2017 Season Information: Format, Rental Pokemon, Live Competitions, Timer Rules

Hello hat lovers!

We had several big changes announced for the 2017 season, everything from official confirmation of the format, new features, and changes to old systems. Much of this is overwhelmingly positive in my opinion and I’m very glad to see the progression that this game is taking in Sun&Moon to make VGC a greater experience. I will be posting the most important news in regards to VGC and my thoughts on them. I will be leaving some stuff out though that I believe are less important, so to see the entire everything that was announced, be sure to visit http://www.pokemon-sunmoon.com/en-us/new-pokemon-global-link-features/

(also, evolutions for the starters were released. The Rowlet line is still the best)

New Rules for Championship Battles
The new fourth set of rules will allow Trainers to play year-round using the official rules set for the Pokémon World Championships, the competition that’s held every year to decide the world’s strongest Pokémon Trainers. You’ll be able to experience the WCS2017 rules right from the start, beginning on Friday, November 18.

The main points of the Pokémon WCS 2017 rules are:
Double Battle format is limited to Pokémon that appear in the Alola Region Pokédex (excluding some Legendary and Mythical Pokémon).
Use of Mega Stones is not allowed.
Only Pokémon that can be obtained in Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon may be entered.

The inclusion of a year round, VGC exclusive ladder on BattleSpot (or whatever name it will take on in Sun & Moon) is long overdue. In 2014 and 2016, players dealt with the ladder being taken down at points in the season because the game developers wanted the Special ladder to take on different casual and fun formats, and as a result, there was no way to practice VGC on an official ladder. This was especially egregious during the 2016 saeson as the ladder was taken down the month before worlds. Even in 2015 when the VGC format coincided with the Doubles rule set, it wasn’t a perfect platform to practice on due to the difference in timer (45 seconds per turn, 15 minutes per battle in official tournaments, 60 seconds and 30 minutes for Doubles), and the fact that the pentagon rule was lifted for one season on BattleSpot. The difference in interests between the game developers and those who run the official circuit (TPCi) was something I believed set the game back in growth, and now thankfully in Sun & Moon, steps have been taken to address this issue.

The 2017 format being Alola Region exclusive, and the fact that only Pokemon obtained in Sun & Moon will be permitted for use in tournaments, were expected and consistent with trends from previous seasons. Past restricted formats have generally netted negative reviews from players, but it really is too soon to know if this will be the case for Sun & Moon as we do not yet know what Pokemon are available in the Region Dex. Pokemon acquired from previous generations being banned is largely positive, however. This eliminates the use of hacked Pokemon from older gens, as well as outdated events and move tutors that might have been too powerful, such as Hyper Voice.

Max’s Note: 2011’s problem was that it was too restricted which made the available legendary Pokemon and Amoonguss too strong. In 2014 most Pokemon couldn’t deal with the high offensive potential of Mega Pokemon.

The biggest takeaway from these new rules, however, is confirmation that Mega Evolutions will return for Sun & Moon, but be banned from competitive play. Let’s be honest, it was incredibly naive to think they’d be eliminated completely as Pokemon has zero history of eliminating in-game features. While they made for good marketing tools, from a competitive standpoint, many players believe Mega Evolutions were poorly designed due in large part to their overwhelming power. They also made team building fairly restricted, and while they might pose less of a problem if they were fixed in some regards, it was probably easier for everyone if they were simply banned rather than carefully trying to balance each of them but potentially  failing to do that anyway. Overall, this was a positive change, and as someone who only started playing VGC in Gen 6, I’m excited for an official format without Mega Evolutions.

Also, Rotation and Triple Battles will no longer be available to play on Ranked Battles. Does anyone care? No? OK, moving on.

Battle with Other Players’ Pokémon
In Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, you can register Pokémon that you often use in Battle Teams, which can contain anywhere from one to six Pokémon. You can set up a maximum of six Battle Teams, and the same Pokémon can be registered to several Battle Teams simultaneously.

When the Pokémon Global Link is updated for Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, a new feature will be available—QR Rental Teams. Players will be able to publicly share their own teams and to use Battle Teams designed by other players. Public Battle Teams can be used by scanning in their QR Code patterns from the Pokémon Global Link. You can take part in Link Battles and certain Rating Battles using a Battle Team you’ve rented. You may even be able to try battling using the Pokémon of expert players, like the victors of the World Championships!

Even more so than the RNG Reporter and Gen 6 breeding mechanics, rental Pokemon might honestly be the single greatest change made to make competitive Pokemon more inclusive to newer players. One of the biggest barriers to entry for VGC was that there was always a tie in to the in-game aspect of Pokemon, which meant that in order to even start playing competitively, you had to spend long, gruelling hours just getting your Pokemon, which was especially burdensome because you often needed multiple Pokemon to adequately test ideas. Just imagine that if you were a kid playing organised sports for the first time, you were tasked with having to complete mind numbing tasks that didn’t even test your ability to compete just to be able to use proper equipment. As cheesy as it may seem, I do also believe that practising with other people’s teams that have proven to be successful is an effective way to learn the game, as it gives you a good idea of what a good team is built like. Being able to use those teams directly instead of copying from a pastebin is also a great implementation to get players becoming better quickly. Pokemon has continued to take steps in making competitive Pokemon its own entity separate from the casual in-game, and I see nothing but positives with the rental teams feature.

Live Competitions
Live Competitions allow you to host a competition where you gather together with friends and others in the same space. The Digital Player ID that contains the regulations will be created as a QR Code, and by scanning in that QR Code, participants will be able to battle according to the competition’s regulations.

This feature had already been announced, but now we have more details about how it will function. Without an official software available to automatically enforce regulations, local tournaments in Gen 6 had their fair share of nightmares: in 2014, it was often difficult for newer players to know what Pokemon were legal, and this was especially problematic if the tournament organiser had similar issues knowing what Pokemon were in the Kalos Dex. We once had a Premier Challenge run by a TCG judge where a player was able to play a round with Chansey. It was an unfortunate situation for everyone, for the player, who dropped after realising he had accidentally broken the rules, their opponent, who had to learn how to handle Pokemon they never needed to prepare for, and for the judge, who embarrassingly let an honest mistake slip through. And local tournaments in 2016… what a mess. The available software didn’t even have a way to enfore VGC’s “bring four Pokemon” feature, so there were irreversible consequences for accidentally bringing more or fewer than four Pokemon. Then there were mistakes that theoretically could have slipped as well, with it being possible to bring Pokemon with the same item or having more than two restricted Pokemon. In general, having an incredibly difficult-to-enforce turn/game time limits as well as Battle Boxes that weren’t locked made for local tournaments that had their fair share of problems; problems that could very easily be fixed with proper software. We still don’t have a great idea of how much of the game regulations can be customised, but I’m definitely optimistic that it’ll have enough to make local tournaments run far more smoothly than they have the past three seasons. Not as flashy of a feature as some others, but undoubtedly an important one.

“Your Time” System for Rating Battles
A new system being introduced to the battle time settings is “Your Time.” When using this method of time accounting, players will have a maximum of 60 seconds each turn to select a move or Pokémon, and they will also each be awarded 10 minutes of “Your Time.” Under these rules, if a player runs out of their 10 minutes before the battle ends, that player loses the match. This will mean matches can be decided more quickly than in the past, allowing players to enjoy thrilling battles.

Far and away the most controversial change for Sun&Moon. There are multiple layers to this, so first, I’ll address some concerns that I think are exaggerated.

For one, for a normal game, there is little risk of running out of time. Ten minutes over an entire game is a substantial amount, and developers thankfully are giving us plenty of leeway with the chess clock feature. Should you take up all 60 seconds for each of your turns, you will still have ten turns to play out before you lose to the timer. Ten turns, even if you view this as pessimistically as possible, is about the average length of a game. Remember, this is an absolute worst case scenario, and even in that situation, the clock still doesn’t decide the outcome more than the players do. As TeamRocketElite pointed out on Twitter, notorious slow move-selector Wolfe Glick still came no where close to running out of time during the finals of worlds.

Two, a chess clock does not give an advantage to hasty clickers over players who like to take their time to make informed decisions. If you’re making a conscious effort to select your moves as fast as possible, chances are, your moves are going to be so poorly thought out that you will lose the game that way before the game even has a chance to be decided by the timer. Where the reward lies though is if you’re someone who is able to think quickly to reach decisions faster than other people. This strength wasn’t very advantageous under the old timer, but I don’t see how it is a negative to reward players with this trait.

Essentially, what I’m saying is that the 60 seconds per turn, 10 minutes per game timer is more than reasonable enough that games are still largely going to be decided by how Pokemon games have traditionally been decided – KO your opponent’s Pokemon before they KO yours. I really don’t see a scenario in which Sun&Moon become such a GSC-singles esque stall fest that matches coming down to timer will become game breaking.

Additionally, I’m of the opinion that the old timer system had more problems than most players will care to admit. With how prominently streams have been advertised this generation, how well games appeal to the casual audience is a factor that needs to be considered. Let’s be frank: timer stalling is boring to watch. There is nothing exciting about watching players take 45 seconds for plays that are sometimes fairly obvious, and in the case of switches for fainted Pokemon, they aren’t just obvious decisions, there are literally no other options to consider! It’s also a burden for commentators to have to avoid having a silent stream when there isn’t much analysis to be made for 45 seconds of dead turns.

Furthermore, timer stalling is non interactive. The timer existed to keep tournaments running in a timely manner; I don’t buy into the idea that they had their place beyond that in deciding normal flowing games. There definitely was a limit that needed to be drawn somewhere for this idea, but I think games would be of better quality if outcomes were decided more by the competitors’ in game decisions than by a timer that existed for other purposes.

I do want to clarify though that I have absolutely no problem with players playing the clock in the past. This was indisputably, 100% allowed by the rules, and acting righteous about the morality of timer stalling instead of taking the game for what it was in reality is beneficial to no one.

With all that said, I definitely share the concerns of the negative impacts that a chess timer has for VGC. Pokemon is a game that unfortunately features stall-y strategies like Minimize, and in the past, the best way to counter this was to run the clock down. Minimize teams depended on outlasting opposing Pokemon over time, but should you pick up enough damage and KOes before they fully get set up, you would likely win on timer. Now, without a global timer (we don’t actually have 100% confirmation that there won’t be a global timer in addition to the chess timer, but I’d bet good money that there won’t be one), there is a reasonable chance Minimize teams will run games for far longer than people are comfortable with. This is especially worrisome because Minimize teams often run a flowchart that largely ignores the opponents’ possible plays, so users of such a team will likely be selecting moves very quickly. If the timer gave an advantage to anyone, it’d be to the Minimize user. I haven’t even addressed the very idea that such a non interactive, fully RNG dependent strategy could conceivably become successful.

Secondly, there is the issue of stalemates like Ferrothorn vs Ferrothorn that will last for who knows how long because there isn’t a timer that accounts for move animations. I don’t have a solution for this. It’ll be a nightmare if it happens, and I don’t want to be the one to have to decide what will happen in such a situation, and I certainly don’t want to be the one playing games that come down to who runs out of PP first.

Personally, I would have preferred there to be a global timer of 60 seconds per turn, and 20 minutes per game. A chess timer is generally better for turn based games, but Pokemon has too many quirks that counteract a lot of its benefits. However, I really don’t think that this will be too influential. If I had to guess, Minimize teams still likely won’t be very popular in high levels of play, as it relies on too many external factors to see consistent success. BattleSpot doubles in ORAS had far too many Minimize users for my liking, and 30 minutes for a game timer was just long enough that you couldn’t consistently beat them just by timer stalling. Even then, they weren’t common enough that they cut into my overall enjoyment of the format. At worst, they’ll steal wins from players at events given how volatile team match ups tend to be, but should that happen, it’s up to players to adjust and find techs to beat Minimize.

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