europe International Championships Preview for an in-depth analysis of the way the metagame was shaping up prior to the event.
In the end, 312 video game players from 22 countries competed for $30,000 in prize money and Championship Points toward travel awards to the upcoming North American International Championships, as well as travel awards and qualification to the 2022 Pokémon World Championships. European players have successfully defended the Masters Division title ever since the first Europe International Championships back in the 2016–17 season, but they would have to fend off players coming from all over the world looking to take this year's crown. Excitement was building to not only find out who would be the new Champion, but also which pairings of restricted Pokémon—the two powerful Legendary Pokémon players selected for their team—would come out on top at the event.
You can also go back and watch hours of matches from the whole weekend on YouTube.com/Pokemon:
Things Heat up on Day 1
Excitement grew as the event kicked off with a match between reigning EUIC Champion Flavio del Pidio and the Salt Lake City Regional runner-up Aaron Traylor. Flavio won in a dominant fashion with the pairing of Groudon and Solgaleo, showing his ambition to defend his title this weekend. Aaron showcased the newfound flexibility of his powerful Regieleki by using Max Strike based on Hyper Beam. It was a losing effort for Aaron, but it did display an effective form for speed control we'd see from several players throughout the weekend.
Regieleki continued to impress, even when faced down against the highly anticipated “Rinya Sun” team. Starring Charizard, Groudon, Gastrodon, Incineroar, Grimmsnarl, and Zacian, this dominant team was a major topic of conversation prior to the event—so much so that players had two options: either pilot their own version of the popular team, or find a team to counter it. Either way, everyone knew it would be present in Germany, and it didn't take long to see it in action. In Round 3, viewers of the live event stream got to see it piloted by Ben Kyriakou against former World Champion and reigning NAIC Champion Wolfe Glick. Using the same team as Aaron Traylor, Wolfe's heavily offensive Shadow Rider Calyrex and Zacian composition this time leveraged an offensive Life Orb Regieleki to great success. Wolfe was able to perfectly execute his game plan, focusing on taking out the opposing Grimmsnarl with a combination of Fake Out and Max Lightning before it could use any supportive moves. With Electric Terrain now active because of Max Lightning, the only Pokémon able to survive the Dynamaxed Regieleki's attacks were Gastrodon and Groudon, both of which struggle against Wolfe's Rillaboom.
In the post-game interview, Wolfe said he was prepared for the matchup but respected Rinya Sun players' ability to adapt their game plan within a set once they have gained enough information from earlier games.
Another highlight of Day 1 was the return of Lunala! Best known for its prominence in the 2018–19 season, Lunala entered EUIC as one of the most underrated restricted Pokémon of the format, slowly picking up popularity after Cameron Smith's Top-8 finish at the recent Liverpool Regionals. Three different Trainers showcased the potential of Lunala on Day 1, taking out Incineroar with Power Herb-accelerated Meteor Beam attacks and lowering the opponents' Defense with Max Phantasm to increase the damage dealt by their physical attackers. Being able to remove Incineroar, who is not only a strong counter to Lunala but also a critical support Pokémon on most teams, gave Lunala a unique edge on the battlefield.
Since Pokémon Abilities play such a strong role in team building, Trainers are forced to adapt when Weezing enters with Neutralizing Gas, which negates the Abilities of all Pokémon in play. Ben Grissmer had just finished third in Liverpool, but decided to completely change his team to utilize Weezing, pairing it with Shedinja, Kyogre, Regigigas, Barraskewda, and Shadow Rider Calyrex. Not only can Weezing disrupt the opponent's strategy, but it also synergizes with Regigigas by turning off its debilitating Slow Start Ability, allowing it to deal devastating damage. This team can also play toward an endgame position where the opponent can no longer damage Shedinja through its Wonder Guard Ability, guaranteeing a win.
Weezing was also featured on Javier Valdés' team, the only undefeated player after nine rounds of Swiss on Friday. Javier matched Weezing with Gigantamax Blastoise, taking on a similar role that Kyogre serves alongside Weezing, but without using up one of the coveted two restricted Pokémon slots. Javier revealed that he values the power of Dragon-type Pokémon in this format. He chose Dialga over Palkia or Kyurem because he preferred a Dragon type that was not weak to Fairy-type attacks, wary of opposing Zacian that knew Play Rough.
Surprises in Day 2 Swiss
Not only did the Top-32 Masters return for five more rounds on Saturday, but the Junior and Senior Division tournaments began as well. The stream kicked off with Eric Rios showing Rinya Sun's flexibility against the previously undefeated Javier Valdés in a rather difficult matchup.
Viewers watching the stream at home were able to follow Alex DellaPasqua's journey into the Top Cut with two featured matches, dazzling fans with an unexpected restricted Pokémon choice of Reshiram. The core of the team was Incineroar, Mimikyu, Amoonguss, and Ice Rider Calyrex. Alex initially planned to use Palkia, but after Jiseok Lee popularized the combination of Palkia and Ice Rider Calyrex with their second place in the International Challenge February and their first place in the International Challenge March, Alex decided to add Reshiram to make sure he wasn't running a predictable combination. His second match against Markus Stadter was a clinic in Trick Room and patience—Markus could not prevent Alex's Trick Room from being set up (sometimes multiple times in one game!), which Alex was able to capitalize on. He used Mimikyu not only to set up Trick Room, but also activate the Calyrex's Weakness Policy with a cheeky Shadow Sneak. Markus battled back with flawless board positioning and defensive play in Game 2 to push for a Game 3. This match was a true master class in move choice on the battlefield!
The level of diversity among the restricted pairings on Day 2 was a welcome surprise, with Dialga, Reshiram, Yveltal, Lunala, and Ice Rider Calyrex all finding their place among top players' teams. Despite Rinya Sun being the hot topic of conversation entering the tournament, it seemed that players did their homework and came prepared, as only two versions of the team were able to advance into Day 2. The strategy still showed its strength, though, as one of these teams—piloted by Eric Rios—finished Day 2 as the first seed with a 12-2 record. Only three more wins stood between him and the championship trophy.
Star Players Shine in the Top Cut
As the Top-8 players were revealed, it was to nobody's surprise to see Joseph Ugarte (who also goes by Joe) among them. His level of play, paired with his mental strength and confidence, helped him make his run of strong performances look effortless. “Losing is learning and winning is teaching. When I lose, I try to take the lessons from it and not let it affect my performance in the next round,” he explained after advancing to the semifinals by beating Javier Valdés in a commanding 2-0 set.
Eric Rios quickly defeated Markus Stadter for the second time of the day to join Joe in the semifinals. Markus echoed Wolfe's approach to the Rinya Sun matchup, where Incineroar and Regieleki try to take out Grimmsnarl before it can set up Light Screen. But Eric trained his own Incineroar to be faster than usual, therefore managing to prevent an opposing Fake Out from flinching his Grimmsnarl. This nimble Incineroar was a total momentum switch for Eric and brought him right into the driver's seat for the rest of the set.
On the other side of the bracket, Victor Medina showcased why Gigantamax Venusaur has seen more play recently. Alex DellaPasqua struggled to keep up with the offensive pressure from Victor's Kyogre, as he also had to contend with Venusaur putting his Pokémon to sleep with Sleep Powder. When this inaccurate move missed in Game 1, it kept Alex's chances alive for a few extra turns, but Victor's march into the Top 4 was inevitable. Game 2 was a clean sweep after Sleep Powder cleanly connected with the Incineroar in the first turn.
Both semifinal matches featured incredible gameplay: one a showdown of two Groudon teams between Eric and Joseph, and the other a Kyogre face-off between Oliver and Victor. Both matches went to Game 3 and had viewers on the edge of their seats. Eric managed to use Trick to give an Iron Ball to Joseph's Regieleki early in Game 3, crippling its Speed. This left his Charizard unchallenged for the rest of their game and allowed Eric to secure his spot in the Finals. In Game 3 between Oliver and Victor, Victor's Venusaur gave Oliver a tough time, making optimal use of both rain and harsh sunlight weather conditions. Altered by the rain, Venusaur's Weather Ball became a Water-type move, allowing Venusaur to use Max Geyser to take out the opposing Incineroar. Then, under the harsh sunlight, Venusaur was able to outspeed the opposing Zacian thanks to its Chlorophyll Ability and put the opposing Dynamaxed Kyogre to sleep. Despite staying asleep for the entirety of its three Dynamax turns, Oliver's Kyogre eventually woke up and managed to defeat Victor's remaining Pokémon, securing the final spot on Championship Sunday.
Twisted Dimensions Decide the Junior Division
In the traditionally very fast and offensive Junior Division, players have seen a lot of success running Trick Room teams in the past. This year's Junior Finals were between Alexander M.— who finished second at the recent Liverpool Regionals and Top 4 at the last EUIC in 2019—and Francesca Z., who is currently fourth on the European Championship Points leaderboard. Alexander trusted his most common lead pairing in Incineroar and Mimikyu and managed to set up Trick Room to take two early knockouts. The late-game Dynamaxed Dialga was able to clean up the remaining two Pokémon, leaving Alex one win away from the title of the European International Champion.
The second game started off with a Rock Slide that caused Alex's Dialga to flinch, preventing it from setting up Trick Room. Francesca lacked the necessary damage output to put Dialga away the following turn, though, and Alex was able to reposition with Parting Shot and successfully set up Trick Room. With four full turns of Trick Room remaining and both Dialga and Ice Rider Calyrex on the field, Alexander swept through his opponent's team and became the first video game European International Champion of the weekend.
In a post-event interview, Alexander told us he felt confident in setting up Trick Room and taking advantage of attacking first under twisted dimensions. He likes the fact that Trick Room-focused teams enable less common Pokémon, such as Dialga and Mimikyu, to be successful. Already qualified for the World Championships, he is aiming for the title this year, but he wouldn't quite let on if he is sticking with Trick Room in London.
Showdown of Star Seniors
The Senior Division featured a battle between two Trainers with Regional, International, and World titles to their names: Nicholas K. and Alessandro M. Both their teams featured similar Pokémon, including the restricted duo of Kyogre and Zacian, while also sharing Pokémon choices such as Indeedee for Terrain control and redirection support and either Therian Forme Landorus or Incineroar for Intimidate. The most intriguing Pokémon in either team, however, was the mischievous Shedinja—a Pokémon which can be a Trainer's downfall if they are not equipped to deal with it. Shedinja's Wonder Guard Ability means the Pokémon won't take damage from attacks unless they're super effective. The commentators speculated about whether there could be a Shedinja vs. Shedinja endgame, and our Senior finalists did not disappoint!
Game 1 saw both players attack their opponent's Kyogre with both of their Pokémon, with Nicholas K. being able to secure the knockout and take an early lead. Nicholas was careful to remove all threats to his Shedinja in the back, eliminating Alessandro's Zacian with a Max Geyser and his Kingdra with a Sacred Sword. Once the Focus Sash on Alessandro's Shedinja had been broken, it was completely exposed to a Shadow Sneak from its counterpart, resulting in a Game 1 victory for Nicholas.
Game 2 followed the same script, with both players leading with their rain setters. Although Alessandro established early control by creating a quick 4-to-2 Pokémon advantage, Shedinja had Nicholas's back! By winning the speed tie and again defeating Alessandro's Shedinja, Nicholas's Shedinja left Alessandro in an awkward position. Shedinja could not be touched by Alessandro's Zacian and could use Endure every second turn to survive Kingdra's Bounce move, which spends one turn charging up, resulting in Nicholas being able to shut down any offensive pressure from Alessandro and take the Champion title!
The Final Weather War of the Weekend
Finally, the event hall fell silent as our Masters Division finalists took to the stage. Eric Rios from Spain was up against Oliver Eskolin from Finland for the final match of the tournament. In principle, this was a classic weather war: Groudon's harsh sunlight vs. Kyogre's rain. The anticipation surrounding this match was intensified by the fact that our finalists had met in the Swiss rounds, with Oliver narrowly securing the victory. Either Eric would be able to earn redemption, or Oliver would establish himself as the true conqueror of Rinya Sun.
The Pokémon were unleashed and both Kyogre and Groudon joined the fray on the first turn, with Eric's Groudon securing the weather due to being slower than Oliver's Kyogre. Game 1 was slow and calculated, with both players making an array of switches in order to obtain the superior board position. The hero of the match was the Gastrodon on Eric's side, despite Oliver having a Rillaboom to apply pressure with 4× supereffective Grass-type moves. Eric and Gastrodon were able to outplay Rillaboom twice by using Yawn as it switched in, forcing Oliver to make more switches in order to avoid Rillaboom falling asleep. Both players eventually opted to Dynamax in the same turn. The Charti Berry on Eric's Charizard prevented Oliver from confidently attacking with his Therian Forme Landorus's Max Rockfall, instead opting to boost Speed with Max Airstream. Eric was able to copy this strategy with his Charizard and gained crucial momentum when it caught the Rillaboom on another switch-in. Eventually, Gastrodon was able to shine even brighter not only by shutting down the Kyogre with its Storm Drain Ability and Yawn, but also by taking attacks that were super effective against the rest of Oliver's team.
Game 2 will perhaps be remembered as one of the boldest matches of all time. Oliver switched to a hyper-offensive strategy, Dynamaxing his Landorus and double-targeting Eric's Gastrodon to ensure it did not cause him the same headaches as in the previous game. Getting Max Airstream off first this time also gave Oliver a crucial Speed advantage. When Eric's Charizard came in and Dynamaxed to replace the fallen Gastrodon, Oliver used another Max Airstream and Water Spout combination to send Charizard off the field as quickly as it arrived! These two devastating blows dealt in quick succession made it impossible for Eric to come back into Game 2, so our players quickly advanced to Game 3.
The energy and excitement surged through the venue as our players started the match that would determine the Champion. For the third time in the set, Charizard and Groudon hit the field for Eric, facing down against Oliver's Kyogre and Landorus. Both players had enough of jockeying for defensive positioning and started off Game 3 by Dynamaxing Kyogre and Gigantamaxing Charizard immediately. Oliver managed to take out the Charizard with a Max Lightning, which also set up Electric Terrain and prevented Gastrodon from disrupting his game plan with Yawn for the following five turns, as Electric Terrain prevents grounded Pokémon from falling asleep. Eric was on the ropes, but he anticipated the right attacks turn after turn. With its Attack stat lowered through Intimidate, the combination of Zacian's Behemoth Blade and the residual damage of G-Max Wildfire from Eric's side failed to knock out Oliver's Rillaboom, which allowed it to take down the opposing Groudon. A Play Rough miss on Eric's Kyogre allowed Ice Beam to connect and take out the Rillaboom, leaving a relatively healthy Zacian on Eric's side to face off against Oliver's low health Kyogre and Therian Forme Landorus. Both players were desperately trying to find a way to safely close out the game, but were ultimately left with no choice but to take serious risks. A crucial Protect from Zacian in the penultimate turn baited out Earthquake from Landorus, which took down Oliver's own Kyogre and freed up the path of victory for Eric's Zacian. With one final Behemoth Blade, Eric became the 2022 European International Champion!
What to Expect at Future Events
With Eric's victory in Frankfurt, Rinya Sun teams have now won three major tournaments in a row. Its overall success rate, however, seems to be lower across the board and its true potential has been reached only in the hands of elite players such as Eric. At the same time, we have seen a great variety of restricted pairings make it all the way up to the Top 8. The metagame is in a very interesting state and there is so much more to discover.
Be sure to tune in for upcoming Regional Championships and the North America International Championship in Columbus, Ohio, this June. I am really interested to see what direction the competition takes before we all meet for one final showdown at the Pokémon World Championships in August.
For more Pokémon video game strategy and analysis, visit Pokemon.co.uk/Strategy.