What is your aim?
Before you start practising for something, you need to figure out what you’re aiming for so that you can achieve it. It’s very good to have an ultimate aim, such as becoming World Champion. However, it is good to have some intermediate aims as well. The ultimate aims may seem very far away at times, and intermediate aims are useful for keeping you focused and progressing.
Examples of aims, ranging in scope, follow:
- Have a positive win/loss record in practice on the ladder
- Finish with a positive record at a tournament
- Reach above a certain rating level on the ladder
- Top Cut a tournament
- Top Cut a Regional level tournament
- Compete overseas at an International Championships
- Compete at the World Championships
- Top Cut an international level event
It is important to note how much time you have to commit, as more investment is required to complete higher level goals. In practice time, time spent travelling to events, and potentially money spent on travel. Competing at a more local level is perfectly fine if that is all you wish to or can do. It’s about setting aims that are specific to you and what you want to achieve.
For new players, it is recommended to start with smaller goals and move upwards. Progress can potentially come quite quickly, but completing easier aims is good preparation for being able to complete more difficult aims.
What do you need to learn?
In order to achieve your aims, you need to identify areas of improvement. At a beginner level, knowledge is the most important thing to seek. If you lack knowledge of aspects of the game, this lack of knowledge will be exploited by more knowledgeable opponents. As one becomes more advanced, putting this knowledge to use through the honing of particular skills is how one continues to improve. It’s important that you should always try to keep learning and improving yourself. The continuous drive for achievement is what empowers the greatest competitors in any field.
This mostly pertains to game knowledge. There are basic things to know for Pokémon battling; such as knowing the type chart, how the game and move mechanics function, the stats and movepools of Pokémon, and how type choices can synergise offensively and defensively. More advanced knowledge might include observing common choices for movesets, team archetypes and general strategies. Keeping familiar with usage rates, metagame trends and relevant damage calculations based on these trends is also recommended. This information changes over the course of a season and players should endeavour to keep their information current.
Knowing the different styles of team and styles of play (and how they win matches) that exist is also quite useful, particularly when it comes to honing your skills. One last factor of knowledge that can become useful at very high levels of play is knowing how other players like to play the game. This kind of knowledge can potentially swing big games against a well-known player at a tournament. Common examples of this might be the momentum based, defensive, heavy switching play of Wolfe Glick (@WolfeyGlick) which capitalises on the moves the opponent makes and has already made to get ahead. Another contrasting playstyle is the read-heavy hyper offensive play seen from our own Sam Pandelis (@ZeldaVGC), which instead focuses on getting the best possible board position based on making an assumption (a “read”) of the opponent’s next move.
A good knowledge base is very useful when building new teams. Being able to build a good new team or at least the base for a good team is a handy skill that allows one to keep their teams relevant over the course of a format. Good team-building skills are not a prerequisite to being a top player. Many top players get inspired by other teams, borrow teams or pilot shared teams. Teambuilding skills also apply to altering, adjusting and updating teams to deal with the changes in the metagame. Don’t feel like you always have to try to build your own teams entirely from scratch, but do keep in mind that top players at the very least have a good understanding of why different Pokémon are on their team and what roles they serve.
Creating a team with planned win conditions is the most basic execution of planning skills. Being able to plan strategies against opposing strategies is an extension of that. More common opposition strategies should be considered when building a team and practising with it, while other less common strategies will need to be considered during team preview and battle. Choosing the right Pokémon for the matchup at team preview and preserving Pokémon that are important in a particular matchup both help you win close battles, and are an important byproduct of planning your battles.
There are many RNG aspects to Pokémon battling, all of which can influence the outcome of a battle. Being able to manage probabilities to minimise the amount of bad luck occurring, and maximise the amount of bad luck that can happen to an opponent is a skill honed by knowledge and battle experience. While particular moves stand out when considering RNG, the speed and bulk of your Pokémon and the way you manage your board position are also very influential in determining how exposed you are to RNG in a given battle.
To help you make the best decisions each turn in a battle, it is crucial to learn how to notice and infer information about your opponent’s team early and with as little cost as possible. This includes surmising what moves and build a Pokémon might have based on its teammates, or based on just one move it has. Paying attention to indicators of speed is also useful, such as the order of ability activation or residual damage/healing. At a more advanced level, you can help ease your own decision-making process by observing your opponent’s choices and using them to inform your own.
You need to stay observant throughout the whole battle to pick up on things that may help you win the match. This is even more important in a Best of Three series, as observations made in a game one or two could help you win the later battles and take the series.
Decision Making and Time Awareness:
While it is useful to know a lot about battling, it takes practice to use that knowledge to make quick decisions under pressure. With the advent of the “Your Time” system, time awareness becomes even more critical than it has in the past. Knowing when to make quick decisions, and when to take some time can influence the result of the battle. Having more time late in the battle compared to an opponent may enable you to make better decisions and hence win the game with the extra thinking time earned earlier in the battle. The old match timer system also rewards time awareness, as a player may use the timer as a win condition if they are able to position themselves to win a tiebreak following the exhaustion of the timer.
Utilisation of Play Styles:
Most trainers have a way they prefer to battle and team styles they prefer to use. Finding one that works for you and working out how to maximise your use of it will help you perform at your best. Some trainers prefer risky play, others prefer slower control based play. Others prefer to use Trick Room, others prefer to use boosting set up moves. Some players like “goodstuffs” which is a combination of some of the most used Pokemon on a team. Others might control the board by spreading status and debuffs. Explore the different ways of playing so that you understand them and can exploit them.
Tournament Preparation Skills:
It’s all well and good to improve your battling skills, but if you want to take on big tournaments you need to learn how to get the best out of yourself on a specific day of competition. I consider this to be a skill in and of itself. The most famous and successful sports-people, and e-sports players make names for themselves with their big tournament heroics and their consistency at events. Wolfe Glick and Ray Rizzo are two of the best examples of this in VGC. This is achieved by having a consistent and successful lead-in approach to competition, as well as settled approaches to staying focused and relaxed on the day.
Preparing for practice
Seems like a lot of stuff to learn and improve at, right? Fear not, it’s not as hard as it looks. When you know what you need to learn, it’s as simple as giving yourself allocated practice time to boost your knowledge, up your skills and to put them into practice so that you can perform at your best for tournaments. There is no one right way to go about practising and improving, but these following tips may be helpful. Commit to practice time, and commit to practising conscientiously. You’ll get better quality practice in by having a target or purpose in mind while you practice.
Get a team or group of friends to practise with or to help coach you; find a “team” to build and theory with. My experience with becoming an Olympian was that putting yourself in the best possible training environment is crucial to getting the best out of yourself. People who can offer feedback or critiques and who can help hone the skills you need to practise can really speed up the process of improvement. They can also help you source Pokémon for new teams, and provide other support.
During your practice
There is definitely much to learn from watching YouTube videos, reading blogs, and watching other people battle, so remember that not all practice needs to be you battling.
A good way to make sure your practice is good quality is to have a way to switch yourself on to “battling mode”. This should be something that tells your mind and body to be switched on because it is time to battle. It can be anything, from having a cup of tea before/during your Pokémon “training session”, taking a short walk outside, doing some push-ups – whatever works for you. Feel free to experiment and find a pre-training routine that you like.
You will need to practise how to stop or get over a bad day of battling as well. Sometimes in tournaments, things won’t go your way. But you need to be able to shake that off and continue playing your best for the rest of the tournament. Finding strategies to stay in a good headspace is crucial not just for tournaments, but also for your practice time.
Don’t burn yourself out, though.
You need to pace yourself and take the time to appreciate progress, even on days when it’s a struggle. Becoming World Champion isn’t something that happens overnight. Appreciate your efforts and improvements no matter how your tournaments progress. If you do the right things, the rewards will come in time.
Another thing to consider is how you play when fatigued. Pokémon tournaments can be a long day, especially if it’s Best of Three swiss. If you want to win, you need to be playing well at the end of the day as well as the start. This may mean setting aside the odd day to play a lot of battles but also may mean putting some practice on when you are really tired.
If you have the time and are willing, keeping a training diary. Keeping notes on your practice sessions could be useful to track your progress and identify issues in your play or on a team.
Performing on the Day
Earlier we saw Tournament preparation mentioned as a skill one can work on. We’ll now look at that a bit more closely and see what exactly that entails.
To borrow a term I would use as a long distance athlete, the last little bit of time before a competition should ideally be spent tapering and finalising your preparations for the event.
If you can have a team finished and ready in game several days before a tournament, you’ll save yourself the stress of putting it together at the last minute. Too much time spent testing and building in the days prior to a tournament often ends badly. It increases the risk that you’ll not have your team finished properly and that you won’t have enough practice in using your team perfectly.
It takes time to practise a team’s matchups with various other teams and to learn all the ins and outs of one’s team. Even if you have great battling skills if you handicap yourself in this crucial part of team preparation, as you only make the task of winning a tournament more difficult. If you try to cram your team and personal preparation into the last minute, you also risk burning yourself out a little and hurting the quality of your play during the tournament.
To reduce the stress of travel to bigger tournaments, you should ideally have your travel and accommodation plans confirmed well in advance. You don’t need this to stress you out close to a tournament if you can avoid it. It’s also advisable to build a lot of time for unforeseen delays into your travel plans. You don’t want to miss registration because of a flat tire, or because your bus was delayed, or something relatively minor like that. It might not always be fashionable; but in this case, it’s much better to be early than late.
Sleep is often underrated as a part of tournament preparation.
The more good nights you can have in the last week before the tournament, the more refreshed you will be on competition day. You can’t help the odd restless night, but it’s much easier to think straight for long periods of time as needed to in a tournament if you are refreshed rather than running on low sleep. There’s only so much that caffeine can do to keep you awake and focused throughout a long day.
Lastly, preparing as much of what you will you need to bring for the big day(s) as practical a night or two in advance will help you on the tournament day. You’re less likely to forget it if it’s already packed, compared to trying to remember everything early in a morning.
Things to bring to a tournament would include food and drink to get you through a day. If you bring your own food you won’t have to run the gauntlet of food options near the tournament venue, and you give yourself more time to eat during designated lunch breaks. The most important thing to have prepared the night before a tournament is to make absolutely sure that your console is fully charged to start the day, and extra charging devices are on hand in case you need them. Many players bring portable charging devices to make sure that their phone and console can make it through the day, without needing to rely on wall outlets that may be limited and in high demand.
Pokémon tournaments are challenging even for seasoned competitors to navigate. You have to focus intently for periods, getting small breaks, then having to focus again. My own personal experience at competition says that being relaxed and focused even when working really hard tends to lead to the best results in competition. The key to success is finding a way to stay relaxed and focused throughout the event, so you have no internal hindrances to your own play. As well, when you’re relaxed you’re generally having fun! Remember to enjoy your tournament experience no matter the results.
Being switched on the whole day is one very draining option for trying to stay at your best throughout the tournament. An alternative option is learning how to switch on and off at appropriate times during the competition. This is a challenging skill to learn, but it has applications in wider life and so may be something worth pursuing.
Having a group of people, whether it’s friends, family or people you just met on the day to hang around with between rounds is essential. It can be a great way to give yourself an environment where you can relax between rounds. This can include helping to take your mind off of bad rng or a bad loss, while also keeping you focused after wins. Events are also more fun with friends, as together you can create memories of things that happened during a tournament, funny or otherwise.
Having a good plan for keeping yourself well fed and hydrated will also help you last out the day strongly. Many players find that a big meal can make them tired and think sluggishly, although your mileage may vary. It is useful then to have lots of healthy snacks on hand for throughout the day as well as a drink bottle. That way you don’t have to gorge yourself at any one point, but you also won’t be getting hungry late in the day.
For multi-day events, if you make the second (or even third) day, you want to make sure you have something left in the tank mentally. There is no point going 9-0 on day one if you choke out at the first opportunity on day 2. Stay focused on the job overnight. Do whatever matchup planning you think you need if team info is available and time allows, but the most important thing is to keep well rested and relaxed. Try to have an early night if you can. If you have a way to unwind that refreshes you and doesn’t exhaust you for the next day, that’s also good. Again, having friends and family to help you do the right thing for your preparation here will go a long way.
Hopefully, this hasn’t been too confusing to follow and has given you a bit of an insight into the things you can do to better prepare yourself for a deep run at a tournament; be it a Premier Challenge or the World Championships. Good luck this season!