By Jesse Turnbull, Contributing Writer
The month of June featured historic Pokkén Tournament DX battles as the Players Cup Kickoff Invitational brought together legendary players from both past and present. This first phase of the Players Cup was perfect, with a constant stream of incredible matches. In the end, Niklas “Wingtide” Laerbusch came out on top in the first phase. After qualifying for but ultimately being unable to attend the 2019 World Championships, fans of the Machamp master can look forward to seeing Wingtide compete in the Players Cup finals next month.
Four competitors from North America, two from Europe, and one from Oceania will join Wingtide in the Players Cup finals. With only the best of the best moving to the final phase, the competition is going to be fierce. To be sure, the seven players who were not victorious in the Kickoff Invitational will be aiming for a second chance.
With the return to the Basic Battle 1v1 format, fans can expect to see competitors bring their favorite Pokémon into battle in an effort to qualify for the finals. The accessibility of online play will give many excellent players who are typically unable to travel an opportunity to compete in a world-class event, so the battles are sure to be hard-fought.
The Region Qualifiers for Pokkén Tournament DX will take place over the course of three weeks during the month of July. These Qualifier matches will be broadcast on Twitch.tv/Pokemon and YouTube.com/Pokemon on July 16, 23, and 30 from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. PDT. Let's take a look at what you can watch for as the Region Qualifiers begin streaming.
To be a Pokkén Tournament Master
Aside from those who attended the Oceania International Championships, players have not had the chance to compete in an official Pokkén Tournament DX event since the 2019 World Championships last summer. However, thanks to a bustling online community, players have continued to improve during this time and will be bringing their best Pokémon and strategies to the Players Cup. Since the last major update for Pokkén Tournament DX became available for download in September 2018, players have had time to study the newest changes and develop strategies to combat them. It's becoming increasingly difficult to surprise opponents with gimmicks, so many competitors have spent the last year mastering concepts that were discovered some time ago but have gone largely unused up until recently.
Fans who witnessed the Kickoff Invitational last month may recall seeing a number of “perfect blocks,” which is accomplished by a player cancelling their homing attack (or Machamp's Submission) with a block at just the right moment before an opponent's attack connects. If done successfully, the blocking Pokémon will be able to act faster than they normally would after blocking an attack. Another concept that top competitors are utilizing more frequently is the “extended state,” which is when a player purposely avoids pressing a button to keep their Pokémon in its current state for longer than it otherwise would. This advanced technique can give a Pokémon additional frames of invulnerability after being knocked down, avoid potential mix-ups, and more, making it immensely valuable in competitive matches.
Perfect blocks and extended states are by no means new concepts for dedicated Pokkén Tournament DX players, but they're beginning to matter more now than ever before. Top competitors who have mastered these advanced techniques are redefining elite play, which is excellent news both for spectators and for Pokkén Tournament's continued success as a competitive title.
While these concepts may be difficult for newer players to incorporate into their play, there are other aspects that are absolutely worth practicing and mastering. As seen in the Kickoff Invitational, competitors can gain a massive advantage simply by remaining aware of their opponent's meters. Umbreon has been a fairly popular Support for a number of years thanks to its ability to alleviate pressure and drain the foe's Synergy Gauge, but players were consistently able to predict, avoid, and punish opponents calling on this Pokémon throughout the Invitational. Allister “ALLISTER” Singh took this one step further in his match against Shadowcat, where he not only predicted and avoided Umbreon's Snarl attack, but also used Sceptile's Giga Drain to punish Shadowcat and steal some of his Synergy, leaving Darkrai unable to activate Synergy Burst.
Back to Basics
Starting with the 2019 Championship Series, official Play! Pokémon events have utilized the Team Battle 3v3 format for Pokkén Tournament DX. This means that the Players Cup is the first official tournament in two years to use the Basic Battle 1v1 format, with the most recent event to use this format being the 2018 World Championships.
Because Team Battles didn't exist in the Wii U and arcade versions of Pokkén Tournament, many veteran players are far more experienced with Basic Battles. For a lot of competitors, the Pokémon they bring to the majority of their Players Cup matches will likely be the same Pokémon that's been their go-to for years. However, fans can still expect a few surprise picks throughout the event, such as Chaz “Mewtater” Wright's Blastoise in the Kickoff Invitational.
“I guess the biggest thing is the meta is a bit more diverse as a byproduct of 3v3 being a part of the competitive environment,” broadcaster Brendan “Burnside” Hansen noted when considering how competitive play has evolved over the past year. "Players like Mewtater, Shadowcat, and ALLISTER have broadened their character horizons even further such that it's much more difficult for players to accurately counterpick off the bat."
Competing in the Team Battle format has led to many players being able to use three or more Battle Pokémon at the tournament level. For example, although ALLISTER's Suicune is iconic, opponents cannot simply assume he will send out the Legendary Pokémon when they square off against him. Instead, their Pokémon may find themselves face to face with Mewtwo, Lucario, Sceptile, Pikachu Libre, or whatever other Pokémon ALLISTER feels like sending out at the time. As seen in the Kickoff Invitational, this makes it incredibly challenging for opponents to predict ALLISTER's Pokémon selection and is no doubt thanks in part to his time spent with the Team Battle format.
Playing to a Pokémon's Strengths
As is the case with all online multiplayer titles, participants will need to recognize that lag may occur during a Players Cup match. When it comes to fast-paced fighting games, the slightest connection hiccup could lead to a dropped combo or a mistimed input. Pokkén Tournament DX competitors will need to keep this in mind and plan accordingly. Luckily for viewers, this may lead to some unexpected strategies on display!
Some Battle Pokémon have access to moves that become more powerful if the player's timing is precise—this is called the “just frame” version of the attack—and some Pokémon have powerful combos that require slight delays between attacks. With enough practice, players can execute these enhanced attacks and striking combos with an impressive level of consistency when playing Pokkén Tournament DX offline. These traits turn certain Pokémon such as Mewtwo, Aegislash, Sceptile, and Decidueye into formidable opponents.
In an online setting, however, some players may opt for Pokémon that don't require such precision to achieve their maximum damage output. Although Battle Pokémon such as Chandelure and Gardevoir aren't generally considered to be among the strongest fighters in the game, they often make for challenging opponents online for a number of reasons. First, these Pokémon boast move sets that allow them to deal large amounts of damage without the level of precision required by other Pokémon. In addition, it can be difficult for opponents to evade the projectiles these zoning Pokémon have access to. Competitors may need to show these long-range fighters more respect than usual during the Regional Qualifiers if they wish to compete in the finals.
Aside from selecting a different Battle Pokémon, players can also implement alternative strategies while battling with their signature Pokémon allies. Spectators may witness top competitors opting for combos that deal less damage but can be executed with less precision, especially in situations where a weaker combo still deals enough damage to close out the round with a KO. This is also a viable strategy in offline events—it's not necessary for a player to perform a tricky but powerful combo if it's the final round and the opponent only has 50 HP, for example. Anyone aspiring to become a top competitor in Pokkén Tournament DX would do well to study the options that are available to their Pokémon partners. Knowing what will most reliably secure victory at any given point is key to being a consistent threat in a fighting game such as Pokkén Tournament DX.
An Important Opportunity
One of the most exciting aspects of the Players Cup is that it provides the chance to compete for some incredibly talented individuals who can't typically attend major offline tournaments. This event will give these players the opportunity to make a name for themselves while simultaneously introducing viewers to new strategies and playstyles.
Anyone who has checked the online rankings for Pokkén Tournament DX will likely recognize Griffin “ThunderGriffin” Barboro, the Chandelure master who has achieved the highest rank in Pokkén Tournament online play—S1—with an extremely high win rate. While ThunderGriffin had some impressive tournament results in 2018, he has not made many live appearances since.
Hailing from Germany, Florian “Cloud” Blank has already begun to make a name for himself among players. Boasting some impressive online results with Mewtwo against a number of skilled players, this young competitor is constantly testing and sharing new combo routes for various fighters.
Nicky “YaBoy” Redmond is another expert Mewtwo Trainer who is planning on competing in the Regional Qualifiers. His only offline appearance to date was at the 2019 Last Chance Qualifier. Now that he's completed school, players should keep an eye on this up-and-coming competitor.
Finland's Roni “Shady” Kirla has never been to a major offline tournament, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming the greatest player in his country and one of the best Sceptile users in the Europe Rating Zone. Coming from a country with a lower number of dedicated competitors, Shady has still managed to secure some impressive wins online.
While the list of participants competing in the Region Qualifiers is not public as this is being written, the players mentioned here have all expressed interest in competing in the Players Cup. Be sure to keep an eye out for these skilled competitors. Who knows—you may just discover your new favorite player!
The return to the Basic Battle format is an exciting one. The Kickoff Invitational already had plenty of variety on display, and the Regional Qualifiers will likely be just as diverse. Thanks to a balanced roster of Pokémon and the accessibility of an online event, the Players Cup has been and will continue to be a thrilling spectacle for fans of Pokkén Tournament DX, so make sure you don't miss out on any of the action.
Best of luck to everyone planning to compete!