From GBL to the World Stage: The Evolution of Pokémon GO PvP

What began as a casual mobile game quickly transformed into a global phenomenon, as Pokémon GO embraced its esports potential through strategic development, community engagement, and the support of a dedicated player base, Pokémon GO has successfully transitioned into a competitive game that captivates both players and spectators alike.

Building on the momentum of community tournaments, Niantic took Pokémon GO esports to the next level by hosting global regional championships and major events such as the 2022 World Championships in London and the recent 2023 World Championships in Yokohama.

These tournaments attracted top trainers from around the world, creating a vibrant competitive scene with substantial prize pools, professional player sponsorships and live-streamed matches on the official PlayPokemon Twitch channel, Pokémon GO became a spectacle watched by millions of fans, both in-person and online.

With the 2023 World Championships in Yokohama come and gone, players experienced the highest level of Pokémon GO competitiveness to date.

In a previous article of ours titled “The Potential of Pokémon GO PvP Becoming an Esport“, We delved into the exciting possibilities of Pokémon GO and its competitive side growing to a fully-fledged Esport. Today, we revisit the topic to explore the remarkable evolution and growth of competitive battling dating back to the introduction of the GO Battle League, to now, players competing live on the official PlayPokemon Twitch channel in front of thousands of viewers, both online and on the viewer’s podium in person. Let’s take a closer look at how the landscape has transformed since our last discussion on this topic.

Going back to 2020 when we last touched on this topic, the biggest tournament back then was the 2019 Pokémon GO Invitational Tournament which featured big names such as Junichi Masuda (Director, Game Freak), Shigeki Morimoto (Game Designer, Game Freak), UnlistedLeaf, Strawburry17, Yamada, Poké AK and PogoKieng.

Evolving from that period in time, we now have large-scale regional tournaments all around the globe which gives players the opportunity to battle it out in professionally themed venues to have the chance to win prize money, merchandise, travel awards, and of course, glory!

These events showcase how far Pokémon GO has come from a competitive standpoint. From my personal experience, I have been fortunate enough to be able to participate in a few of these events including 2x Perth Regionals Championship, the Melbourne Oceania International Championship, the 2022 London World Championship, and the 2023 Yokohama World Championship. I was fortunate enough to take home the gold in the 2023 Perth Regional Championship which awarded me a slot in the 2023 World Championships in Yokohama and also a large travel award to cover flights, accommodation, and more. I was fortunate enough to place #9th in the World in this prestigious tournament and received a large cash sum for my efforts.

Considering that the official definition of an Esport is:

Esport, noun – A multiplayer video game played competitively for spectators, typically by professional gamers who compete to earn cash prizes.

I feel as if we are officially at the point where we can consider Pokémon GO to be an official Esport that will continue to grow from each event. We are witnessing history in the making.
Communities coming together all for the love of the game is a wonderful experience that I will continue to be a part of, watching firsthand the growth of Pokémon GO and how far it has come is an exciting reality that I am honoured to be a part of.

In our previous article on the topic, I teamed up with Norell and Zander from The Band Famous who have been an important part of the community since day one. The Band Famous created, hosted, and produced the first Pokémon GO ranked tournament for charity with an all-ages and all-inclusive event. Since then, we’ve been working behind the scenes together to talk more about the journey Pokémon GO has taken to become what it is now, our involvement with this development, and the future of Pokémon GO.

Back then, we brainstormed different ideas regarding Niantic and what they would have to implement in order to make Pokémon GO into an official Esport. Some of our ideas included suggestions such as; Shifting advertising from casual to competitive, having more official Niantic/Pokémon Company hosted events, Addressing current issues and working on them, Business perspectives, and Community efforts.

Some, if not all of our previous ideas seemed to be taken into consideration and we have seen visible growth from a competitive point of view which is the exact vision we had hoped for in our 2020 article. In these tough times, we are more than happy with the growth and will continue to support one another so that we can see potential and necessary change within the game which is needed to create a healthy experience for one another.

The recent decision for the Silph Road to shut down caused an overwhelming feeling of despair and bewilderment for the entire PvP community. It left players with the burning question “What now?“. The Silph Road played an extremely important role within Pokémon GO many believe that if it weren’t for the amazing team of dedicated people who helped form the Silph Road, Pokémon GO would not be the Esport it is today. We are truly grateful for everything they did and are beyond saddened by this decision.

We are hopeful that the future of Pokémon GO and its ever-growing potential can and will rebuild an even stronger bond than before. We have seen many dedicated players coming together including top influencers to discuss as a community where we should go from here. Since then, we have seen a few names poke their head out of the water to help carry on the legacy that Silph left.

Back to my guests, Norell and Zander have been hard at work creating an inspiring trailer for their documentary about the Pokémon GO Esports scene which features a lot of familiar faces, one who may stand out, is Matt from who has arguably been the king of the community for some time now.


We have been privileged to have a one-on-one interview with Matt and what he thinks the future of Pokémon GO will look like and other important questions, which we will dive into.


So Matt, we are curious to hear, how do you feel about Silph closing? Particularly, by Silph closing, do you feel it will change Pokémon GO as an Esport as we know it?
Silph has been with us since the very beginning of PvP and it’s hard to fathom that it’s over. I remember the excitement that accompanied that first season, especially regionals, which was such a rush to be a part of. Without the Silph Arena, I don’t think PvP would have grown the passionate fanbase that it did—paving the way for GO Battle League and ultimately the Championship Series that’s going on now. The Arena (and Silph in general) had been such an anchor in the community for so long, it was never in my mind that it could just end. I have immense gratitude for the volunteers who built the communities, resources, and formats for us for all of those years.
The Champion Series officially supported by Play Pokemon is something I could only have dreamt of when PvP started. With that in place and going strong, it can carry on the torch that the Silph Arena lit, and there’s a lot to be excited about. One big gap is the team format, Factions, that Silph ran in its final years and was a huge draw for the game’s most competitive players. I hope grassroots competitions can keep giving those teams reasons to play and stick around while the Champion Series continues.
Could you share a little of your experience competing in the various Pokémon GO tournaments you’ve participated in?
Absolutely! I began competing heavily in the first season of the Silph Arena, beginning right with the Boulder Cup and loved practising and playing in tournaments with my locals. As Season 2 ramped things up and introduced “mega” tournaments, I eagerly flew out to LA and Portland to participate in those. Then the pandemic happened, which closely coincided with the release of GO Battle League, so from Season 3 onward I stopped participating in solo Silph. I did however come to love team formats like Stadium’s GO Team Up and later on, Silph Factions, and continued playing that just about until its conclusion.
I actually haven’t participated in the Championship Series all that much! I went to the Indianapolis regionals last year and then competed for the first time in Milwaukee this year. That was such a great experience and really invigorated my passion for playing in person! I ended up making it to NAIC in Columbus afterwards and while that was a bumpy road, it was still great seeing everyone and hanging out with friends I only get to see once or twice a year. I probably won’t be competing too much these days, but I’m always following the action!
We know you competed in the Timeless Cup at Montebello, how was that experience?
That was my first mega tournament, and talk about being thrown to the wolves! My largest tournament before that may have been a regional tournament with a few dozen participants, and this was something close to 300. Of all the players, my first matchup was against SimplyMoxie—one of the best to ever play—and I, unfortunately, went 3-6 down the stretch! I remember a particularly crushing loss to MysticMamba, who mowed over my team with a Bite Drapion. Even though my matches didn’t go great, it was still a ton of fun. Plus, it was my first time meeting so many people I had only known from Twitter or Discord, and they all made that trip super special.
What tournaments stand out to you in your memory most of all?
I have to say the Portland mega tournament was one of my favourite PvP experiences. I was more prepared coming off of Timeless Cup, and the current meta (Rose Cup) was pretty condensed. On the ride to the venue, I decided to mix things up last minute and slotted an extremely spicy pick, Lickilicky, onto my team. In the first round, I played on stream against the top-ranked player at the tournament—and after some nail-biting matches, I won with Lickilicky! That got my heart pumping, and the rest of the tournament was just as fun battling against friends and people who had travelled from all around. Shout out to Alfindeol for casting and hosting trivia for us!
Are you competing in any more tournaments coming up?
I don’t have any plans to compete in the near future, but I’m tentatively planning to attend Toronto, and we’ll see where else! I haven’t made it to Worlds yet but maybe someday that will be in the cards. Either way, I’ll have the streams up on Twitch and will be rooting for everyone!
What if any are some ways you feel that Pokémon GO has grown stronger as a community? Have there been any updated features for example that you as a developer feels goes that much further to providing an exceptional gaming and community experience?
In one way, the player base has definitely become much more skilled over time. Things that would have been considered niche techniques a few years ago are now part of regular play, like move counting or optimal move timing. That’s a huge credit to content creators like Caleb Peng, NHoff, SpeediestChief2, Sophtoph, and Wallower for making excellent guides for those techniques and for Pokemon GO as a whole. With the debut of the Championship Series, there has also been so much growth and leadership from the community getting involved with this immense effort, including the judges, crew, staff, and of course the players themselves.
The game itself is always a touchy subject. It has issues that need to be addressed for competitive play, such as 1 turn lag. PvP is just a small part of Pokemon GO and understandably it won’t be a priority for Niantic, but I hope they recognize how amazing these tournaments are as in-person events for the game. Direct developer support is so crucial for PvP and everyone dedicates their effort toward the competitions.

One update that stands out in my mind was the initial and then permanent removal of the friendship and walking requirements for battling. With those changes, the Silph Arena was able to survive through remote tournaments during the pandemic, and PvP streaming boomed on Twitch as people stuck at home could enjoy battling without limitations. I don’t think we would have the Championship Series today if it wasn’t for Niantic implementing those changes. The recent Worlds-related event was also a great example of developer support for the ongoing competitions! It promoted the tournament itself and provided players access to PvP-relevant Pokemon. My fingers are crossed for more updates and PvP-themed events in the future.

I’ll close by saying thanks for the time, and thanks to everyone involved in competitive Pokemon GO past and present. I personally owe so much to all of the developers, staff, volunteers, and players who have pushed PvP so far over the years. We’re incredibly lucky to have the competitions being put on by both Play! Pokemon and the community alike, and through all of the ups and downs, it’s important to cherish these memories while we have them—because they really can be Timeless.

Despite differences, despite some groups disbanding after a race, rather than sticking it through for the marathon, it is safe to say that Pokémon GO as a whole still unites more than it divides. It also is safe to say that Pokémon GO has also successfully chiselled itself into an actual Esport, as many of us predicted and believe would come to pass.

It’s safe to say that no matter the rising and falling tides, Pokémon GO is here to stay for all the rides. We look forward to the full documentary that has captured a great amount of spirit that permeates the game and the community. The Band Famous is happy and excited to be working on this special project and is looking forward to sharing the final movie as soon as they can, adding,

“We have been working on this documentary for some time, as we ourselves have shifted gears with the changes around us, having closed our independent venue in Los Angeles that we worked so hard to open – and we managed to produce and perform some incredible benefit events and festivals while we were there – to now living and producing off-grid on a mountain in remote Arizona, fully solar-powered by the sun.

The ways in which we are able to play the game have adapted as we are obviously much more rural now than urban Los Angeles’s Pokémon GO playground! Despite being more remote these days, we still play as we are able to, and any time we are travelling we are always taking advantage of the Pokémon GO hot spots! We also run a small animal rescue and sanctuary – providing care to many real-life “mons” – and we are having nostalgia whilst going over these memories, hours and hours of footage! We look forward to sharing this full-length documentary with you [we hope] later this year! It will be released and available as a PPV on our Patreon, which supports our music and our animal rescue sanctuary.”

We would just like to say a massive thank you to the whole PoGo community for sticking together despite hardships throughout the years. Together we have turned adversity into triumph and created a legacy of perseverance that will forever echo in time. As we each venture into new chapters of this game, let’s carry the spirit of this extraordinary community with us. Here’s to an exciting and bright future ahead.

Adam ‘Avrip’

Author & tags

Writer/Editor for the Pokémon GO Hub. PvP enthusiast. 2023 Perth Regional Champion. 9th at Yokohama World Championship. Collector and enthusiast of rare Pokémon retro memorabilia. GBL Legend Multiple Seasons. Sold my soul to Niantic on 07/07/2016.

Further reading

Popular today

Latest articles

Support us

Buy GO Hub merch

Get your very own GO Hub t-shirt, mug, or tote.