After what felt like both forever and too soon, the very first European International Championships kicked off the new Video Game Championship season in earnest. More than 500 masters, and hundreds more in other age divisions, gathered in the ExCel Exhibition Center to put their teams to the test.
Stretched across three days, the tournament was a wild ride for many reasons. Players themselves are probably still coming to grips with the full depth of the event’s lessons, but a few things were immediately obvious in this event’s aftermath.
This is far from last year’s format
The Pokémon VGC 2016 format was notorious for its lack of diversity. The inclusion of restricted Pokémon and Mega Evolutions meant teams conformed to a very rigid structure that didn’t change a whole much throughout the year. And, while it’s definitely too early to say the 2017 format won’t end up more centralized, teams were far more different than each other when compared to last season.
Just looking at the teams that made day two, players used 43 different Pokémon. Last season, between the Top-8 players at all five US Winter regionals, players only used 42 mons. Speaking of top-cut, while there were some similarities among teams, there were also many differences. In fact, Porygon2 was the most common Pokémon across the board, with five players using it. Outside of that, only a few mons (Tapu Koko, Tapu Lele, Kartana and Marowak) were used on three different teams, each.
There was also plenty of creativity on display. In particular, World Champion Wolfe Glick and 2015 German Nationals Finalist Tobias Koschitzki ran a similar team with multiple interesting sets. Encore, Perish Song Politoed and Magnet Pull Magnezone were two of the biggest standouts, and their Leech Seed Tapu Bulu stood out from many others.
While there are other instances of unique and interesting ideas, these examples illustrate that players’ imaginations won’t be confined in this format. Creativity should never come at the cost of a solid team that is constructed with the current metagame in mind, but it seems far easier to have your cake and eat it too this year.
Bulky beating hyper offensive
At the beginning of most VGC formats, players tend to run hyper-offensive teams until everyone starts adjusting for the relevant calculations. However, whether it’s because players were more prepared or because the format is different than normal, that didn’t seem to be the case in Europe. Granted, there were successful hyper offensive teams that could wrap up a game in a few turns. However, the final games were much more like a chess match than the shoot-out many players may have expected.
Celesteela had already hinted before European Internationals began that bulky Pokémon would do well during 2017, but many others joined its ranks this past weekend. Porygon2, Gastrodon and bulky Arcanine, for example, were all particularly difficult Pokémon to knock out. Rampant intimidate, snarl, Assault Vests and type immunities slowed things down further.
Players didn’t sacrifice all their raw power for bulk, though. Many turned to the new Z-moves to get their OKHOs. The difference between this season and previous seasons, however, is that Z-crystals could be held by Pokémon with little offensive investment and still let them do massive damage. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how the metagame’s pace develops as players optimize their EV spreads even further. Will games slow down even more, or is this just a phase?
Players will use new timer rules to win
A consequence of the new format’s more methodical pace is that games take longer. Since games take longer, many matches will end up decided by the new timer rules. This happened in the finals between Miguel Marti de La Torre and Nico Davide Cognetta. During game two, when de La Torre realized his loss was inevitable, he continued playing instead of immediately forfeiting.
As a result, the 50-minute round timer expired in the middle of game three. This put more pressure on Cognetta, who was behind on total HP, to take a Pokémon and end the last three turns with an advantage. However, de La Torre was able to maintain his Pokémon lead and clinched the title. After the match was over, many players wondered whether Cognetta might have been able to position himself favorably enough to win game three if he’d had a bit more time to play.
Outside the finals, word on Twitter implied that Sudden Death was handled properly and in a way that didn’t hold up the rest of the tournament. Players also didn’t make as much noise about it as they did in the weeks leading up to the European Internationals.
Spain owns the UK
Before moving too far from the finals, though, it’s important to note what de La Torre’s victory signifies for Europe. His win means that Spanish players have won the UK Nationals equivalent tournament two years in a row. For those that forgot, Alex Gomez, who finished the European Internationals in 16th, was last year’s winner. In addition to that, 10 total players from Spain made it to day two, which is second in number only to the Italian players’ 11.
Either way, the finishes make for an interesting story line for next year. Will Spain go for the hat-trick, or will Italy go the distance? Perhaps someone from the UK will reclaim the title for their country, or an invasive American might steal it away. Germany had a rather strong showing, too, despite some unfortunate circumstances befalling one of their best players.
Lingering dissatisfaction despite fun
8-1 to 9-5 thanks pokemon
— Markus Stadter (@13Yoshi37) December 10, 2016
Many players said the event ran smoothly and was a great deal of fun, but there were a few dark clouds casting a minor shadow over the weekend. One aspect in particular lit up VGC Twitter at the end of day one. A handful of players who made it to day two apparently filled out their team sheets incorrectly, incurring punishments that many players viewed to be unnecessarily harsh despite being in the official rules.
What made it worse was that three of the Worlds 2016 Top-4 were affected: Markus Stadter, Eduardo Cunha and Jonathan Evans. In addition to handful of others, they were punished with a round one loss and forced to leave the Pokémon they misrepresented on their team-sheet behind for the entirety of day two. This effectively crippled their teams and their chances to win the tournament. All three players had shown great promise in the day before. Players were also allegedly told team sheets would only be used for the sake of commentators, frustrating them further when they found out that wasn’t the case.
In addition to that, some players also voiced their dissatisfaction with the differences in top-cut structure between US Nationals/Worlds and European Internationals. This weekend, top-cut was limited to merely eight players. At US Nationals/Worlds, players who finished day two with a certain record were all given an opportunity to battle their way into the top eight. If this system had been used for the European Internationals, and all players with an x-3 or better record got a chance to play in the elimination bracket, six additional competitors would have had a shot at the title.
Finally, despite many players professing that they enjoyed playing in Europe, some notable members of the community claimed they either disliked the circuit’s structure or would flat out not participate for the rest of the season. Alexander Kuhn (HibikiVGC), Gomez, Stadter and former World Champion Arash Ommati commented on the circuit in a negative way, highlighting the difficulty many Europeans face in getting enough points to qualify for Worlds.
Still, it’s early in the season and a lot is still up in the air. Hopefully the Pokémon Company International will take advantage of its fun and exciting new format to keep their current players around and attract hundreds of new competitors. In the meantime, others will already be looking toward the upcoming regionals and keeping an eye out for the next International Tournament.