What we learned at Worlds 2016

After competing for a whole year, hundreds of players from around the globe battled it out in fierce competition for the title of World Champion. This season, the US managed to sweep all three VGC age divisions, with Cory Connor taking juniors, Carson Confer taking seniors and Wolfe Glick finally winning in masters. The whole weekend was a whirlwind of activity, but now the dust has started to settle. With that being the case, let’s take a look at the valuable lessons we learned at Worlds this year.

Wolfe is the realest of deals

Wolfe Worlds

The fact that Glick is one of the best players in the world may go without saying, but it also bears repetition. After all, the way he managed to win this year speaks volumes about his capabilities. It makes this win special.

For those not in the know, many thought the 2016 format and meta game had reached its end-point. The prevalence of the Xerneas and Groudon core from the start of the season right up to US Nationals had players wondering if there was any real room to innovate. Europe proved that everything from dual primals, Yveltal/Groudon and Xerneas/Rayquaza had potential, but they weren’t the threat.

Meanwhile, Rayquaza/Kyogre mostly slid under the radar. It won a few regionals in Latin America and a couple in Europe, and Alan Schambers and Rajan Bal took it to the top-cut of US Nationals. Then were was senior Carson St. Denis, who handily won US Nationals with it. But, for whatever reason, players never expected anyone to win Worlds with it.

Enter Glick and German master, Markus Stadter. Though we’re not yet sure the process they went through to come up with the winning team, it’s an amazing testament to their skill as players. The fact that they could pick apart the meta-game thoroughly enough that everyone using their team at the tournament managed to make, at the least, top eight is astounding.

Obviously their skill was a factor as well. You don’t just win sixteen sets of VGC against the best players in the world without skill. But by making it look so easy, Glick proved a point. This year, despite how many fantastic players the scene has, almost no one was a match for the combination of his play and his team.

That kind of statement will echo throughout the community for years to come. It remains to be seen if Glick can pull off a repeat performance, but one thing is clear. Glick’s win was an inevitability, and it is likely just the beginning.

It’s a whole new meta now

Open meta

While Glick’s team certainly was the final push that blew the meta wide open, Worlds was surprisingly diverse. The entire tournament saw plenty of lesser used archetypes, such as Groudon/Rayquaza, Yveltal/Groudon, Xerneas/Rayquaza and even Xerneas/Kyogre. There was still plenty of Xerneas/Groudon and dual primals, but they were far less dominating than expected.

Then there was top-cut, which featured seven different restricted duos — four Ray/Ogre, four dual primal, eight Xern/Don, one Xern/Ogre, four Xern/Ray, two Ray/Don and one Yveltal/Don. It’s worth noting, though, that most of the Xern/Don teams were eliminated before top-eight. Only two made it that far, piloted by Aaron Traylor and Eduardo Cunha. But however you look at it, 2016 ended up a far cry from last year, when almost all of top-cut looked identical.

As a consequence of all that variance, it’s obvious that things are going to keep shifting as the next season begins. In fact, players all over social media are talking about how Worlds made them rethink their hesitance to tackle less-popular archetypes. In fact, many people seem excited to team-build for the first time ever during this format.

Since many people will probably be “inspired” by Glick’s team, it makes sense that the next big team will be something that handles the Ray/Ogre, Fake-Out-switch core well. Who knows what that team is, but it’ll be exciting to find out.

There are a lot of great VGC players

new good players

One of the biggest surprises of this year’s Worlds were the finishes of Arash Omatti and Shoma Honami, the 2013 and 2015 world champions. Both were unfortunately eliminated from moving on in the tournament in the early rounds of the second day. Only they can truly say what happened, but they weren’t the only favorites to miss top cut. In fact, a lot of very talented players fell shorter than expected.

Now, it might seem like the fault lies with the players who lost. The go to excuse might be a bad day or perhaps a lack of preparation. And maybe that is the case. However, there might be another answer.

Consider this: VGC has simply never had so many good players. After all, legends don’t go down to bad luck or even bad match ups alone. At a certain level, their opponents had to be very skilled. That might seem obvious since this was the world championship, but the situation goes beyond that.

VGC’s new generation of top-tier players is starting to emerge, giving the old guard a run for their money. Some of these players are simply rising up from the ranks, ascending to a higher level of player after years of playing on the bubble. Others are completely new. But wherever they’re coming from, they seem to have raised the bar. After all, even with the expanded and improved top-cut system, there isn’t room for everyone at the top.

The Pokémon Company International has to improve Worlds

TPCI learning

 

Worlds was amazing as far as the play was concerned. But aside from that, things were far from ideal. The trouble started weeks before the event, when TPCI announced that public spectators would be barred from attending. Only the competitors and the guardians of those under 18 were guaranteed a spot inside the venue. The short notice made it hard for non-competitors to cancel flights and reservations, and it meant that even the guests of older competitors were potentially denied entry.

The Pokémon Company has kept their lips sealed on the reason for such stringent limitations, but it seems like the venue’s smaller size and the need for tighter security was a factor. As it stands, the tournament was already significantly delayed as players were forced to wait in massive lines to get through security. If even more people had been let inside, the San Francisco Fire Marshall would have likely had to shut down the entire event.

The issue with spectators being turned away was only exacerbated by the fact that the official streams went down repeatedly throughout the weekend — often in the middle of matches. Fortunately for those on Twitter, the wonderful commentators were quick to provide updates. We don’t yet know what caused that particular problem, but Pokémon will never be taken seriously as an esport if people can’t watch it reliably.

All that being said, the community shouldn’t have to suffer because of TPCI’s lack of foresight. The reasons behind the issues might be good, but that doesn’t negate the fact that the Pokémon Company has to do better. Spectators must be allowed to watch from the tournament floor, security needs to run smoother and streams need to be reliable for those that can’t attend.

Fortunately, this seems more like growing pains than a lack of interest in improving. All three competitive Pokémon games are growing, and it seems like TPCI simply didn’t account for the sheer volume of attendance this year. And they at least appear to have learned from their mistakes by announcing Anaheim as the location for the 2017 World Championship.

People might not be thrilled with another California city, but the it’s far more equipped to accommodate the large crowds Pokémon is sure to draw. Hopefully, everything will go off without a hitch next year.

There’s a weird lack of synergy between TPCI and Game Freak

Masuda

 

This is more of a nitpick than anything, but it’s still worth mentioning. The Pokémon Company and actual game developer, Game Freak, have never been the best at working together. More often than not, the consequences of this manifest in the games themselves. TPCI is constantly working to improve the competitive scene, but Game Freak seems more interested in their casual player-base.

That being said, things seem different with Sun & Moon. There have been more competitive abilities and typings than ever, and it seems like many of the game’s problems are being addressed directly. On top of that, Game Freak and the Pokémon Company have been showering their fans with news and announcements at an astounding rate.

That being said, you’d think that both parties would be interested in using the largest event their personal brand has to advertise their game. After all, nowhere else in the world can boast as many dedicated Pokémon fans in a single place. People expected some big news.

But, when the time for announcements came, there was hardly anything. Game Freak founder Junichi Masuda walked up on stage announced GX cards for the trading card game and Crabrawler for the video game. And, like, that’s cool and all. But that’s it? No word on mega Pokémon? No more details on the story? Not even more than a single Pokémon? Hell, they didn’t even show the longest trailer released that day. At the same time the Crabrawler trailer went up, TPCI also released a longer trailer that showed off three additional Pokémon revealed in CoroCoro magazine.

Either way, it boils down to a wasted opportunity and a lot of disappointed fans. It’s not anything that could have ruined the event, but making a bigger announcement certainly could have made it more memorable.

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