The Pokémon Company International is sending a clear message to the Video Game Championship (VGC) community with the 2017 season’s format: go to more events.
Truth be told, they’ve been saying this for years now. It started in 2015 with the global introduction of small, local premiere challenges (PCs) to the preexisting schedule of Regionals, Nationals, and Worlds. Individually, these events didn’t offer many points toward a player’s goal of qualifying for Worlds.
However, when added up, the points made a substantial impact on a player’s ability to qualify for Worlds. Where players once could get by on good Regional and National performances alone, the introduction of PCs forced good players to attend these less rewarding events. After all, before Worlds invites were determined by reaching a certain amount of championship points, only the top players in various continental regions made the cut. As a result, it was important to stay ahead of potential competitors by constantly accumulating points whenever and wherever possible.
Only the top players in various continental regions made the cut.
TPCI’s intentions became even clearer in 2016 with the introduction of Midseason Showdowns. These events were the Frankensteinian monster of VGC. They were often bigger than PCs and awarded a decent amount of championship points, but were smaller than Regionals and most states could host one.
Midseason Showdowns didn’t significantly affect top-performing players, who could still lockdown their invite with decent Regional and National finishes alongside a smattering of PC wins. That being said, a Midseason Showdown’s lower degree of competitiveness meant it was easier for average players to perform well and earn the valuable points needed for their Worlds invite. So, even though these events didn’t force good players to attend, they made everyone else show up.
This year, The Pokémon Company is practically shouting their message from the rooftops and players are finally starting to hear it en masse. There are no ‘new’ events in 2017 (unless you count the International Challenges replacing Nationals), but subtler changes have been causing big waves in the community.
To start, best finish limits (BFL) have increased across the board. Every type of event has a BFL to mitigate how much points a player can use from a given type of tournament. For example, this keeps players in areas with more PCs from earning an invite from those events alone. At the same time, it also kept the best players from feeling as if they needed to attend every regiona. If only a few of their best performances counted, there was previously no reason to attend.
In the past, Regionals and Midseason Showdowns shared a best finish limit. Effectively, this meant that players could pad subpar Regional performances with points from less competitive Midseasons. In 2017, Regionals and Midseasons each have a BFL of four, opening the door for more events to contribute to a player’s season.
On top of that, International Challenges also have a BFL of four, up drastically from last year’s Nationals BFL of one. This is problematic because of the number of points players can earn with a good finish at these events.To wit, some community members are claiming that those who can afford to travel around the country will have a huge advantage in terms of qualifying for Worlds. Some members of the community have even thrown the words “pay to win” around on social media.
While it’s too early to tell if that’s the case, there’s also the higher championship point bar to consider. Players in the US, Canada and Europe will need 500 CP from events, while those in Latin America, Asian Pacific and South Africa now need 350. This change addresses many players’ complaints from last year that the bar was too low. It also falls in-line with TPCI’s overall strategy. Increasing the BFLs created an incentive for players to attend more events that matter, but raising the bar more or less makes it a necessity.
Further complicating things, the points awarded at events have changed drastically too. The points awarded by International Challenges and Midseasons have been scaled back, and Regionals now have a wider gap between top-performing players (top four and up) and those with less impressive finishes.
VGC players need to travel more than ever before to earn their invite.
Moreover, the kickers—various attendance thresholds that determine how many players earn CP—have also changed. Last year, Regionals awarded championship points to the top 64 players out of 128 entrants. This meant that players, usually, only had to finish a Swiss round with a positive record to earn points and make the trip worth it. In 2017, Regionals only awards points to the top 32 in brackets with 128 entrants, and, for tournaments with 256 entrants, the top 64. Once again, since this makes it even harder to earn the CP needed for a Worlds invite. In the eyes of TPCI, those that can make it to more events and perform consistently are the ones worthy of competing at Worlds.
So if VGC players need to travel more than ever before to earn their invite, how will that affect them personally? First off, they’ll have to spend significantly more money to travel. Second, they’ll have to spend more money to register at events. That’s a much smaller amount than compared to travel costs, but it adds up. Premiere Challenges tend to cost between $5-10 an event, while Regionals will probably range from $30-40. There’s currently no info on the registration cost of International Challenges, but Nationals cost $30 last year. Worlds is free,but traveling gets very expensive for anyone outside the US.
It’s hard to say for sure whether the Pokémon Company is trying to create a more consistent circuit, but VGC’s current trajectory would support that hypothesis. And while there will certainly be fewer players competing at Worlds in 2017, only time will tell if these changes are for good.