After a season that kicked off with the Liverpool Regional Championships in March in the UK, the Pokémon North America International Championships offered Pokémon Trainers a final chance to qualify for the first-ever Pokémon GO World Championships, taking place in London this August. More than one hundred Trainers traveled from all around the world to Columbus, Ohio, for a shot at one of four invites, two travel awards, and the glory of becoming the first Pokémon GO North America International Champion.
The tournament took place over two days, with players split up into four groups for double-elimination brackets. Only the top two players from each group advanced to Day 2 and the Top 8 of the tournament, adding even more pressure to an already experienced field of competitors.
If you missed these matches live, don’t worry! You can go back and watch both days of the competition over at YouTube.com/Pokemon. Read on to learn about all the climactic moments that happened over the weekend, then check out the videos to see them for yourself!
Top Trainers Clash on Day 1
The first two competitors to take the stage from Group A were ValorAsh and Toshi9227—two ace Trainers who are no strangers to the GO Battle League. Both Trainers boasted unique teams, with ValorAsh’s Talonflame facing off against Toshi9227’s Tropius right at the start of Game 1. ValorAsh was able to keep the matchups in his favor as his Scrafty took down Toshi9227’s Sableye. Toshi9227’s Shadow Politoed eliminated ValorAsh’s Walrein. After switching their Pokémon, ValorAsh was able to keep the matchups and both Trainers were right back where they started with a high-flying battle between Talonflame and Tropius.
Toshi9227 tried to knock out Talonflame with its Aerial Ace attack, but Talonflame was able to hold on and score the final knockout thanks to its Brave Bird attack, giving ValorAsh the win in Game 1. In Game 2, Toshi9227 tied the overall score thanks to Shadow Politoed forcing ValorAsh to use his Protect Shields early, allowing Toshi9227’s Tropius to secure a double knockout against ValorAsh’s adjusted lineup of Shadow Swampert and Talonflame. In Game 3, ValorAsh managed to win the set after an early Protect Shield against Shadow Politoed’s Earthquake, followed by an incredible switch of Talonflame into a second Earthquake from Toshi9227’s Walrein. All three games in this first set were super close and established the tone for the rest of an exciting weekend!
While most players competing in Day 1 were from North America, Inadequance traveled from Europe to compete after placing Top 8 at the Europe International Championships and just barely missing out on a Worlds invite. Similar to his lineup in Frankfurt, Inadequance brought Pelipper as his Water-type Pokémon, but this time he also had Cofagrigus and Obstagoon to round out more conventional picks like Alolan Ninetales, Sableye, and Registeel.
Inadequance’s first battle on-stream was against chippydoodles during Round 2 of Group B’s Winners bracket, where Inadequance’s expert use of switching ensured that his Pokémon consistently had the type advantages needed for the win, both in Game 1 and ultimately in the entire set. In Group B’s Winners Round 3, Inadequance was bumped down to the Losers side of the bracket by ItsAXN, and he was ultimately knocked out of the tournament in Losers Round 5 by ChemCoop. Despite the early losses, his team was one of the standouts in the tournament thanks to its unique picks—it was a nice exhibition of how the current European metagame compares to the North American metagame more prevalent due at NAIC.
Another standout Pokémon from the first day of the competition was Ariados, piloted by mxchmp and joined by the equally unique team composition of Lickitung, Toxicroak, and Tapu Fini. Mxchmp’s first on-stream battle in Round 3 of the Group B Winners Bracket was against Panick23. In Game 1, mxchmp struggled against Panick23’s combination of Azumarill and Sableye, along with their frequent use of Foul Play and Ice Beam. In Game 2, mxchmp adjusted by bringing both Ariados and Tapu Fini, whose great defensive synergy allowed her to tie up the score. Mxchmp’s Ariados was the star of Game 3, as it forced Panick23 to switch out his Registeel and eventually knocked out all three opposing Pokémon, giving mxchmp the advantage she needed to ultimately take the set.
Mxchmp’s next round on the stream was against Jason2890 in the Group B Winners Semifinals. Ariados continued to play a key role in mxchmp’s strategy, ending with mxchmp winning the set 2–0. During the Group B Winners Finals, mxchmp faced off against ItsAXN’s best buddy Lickitung in three very close sets. An early knockout of Ariados in Game 1 meant that mxchmp lost the advantage and ended up losing to ItsAXN’s Pokémon. In Game 2, she adjusted by bringing in Tapu Fini for Ariados, but ItsAXN’s Lickitung was just too strong, winning the set and moving him to the Top 8. While mxchmp was ultimately unable to advance further into the competition, her team-building skills were certainly a highlight of the day and may inspire Trainers preparing for the World Championships coming up in August.
The second half of the Day 1 stream was dedicated to Trainers from Groups C and D. Sets remained close, with a majority of these matches going to Game 3. While metagame staples like Sableye, Walrein, Registeel, and Trevenant remained dominant throughout the competition, Trainers showcased their innovation by using less conventional Pokémon like Alolan Marowak, Bastiodon, Tapu Fini, and Sirfetch’d. At the end of the day, only eight Trainers remained standing, and the scene was set for the first-ever Top 8 for Pokémon GO at the North America International Championships.
The Top 8 Battle for World Championships Qualification
The Trainers who made Top 8 in Columbus were all experienced battlers, with three of them (ItsAXN, TrentSzcz, and Balk88) repeating their Top 8 successes from the Indianapolis Regional Championships. The four Trainers in the Winners bracket began the morning just one win away from qualifying for the World Championships, while those in the Losers bracket would have to win twice to earn a ticket to Worlds.
The Day 2 stream opened on the Winners side of the bracket with KaiserTener facing off against Ziggomatic17, showcasing Ziggomatic17’s commanding team core of Scrafty and Talonflame. Talonflame won Ziggomatic17 the set—and the Worlds invite—after a couple of tough Protect Shield calls during a Shadow Nidoqueen vs. Registeel matchup.
Next on the stream was ItsAXN vs. AndrewManjarrez, the latter having flown all the way from Mexico for his chance at qualifying for the World Championships. Lickitung was already such a critical player on ItsAXN’s Day 1 team that it was no surprise to see him lean heavily on the Licking Pokémon for his Winners Semifinals match. On AndrewManjarrez’s side of the field, Sableye and Sirfetch’d were the two Pokémon he hoped would help defeat ItsAXN, but AndrewManjarrez was unable to find the proper matchups for his Pokémon. As a result, ItsAXN won the set 2–0, qualified for the World Championships, and moved on to the Winners Finals.
On the Losers side of the Top 8 bracket, TrentSzcz faced off against Balk88 in a matchup that centered heavily around TrentSzcz’s Umbreon and Balk88’s Lickitung. Balk88 made the correct call by keeping Lickitung off the field until TrentSzcz’s Medicham was either knocked out or unable to switch in, allowing Lickitung to secure the win in Game 1. TrentSzcz tied up the set in Game 2, but ultimately lost after swapping in his Medicham to face off against Trevenant—Balk88’s last Pokémon in Game 3—which gave Trevenant the energy it needed to knock out TrentSzcz’s Umbreon with an incredibly close combination of Seed Bomb and Shadow Claw.
Evan77713 and TrainerRemPvP faced off next in an incredibly hyped matchup between Evan777713’s Shadow Beedrill and TrainerRemPvP’s Lucario. Evan777713 was able to win Game 1 without Shadow Beedrill’s help, but in Game 2 he sent the Poison Bee Pokémon to face down TrainerRemPvP’s Azumarill and Trevenant, winning the game and taking the set. Evan777713 was ultimately knocked out of the bracket in Losers Round 2 against KaiserTener—who qualified for Worlds thanks to this win—while AndrewManjarrez was able to win against Balk88 and KaiserTener to make it into the Losers Finals and secure his invite to the World Championships.
A Close Bout in the Winners Finals
Taking to the main stage for the final portion of the event, Ziggomatic17 faced off against ItsAXN in the first best-of-five matchup of the weekend. Ziggomatic17 took an early lead in Game 1 due to ItsAXN forgoing the use of Protect Shields while Ziggomatic17’s Trevenant used Seed Bomb to knock out ItsAXN’s Swampert and deal major damage to Shadow Walrein. Shadow Nidoqueen was able to regain some momentum for ItsAXN thanks to its Poison Fang dropping Shadow Swampert’s defenses, but ItsAXN eventually lost Game 1 to Ziggomatic17’s Scrafty. Both Trainers led Game 2 with their Swampert and took the opportunity to gather energy for a later point in the match. ItsAXN won back the momentum after opting not to use both Protect Shields on his first Pokémon, helping him to ensure that his Pokémon had the favorable matchups needed to win Game 2.
Lickitung was ItsAXN’s lead in Game 3, where it remained on the field despite a tough matchup against Ziggomatic17’s Shadow Swampert. This forced Ziggomatic17 to switch in his Registeel, giving ItsAXN the opportunity to send in his own Swampert and land an Earthquake for a near-instant knockout. Ziggomatic17’s Alolan Ninetales subsequently struggled to gather enough energy to use Psyshock due to the amount of time it takes to use Charm, so ItsAXN’s Shadow Nidoqueen was able to knock it out quickly and secure the Game 3 win for ItsAXN. Finally, Game 4 came down to a clash between ItsAXN’s Medicham and Ziggomatic17’s Scrafty—Medicham survived two Foul Play attacks and ultimately won the set, making ItsAXN the first Trainer to move on to the Grand Finals.
After losing in the Winners Finals, Ziggomatic17 came back on the stream to battle AndrewManjarrez for one last shot at making it to the Grand Finals. In Game 1, AndrewManjarrez led with his Sirfetch’d against Ziggomatic17’s Trevenant, which set the momentum for Ziggomatic17 to win their first match. AndrewManjarrez led with Sirfetch’d once again in Game 2, only to switch in his Walrein against Ziggomatic17’s lead of Talonflame. After that, Sirfetch’d didn’t return to the field until both Talonflame and Trevenant had been knocked out, allowing AndrewManjarrez to win Game 2. In Game 3, AndrewManjarrez left his Shadow Nidoqueen and Sirfetch’d behind in favor of Azumarrill and Sableye, gaining an early-game advantage thanks to a Return attack that almost knocked out Ziggomatic17’s Shadow Swampert.
With Ziggomatic17 one loss away from being knocked out of the tournament, he took a risk in Game 4 by leading with Talonflame against AndrewManjarrez’s Registeel, then maintaining the favorable matchup by switching in his own Registeel after AndrewManjarrez was forced to switch in Walrein. Walrein’s Icicle Spear was enough to knock out Ziggomatic17’s Registeel, after which his Talonflame managed to knock out AndrewManjarrez’s Walrein using Flame Charge. However, AndrewManjarrez kept his strongest Pokémon in the back of his party, only sending out Sableye once Ziggomatic17’s Trevenant and Talonflame were weakened enough to be well within Sableye’s knockout range. As a result, AndrewManjarrez won the set 3–1 against Ziggomatic17 and was ready to take on ItsAXN once again—this time in the Grand Finals.
The Climactic Grand Finals
Given that both ItsAXN and AndrewManjarrez had previously faced off in the Winners side of the bracket—where ItsAXN won the set 2–0—both Trainers entered the Grand Finals equipped with firsthand knowledge of how their opponent might approach the games ahead. ItsAXN’s game plan was primarily built around ensuring his Lickitung had a favorable matchup, while AndrewManjarrez’s strategy hinged on keeping his Sableye safe. In Game 1, ItsAXN’s Licktung quickly found the advantage it needed against Walrein, forcing AndrewManjarrez to use both of his Protect Shields early in the match. ItsAXN later tried to utilize the priority of his Swampert’s Charged Attacks to score two last-second knockouts, but the damage dealt just wasn’t enough, and AndrewManjarrez’s Sableye secured the win in Game 1.
Game 2 started off with ItsAXN’s Medicham vs. AndrewManjarrez’s Azumarill, forcing ItsAXN to switch in his Swampert early on. Two Earthquake attacks from Swampert knocked AndrewManjarrez’s Azumarill and Walrein down to less than half their health, setting up a favorable advantage for Lickitung and allowing ItsAXN to win Game 2. More team adjustments were made as Game 3 began with ItsAXN’s Lickitung and AndrewManjarrez’s Sirfetch’d both in the back of their respective teams. AndrewManjarrez quickly used up both of his Protect Shields while his Sirfetch’d was up against ItsAXN’s Shadow Walrein, resulting in a knockout from ItsAXN’s Shadow Nidoqueen. ItsAXN’s Lickitung and AndrewManjarrez’s Registeel faced off next. Registeel came out on top with two Focus Blast attacks, followed by Sableye landing the winning knockouts to put AndrewManjarrez up 2–1 in the set.
ItsAXN took Game 4, so both Trainers began Game 5 having won two games each. ItsAXN led Game 5 with Lickitung against AndrewManjarrez’s Azumarill. Lickitung’s Power Whip gained an early advantage after no Protect Shields used by AndrewManjarrez. The last two Pokémon standing for these Trainers were Walrein and Swampert—who were knocked out at exactly the same time, ending Game 5 in a tie! A reset occurred, but not the one that AndrewManjarrez hoped for, with the second Game 5 of this set starting off with ItsAXN’s Medicham vs. AndrewManjarrez’s Registeel, followed by Swampert and Walrein facing each other once again. ItsAXN made a final adjustment in his team by bringing in Shadow Walrein to ultimately square off against AndrewManjarrez’s Sableye. With an Earthquake followed by a Powdered Snow—and one last Icicle Spear to seal the deal—ItsAXN won the set and took the title of first 2022 North American International Champion in Pokémon GO!
While these battles were certainly the highlights of this year’s North America International Championships for Pokémon GO, the NAIC’s position as the last major tournament prior to the World Championships also gives us some insight into what Pokémon Trainers will be practicing against as they set their sights on the title of first-ever Pokémon GO World Champion. Metagame staple Registeel was only seen three times in the Top 8—despite Registeel being used on nearly half of the teams brought into the tournament—with all three of them making it through on the Winners side of the bracket. Shadow Nidoqueen, Sableye, and Walrein also held key roles on both competitors’ teams in the Grand Finals, with Walrein taking home the prize of most-used Pokémon in this tournament overall. While NAIC ultimately saw the metagame staples continue to shine throughout the open Great League format, hopefully this consistency will inspire the creativity of those Trainers heading to London next month.