Hi, VGC scene! My name is Kevin “monk” Dong and I’ve been a member of the general eSports community for about 3-4 years, working in multiple capacities throughout this time including Writer, Editor, Player, Coach, Commentator, Translator, Website Admin, Player Manager, and Tournament Organizer. It’s a lot of hats, but I would say it’s fairly typical of an eSports career for someone who started when I did, back when “first generation eSports” were in their infancy. As of now, my role can best be summed up as a Project Manager for Team Liquid, meaning I mostly manage accounts for the prominent eSports team, with a focus on running tournaments and leagues, especially for StarCraft and Hearthstone.
Over the past year or so, I’ve become more and more interested in VGC and I feel I’m in a position to add something of value to the scene. Some of you may know me from my previous blog entry on NB before its unfortunate demise last month titled “On Entry Fees and eSports” in which I talked about how entry fees work in the general eSports scene. Since then, I’ve been searching for a place to air my thoughts and take on hot topics in VGC and I’m glad I’ve finally found a sounding board. Though I will insert my own opinion in this and future articles, I will also do my best to always express the general consensus of the eSports community at large.
Pokémon as an eSport
One of the most common questions I get asked by VGC players is “What does Pokémon need to do to rise to the level of an eSport?” When I first began researching the scene, some of the more obvious issues initially popped up:
- Viewership is a huge issue, especially when teams have to make economic decisions based on selling their brand to sponsors. That being said, plenty of teams, both big and small, have teams involving games that aren’t as popular.
- The game has too many RNG elements. Fortunately, however, Hearthstone exists, which proves that an eSport doesn’t have to be 100% skill-based.
- The general eSports community does not understand Pokémon as a competitive game. Many people in the scene grew up playing RBY and only understand the single-player aspect of the game. There’s generally low awareness of competitive VGC, which is related to low viewership.
- Teams are worried about diluting their brands with a more casual game. This is highly related to issue #3.
These were the initial four issues I identified. However, as I became more familiar with the community and tried to play some games, it became apparent to me that another less obvious issue that seems to permeate the scene.
- There are currently too many barriers to entry into the scene and in my opinion, the trajectory for growth currently looks grim.
Barriers to Growth
First, let’s get all the obvious barriers out of the way. Memorizing Pokémon, movesets, stats, etc… is a lot of work, but arguably not more than that of other eSports. Breeding/Soft Resetting is extremely tedious and “cheating” is almost encouraged, but this isn’t something that the community can really control at this point.
Something that the community can control, however, is the lack of organised information about the game. In every eSport, there is an abundance of information that can be found online in the form of constant guides and content. Perhaps most importantly, however, is eSports Wikipedias. Now, I know Bulbapedia and Serebii exists, but there is currently nowhere to find a one-stop shop for basic information about VGC Pokémon. As a newer player, I found it incredibly difficult to find basic information about movesets, Pokémon counters, and the metagame. Something such as Smogon analyses for the top 50 viable Pokémon in VGC would go a long way. I understand that there are many YouTubers who do frequent guides on their channels, but I find these guides far less effective.
- They get outdated much faster than text guides as it’s impossible to edit them.
- They serve as poor reference material when you just want to look something up.
- They’re generally not as organised or complete as I would like.
- They’re not linked from a central resource and thus much more difficult to find.
The Importance of Information
The topic of guides and team reports has also come up recently, specifically with regards to paid/free reports. My position on this issue is that while I’m all for players being paid for guides as it’s very common in eSports, I think the scene in its current condition needs a baseline of free reports. When I watch other eSports, I always want to emulate what the pros are doing and I often get inspired to play based on the new strategies I see in tournaments. Often this is very easy without any outside assistance, but other times, you’ll need replays or decklists. Fortunately, in other scenes, releasing replays isn’t uncommon and in Hearthstone, releasing decklists is completely standard. In VGC, tournaments only release the Pokémon players used and not EVs, natures, or moves. And although I understand the arguments for not releasing this information, I know I personally play less because I don’t have many championship teams to try out.
In addition to the lack of guides, the lack of any meaningful forums is another huge glaring issue for the scene. Most other eSports either use major fansite forums or Reddit as their primary method of public communication. And while Smogon forums do exist, they’re hardly ideal for sharing information and discussion due to their general inactivity. As a newer player, I felt at a dead-end when I had questions about the game and the lack of forums only perpetuated my belief that the scene wasn’t very active.
On a side note, the lack of forums is a huge detriment to any discussion about controversial topics in the scene. Currently, all arguments about VGC happen on Twitter, a platform that limits responses to 140 characters. This is, frankly, a joke. It’s impossible to clearly communicate ideas with such a limitation when you could literally write entire articles about them. In addition, it gives popular players an even greater voice than they would have in other scenes because conversations typically go:
- Popular player states an opinion on Twitter.
- It’s too difficult to refute this opinion with at 140 character limit.
- All of the players’ followers agree with him, so the perception is that the entire scene agrees with him.
Not only that, but an average person in the community basically has no way of bringing up issues or topics of discussion to the community at large. In contrast, well-thought out posts by no-name players can easily rise to #1 on Reddit on other eSports communities.
Next, I want to talk about the state of Pokémon broadcasts. The biggest issue is that these events are extremely poorly advertised. As an outsider, in order to find out about an event/stream, I basically have to rely on checking the Twitters of popular VGC players. This requires me to:
- Have a Twitter.
- Follow popular VGC players.
- Check Twitter during these times.
There’s also a host of other minor issues that plague the streams, though a lot of these are not under the community’s control.
- No chat enabled. I kind of understand why this is done, but for those of your familiar with Twitch, Twitch chat is almost half the fun of Twitch.
- Long delays between matches. This is related to the Swiss system, but it’s overall a horrible viewer experience and especially deters newer viewers.
- Commentators: This is something every eSports struggles with at the beginning, but there needs to be a higher standard for commentators that can communicate interesting aspects about the game well.
After we’ve identified all these issues, however, the next logical question is how the community can help solve these problems. I believe the single most important next step for the growth of VGC is a centralised hub for the community to gather around, a site with the following features:
- Articles: Strategy, Team Reports, Editorials, Tournament Previews and Recaps
- Smogon-type analyses of all the viable Pokémon in VGC
- Links to all the content that can be found online elsewhere such as youtube channels.
- An active forum for discussion that even the most popular players can use.
- Links to Twitch streamers currently broadcasting Pokémon VGC
- Calendar of upcoming events
I’ll end off with an example of such a site, teamliquid.net. Team Liquid started off as the hub of StarCraft I and remained a focal point when StarCraft II, the first modern eSports, came around. It has all the resources that the community could want and has adapted throughout the years to fulfil the needs of its community. Through its success, the Team Liquid brand has expanded to become one of the most prominent eSports teams in the world, but that’s another story altogether.
What are your thoughts on the opinions in this article? Let us know if you agree or disagree, and why that is the case in the comments section below.