Video Game Tournament Preview

The stakes are huge for Trainers heading to Indianapolis for the US Video Game National Championships over Independence Day weekend! Trainers will be competing for a prize pool of $11,000 in scholarships in each age division, as well as the last chance to earn Championship Points for invitations and travel awards to the 2015 World Championships in Boston. With such great potential rewards and tough competition, Trainers will need to dig deep into their bags of tricks to win.

Whether you're at the event to compete or to root for your favorite players—or watching the live stream on Pokemon.com—here are some interesting developments to watch for as the battles unfold.

Three-Day Marathon

Trainers dreaming of becoming the United States National Champion have a steep challenge ahead of them this year. For the first time, Trainers will battle through three tense days of best-of-three play to find a winner. Only players with two or fewer losses after Friday's Swiss rounds will move on to Saturday. Then, on Saturday, each player's record will reset, and the top 8 players after more Swiss rounds will move on to a single-elimination top cut bracket to determine the champion.

Players must use one team for the entire tournament, so many Trainers are likely to load their teams with the best-performing Pokémon available, such as Landorus, Thundurus, Aegislash, Terrakion, Heatran, and Cresselia, as well as Mega-Evolved Pokémon such as Mega Kangaskhan, Mega Salamence, and Mega Venusaur— just as they did during the Spring Regionals. These Pokémon have a major impact on battles while remaining tough enough to endure powerful attacks before going down. Kangaskhan, Salamence, and Venusaur are each likely to continue to be the core of many teams, while the remaining Pokémon are versatile enough to fill out teams built around other Pokémon.

Tournaments as prestigious as the US National Championships are rarely won by the most popular Pokémon alone. Trainers will need to outshine the competition by using the strongest Pokémon in innovative ways, finding combinations of Pokémon that have an advantage over the most popular Pokémon, or making a team that can win using tactics other competitors didn't prepare for.

Teaching Old Pokémon New Tricks

One way Trainers will look to gain an advantage over their rivals is to reimagine the way popular Pokémon are used. A great example of this was seen in the changes to Mega Charizard Y on top teams over the course of the season. Early in the 2015 season, Trainers normally chose to teach their Charizard only the moves it needed to be most generally powerful: Heat Wave, Solar Beam, Overheat, and Protect. As the format developed, more Trainers looked to give Charizard options to make it more effective against popular Pokémon that troubled it, such as Landorus and Heatran. Teaching it the Ground-type Hidden Power allowed it to go toe-to-toe with Heatran and come out on top. A Charizard with Tailwind won the German National Championships—Tailwind caused problems for Trainers who expected to defeat Charizard with a Speed advantage from the popular Choice Scarf Landorus. When watching the US Nationals, focus on how these Pokémon are used: the Nationals Championships in Germany South Korea, and Japan were won by teams using Heatran, Charizard, and Landorus.

Trying to stay one step ahead of popular Pokémon is an important tactic for almost every team. Another example is Heatran. As it has become more popular, more Heatran have begun to carry Shuca Berry. Shuca Berry helps avoid surprises from unexpected Ground-type moves (such as Charizard's Hidden Power). It also offers safety against popular Pokémon, such as Earth Power from other Heatran and Landorus's Earthquake.

Many battles between the top Pokémon in Indianapolis will be determined by the new tricks Trainers find to gain advantages over their most common foes. Creative Trainers will need to be careful, however—with every match at the US Nationals being best-of-three, any new innovation will need to be better than its predecessors!

To Beat the Very Best

It's difficult to make a team powerful enough to defeat the strongest Trainers in the country without using any of the most common Pokémon, but at the same time using only popular Pokémon makes it hard to gain an advantage over opponents. Instead of using only the most frequently used Pokémon in different ways, most Trainers will come to Indianapolis with a mixture of both popular Pokémon and unexpected Pokémon that have advantages against the most feared Pokémon in the format.

A famous example of this sort of strategy is the Choice Scarf Mamoswine that Arash Ommati used to win the 2013 Masters Division World Championships. Arash's Mamoswine was trained to defeat some Pokémon that are again quite popular in 2015: Thundurus and Landorus. Arash paired Mamoswine with another less common Pokémon, Defiant Tornadus, and rounded out his team with some of the 2013 format's strongest Pokémon. His mix of rogue threats and stalwart favorites proved to be a winning formula.

In 2015, final matches at national tournaments have already featured Raichu and Jellicent, both uncommon Pokémon that create difficult situations for top Pokémon. Over the course of the season, we've seen Pokémon such as Milotic with the Competitive Ability, Mega Metagross that knows Substitute, and even Mega Banette show up to disrupt Trainers' normal ways of winning battles. Trainers are again searching for the next great rogue Pokémon to surprise the field and to complement more proven Pokémon on a run for a championship.

Taking a Third Option

Sometimes Trainers win by choosing to avoid conventional thinking with their teams completely, or by rediscovering ways to win with strategies that have long been dormant. Few Trainers went into the 2014 World Championships thinking that Mega Gyarados, Gardevoir, or Pachirisu would be among the strongest Pokémon available, but those were the Pokémon that won. There are once again many potential combinations of unexpected Mega-Evolved Pokémon paired with Pokémon with Follow Me or Rage Powder that could surprise the competition this year.

Another tactic harkening back to past seasons will certainly be teams built around Politoed's Drizzle, such as the team that won the 2014 United States Masters Division National Championship. We've already seen several Politoed in the top cuts at Spring Regionals. Even teams built around Tyranitar and its Sand Stream Ability have enjoyed a resurgence.

One strategy that is always lurking is Trick Room. While Trick Room was rarely used early in the season, it has grown in popularity at recent tournaments. Mega Gardevoir with Trick Room has been at the lead on teams that use both fast and slow Pokémon. A rise in the duo of Trick Room Cresselia and Rhyperior has continued the trend among teams balancing both high and low Speed—it's a duo Collin Heier used to win the Spring Regional Masters Division Championship in Madison. There have even been some purer Trick Room teams popping up, too, featuring Scrafty, Amoonguss, and Mega Mawile. In spite of spending most of the year out of the spotlight, Trainers looking to avoid the usual scrum of similar teams may put their hopes on Trick Room to take them to Boston.

The most exciting aspect of the National Championships is that no one knows which Pokémon or Trainer will come out on top. The best way to find out is to see it for yourself July 3–5 in Indianapolis or by watching the live stream on Pokemon.com! Plus, look forward to recaps and analysis after the event is over.

Good luck to all Trainers at the Pokémon US Video Game National Championships!

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