If I asked you what an “EV” is in Pokémon, you might assume I was talking about the lovable little fox creature that evolves into a myriad different forms. But if you’re a competitive Pokémon player, you know exactly what those two letters mean—effort values. These values are increased by battling different kinds of Pokémon and give monsters a valuable edge, but the games won’t show them to you in any menu. And they’re just one of the hidden, deeper mechanics in the series that go beyond the well-known rock-paper-scissors of type matchups and factor into the complex world of competitive Pokémon battling.
Competitive Pokémon is getting more traction today thanks to Game Freak’s decisions to slightly lift the curtain on EVs and other hidden stats to put them in reach or more players, and The Pokémon Company’s push to publicize tournaments. However, the scene has been around far before the series went online. Players have been delving into delving into Pokémon’s deep mechanics and pitting the toughest pocket monsters against one another for years.
A Battle Community
The largest community that has fostered this unique competitive scene is Smogon University, usually known simply as Smogon. Originally founded in 2004—shortly after the release of Pokémon Emerald—and taking its moniker from the German name for the Pokémon Koffing, Smogon eventually grew to be the largest and most comprehensive competitive community. It wasn’t the first—there were communities for high-end Pokémon play around since Red and Blue, with Azure Heights being one of the larger ones for the first generation of Pokémon games. Eventually, though, Smogon brought many of these smaller communities together. Previously scattered around other websites, internet forums, and more, players finally had a place to call home.
Nowadays, Smogon is the place to go to if you’re serious about competitive Pokémon. The community has the most comprehensive, frequently-updated tier list, in an effort to make battles balanced and fun. Think legendary Pokémon are overpowered? Actually, many of them aren’t all that strong in competitive play. This fact and other concepts like “sweeping”, “pseuohazing”, and “toxic spikes sandstorm” can be overwhelming for any new player getting into the Pokémon metagame—the complex interactions that develop in any competitive game—but after the initial shock, there are reams of useful information to pore over, including comprehensive info on Game Freak’s own Pokémon Video Game Championship (VGC) formats.
For the Smogon community, Pokémon are separated into six different tiers, and while this may seem excessive, considering that there are 807 pocket monsters as of the current generation—not including Mega Evolutions, Alolan forms, and so on—the breakdown is necessary to ensure that all Pokémon are usable in at least one tier, including unevolved monsters. The lower tiers allow weaker Pokémon to be used without getting curb stomped by overpowered teams, encouraging different team makeups and strategies. This sort of in-depth analysis and complicated tier discussion is largely missing from the official Pokémon VGC formats, which just ban some legendaries and call it a day.
The community is always open to new players too, with an entire subforum dedicated to tutoring them on competitive Pokémon and the specific, more interesting formats. There’s also a subforum dedicated to rating players’ teams where they can get valuable advice on what’s good and what needs work. Of course, these discussions can contain a ton of competitive lingo, but sharing your teams and learning more about team synergy with other users helps players grow in ways that they couldn’t alone.
This sense of community is great. However, with everyone spread across the globe, it made actually playing competitive Pokémon together difficult. The games didn’t get online capabilities until the fourth generation in 2006, and even then the online functionality was barebones and sometimes difficult to use until Pokémon X and Y. Back in 2004, this niche community wanted to play with their fellow teammates and competitors, and thankfully, Smogon had the answer.
Battling in a Simulation
If you’ve looked into the Pokémon metagame before, you’ve probably heard of Pokémon Showdown. The service is a battle simulator where you can fine-tune your Pokémon teams and battle other players in your browser, without a need for the physical games or jumping through the in-game hurdles of breeding your Pokémon and going online—an incredibly time-consuming and complex process. In contrast, building a team on Showdown can be done in minutes, and you can even jump right into a random battle where the program generates balanced teams for you and your opponent. (Ed: This is incredibly addictive, be forewarned.)
While Pokémon Showdown wasn’t created specifically for Smogon’s community, one of Smogon’s administrators created the simulator, which certainly helped in binding the community with Showdown. In 2012 Smogon officially adopted Pokémon Showdown as their go-to simulator. Today, with typically over 10,000 players online at any given time, it’s the most popular competitive Pokémon tool in the world.
The Smogon community also contributes to the general Pokémon fandom beyond tier lists and tournaments that the more casual fan may not be interested in. For instance, Pokémon X and Y, released in 2013, were the first games in the series to be presented in 3D. However, there’s a certain charm to the sprites of the previous generations, and fans thought it a shame that the new Pokémon wouldn’t have them. And so, Smogon launched the XY Sprite Project, which aimed to get front and back sprites for every Generation VI Pokémon—and eventually animations, ala Black and White 2. This project was continued for Sun and Moon, and these sprites are now used by multiple other communities. Pokémon Showdown even has the ability to use the sprites or the 3D models, allowing players to choose the style they like most while battling.
Smogon users are also the ones that discovered the Masuda method, a set of calculations added in Generation IV games and onward that increase the chance of hatching Shiny Pokémon. While the method wasn’t completely unknown beforehand, it took players diving into the game’s code to fully understand how breeding Pokémon from different countries changed the rate of obtaining a Shiny Pokémon, and this knowledge helps even casual players in their quest to get their favorite Shinies.
The world of competitive Pokémon can be foreign and overwhelming, but Smogon is there to make navigating the complex mechanics of this RPG series easier—the community was welcoming new players and veterans long alike before Game Freak themselves took note of this new way to play Pokémon. If getting into the metagame and learning the true ins and outs of Pokémon is your goal, then Smogon’s wealth of information and knowledgeable community members should be your first stop.