Down Under on Top: Lessons Learned from the North American International Championships

The North American International Championships proved this past weekend that it was every bit as important an event as its predecessor, U.S. Nationals. Hundreds of players gathered together from across the globe; to scrap over the last championship points to be had this season and to prove that they deserved the title of best in North America. It was an illuminating tournament for a number of reasons, so let’s take a look at what we learned.

1. Oi oi oi

Only two days before America celebrated its independence, Australians were celebrating how well they stunted on America. Nicholas Kan, Alfredo Chang-Gonzalez and Christopher Kan took home the titles in Juniors, Seniors and Masters divisions respectively – much to the surprise of the community. As one of the newer VGC regions, no one (other than perhaps the Australians) expected such big things from them on the International stage.

Now, while Nicholas has been on a tear in the Juniors division, we all know it’s the Masters everyone cares about. Christopher was certainly running hot, coming off wins at the Auckland and Perth Regional Championships. But let’s be honest – some might say that Christopher’s win, and the sweep in general, came out of nowhere.

Regardless, no one can write off Australia anymore without hearing the word “scoreboard” for at least the next year. They officially have the most International wins in the tournament’s inaugural year. Will that translate to a win at the World Championships in August? The smart money still says no, but it’s obvious their players are hungry for victory and the respect that comes with it.

2. Consistency and curve balls

Meanwhile, what happened to everyone else? Well, despite some underperforming from a few favourites, this season’s good players kept pace. What’s really interesting to see, now that the final International Championship is over, is that the magic number for top-cutting these events is generally two.

Nico Davide Cognetta, Ben Kyriakou, William Tansley, Nils Dunlop, Sebastian Escalante, Nick Navarre and Markus Stadter all proved their consistency by top cutting two Internationals across the course of the season. Only Tommy Cooleen managed to make top cut three times, though a rough day one in North America killed the dream of top cutting every International.

There was a fair amount of consistency lower down in the standings too, granting a potential look at other contenders for Worlds. Players such as Yuree Boschetto, Baris Ackos, Riley Factura and Conan Thompson, whom all have had strong seasons, narrowly missed cut with a 10-4 record.

As for the curve balls, Sean Bannen (with the chops that don’t stop) provided the circuit with its mandatory new-name-with-high-finish. Many even expected him to beat Christopher, though those people must have missed the champ’s set against fellow rain user, Factura.

Also, who expected Michael Lanzano to miss cut? Despite barely having played this format at all, he demonstrated super strong play with a powerful team (which he shared with fellow 10-4 finishers, Conan Thompson and Collin Heier). And after top cutting last year, many assumed a repeat appearance was a forgone conclusion. His eventual loss in the final round of day two Swiss was thus a massive disappointment, considering how awesome it would have been to see him earn his invite.

3. Shades of creativity paint a pretty picture for Worlds

Remember last year when, despite a couple of unusual teams making deep runs at Nats, two standard teams duked it out in the finals? And then, recall how Wolfe Glick flipped the format on its head at Worlds with his championship team? Well, history could be repeating itself.

While the finals of the North American International Championships was fought between two teams that shared four Pokémon (Tapu Koko, Arcanine, Garchomp and Snorlax), there were some pretty different takes on the metagame throughout the weekend. Stadter demonstrated that the Nihilego, Tapu Bulu and Arcanine core’s success at Japanese Nationals wasn’t a fluke, and Navarre proved that Chansey is potentially as scary as we thought it was at the beginning of the season. Rajan Bal and Alvin Hidayat, meanwhile, brought familiar faces while mixing up their moves in a way that many expected could win the tournament.

Other players made fewer but equally unexpected adjustments, showing that the there is likely to be another explosion of creativity in store for Worlds. It’s impossible to tell who will come up with the play of plays, but don’t be shocked to see some wild ideas hit the field in August.

4. A kingdom for my Koko

That being said, it’s hard to imagine a team winning anything without Tapu Koko these days. While many players have felt that Arcanine is the best Pokémon in the format, it seems clear that the honour may have always belonged to Koko. It barely edged out its frequent teammate by 2.8 percent usage, and it made a massive impact on many games.

What’s potentially most interesting is that, while positioning is still Koko’s Forte, an uptick of Electrium-Z use showed that going for damage is just as viable. Many a mon were melted by a Gigavolt Havoc, and much of the final match between Paul Chua and Christopher Kan came down to who got the proper use of the Z-attack. This will likely have ramifications for its fellow Alolan guardians, as neither Tapu Fini nor Tapu Lele wants to play with Z-Koko. The former could be especially vulnerable, as an increase in Toxic usage could see a surge in Tapu Fini just waiting to get roasted.

5. Missed invites

Of course, it wouldn’t be the final event of the regular season without paying respects to those competitors whose dreams were dashed this weekend. Players such as Kimo Nishimura, Hayden McTavish, Raghav Malaviya, Leonard Craft III, Grant Weldon and Diana Bros all fell short of getting their invite. Players such as Blake Hopper, Enosh Shachar and Baz Anderson weren’t in attendance to attempt. And though some have traditionally made a bigger impact at the World Championships than others, the absence of all of them will likely be felt during the tournament.

But now that the final International of the season is in the books, it’s time for VGC to enter a period of brief hibernation (unless you’re playing in Liverpool or something). As those with invites return to the lab and those without them decide whether it’s worth it to attend the Anaheim Open, it should be a fairly quiet July for Pokémon. Be sure to use the break to recharge your batteries and get hyped for the culmination of the 2017 season at the end of August.