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I have long been a defender of Pokemon as an esport, but between the recent decisions with Pokemon: Sword and Shield and now a 7 year old taking 1st in Juniors, now I’m not so sure…

Pokemon has a rich history in hosting tournaments dating back to the early 2000s. Even going back to the original games, head to head battling was encouraged. And esports has grown so has the Pokemon competitive scene with bigger tournaments, bigger prizes and more competitors.

Pokemon is unique as an esport, it’s the only turn based RPG that is competitive. There’s also a ton of variables to keep track of – all of the different individual IV and EV stats, the nature, ability and moveset can all impact that competitive viability of any individual Pokemon. In fact IV and EV training are big factors in deciding the outcome of a given match up because your opponent has no way of knowing what those stats are. It’s slower and rewards tactics. It is also heavily dependent on RNG. If you don’t know, RNG stands for “random number generator” which is how many systems in games operate. Stat modifiers define the numerical parameters and the random number generator will add additional variables such as critical hit rate or misses into how damage on an individual hit is calculated. 

With the most recent Pokemon game, Pokemon: Sword and Shield, some of those factors became restricted. With nearly 400 Pokemon left out of the game, many competitively viable strategies were negatively impacted and some strategies made outright nonviable. This shake up, along with the decision by the VGC to allow Dynamaxing (where the Smogon community have banned it) have made this season of competitive Pokemon one of the most divisive in the games history.

Then, over the weekend, this happened….

Rod Breslau on Twitter

this morning 7-year old Simone Lim won a major Pokémon Junior Championship beating out a field of older more experienced kids, upsetting the tournament favorite champion #1 seed in the final, and doing so with an incredible read to earn her the title esports is for everyone https://t.co/5cUfsd5ZiQ

Now, I want to be clear – I think Simone Lim played some fantastic Pokemon and should absolutely be commended for beating out a tournament filled with competitors far older than she is, some almost twice her age. She should be proud of her win and absolutely deserves to be a Pokemon champion. 

…However,

I think that a 7 year old winning a championship signals some deep problems with the competitive viability for a game like Pokemon. I think this is a symptom of having such a deep disruption of the competitive scene and that disruption came in the form of Sword and Shield and the omitting of so many Pokemon and mechanics like Mega Evolution and Z-Moves. 

Now, you can argue that 7 year-olds should be winning Pokemon tournaments. I can’t really argue against that – it is a game made for kids and she’s competing in the correct age bracket  (juniors is 12 and under). But any game where a competitor who just mastered language is winning over people over double her age has  to give you pause. We could also be looking at a Pokemon prodigy. Lim could be the Tiger Woods of Pokemon. I actually really hope she is, she’ll be fun to watch in future tournaments. But until she puts in those tournament performances – people will look at this win as a reflection of the competitive viability of the game overall.

Is a game where a 7 year old can win in a highly competitive environment a fundamentally fair game?