A Case for the 2018 Circuit

Written by Justin Carris

The Pokémon Company International recently announced the structure for the next season, which was received differently throughout the community for a number of reasons. In my opinion, it’s a solid but flawed circuit that offers competitors two completely different paths to take. But before we dive into why I feel that way, it’s important to contrast it with the problems we’ve faced this season.

A 2017 retrospective

The 2017 season faced many problems in terms of the circuit’s structure. The first problem, and arguably the main root of almost all the circuit’s problems, was the timing of the first International Championships. With the event in December, so soon after the release of Pokémon Sun & Moon, players had almost no time to adapt to the new format before the entire trajectory of their season would be decided.

On top of this, the 2016 season’s top CP-earners from each rating zone received travel awards to the event, giving them a head start for last season’s achievements. This isn’t wrong in theory, but no one knew that this was a benefit to having a good 2016 season. As a result of that, no one was incentivized to keep pushing for more CP, even if Day Two was out of reach.

Then there is the issue of snowballing (using the larger payout of International CP to keep earning travel awards to subsequent Internationals) that this event created. Of course, no one knew that this would be an actual issue, though some players had a hunch.

Either way, some players went to this event as a testing ground for a wide-open meta, but risked a significant amount of money on the chance that a good performance would turn into more opportunities in the future. And, as we all know, that gamble paid off.

People who were unaware or skeptical of the potential for snowballing didn’t fly out to London and were forced to play catch-up for the rest of the season. And, unless you destroyed a regional and did significantly well at a second one (a la Nick Navarre, Gavin Michaels, Paul Chua and Drew Nowak), it was very difficult to get back into range of a travel award for future Internationals or a chance at Day Two of the World Championships.

Also, success in London meant an extra CP boost for many players that could not feasibly be matched by anyone without a travel award to the next International, in Australia. Since the cost of flying to Melbourne and the time investment it required were excessive for many players when compared to the risk of a mediocre performance, it was easy to stay ahead even if you were on the outside of the travel award cutoff.

Then there is the fact that several European players didn’t have a reason to compete once they failed to gain meaningful CP at the first International, which is a disastrous fault of this circuit. When combined with the fact that Regional announcements happened late, it was hard for anyone to know whether they’d have a chance to really grind out the gap between them and players who started the season with early success. Plus, since the qualification bar was dropped for many regions late in the season, skipping events because of a bad performance in London put some people on the wrong side of an otherwise achievable Day One invitation.

The rest of the world had issues with their circuits throughout the year, too. Just look at Australia, which didn’t even get a regional until they sacrificed a horde of Kangaskhan. Even then, they happened with such short notice that attendance was abysmal.

However, looking at 2017, most of these problems stem from a lack of information. If players knew that finishing strong in 2016 would net an advantage for the next year, players would have kept playing after getting their invite. If players knew snowballing would be an issue, almost everyone would have made an effort to play in London. If players knew the bar would be lowered or that there would be regionals in their area, they wouldn’t have quit playing.

There were also issues with regional kickers and local scenes suffered due to the pointlessness of Premier Challenges, but most of the season’s issues were focused around the top.

2018: Knowledge is power

Now, with that out of the way, I want to start with the controversial opinion that TPCI actually made some huge strides forward for the 2018 season.

**gasp**

Most importantly, they addressed what I felt was the root of this season’s problems immediately: the lack of information. We know exactly when and where most of our major events are, which means players who are confident in their ability to secure solid points prior to a travel award deadline can plan out their schedule. Second, with the removal of a best finish limit on regionals, you’re able to make up for a missed Internationals (or lackluster performance) by investing time and money to travel to multiple regionals. Solid performances at five regionals can help you hang with the person who won an International.

Now, I won’t pretend as if this makes things fair, but think of it this way. Players like Tommy Cooleen (whom I love a lot and just happens to serve as a good example) had great International results but mediocre regional seasons. That doesn’t make them bad by any definition of the word, but likely just means they put their prep into different parts of the season than their peers.

But if a similar situation were to happen with other players this year, players can use the unlimited regional BFL to stay in contention for travel awards or a Day Two invite. At the same time, that means players who do well at Internationals can’t rest on their laurels if they want to stay at the top of the standings. It adds a greater sense of urgency for the best players to win more often to stay ahead. If you win on a bigger stage then sure, you have an advantage, but you’re by no means uncatchable if a good player can afford to travel to more than four regionals.

What you have to keep in mind, though, is that none of this planning would be possible if we didn’t know the entire system upfront. This is essentially TPCI saying “Here is how you cash in on this lucrative and life changing system.” Either you go for it all or you have a smaller bar for Day One.

Nick Navarre also serves as excellent proof that it is possible to catch International snowballers, even though he didn’t know the big picture at the beginning of the season. He won a regional, got top 4 at three more, and also got top 8 at two Internationals after London. He was making all of us question how good we really are at Pokémon, and caught up with the snowball gravy train no problem.

Drew Nowak did the same after winning his third regional in two years. The circuit is meant to incentivize investment with the opportunity for a return on that investment. If you don’t think you’re good enough to play in this type of circuit and get a return, play locally and hit up a couple of regionals for your day 1 invite. I think that the new regional payout structure makes it reasonable to compete just for a solid cash reward, regardless of invitation.

Basically, the Day Two life isn’t one where you can attain just by winging a couple events and expecting to make it. You have to keep playing and keep winning, or the players who are winning more than you will take your spot.

Building local scenes

Before I wrap this up though, I think it’s also important to talk about local scenes, starting with Mid-Season Showdowns. I think the addition to their BFL does two things:

  1. It gives players that stick to a goal of Day One the option to keep their season local
  2. It simultaneously motivates fresher faces to attend recurrent local events.

This has the drawback of taxing those in the race for Day Two, as players who are already atop the standings have easy access to a large source of supplementary CP. As a result, everyone who is in the hunt for those top spots will be pressured to attend these local events regardless of whether they actually want to.

Personally, though, I love the motivation to get top players involved with more local events. Why? Because I remember back in my freshman season when the reason I went to tourneys in my local area was to see people like Aaron Zheng and Enosh Shachar, in hopes that I could maybe take a game off them or have an intense set.

At the same time, I also hate attending local events where, as my play has improved, I know that no one presents an insurmountable threat or that there’s only one or two people who I would likely face who I feel will be a challenge in a low attendance circumstance. I understand that the extra need to play in less competitive events isn’t an attractive prospect due to how much else we have going on in our lives. However, if all the top players have to attend just to stay in the race, it makes the events more competitive by nature. I think that is why this decision was made, and I don’t feel as though people are going to be too agitated by this come the end of the season.

Premiere Challenges, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly irrelevant, and this bothers the crap out of me. I think they should have just taken them out of the circuit entirely if we’re going to have 8 Mid-Seasons to fight for.

Times are changing

To start wrapping things up, I want to remind everyone of one fact: that five U.S. players who went to London ended up with a Day Two invite. Granted, Riley didn’t get any CP there so he’s kind of the odd one out, but he did win a regional of his own and top cut others. Ashton won an International. Conan Thompson cut four regionals and made Day Two at two Internationals. Chuppa Cross IV made finals of a regional and only didn’t win because Rain-Deer wasn’t going to betray its true master. Tommy didn’t do well at regionals, but he cut three Internationals (which is so freaking insane that I don’t care what else he did all season).

My point is, despite the fact that many of these players got a jumpstart to their season with London, they’re all among the most accomplished U.S. players in 2017. The only example I can see of one of the best 2017 players not making Day Two of Worlds is Drew. However, he was only one point short and didn’t play in any online competitions. As a result, that one point was very obtainable, and was something he could have easily earned.

Look. I can’t argue with the fact that VGC may be turning into something some players don’t like when it’s compared to the old days. But the thing is, you can’t have players making $10,000 and traveling the world to give it their all at monstrous national events featuring the best players from each region if you try to keep things from changing. So by accepting that some things have to change, I think it’s fair that we at least know how to best take advantage of the system before the new season starts. Use that knowledge to attain your goal, whether it’s Day One of Worlds, Day Two of Worlds, or winning the entire thing.

Of course, this is all just one man’s opinion, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. Feel free to let me know where you disagree and if there are things I may have overlooked. But let’s start a real discussion instead of a string of disjointed tweets that only give us a little bit of room to talk.

P.S.- I do think Twitter is a good way to draw attention to topics still.

  • Great article, Justin. You played really well today, too! Good luck with the rest!