The International Challenge June is unique among the International Challenges because of when it takes place. By the final week of June, most Trainers competing in the Video Game Championships have a pretty good idea where they’ll fall in the final Championship Points rankings. By the time the 2016 International Challenge June came around, the National Championships had already finished in most countries. Even for players who still had an opportunity to play in their local National Championships, the Championship Points available in the International Challenge June were unlikely to be the difference between earning an invitation to the 2016 World Championships or not.
As a result, the main function of the International Challenge June wasn’t so much a last-minute bid for Championship Points as it was a final opportunity for tournament practice against global competition prior to the 2016 Pokémon World Championships. The competitors were mostly whittled down to those who still had battles to fight in their 2016 Video Game Championships season (and those just looking to earn a Play! Point to get a Shiny Mewtwo), which led to a field that looked a little different from those of most other Online Competitions. For instance, we saw fewer players from Japan and South Korea in this tournament than usual now that their World Championships qualifiers have been determined.
The International Challenge June nonetheless provided a valuable opportunity for players to practice before the final events of the 2016 season. Many of the top finishers are players who have already qualified for the 2016 World Championships, including US National Championships Masters Division runner-up Aaron Traylor. Plus, International Challenge Online Competitions are always a great opportunity to try out the battle format of the Video Game Championships. Lots of players tried out Online Competitions for the first time with this competition. It’s never too late to get started!
An Experimental Challenge
One great thing about most players not needing to squeeze every last Championship Point from this competition was that it gave them an opportunity to experiment before the final events of the season. We saw many players stray from the guideposts of previous tried-and-true teams. While the majority of top players didn’t stray too far from the beaten path, several top finishers adjusted a couple of their Pokémon for this competition.
One big standout in the tournament overall was Rayquaza moving up in the Pokémon rankings, jumping from the 11th most popular Pokémon in both of the previous International Challenges to the 8th most common Pokémon in June. Several Trainers put up excellent performances with Rayquaza at the Italy National Championships, and a team with Rayquaza ended up winning the Japan National Championships that took place on the same weekend as the International Challenge June. The interest in Rayquaza seemed to wane at the US National Championships, but players all over the world should take note of Rayquaza’s popularity in this Online Competition. Or maybe it will be at the 2016 World Championships that the players practicing with Rayquaza show everyone what they learned. We did at least see some top finishers using Rayquaza, including one who combined it with a surprising Ditto holding a Red Card.
While the popularity of the rest of the 12 most-common Pokémon stick to the trends set in the previous International Challenges, many of the top players took an opportunity to experiment a little. Trying out tricks with Groudon and Xerneas seemed to be a theme among top players in the tournament. Nine of the top 10 players in the Masters Division used this powerful pairing, but many of them put a unique spin on their version of the team. One player brought the common Kangaskhan and Salamence alongside the two Legendary Pokémon, but shed convention by finishing his team with Raichu and Clefairy. These rare Pokémon are much more than just cute—Raichu’s Charm and Fake Out moves and Clefairy’s Follow Me and Heal Pulse moves, as well as its Friend Guard Ability, made it very difficult for opponents to take down the team’s powerful offensive Pokémon.
Another top Trainer started with a familiar grouping of Kangaskhan, Groudon, Talonflame, and Xerneas, but completed his team very differently by adding an Amoonguss, as well as a Gengar that knew both Skill Swap and Trick Room. Most players have started using a Pokémon that knows Trick Room with Xerneas and Groudon, but we almost never see Gengar used in this role. We expect many of this player’s opponents anticipated a more conventional Gengar on this team, allowing for some big surprise plays with Trick Room. Unlike at a National Championship or the World Championships, matches in PGL tournaments only consist of a single game, so a big surprise like Gengar using Trick Room can sometimes steal a match.
We’ve seen a few players trying to work Scrafty into their teams as we approach the 2016 World Championships, and there was another success story for the Hoodlum Pokémon in the International Challenge June. One of the top teams used Scrafty in place of the usual Salamence alongside Talonflame, Kangaskhan, Xerneas, Groudon, and Smeargle. Using Scrafty kept a Pokémon with the powerful Intimidate Ability on the team while adding another Pokémon that could help Xerneas and Groudon by causing an opponent to Flinch via Fake Out.
Because of its odd time in the Championship Series schedule, the 2016 International Challenge June may not have meant a lot for players still grinding out Championship Points. But it did give everyone opportunities to experiment and practice new tactics. Who knows—maybe we’ll see some of these interesting approaches again at the Pokémon World Championships.
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