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While the general population of Australia cast their vote for a perceived lesser of two evils, a contest of a completely different nature (but max IVs and EVs of course) was being played out at the 2016 Australia and New Zealand Pokemon Video Game National Championships to determine who could claim to be the best like no one ever was.

Run annually, the Australia and New Zealand Pokemon Video Game National Championships is the pinnacle of the local official Pokemon video game competitive season. Players from across both countries bring their Nintendo DS and best party of 6 Pokemon to battle it out for the title of National Champion, a sweet trophy, and highly coveted championship points. If players are able to earn enough championship points across the season to reach the designated points threshold for their age division (the three divisions are Juniors- for players aged 12 and under, Seniors- ages 13 to 15, and Masters- ages 16 and over), they will earn an invitation to the prestigious Pokemon Video Game World Championships held in San Francisco later this year. While anyone can attend and play at the Australian and New Zealand National Championships, this is the last chance to earn championship points before the world championships, so competition is fierce (sorry Youngster Joey but your rattata may not cut it).

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Over the first weekend of July this year, 266 Masters Division Pokemon trainers descended on the Melbourne Park Function Centre in Melbourne, Victoria to compete in the 2 gruelling days of Pokemon battling that comprised the Australian and New Zealand National Championships. Day 1 involved players competing in 7 timed best of 3 swiss rounds. The final 2 swiss rounds being concluded on day 2, followed by a top 16 cut and best of 3 single elimination rounds until a winner was crowned. Only players who were able to win 7 of their 9 swiss rounds had a chance to make the top 16 cut.

“Seven wins? Too easy. I beat the elite four with a single Charizard,” you say? Well, before you spin your baseball cap backwards, don your blue vest and tell your rival what to shove where, it is important to understand that there is a significant difference between casual and competitive Pokemon battling. “The transition between playing the game through the story line and learning to play competitively is a huge step,” says Wollongong’s Josh Matos, who placed in the top 4 of the Masters Division at this year’s National Championships. “I’d been playing Pokemon since I was a kid but I wasn’t aware of the competitive scene until my friend, Daniel Walker, introduced me last year. Daniel first had to teach me all about EVs, IVs and the finer mechanics of the game before helping with team building and match practice.”

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The winner of each division earned a trophy, a NintendoDS and a Pokemon amiibo!

To succeed in competitive Pokemon battles, players must have a deep understanding of battle mechanics, Pokemon match-ups, stats, and have the ability to correctly predict their opponent’s next move. Team building, however, can be a little more paint-by-numbers. While most casual Pokemon players can use their favourite 6 Pokemon to complete the in-game story, there are a limited number of Pokemon considered to be strong and balanced enough to compete in competitive play. In the current meta-game, Salamence, Xerneas, Kangaskhan, Groudon, Smeargle and Talonflame are generally considered to be the “Big 6”- largely due to their high stats, synergy, and ability to counter opposing Pokemon- and any trainer worth their shoal salt has to know how to play with and against them.

“I prepare for events by pouring hours of time in to Pokemon showdown. I play most nights and spend hours on Skype talking about potential strategies with friends. The team I took to Nationals was the one I was playing with most of the season. I felt comfortable with it and knew my way around most match ups.” This method of preparation worked well for Matos, who was narrowly defeated by the eventual winner, Phil ‘Boomguy’ Nguyen in his top 4 match. For his part, Nguyen’s outstanding performance at Nationals and consistent performances across the season earned him enough championship points to earn 10th spot in the Asia Pacific region, narrowly missing out on a top 8 paid invitation to represent Australia at the Pokemon Video Game World Championships in San Francisco later this year.

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Phil ‘Boomguy’ Nguyen being lifted by friends after winning the National Championship in the Masters division.

However, despite the serious nature of battling at the top tables, one player decided to ignore the memo about the “Big 6.” Melbourne’s Nicholas Bingham, who finished in the top 16 at the National Championships last year, was hoping to improve on his performance by bringing a team that included… Magikarp. “I brought Magikarp because I said I would bring it to Nationals if I received 100 likes or more on a Facebook post,” he explains. “The post quickly received over 400 likes, so… of course I stuck to my word.”

And it’s not as though Magikarp waited in the wings. “I actually brought Magikarp to two games and I won both those games. It really is a disadvantage not having that viable sixth option but I really made sure that all the other Pokemon could cover for the Pokemon I cut from my team. Aside from Magikarp, I brought the big 6 core. Talonflame is mostly used for priority and tailwind so I was able to put tailwind on the Salamence, remove Talonflame and put Magikarp in that spot.” Ultimately, bringing Magikarp seemed to be a good luck charm for Bingham, as he finished with a personal best Top 8 place. Maybe that Magikarp salesman was on to something…

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Nicholas Bingham (left) fights for a spot in the top 8 of the Masters division.

Of the 266 trainers in the Masters division, most did not attend the event expecting to do as well as Bingham, Matos or Nguyen, rather they were there for the experience. And what an experience Nintendo, and the player base, delivered. Battle music being pumped out of speakers and matches broadcast on two large projector screens on the main play floor generated a significant amount of hype and an immersive atmosphere. Further, there were quizzes between rounds, art competitions, and a shiny Machamp being distributed over mystery gift. There was also a live stream of the event hosted by competitive VGC players Jessie Wilsone and Matthew Roe, and being broadcast over twitch tv by New Game Plus.

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Matthew Roe (left) and Jessie Wilsone (Right) hosting the Pokemon VGC live stream.

The Australian and New Zealand National Championships marks the end of official local competitive play for 2016, however there are a number of community-based tournaments and leagues running across Australia and online.

Matos notes that becoming involved with these tournaments and leagues wold be a good way to prepare for the beginning of the official competitive season in September.  “My advice to people trying to get into the Pokemon VGC would be to try to talk to people that already play. Whether it be talking to friends you already know who play or on online forums like nugget bridge or Pokemon showdown,” he explains. “The best way to learn and improve is by interacting with experienced competitors.”

To that end, interested trainers of all ages should check out Facebook pages PokeAus and PokeMelbourne, as well as the website ExpGaming.

Trainers interested in competing in the official competitive season can find information here.

Ellis Longhurst

Ellis Longhurst

Staff Writer at GameCloud
When not patting cats, eating excessive amounts of fruit, and failing the Battlefield 4 tutorial, Ellis spends most of her time cycling around the inner west of Sydney and blatantly disregarding Professor Oak’s words of advice. Oh, and writing... Ellis is GC's eastern states correspondent!
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