With the release of Nintendo’s Pokken Tournament in March, bands of professional players are coming in from a plethora of different competitive fighting game titles to find their place among the elite of the Pokken competition. Tekken, Super Smash Bros, and Soul Calibur are just a few of the titles that have fostered talent that is now interested in moving toward competing in Pokken Tournament.
One of the best and most well-known Super Smash Bros players, Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios, has already shared his enthusiasm toward competing in Pokken Tournament tournaments.
“I’m going to this take as seriously as I can,” ZeRo said. “I’ll grind the ladder, study match-ups and players, ask for advice from other Pokken players, and attend events whenever I can.”
According to Lance “RoyalLance” Eustache, a Soulcalibur and Street Fighter competitor who placed second in the New York Pokken Qualifier, having a strong, developed player base and support from the developing company is paramount if Pokken Tournament is to become a successful esport.
“Obviously, if people aren’t playing the game then there is no point to competitions,” RoyalLance said. “That is probably one of the most important factors. That, and Nintendo actually supporting the scene as an esport.”
In the past, Nintendo has been notorious in the competitive gaming community for refusing to foster and support the competitive scenes around Smash titles Melee, Brawl, and Smash 4.
“If you look at the Super Smash Bros scene, it is very hard to have an esports scene because Nintendo has been dragging its feet,” RoyalLance said. “They want to make Smash Brothers a party game, but the community turned it into a competitive game. Nintendo is very tricky; they seem to be more open with Pokken Tournament being a competitive game.”
Fortunately for Pokken enthusiasts, Nintendo has already shown strong back end support by patching a major game bug that has been referred to as a “block infinite.”
The bug, usable by the character Shadow Mewtwo, was a unique chain of moves that allowed a player to lock their opponent in a block state and bring their health down to one point. Since there was no counter-play or way to escape the block infinite anomaly, it would have inhibited the viability of competitive play unless tournaments were willing to ban the character.
There is no word whether or not Nintendo intends to continue to maintain the live environment through patches, but ZeRo said he is content with the way the game currently stands and hopes that there are no changes to game balances.
RoyalLance shared similar sentiments about the competitive health of the game.
“I think the game is actually really well balanced,” RoyalLance said. “It is possible to do well with any of the Pokemon right now.”
RoyalLance also noted that the effective use of supporting Pokemon is also important to consider in the developing Pokken metagame.
Nintendo is also significantly contributing to developing the competitive Pokken scene. The Pokemon Company, a subsidiary of Nintendo, has already announced that the Pokken Tournament Championship Series will have a $100,000 prize pool – plenty of incentive for pro players from a multitude of regions and gaming backgrounds to get involved.
Similar to the competitive format in Hearthstone, players can qualify for the Championship Series by earning enough championship points, winning an official series event, or through the Last Chance Qualifier tournament.
Since Pokken Tournament is still in its early stages of development, players who are coming over from titles that have similar engines and mechanics are likely to be the top candidates in the Championship Series.
“The action in Super Smash Bros can be similar,” said RoyalLance. “If someone is coming from Smash Bros, I am pretty sure those skills would transition well into Pokken Tournament.”
ZeRo said people coming from traditional fighting titles like Tekken will probably have the biggest advantage coming into the Pokken Tournament scene.
Pokken was produced by both Masaaki Hoshino and Katsuhiro Harada, who produced the Tekken and Soulcalibur series, respectively. As a result, the Pokken Tournament engine and play style share a lot of similarities with these two titles.
While the game drew a lot of initial excitement from the community, RoyalLance said Nintendo made an error by pushing forward the competitive environment so quickly after launch.
“I wish that Nintendo would have given Pokken a year before starting the competitive scene,” RoyalLance said. “Which only gives players five months or so to prepare. If it was me, I would probably wait until later in the year for the Pokken World Championships to happen.”
The Championship Series will put a spotlight on international competition, and while Pokken Tournament was released in March of this year in the United States, it’s been in Japanese arcades since last July.
“All of the Japanese players that I have been watching are ridiculous at the game,” ZeRo said. “They have been playing for so much more time. It definitely shows, but I’ll beat them.”
ZeRo said it will take the top United States players around six months to catch up with the Japanese competitive scene.
Currently, there are four major events that will be hosting official Pokken Tournament Qualifier tournaments in the United States: DreamHack Austin, CEO 2016, the Pokemon US National Championships, and EVO 2016. There are an additional three official events sanctioned in Europe: Pokemon UK, DE, and IT National Championships.
The winners of all the official Pokken Tournament Qualifier events will have the opportunity to compete at the World Championship in San Francisco, California later in the year.
Cover photo by Vince Nairn