By Contributing Writer Reece Dos-Santos
The Pokkén Tournament Players Cup is nearing its grand conclusion! The smoke has finally cleared from the heated battles of the Invitational and the Region Qualifiers, leaving only eight players ready to head into the Finals. Soon, one of them will have the privilege of being the first Pokkén Tournament Players Cup Champion.
The key word in the competitive Pokkén Tournament world this year was “adaptation.” That's certainly not a new concept for many Pokkén Tournament players, but the level of adaptation that was demanded this year was unprecedented. Players saw themselves having to quickly change the playstyles and strategies that they had previously devised for the 3v3 format and restructure them for 1v1 battles, which was the battle format used in the World Championship circuits from 2016 to 2018. As a further adaptation, competitors had to manage playing from their homes without the bustling atmosphere of a tournament venue.
So who was able to sail to success through these choppy waters? Without further ado, it's time to introduce the finalists.
The German Giants and the Fiery Frenchwoman
The Players Cup Qualifiers were divided into three regions: Europe, Oceania, and North America. We'll first look at the action from Europe.
If you're tuned in to the European Pokkén Tournament scene, it'll come as no surprise to hear the names Niklas “Wingtide” Laerbusch and Fabian “Fabilous” Zahn. The two German giants have dominated European events basically since they began.
Together, they have a healthy number of victories under their belts at the local, national, and international levels. Wingtide put up a stellar performance as the only European representative in the Players Cup Invitational, which was streamed on June 27 and June 28, when he proceeded to stay on the Winners side of the bracket the whole way—not dropping a set to any of the renowned players who stood in his way. This momentum peaked as his tried-and-trusted Machamp managed to take all three games in the Grand Finals set against Allister “ALLISTER” Singh. ALLISTER fought impressively all the way up to second place after losing out in his first match against former World Champion Jacob “Jukem” Waller, even taking down Waller in the Losers Finals set when the two met again.
Wingtide's counterpart, Fabilous, made a flawless display of pure strength as he fought five straight games in the Region Qualifier bracket to immediate victories, not dropping a single game in any of the aforementioned sets. This marked the fourth time that Fabilous qualified for major Finals in a Pokkén Tournament circuit, missing out only once in qualifying for the 2018 World Championships. The strength of his Pikachu Libre, which first came to light during the 2017 European Qualifier, has not dwindled in the slightest, as it left Morgan “Foowig” Slee with no options to strike in the Week 2 broadcast of the Players Cup.
The two European legends will also be joined by a face new to the international stage but certainly known on the European scene. Kira “Kira” Péniquaud has continuously made strong showings across all of Europe's domestic events, marking herself as a player to fear and a player to beat. However, she has never been able to carry that momentum into the final rounds...until now.
It initially looked like history would repeat when Kira made a shocking exit from the Winners side of the Qualifier bracket early on to Charly, but this seemed to be the motivation she needed to get herself in gear. Kira went on to win nine sets in a row on the Losers side of the bracket to snatch away the qualification spot from Anwar “Galladeknight” Sakkali.
And so, from Europe, Wingtide will compete in the Finals as the winner of the Invitational, and Kira and Fabilous will join him as the two players to advance from the Europe Qualifiers.
The Amazing Aussie
Let's now check out the action from the Oceania Qualifiers. The Players Cup format came as a major surprise and a shake-up for Europe and North America, but it presented a unique situation for Australia and New Zealand. The Oceania International Championships had already taken place, but remember that the Players Cup uses a different format. This provided another chance for Australia and New Zealand's homegrown talent to shine, since the Japanese players who regularly traveled down under for live events would instead be competing in their own Qualifier.
The player who rose to the occasion was Antony "Antwerp" Di Placido, one of Oceania's most well-known players and one of the original pioneers of “Thermodynamics”—a signature duel-to-field phase change technique that took the Pokkén Tournament scene by storm. Oceania is home to some of the Pokkén Tournament DX scene's most daring and creative players, known for always pushing the boundaries with new techniques and less commonly used Pokémon.
Antwerp's run to glory started bumpy, with a fated matchup against IceBurgy, the player who knocked him out of the 2020 Oceania International Championship, but quick adaptation and a swapped support saw Antwerp claw out a narrow comeback. The momentum didn't last long, as he was quickly beaten by Santa's Empoleon next round.
Real winners shine when their backs are against the wall, however. Like Kira, Antwerp's true potential shone from the Losers side of the bracket, making a flawless sweep of three opponents all the way to the Grand Finals. There he was able to get revenge against Santa, reset the bracket, take the set, and showcase Oceania's talent on the world stage in the Players Cup Finals.
America's Elite Four
The North America Qualifier was the most fiercely contested bracket. Over a hundred players battled for a chance to take one of the coveted four spots in the Players Cup Finals, including a wide mixture of veteran talent and up-and-coming competitors.
The first to break through was Davon “Shadowcat” Amos-Hall, a player now known worldwide for his methodical and dominant gameplay with Darkrai and Braixen. Shadowcat's qualification gave him another chance to redeem himself after falling short in the Players Cup Invitational, particularly against Wingtide, who sent him to the Losers side of the bracket.
Players will want to be wary of Shadowcat's prowess—his Winners side qualification into the Finals shows he's maintained the form that earned him the highest placing position of all the western players at last year's World Championships.
Joining him is the return of a veteran player who is keen to prove that world-class fundamentals don't rust over time. The last time Alexis “Deitylight” Sims appeared at a World Finals, he made it all the way to third place (this was the very first Pokkén Tournament World Championships, back in 2016, played on the original Wii U release of Pokkén Tournament). Since then, the veteran Lucario master has steadily kept up with the meta and managed to pull off an impressive undefeated run that saw him take down well-known names like Coach Steve and Jukem.
That would not be the last we saw of Jukem, however. The 2018 World Champion still managed to fight his way through the Losers side of the bracket to make it back to a qualifying position. Formerly known as ThankSwalot, Jukem is a Sceptile specialist who has continued his streak of qualifying for every major Finals since the release of Pokkén Tournament DX, and he will certainly be hungry for more high-level action after narrowly missing out on the Grand Finals of the Invitational, dropping 2–3 to ALLISTER in the Losers Finals.
Finally, to round things off, another one from North America's famously long list of talented Chandelure players: Johnny “SoulGuitarist” Kane. SoulGuitarist's run to qualification was hard fought, with two of his Winners side sets going down to a deciding match before he was eventually put into the Losers bracket by Shadowcat.
That would only end up igniting the ghostly fire within, however, as SoulGuitarist proceeded to bring his A game and run a flawless three sets in a row, knocking out three strong contenders—TEC, Rokso, and JrJam—before claiming the last qualification spot for himself.
Who will come out on top?
The Pokkén Tournament Players Cup Finals broadcast kicks off on August 15, when we'll see perhaps the biggest clashes in styles in the tournament. Get ready to see the high-flying momentum-based dynamic play of Kira versus the calculated and carefully paced gameplay of Shadowcat—the strongest sword against the sturdiest shield. Kira is almost guaranteed to stick to her trusted Pikachu Libre pick, but Shadowcat's options are more broad. His Darkrai could prove crucial for controlling the space, cutting off Kira's freedom of movement and making the most of being ahead. But his Braixen could prove equally useful in being able to react fluidly to any Hail Marys from the other side, and Braixen's wealth of utility and options would likely prove a stronger pick for wrestling back momentum if he loses control over the flow of the game.
Next up is the clash between Fabilous and SoulGuitarist, a well-known star facing off against a hungry new challenger of the like he may not be used to. While SoulGuitarist has the fortune of being able to watch plenty of American Pikachu Libre players, Fabilous will have to dig deep for Chandelure matchup memory—the tricky Ghost-type Pokémon is far rarer in Europe than it is in North America, especially among the region's top players. What Fabilous does have, however, is more options. Before settling on his Pikachu Libre, he was known for his Suicune as well as his Mewtwo—both strong, reliable, and bulkier picks, should SoulGuitarist be able to unsettle and overwhelm his initial strategies.
After that is the well-anticipated rematch from the Winners Finals of the Invitational: Wingtide versus Jukem, a clash of strong wills both focused on absolute victory and getting into the head of their opponent. With Wingtide being a regular attendee of various American Pokkén Tournament events, these two have gone up against each other time and time again. It's here you're likely to see the hardest contested matchup of the opening games, and victory will hinge on which player is able to get into the head of the other first. Although Jukem is skilled with his Empoleon, we're likely to see him stick exclusively to his Sceptile in this matchup. On the flip side, we can almost certainly expect Wingtide to hold true to his Machamp. Both players rise and fall to the sway of momentum, so expect a thundering advance through the bracket from whoever can walk away from this one victorious.
The last of the initial matchups will be Deitylight versus Antwerp—the clash of old-school fundamentals versus new-school creative expression. The crux of this match will more than likely lie in how Antwerp decides to approach the matchup. Deitylight is a player of extreme patience and focus; his Lucario is still a force to be reckoned with—one that'll be eager to pounce upon overzealous movement and punish any gaps in pressure. However, that may be all the more reason why Antwerp's creativity and quick thinking could prove vital. If the slippery Sceptile player feels himself being bullied in the neutral, he'll almost assuredly have other ways to mix up his game plan—and hopefully his opponent with it.
The only thing that's certain is that all the matches in the Pokkén Tournament Finals will be exciting and unpredictable! It should be an awesome two days of action for Pokémon fans to tune in to. Don't miss the battles on Twitch.tv/Pokemon and here on Pokemon.com on August 15 and 16.
Good luck to all of the Pokkén Tournament Players Cup finalists!