Official competitive Pokémon leaves a lot to be desired. Breeding Pokémon to get the perfect IVs, fighting the same kind of Pokémon for several hours to build up the right EVs, plus ensuring your Pokémon has the proper nature. Getting a competitive Pokémon team takes hours of hard work in-game, which turns off a lot of players.
Recent generations have tried to streamline this process by introducing several new mechanics like the Reset Girl and Nature Mints so you can train faster, but it’s still far from ideal. It takes a lot of work just to get a whole team. Forget the learning and experimentation that comes with entering the competitive Pokémon scene.
However, there’s an easier way to jump into competitive Pokémon and learn the sport. Pokémon Showdown is a competitive Pokémon Battle Simulator where fans can build teams and jump into battle.
What is Pokémon Showdown?
Created by Zarel in October 2011, Pokémon Showdown is an open-source online battle simulator with a thriving community behind it. It’s used by thousands of Pokémon fans worldwide, and 2,000 battles are going on at any time, so you can jump on, choose your tier and format, and get battling.
Its open-source code is entirely transparent, so you can understand the simulator and how it works. Its online components mimic the Wifi battles of yesteryear but with far more versatility and customization options than the original Wifi, the battle function could ever dream of.
Pokémon Showdown is run by Smogon, a website and community specializing in the art of competitive Pokémon battling. It has everything you need to get started, plus a community you can engage with to deepen your knowledge. They have strategy guides, tier lists, and even a Battling 101 program where Smogon can pair you with a tutor to learn the basics of competitive Pokémon battling.
Instant Battles: Skip straight to the good stuff
In cartridge games, you have to go through the process of building your team. And that level 73 Charizard you used for the Elite Four isn’t going to cut it. You need level 100, perfect IV, effort-trained Pokémon before considering starting competitive battling.
Unless you want competitive Pokémon to be your full-time job or hobby, you just won’t have the time. However, Pokémon Showdown lets you customize your Pokémon yourself. No riding a bike for hours on end, no destroying local ecosystems by wiping out hundreds of the same species, and no spending millions on nutritional drinks. You just create the Pokémon, customize their stats and abilities, then battle.
Pokémon Showdown is about battling, learning, and experimentation, not team building and grinding for days. You can choose from a preset team or select the Random Battle format and jump straight into the action. You don’t even have to do this if you don’t want to.
If you want to save your rank and teams, you’ll have to create an account, but Pokémon Showdown is free and always will be. Like any sport, your overall win record is far more critical than individual wins, so rising through the ranks over time is more important than any individual win.
Pokémon competitive battling guide
Most games have a lower difficulty level than the competitive Pokémon scene. Your starter Pokémon will not be feasible in competitive battles, even if it can easily take down the Elite Four.
In the games, you don’t need a strategy, level 100 Pokémon with type coverage for every type and fully maxed EVs and IVs, but you do in competitive battling. A guy who swims as a hobby isn’t going to compete with a professional swimmer in the Olympics.
Ultimately, competitive Pokémon battling is much more complicated than battling in the games. You need to breed and train the perfect stats onto your Pokémon, which can be time-consuming. It’s become easier in recent games to make competitive battling more accessible, but it still takes effort.
IVs are stats a Pokémon is born with, and they can have 31 in each category, Special Attack, Attack, Speed, Defense, Special Defence, and HP. The best way to get these stats is through breeding to obtain Pokémon with perfect IVs.
In recent generations, you can use bottle caps to raise the IVs of Pokémon, making it possible to use the Pokémon you love in competitive play.
EVs are stats earned through battling. A Pokémon can earn 510 EVs, with 255 in a stat. Each Pokémon has an EV it gives when defeated, but you can buy EV boosters in-game to get the stats you want. In the most recent generation, you can wipe EVs away to get the EVs you want on a Pokémon.
Four EVs are equal to one stat point, so you only need 508 EVs with 252 in a category to max the EVs for one stat. Most competitive players concentrate the EVs on two stat categories, usually speed and the stat most important for the role of that Pokémon.
A Community-based battling simulator
One of the best aspects of Pokémon Showdown is its surrounding community. It’s a welcoming, knowledgeable community that loves introducing new players to the sport. You can find people to help build teams, battle, or even trade within the official games.
The community is dedicated to all aspects of competitive Pokémon battling, from breeding mechanics, which only come into play in the game, to damage calculators, built into the battling simulator, and most importantly, move sets and strategies crown champions.
With beginner threads, FAQs, and starter guides, you can get a great foundation and build from there. If you’re experienced, you can learn about the meta as new trends and Pokémon come onto the scene and keep your battle skills sharp.
Official Pokémon tournaments can be few and far between, but Smogon and Pokémon Showdown regularly host tournaments to satisfy even the most competitive players in several different formats.
45 Pokémon Showdown Formats
Little Cup is a popular format showcasing the base form of Pokémon under level 5. It dramatically changes how you battle and the Pokémon you can battle with, and you won’t find it in any official setting.
Suppose you want to play the official tournament format of Double Battle with the usual Pokémon and Item restrictions. You certainly can. Or you can pick a format that changes the game. Ubers features mighty Pokémon you can’t usually use in tournament settings, or you can take it a step further with Anything Goes.
Anything Goes just that. You can choose any Pokémon, any Items, anything goes. It still has some rules against endless battles and sleep conditions, but other than those, you can design your team however you’d like.
Mega-Rayquaza with Dragon Descent? You can have six plus Assault Vests. But if you want more structure, you can pick the format that best suits you and start playing. Each format has its meta, so you can keep learning and master each format as you play.
Common Rules for all formats
Keeping things interesting is the heart of competitive Pokémon, so anyone can create an innovative team and win. All formats have some standard rules to keep things balanced and moving along. These rules are meant to keep things fair and balanced between players and Pokémon so no one battle strategy dominates over others.
Each tier and format has banned Pokémon. It depends on what tier you’re in and the rule sets in place, but general Pokémon in tiers above the one you are playing in are banned for being too powerful to play in that tier.
If you pick from the lower tiers, you’ll have fewer Pokémon to choose from, so you’ll have to get creative. Meanwhile, in higher tiers, you’ll have access to the Pokémon in that tier and those below in lower tiers. Thus, you have more variety and the option of using Pokémon from lower tiers to spice up your strategy.
Most legendaries and several mythical Pokémon with high stats are banned from every tier, but Ubers and some are even prohibited there. The only format that permits all Pokémon is Anything Goes, but that comes at the cost of most teams comprising the same all-powerful Pokémon with little variety.
Different tiers have different banned moves. For example, the move Swagger is prohibited throughout the tiers as it has more to do with luck than skill and can take down any Pokémon with the right conditions and a little luck.
The Little Cup has banned the moves Dragon Rage and Sonic Boom, as they each do a set amount of damage that is detrimental to the format. Essentially, each format has banned moves that are detrimental to the meta for that format.
A battle that goes on forever may not seem feasible, but it’s possible in Pokémon. That’s why moves like Recycle and items like Leppa berries are banned on principle across the board.
Stall tactics like Leech Seed are vital to all formats, but there’s a marked difference between stalling and wasting everyone’s time. Any items or moves that can theoretically lead to an endless battle are banned from all formats.
OHKO (One-hit KO)
Some moves have incredibly low PP and accuracy. However, they make up for it by killing the opponent in one shot, regardless of stat boosts and HP. Naturally, these moves are incredibly broken, especially when paired with moves that guarantee success, like Lock-On.
Moves like Fissure, Guillotine, Horn Drill, and Sheer Cold are all banned from all formats for the sake of the meta and the incredible frustration that comes with having your wall go down in one hit.
We’ll most likely never see any of these moves in any kind of competitive play, both now and in the future, so you’ll have to get your fill of them in-game.
Moody is an ability that randomly raises or lowers a single stat other than evasion each turn. It mainly relies on luck and random chance than skill, meaning it has no place in competitive play.
While Moody can be fun to use, you should keep it to the mainline games, as it can be incredibly broken in competitive environments, so it’s banned across the board.
If you want to use Smeargle, pick a different ability, or save it for Anything Goes.
Nothing is more annoying than an opponent that spams Hypnosis and lands everyone, which is why Sleep Clause is used across most formats and tiers.
Under the Sleep Clause, putting more than one Pokémon to sleep on a team is illegal. So if you put one of your opponent’s Pokémon to sleep, you can’t put another to sleep until that one wakes up.
The exception to this rule is Pokémon that know Rest. If a Pokémon goes to sleep using Rest while another is asleep, it won’t activate the Sleep Clause. So don’t be afraid to build a team where Rest and Sleep Talk is essential parts of your strategy.
What this does mean is that you can’t build a team around taking advantage of putting your opponents to sleep with moves like Hypnosis and Nightmare. Sleep stats aren’t a sustainable strategy, as it plays quite well with luck.
Most formats forbid you from having two of the same Pokémon on the same team. A generally accepted rule keeps teams and strategies varied, but some exceptions exist.
For example, suppose the two Pokémon have different genders, giving them various forms and move sets. In that case, they are considered two different Pokémon, allowing you to bring at least two of the same Pokémon onto a team.
Nidoran is an excellent example of a species with different forms, moves, and abilities, like the newer Pokémon Indeedee. However, this rule keeps you from putting multiples of the same Pokémon into play, such as multiple Charizards capable of sweeping teams.
Another rule similar to this played in some formats is Items Clause. This rule is less widespread than Species Clause but is used in the official competitive Pokémon ruleset. Similar to Species Clause, it prevents you from playing multiples of the same items.
Pokémon tiers: Competitive to comical
The tiers are different categories for Pokémon based on how much use they see in competitive play. For example, the OU category is the most popular and typically used as the standard for competitive play.
The OU tier consists of Pokémon used in a certain percentage of battles, the usage depending on the Pokémon, but typically seen in ten percent or more of all competitive battles. The tier under that consists of Pokémon that fall below a certain percentage and is not used as much. And so on through the tiers.
In addition, some tiers have additional rules set for the Pokémon you can use, like Little Cup and PU tiers. Little Cup, you can only use the base form and level 5 Pokémon, and PU consists of the worst Pokémon you can use competitively.
You can play multiple different formats within the tiers, as the tiers are only meant to restrict the Pokémon, move sets, and abilities you are capable of using. Moreover, while OU is the standard, playing other tiers can help you understand competitive Pokémon on a deeper level and show you exciting uses for Pokémon you would usually never use.
Rankings are considered in each category, not overall, so you don’t need to worry about that fun run in the Little Cup affecting your rank in the Doubles OU category. So don’t be afraid to try a different tier in another format to learn more about competitive battling in that tier or just to have some fun.
Ubers consists of the best Pokémon has to offer. Legendaries are required when team building, and you have access to the best for competitive battling. The only Pokémon banned in this category is Mega-Rayquaza, as Mega-Rayquaza is too broken for any meta.
Suppose you want to see the ultimate in Pokémon battling. Even if it’s ridiculously overpowered and overblown, Ubers is the place to go. It’s the most powerful Pokémon available for team building and a broken meta that favors the unpredictable and powerful Arceus.
This tier can be fun, but it’s too powerful and broken to be the leading tier for competitive Pokémon, an honor reserved for the next tier on the list.
OverUsed, or OU, is the most popular tier on this list. It’s considered the best tier for competitive play, as it bans the most broken Pokémon while still retaining some of the best Pokémon the game offers.
OU consists of many fan-favorite Pokémon, but competitive players will want to read up to see what’s popular in the current meta, whether it’s Landorus Therian form, Garchomp, or Aegislash. Different generations have different metas, so pay attention to the format and generation of the meta to see what’s best.
Typically, the current gen is the most popular, but you can also roll back to find older-gen battles. Before you go all in on OU, you can check out the lower tiers to see what Pokémon aren’t used as much as they should in the current meta of the all-encompassing OU category.
If you’re more interested in playing with some Pokémon that don’t quite fit the current meta, check out the UnderUsed tier, UU. This tier consists of powerful Pokémon that don’t quite make the cut for OU. Either because there’s a better option available, a Pokémon with a better move set and typing that fulfills the same role, or just have lower stats that don’t make the tier.
UU has Pokémon not commonly used in competitive battling but offers a host of strategies and underplayed tactics for you to learn and play with. Pokémon like Gardevoir, the Guardian Trio, Weezing, and more, are good Pokémon but not powerful enough to make it into the OU tier.
You can play with favorites, or learn more about the Pokémon of the meta, as some are certainly good enough to be used in OU in combination with OU Pokémon. After all, having an unpredictable team and strategy is key to rising through the ranks and keeping those wins rolling in.
Do you like Flareon? Then this is the tier for you. Most Eeveelutions and Pokémon like Registeel and Flygon make up this tier. This tier is mainly played for fun and has few associated strategies.
However, you can see Pokémon you would typically never see played competitively and maybe even find one you can work into an OU or UU strategy. However, if you play this tier, you mostly play for kicks and giggles.
Salazzle, Comfey, Vileplume. Pokémon that would usually never see the light of day in a competitive battle call this tier home. If you play this tier, you’re playing for fun. These Pokémon simply aren’t viable in the current competitive meta, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with them. This tier forces you to get creative with your options and strategies, and it is a great place to begin competitive battling. Besides getting your feet wet, you can test new techniques and find one that might work in upper tiers while still playing relatively low risk in the NU tier.
PU isn’t an acronym. It means the Pokémon in this tier are stinky, so you won’t be playing for keeps. This tier can be a lot of fun, but you won’t find any viable Pokémon or translatable strategies. But if you want to wreck someone with a Beheeyem, you’re in the right place. You can have fun coming up with silly strategies that wouldn’t work in any other tier and just have fun.
Playing with terrible Pokémon is an art form in and of itself. Learning how to utilize all Pokémon competitively can help you in all forms of play, from the games to tournaments and nuzlocks, if you’re interested in upping the difficulty of regular Pokémon games or playing fan games.
Do you like baby Pokémon ? Then you’ll enjoy the Little Cup. The tiniest tyrants butt heads, and the little warriors utilize everything they have available at level 5 to take down the opposition.
You’ll enjoy this tier immensely if you like the Puppy Cup more than the Superbowl. Pokémon are limited to level five and are the base form of Pokémon. Pokémon with two evolutions are popular in this tier, as you might expect since they’re typically stronger with higher base stats, but all baby Pokémon are welcome to join.
You have to be tiny, cute, and vital to make it in this tier, but playing at such low levels with such weak Pokémon is utterly transcendental if you’re used to higher tiers. You’re far more limited in the available Pokémon and moves, so this tier relies less on strategy and your predictions and teambuilding, which means this tier is fantastic for building those skills.
Doubles isn’t a tier. It’s a format that most competitive battling uses. A double battle is when two Pokémon are sent out at once and battle against two other Pokémon. You can use a much more comprehensive range of strategies than single battles, the most used format in competitive battling.
Doubles is the format that best suits competitive battling, as it requires far more skill than singles. Many moves and their power are only fully realized in double battles. Considering your Pokémon’s moves, support capability, and synergy is just as important as predicting your opponent’s moves and strategies.
Pokémon must fill multiple roles, and keeping your wits about you in battle is essential to victory. Official Pokémon video game tournaments use this format, and double battles are considered the standard in competitive battling. Strategies are more in-depth.
In Doubles, you can only choose four of your six Pokémon to face the competitor in battle, which means predicting the Pokémon they bring and how they’ll play them is a critical part of the battle. Doubles takes the difficulty of Single battles and rachet it up to eleven.
Pokémon Showdown: Competitive Pokémon Battling
Whether you’re dedicated to improving your Pokémon by battling for official tournaments, in-game battles, or just having fun, Pokémon Showdown is the place to be for competitive Pokémon battles.
Pokémon battling comprises probability management, prediction, strategy, and team building. There are many factors to consider in battle, and learning the ins and outs of competitive battling is rewarding and fulfilling.
And Showdown is entirely free and always will be. It’s the battle simulator for Smogon, the website to go to for anything competitive battling. You can download the applet or go to the website for instant competitive battling with thousands of other users worldwide. You’ll have to create an account to save your rank and teams, but the more you interact with the community, the more fun you’ll have.
Competitive Pokémon battling isn’t for everyone, but everyone is capable of battling competitively. It’s easy to pick up and start, and you learn everything else over time by playing.
So go to the website and start battling to improve your skills as a Trainer today. With the new generation coming out soon, there’s no better time to get started, and soon you’ll be competing at regional tournaments to rank up points to head to the World Championships in no time.