Pokémon Go Trainer Battles (aka PvP) are a feature that was widely called for since early in the game’s life. Virtually every Pokémon game in history has had this mode and has been used to conduct casual and ranked battle tournaments all around the world.

PvP - Problems and Solutions. Image of an official Pokémon Sun / Moon PvP battle at the International Pokémon Championships.
PvP – Problems and Solutions. Official Pokémon Sun / Moon PvP battle at the International Pokémon Championships.
PvP - Problems and Solutions. Image of an Official Pokken Tournament PvP battle at the Pokémon World Championships.
PvP – Problems and Solutions. Official Pokken Tournament PvP battle at the Pokémon World Championships.
PvP - Problems and Solutions. Image of an Official Pokken Tournament PvP battle at the North American Pokémon Championships.
PvP – Problems and Solutions. Official Pokken Tournament PvP battle at the North American Pokémon Championships.

PvP in Pokémon Go, however, hasn’t taken off in quite the way that many had hoped. The issue we hear, again and again, is that smaller communities struggle to get enough Trainers together even to reach the minimum number needed for a ranked Silph Arena Tournament. Speaking from personal experience and the experiences of other community leaders, a group is lucky to get even 10% of their active players to regularly get involved in competitive PvP matches, despite encouragement from organizers.

Congratulations must be given however to The Silph Arena for providing a tournament platform on which “over 30,000 competitors have faced-off in the Arena across over 1,600 communities.”

Dronpes (one of the founders of The Silph Road) elaborated in another post; “While [30,000 competitors] may feel small in comparison to Pokémon GO’s entire player-base, having tens of thousands of folks spend over an hour each month preparing and competing in-person at a physical venue under strict combat rules is fantastic. That’s an enormous competitive scene for a grassroots league like the Arena in their first season.“

PvP Problems and Solutions - screenshots of Pokémon Go Trainer Battles in progress
PvP Problems and Solutions – Pokémon Go Trainer Battles in progress

So while it’s true that The vast majority of Trainers have largely ignored PvP, it’s safe to say that Raid Battles are currently the most popular battle feature within Pokémon Go. In a recent survey conducted by us at Go Hub, 33% of respondents said that one of their main focuses when playing the game was “Chasing High IV Raid Bosses”, while 15% said “Controlling Gyms” and only 8% said “Building strong PvP Teams” was important to them.

So let’s explore why Raid Battles are so much more popular among players than Trainer Battles and what could be done to bring PvP up to a similar level of player engagement.

(After reading our views, we’d appreciate it if you could let us know your opinions on PvP, by filling in a brand new survey, which is linked at the bottom of this article)

The Problems

Simplicity

Most players have spent the last (almost) 3 years using a battle system whose strength lies partly in its simplicity; Players seem to be, on the whole, happy to use a relatively simple battle system. Now that there’s a game mode that requires them to study various tactics and strategies if they want to succeed, most players are understandably distancing themselves from it.

It stands to reason then that the roughly 8% of players who do use the current PvP system, enjoy a more strategic battle. As one of that 8%, I’ve personally found a certain satisfaction in studying why certain Pokémon are better in PvP, what they can beat, when to use/save shields, when to switch, etc., and see my strategies culminate in winning a ranked Tournament!

This isn’t to say that PvP battles need to be simplified, or that the people who don’t currently take part in PvP don’t want to learn the tactics of a more in-depth battle system, just that there needs to be more of an incentive for players to go to the effort of doing so. Which leads us on to:

Rewards

Raid rewards are great! You can get large amounts of rare items, Stardust and XP, and most importantly, a shot at catching a potentially rare, potentially high IV, and potentially Legendary Pokémon! Compare this to the rewards you can get from PvP (small amounts of rare items and Stardust), and you can see why players might lack enthusiasm.

Another reason why incentives need to be significantly improved as a matter of priority is that there’s potential for the Trainer Battle system to get deeper and more complicated still, with the addition of Status Effects like ‘Poisoned’, ‘Burned’ or ‘Asleep’. Further complicating the system before giving players a reason to try it in the first place would only alienate them from it further.

Social Play

Referencing our survey again, a massive 40% of respondents said that the social aspect of the game is one of their top 5 reasons for playing. The problem with Trainer Battles in this respect is that you can battle remotely with your Ultra Friends. Unless local Tournaments have enough people involved to make it worth organizing a venue for, PvP is a very unsociable feature.

Remote Battles are of course helpful in some cases but wouldn’t cater to the large number of players who say that leaving the house and meeting friends to play, is still a significant factor in why they play Pokémon Go.

Resource Costs

Many of us already spend lots of our Stardust and Candy on powering up our best attackers for use in taking down Raid bosses. We now, however, have another heavy use for these resources; powering up Pokémon which used to be not much more than Pokédex fillers. Pokémon with highly defensive stats aren’t useful as Raid Boss attackers as they often can’t deal enough damage to beat the boss before the timer runs out. In Trainer Battles, however, there is no timer, so defensive Pokémon like Altaria, Medicham, Bastiodon, Cresselia, Giratina, Lugia, Aggron, etc. can do very well if powered up to an appropriate level for the League you want it to fight in.

Second charged moves are also quite useful in PvP but can cost excessive amounts of Dust and Candy. Despite these extra drains on our Stardust reserves, we have no way of gaining any more than we could before. If players can’t afford to build the best teams for PvP, then they aren’t even going even to attempt taking part.

Real-Time Battling

A significant difference between traditional Pokémon battles and Pokémon Go battles is that the former have primarily been turn-based, as opposed to real-time. Turn-based battling allows you to have time to consider your next move, use items between attacks, and therefore modify your strategy more efficiently based on the current situation. In Pokémon Go PvP however, the fast paced nature of battles means that you have mere seconds to decide on your next move. If your strength lies in thinking on your feet rather than planning things carefully, you may be at an advantage.

While real-time battles perhaps offer a more fast-paced and exciting fight, many still long for the patient and thoughtful nature of the traditional system. We don’t expect this to change, but again, better incentives could persuade PvP veterans to adopt this new approach to Pokémon battling.

A Solution – Gym-Based Tournaments

So how could Niantic build on the Trainer Battles system to address all of these issues that are standing in the way of the massive potential that PvP could have?

Well, we believe that a Gym-based PvP Tournament system like the one described below, would go some way to addressing them;

Tournament Pass

Trainers can get one free “Tournament Pass” per day, plus other items, by battling low-level NPCs (non-player characters) that spawn around Gyms. Extra Passes can be bought from the in-game Shop.

Tournaments Appear on Gyms

Themed tournaments with certain restrictions on types and a pre-determined League, appear on Gyms just like Raids do and within a set time window, Trainers can meet to compete (a minimum of 4 and up to a maximum of 16 Trainers per lobby).

Trainers are Auto-Matched

Everyone uses their Tournament Pass to enter the lobby, chooses their team of three, and are then auto-matched with another Trainer.

Everyone Battles

Everyone battles the Trainer they’ve been matched with. The winner of each one progresses to the next round to be re-matched, while the losers are eliminated.

Battle Rewards

Each battle awards Stardust, XP, rare items and gives a Pokémon encounter to the eliminated Trainer, but the further you progress before being eliminated, the better the rewards and rarer the encounters become – eliminated Trainers might even encounter the current ‘Trainer Battle Exclusive’ Pokémon for that month!

Exclusive Pokémon Encounters

The overall winner of the tournament is then guaranteed to encounter the current ‘Trainer Battle Exclusive’ Pokémon. This could be a new shiny Pokémon, a shiny Legendary, a Pokémon with a legacy/ exclusive move, or maybe even a brand new Legendary!

After that month, and depending what it is, the exclusive Pokémon becomes available via other means like Raids, Eggs, Research, in the wild, etc., to give everyone who didn’t get one, a chance to catch it.

Gym Leader

The tournament winner also becomes the Leader of that Gym, and can then:

  • Place Legendaries and Mythicals as Gym defenders whenever their team controls that Gym.
  • Collect extra revenue from the Gym for as long as they remain the leader (5 coins per hour up to a maximum of 240 coins (2 days worth) for example).
  • Challenge high-level NPCs (other Gym Leaders like Brock and Misty) who give more of a challenge and therefore better rewards than low-level NPCs.
  • Gain Gym Leader Badges for all Gyms at which they’ve won a tournament, the quantity of which counts towards a brand new Gym Leader Medal.
  • Only be replaced when someone else wins a tournament on that Gym and becomes the new Gym Leader.

Training

Trainer battles as we know them now would still exist for third-party tournaments and casual battling/ practicing/ testing out squads against friends, Team Leaders or other NPCs.

What do you think?

We’d love to know how you feel about PvP and whether our perception of the community’s feeling is accurate.

Please use this form to answer a few questions which we will read through and possibly follow up in a future article if there are some interesting insights we hadn’t considered:

‘PvP in Pokémon Go’ Survey

I hope to meet you all in some version of Gym Tournaments very soon!