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Having friends could be the new hacking in competitive Pokemon

pokemon world championship 2023

Much controversy surrounded the ejection of numerous pro players from the 2023 Pokemon World Championship due to the use of hacked Pokemon. Now, some of those who were ejected are claiming to have found an even bigger advantage: friends and networking.

The power of friendship might sound like something pulled from Saturday morning cartoons, but in the case of Pokemon, it’s real in practice. The unique structure of the competitive Pokemon scene makes it much easier to be competitive while working as part of a team, despite the game’s top tournaments being individual competitions. And those benefits are only going to be leaned into more heavily as hacking is further cracked down on.

VGC Corner’s Brady Smith was among the players booted for hacking at last year’s Pokemon World Championship. He spoke with gameland.gg about what it’s been like for him since being kicked from the event, The Pokemon Company’s continued efforts to combat hacking, and how “hacked” Pokemon don’t seem to offer nearly as much benefit as collaboration with friends and even fellow competitors.

Will teams, networks, and friends be required for competitive Pokemon moving forward?

Having a network of friends or a team of allies may already be required for competitive Pokemon, and the reason is simple.

Pokemon is unique in that hacking doesn’t actually confer a direct competitive advantage; it just makes it easier to field the team of Pokemon with which players will compete. But what if there was an even better way to find the ideal Pokemon prior to tournament play?

“In terms of getting Pokemon in-game, my eyes became opened to how OP it is to have friends. Now [getting the right Pokemon] will no longer be an issue,” Smith said.

While cheating in a game like Counter-Strike irrevocably tips the scales, and games like Apex Legends have hacking issues so profound that one person can derail an entire tournament as it happens, that’s not the case with Pokemon. Hacking here is more about saving time before a competition, not bettering your opponents in the game.

Advancing a game’s story to catch legendary Pokemon, breeding optimal non-legendary Pokemon, grinding for money, and farming items for TMs all take inordinate amounts of time. In Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, it can take dozens of hours to build one competitive team, and this needs to be repeated multiple times per season, with each season lasting just a few months.

Distributing this labor among a group of friends or fellow competitors makes things considerably more manageable. This is especially the case for players looking to grind their way to the World Championship, a process that requires competitors to pay out-of-pocket as they travel around the world to tournaments.

“If you know a guy who knows a guy, it’s so easy to get so much done for you. I do not need to breed my Pokemon, I do not always need to pay for hotels because I know someone from every state, I have friends who tell me what the meta is like at the moment,” Smith said. “There are lots of perks to having a good network.”

Smith isn’t alone in taking this approach. Multiple pro Pokemon players discussed this process of working directly with other competitors on building teams for 2023 Pokemon World Championship, with new groups ideating, creating, and building parties as a unit, then even using those identical teams at the same tournament.

There may be a discussion to be had about whether this constitutes a form of collusion that undermines the competition, and why this is fine when The Pokemon Company is so aggressive in policing which forms of generating Pokemon are acceptable and which are not. Either way, given the openness with which players discuss it, The Pokemon Company doesn’t seem to have any concerns for now.

Naturally, there are other benefits to cultivating these networks, such as cutting expenses like room and board while traveling to events. And who doesn’t want a few more like-minded friends, even if some of those friends might soon be working against you in a tournament setting while trying to cut into your chances of making the World Championship?

Pokemon cracks down on hacking, but future remains unclear

Since the 2023 Pokemon World Championship, the new and apparently more effective method of detecting hacks has reportedly become the standard at all official events. Alongside this is a protocol requiring players to upload the rental codes for their teams, effectively making a carbon copy of their team available for future testing as well.

When Smith spoke with gameland.gg about being ejected from the Pokemon World Championship, there was a degree of defiance in his tone. He cited the inordinate amount of time that competitive Pokemon requires of pro players, the negative impact the grind has on those players, and the unnecessary hurdle it represents for those who are interested in potentially transitioning into competition.

While social media users often love nothing more than a good comeuppance, the reaction to what Brady said was generally positive. Fans of the game discussed their own experiences with trying to get into competing and eventually giving up due to the sheer time investment that breeding, training, and stat calculating requires.

Despite all that was said then and has been said since, Smith feels differently six months removed from the event.

“In retrospect, I deserved [being banned]. I did hack my Pokemon,” Smith said. “It opened a lot of positive doors, however. Now, I have a network of players who help me get my Pokemon the ‘proper’ way.”

Smith does believe that the difficulties that inspired widespread hacking in pro Pokemon still remain and haven’t been adequately addressed by The Pokemon Company. There’s also no sign of increasing accessibility to the competitive Pokemon scene, even after the Indigo Disk DLC seemed positioned to do so.

“The barrier to get [competitively viable Pokemon] is still too high, in my opinion. I think the games should separate casual from competitive. Casual players want to ‘catch ‘em all’ [the traditional way], while competitive players just want to prove themselves through battle. Different agendas entirely,” Smith said.

Those “conflicting interests,” as Smith puts it, could be handled by some external mechanism. While the dream for players across multiple decades now has been an ability to freely alter a Pokemon’s stats within the legal in-game framework, Smith reiterated the call for some alternative option that would simply allow competitive players to enjoy the multiplayer aspect of the game without the need to go through a single-player grind.

Smith has previously called for something akin to Pokemon Battle Revolution, but also presented the idea of some sort of subscription service. This would potentially give The Pokemon Company a financial incentive to institute the change, which it seems they will need given their inaction on this front to date.

Brady Smith grinds toward 2024 Pokemon World Championship

Smith was planning to take it easy for most of the new season, competing in online events and at nearby official tournaments without doing the travel-heavy grind that is required to make it to the Pokemon World Championship. But after his recent epiphany and with a new set of allies at his side, things have changed.

“I’m full throttle back in. I also am full-time coaching others on getting into the game. I help players qualify for the World Championships. I’ve done it a few times and now I’m helping others,” Smith said. “In a way, [getting caught hacking] ended up being a blessing.”

While his future in the game was uncertain six months ago, Brady is once again setting his sights on the top spot.

After winning the Florida VGC Orlando Premier Challenge, he’s already within striking distance of qualifying for the 2024 Pokemon World Championship. There’s still a long road ahead and a limited number of events to compete in, but he’s looking to take home his first world championship.

“Winning Worlds is my goal. Winning for me [would be] just years of practice finally paying off,” Smith said. “Winning to me is eventually going to happen so long as I don’t give up.”

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Written by Steven Rondina

Steven Rondina has been playing video games since he was a toddler and appreciates every genre out there. He has earned the platinum trophy in every Soulsborne game, is regularly Master Ball-ranked on the competitive Pokemon ladder, and has spent thousands of hours missing shots on Dust 2. His work has previously been featured by Bleacher Report and The Washington Post, and he was an Assistant Editor at WIN.gg. You can follow him on Twitter / X at @srondina.

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