By Sophtoph, Contributing Writer
Back in August, the Pokémon GO community saw DancingRob crowned as its first-ever World Champion, capping off a memorable competition in London, England. There hasn’t been any time to rest for those striving to be the very best, as the 2023 Championship Series season is well under way. Fourteen Trainers have already punched their ticket to the 2023 World Championships in Yokohama, Japan, and four more will join them this weekend at the first International Championship of the season—the Latin America International Championships (LAIC), held in São Paulo, Brazil.
With four invitations to the World Championships and great prizes on the line, let’s take a look at which Pokémon and Trainers you can look forward to seeing at the LAIC! You’ll be able to catch all the action live from São Paulo at Twitch.tv/PokemonGO on November 25 through 27, 2022.
The number of different Pokémon we’re expecting to see on the battlefield at the LAIC is a testament to the strength of the Pokémon GO metagame. Pokémon and moves that were popular mere months ago have given way to others as players look for new roads to victory.
Medicham has emerged as the dominant Fighting type in the open Great League format, which will be the format for all 2023 Championship Series events. Its bulk, versatile move set, and powerful typing lets it see play against almost every opposing Pokémon. Access to the Charged Attack Ice Punch is a significant advantage for Medicham, as it can go toe-to-toe with Flying-type Pokémon like Altaria. But what really sets Medicham apart is its access to Counter, a Fighting-type Fast Attack considered by many to be the best Fast Attack in the game based on damage output and energy gain. Medicham is most commonly seen using the Charged Attacks Ice Punch and Psychic to maximize type coverage, but some Trainers—like third-place Salt Lake City finisher MormonMatt—might choose moves like Dynamic Punch or Power-Up Punch to throw off their opponents. Expect Medicham to be on the majority of top-performing teams to deal with those pesky Normal and Steel types. While some Trainers may opt for other Counter users—like Scrafty, Obstagoon, or Sirfetch’d—there is little doubt that Medicham stands above them all.
Trevenant was introduced to the game last October and immediately became a top meta pick. Its Ghost/Grass dual typing gives it many useful resistances and allowed it to challenge a meta centered around Water-, Fighting-, and Steel-type Pokémon. Its move set is the stuff of dreams for most Pokémon: the Ghost-type Fast Attack Shadow Claw allows Trevenant to gain energy quickly, and pairing Shadow Claw with the powerful Charged Attacks Seed Bomb (as a bait option) and Shadow Ball allow Trevenant to sweep any unprepared opponents.
Sableye was the dominant Ghost-type Pokémon in the open Great League before Trevenant came along. Although many Trainers prefer Trevenant as their Ghost-type Pokémon for better coverage against Water-type Pokémon like Azumarill and Swampert, Sableye is still a strong pick. It’s a Ghost-type Pokémon that beats other Ghost-type Pokémon—usually Ghost types do supereffective damage against each other, but Sableye’s Dark/Ghost dual typing means that it only takes supereffective damage from one of the 18 types: Fairy. Like Trevenant, Sableye’s access to Shadow Claw gives it great potential to use only its Fast Attack to take down battle-weary opponents and end up with enough energy to hit the next Pokémon that comes in with a nasty Charged Attack. The vast majority of Sableye in tournaments will be purified Shadow Pokémon rescued from Team GO Rocket. Purified Pokémon learn the exclusive Normal-type Charged Attack Return. Sableye’s access to Return paired with Foul Play means that almost nothing else in the Great League meta can match what Sableye can do.
Lickitung has been a staple of the open Great League format since December 2020, when Level 50 was introduced to the game. With its outrageous Defense and HP along with access to Lick and Body Slam, Lickitung may be the epitome of what you’re looking for to win neutral matchups. Its Normal typing allows it to easily dispatch Ghost types like Sableye or Trevenant, and it’ll take supereffective damage only from Fighting-type attacks. Lickitung is often considered to be Medicham’s best friend, as they cover each other’s weaknesses perfectly—expect to see them paired together on both teams of six and teams of three.
Galarian Stunfisk is one of the most flexible Pokémon in the meta. The coverage it gains from Earthquake and Rock Slide allows it to hit almost every Pokémon for at least neutral damage. Galarian Stunfisk’s Ground/Steel dual typing allows it to resist attacks from 10 different types. Combined with Galarian Stunfisk’s bulk, this typing means that Trainers are virtually required to carry a hard counter, such as a Water type like Swampert or a Fighting type like Medicham. While Registeel was the dominant Steel-type Pokémon in 2022, its usage has drastically decreased this season after Zap Cannon was rebalanced, allowing Galarian Stunfisk to take the spotlight as the Steel type of choice for most Trainers.
Nidoqueen became a top meta pick after the buff to certain Poison-type moves in Season 8 of the GO Battle League, and Trainers never looked back. The deadly combination of Poison Jab and Poison Fang means that Nidoqueen can win most neutral matchups. This move set is so potent that top Trainers frequently joke about “1-2-3-4-5-ing” your way to victory (it takes five Poison Jabs, which take a total of five seconds to deliver, to have enough energy to use Poison Fang). Nidoqueen also has access to Earth Power to hit Steel types for supereffective damage, so you may see Trainers using Nidoqueen against these Pokémon that would normally shut down Poison-type damage dealers. Trainers who bring Nidoqueen often opt for a Shadow Nidoqueen—Shadow Pokémon both take and deal 20 percent more damage, making them a popular choice for Pokémon species with high-damage Fast Attacks.
Swampert is the final Evolution of the adorable fan favorite Mudkip, but don’t underestimate it because of that. Swampert’s access to the cheap and extremely efficient Community Day move Hydro Cannon combined with the Fast Attack Mud Shot means it can quickly deliver heavy damage in almost every matchup.
Azumarill has been called the ruler of the Great League for as long as the GO Battle League has existed. The dual Water/Fairy typing means that Azumarill can often beat Fighting-type Pokémon like Medicham, Ground types like Galarian Stunfisk, Dark types like Sableye, and more. In fact, while Azumarill is starting to be eclipsed by other tanks with more efficient move sets, Azumarill’s typing has allowed it to hold on as part of the central meta.
A couple of Pokémon have made a splash in the 2023 season as a result of move updates and some trailblazing Trainers. Take a look at the new faces that you might not have seen as much last season!
Noctowl is perhaps the Pokémon that has made the biggest year-over-year rise heading into the 2023 season. In fact, this dual Normal- and Flying-type Pokémon has appeared on the team of every Regional Champion from North America this season so far—HouseStark93 in Baltimore, HotPoket777 in Peoria, and Birdpower13 in Salt Lake City. Noctowl’s incredible bulk allows it to absorb many Charged Attacks, but perhaps the biggest reason it has made such an impact is its ability to deal with Ghost-type Pokémon like Sableye and Trevenant.
Altaria has always been a great generalist, but has often struggled against select core meta picks. This dual Dragon- and Flying-type Pokémon has great bulk and resistances and can absolutely shred Pokémon like Venusaur and Swampert, but unfortunately it struggles against popular picks like Alolan Ninetales, Azumarill, and Galarian Stunfisk. Up until this season, at least two of the these Pokémon would appear on most teams along with Walrein, making Altaria difficult to use. However, Walrein has fallen almost completely off the map after its Charged Attack Icicle Spear became more expensive to use, allowing Altaria to finally enter the spotlight.
Toxapex is the shiny (not literally Shiny right now, unfortunately) new toy that might make appearances in São Paulo. This dual Poison- and Water-type Pokémon has the bulk of an absolute tank. It’s able to take Charged Attack after Charged Attack, and it’s arguably the hardest counter to Azumarill, resisting every move set an Azumarill could possibly have and dealing supereffective damage in return. Toxapex’s main role is to simply absorb Charged Attacks from other Pokémon, so don’t expect Trainers to use many Protect Shields while it’s on the field. While it struggles against Ground-type Pokémon like Galarian Stunfisk and Ghost-type Pokémon like Sableye, Toxapex is able to power through most neutral matchups with bulk alone, even without Protect Shields.
Off-Meta Alternative Pokémon
While we’ve discussed several Pokémon that are expected to appear on many teams, there are several other options that serve largely the same purposes but cover more niches.
For example, Scrafty and Obstagoon serve as Counter users that can deal with Steel-type Pokémon with the same effectiveness as Medicham but can also cover Ghost-type Pokémon like Sableye and Trevenant.
Tapu Fini, notably used by Peoria runner-up NHoff, serves a similar purpose to Azumarill as a counter for Dragon types and Galarian Stunfisk. It has the same types as Azumarill with a bit less bulk, and it has slightly more Fast Attack pressure with Water Gun when compared to Azumarill with Bubble.
Skarmory is also occasionally used as the Flying-type Pokémon of choice; the Armor Bird Pokémon has an enormous number of resistances, only takes supereffective damage from Fire- or Electric-type attacks, and can serve as an alternative to Noctowl and Altaria in countering Grass-type and Fighting-type Pokémon.
A Different Play Style
Thus far, we’ve mostly discussed Pokémon that thrive based on bulk, flexibility, or efficient Charged Attacks. However, Trainers might choose to focus instead on pressuring opponents with Fast Attacks that deal substantial damage.
In particular, Shadow Victreebel and Bastiodon are a notorious pair from the GO Battle League that have been slowly creeping their way into the Play! Pokémon meta. While Pokémon like these can deal heavy damage with their Fast Attacks and often win neutral matchups, their slow energy gain makes their worst matchups a nightmare, potentially leading to an instant game loss. However, OnionFrank in Baltimore and Meteorfallian in Peoria notably both made the top cut with Shadow Victreebel at their respective regionals, while MormonMatt was successful in running Wigglytuff (a Pokémon in a similar niche and one of the slowest Pokémon in the game) all the way to a third-place finish in Salt Lake City.
While most Trainers will still opt for safe, flexible options like Lickitung or Galarian Stunfisk that can effectively do damage to almost any Pokémon, keep an eye out for these unconventional picks.
Names to Watch
The LAIC is the first International Championship of the 2023 Championship Series season, so we can expect the competitor list to be stacked with highly skilled battlers. All 128 registration spots filled within a single day. A few World Championships veterans have already confirmed participation in the tournament and will be trying to snag at least one of the four Worlds invites available. Brazil and the rest of the Latin American community will be looking to show the GO Battle League world why it’s the biggest region in terms of grassroots tournament attendance. Let’s look at a couple of the returning faces from last season who might be keen to make a deep run at the LAIC.
Zarddy finished sixth at last year’s World Championships after winning the Joinville Regional Championship and will no doubt be vying to repeat (or outshine) his performance from last year. As a Brazilian native, he is in a perfect position to win in front of a home crowd in São Paulo.
PatrickyAlbani is another Brazilian local who is looking to return to the World Championships after appearing at the inaugural tournament in London.
Longtime fan favorite and 2022 Mexico City Regional Champion MartoGalde is an entertaining player to watch, and his impressive fifth-place finish in London makes him a top threat.
Lastly, Javierv20 didn’t appear in the World Championships last season, but we can expect him to do his best to earn a ticket to Yokohama after barely missing out with a third-place finish at the competitive Mexico City regional.
We’ve now examined the majority of the metagame-defining Pokémon that you can expect to see at the LAIC, but there will undoubtedly be spicy surprise picks featured in the top eight teams. Similarly, while we’ve gone over some veteran Trainers to watch, every event is an opportunity for a new breakout star to make a name for themselves in the Play! Pokémon scene. Be sure to catch the action at Twitch.tv/PokemonGO from November 25 through 27!