Competitive Dissonance

A Discussion on the Flawed Structure of League Challenges

Hey guys! My name’s Michael Slutsky, and I’m a Master from Minnesota. I’m in my seventh year of playing, which means I’ve been around long enough to see some big changes come to this game that I love. Back when I started, the season began with Battle Roads, transitioned to Cities, then entered the most important stretch of the season with two weekends of States, followed by a single Regionals (how far we’ve come). After another series of Battle Roads came Nationals, and the season concluded with Worlds.

Two years ago, Pokémon made a big change to the structure of Battle Roads: what was once a tournament of Swiss rounds preceding a top cut became a tournament of pure Swiss. This change was met with mixed reactions by the community (I personally disliked the change), but otherwise, Battle Roads remained at the start of the season and marked the final stretch of it.

Then, last year, Pokémon again brought sweeping changes, doing away with Battle Roads and replacing them with League Challenges. Structurally identical to the final season of Battle Roads, these Swiss-only tournaments instead found themselves spread over an entire season, peppering small tournaments amidst the larger, heavier tournaments. League Challenges are an interesting topic for the community, and are the focal point of this article. Without further ado, let’s get into it!

A League of Their Own

hitmonchan pikachu boxing

I’ll come right out with it: I think League Challenges should not be part of the competitive invite structure. I know that they are designed to be entry level tournaments for people to get a feel for the tournament atmosphere, which begs the question as to why they are then part of the invite structure at all. Not only that, they can also be worth up to a staggering one-third of an invite! If you live in an area where there are few to no League Challenges, then you are inherently at a disadvantage to someone who lives in an area with a lot of them, simply because you lack an easily accessible source of Championship Points that your opposition may have (say, to finish out an invite).

Their importance to the competitor are even higher this season because of the lower Championship Point threshold for Worlds. It seems counterintuitive to have a tournament be something that’s supposed to be a casual entrance to the game for new players, while also potentially being extremely cutthroat in competitive areas. When you put such a value into these tournaments, it can be tough to enjoy for all players, especially those stressing over invites. It’s a clash of interests, and that doesn’t seem good for the game.

The differentiation between which Leagues can run the League Challenges and which cannot doesn’t really make much sense either. I know there are things I’m missing here (due to not being a League Leader and also not being a higher up/whatever), but from the outside, it seems like TPCi only wants responsible League Leaders to run these tournaments, due to their Championship Point payout. It isn’t really the point of this piece and I wholly admit I don’t know the details of this, but I think my suggestion later can provide a solution to what I assess the problem to be, and, ultimately, and grant more Leagues the chance to run League Challenges.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself: but Michael, what do you suggest we do instead? Well, I’m glad you asked! Instead of having League Challenges pay out in Championship Points, make them pay out in Play! Points!

The Other Points

The idea is simple: by making League Challenges give out Play! Points instead of Championship Points, you keep the incentive to play in them, while also removing them from the competitive grind. This way, these tournaments can still be valuable to competitors because they can give you those last few Play! Points you need to be eligible to compete at Nationals and provide a tournament setting to test a deck, while still maintaining their light atmosphere.

Instead of needing to take off weekends to travel to larger tournaments to scramble for Play! Points, you can instead casually show up one Saturday a month, play in a friendly tournament, and get not only your Play! Points for competing, but potentially more by doing well; this saves you both time and money. Traveling to a two-day event like a Regionals now gives you the chance to earn even more Play! Points, allowing players who work/have school/whatever throughout the year more opportunities and ease of access to play in the greatest tournament of the year (Nationals!!).

Currently, the Player Rewards program does not exist, but changing to Play! Points would be a great opportunity to see its return. Previously, there had been significant prizes awarded to those who earn the most Play! Points, which were only accumulated by heavy League play combined with extensive travel. While this system was designed to show who has the most “dedication,” it unintentionally benefited someone who had a lot of money/time/resources/whatever (not slighting anyone, just how I see it). By giving Play! Points at League Challenges instead, earning the top prizes from the old Player Rewards program becomes a lot more plausible, which can cause more people to become invested.

The substantial increase in the amount of Play! Points entering circulation could provide a great opportunity to really expand the reintroduced Player Rewards program. What if, in addition to earning prizes for the amount of Play! Points you have at the end of a season, you could actually spend those Play! Points? An online store, similar to the Professor Rewards store, with exclusively stamped mats, hats, dice, dice bags, sleeves, boxes, you name it! The recently opened Poké could act as the perfect venue for this!

The idea of a store geared specifically toward competitors gives many of us a reason to check out the site, which naturally brings more traffic and can translate into potential sales of the normal product offered there. Taking this a step further, the Play! Points could be used to purchase coins, gems, tournament tickets, sleeves, cosmetics, and even codes for Pokémon Trading Card Game Online – this would be a great chance for Pokémon to really link their online ventures together into a dedicated ecosystem. Play in a League Challenge, hop online to Poké, use those Play! Points to pick up some codes, then jump into PTCGO and use those codes to unlock some cool cards and build your deck.


Final Considerations

If the reason that certain Leagues can run League Challenges while others cannot is due to the fact that Pokémon wants to regulate the amount of potential Championship Points accessible to players, then this change to a Play! Point payout completely negates this restriction and can grant every League the chance to run these kinds of tournaments. If the reason is because Pokémon wants a respectable League Leader to ensure that results are reported properly, then this change, while not solving the problem, can remove the consequences players can receive from missteps on the organizer’s part. Seeing as the tournaments no longer affect a player’s chances at an invite, losing out on a few Play! Points from a League Challenge is negligible, and they can be earned at a different tournament at no real cost to the player.

One of the biggest benefits to changing the Point structure associated with League Challenges is that it places tangible value to the Play! Points. What was once simply a qualifier for a players ability to compete at Nationals would now act as a form of currency that can earn you some sweet Pokéswag. In addition, this change can draw in more players to a league with the prospect of some cool prizes/merchandise they can earn just by showing up and enjoying the game!

While some may argue that Pokémon is in need of a small series of tournaments during its season, I disagree. The combination of a massive run of City Championships (these things last forever, and there are now many marathons around the country), three weekends of State Championships, and three different circuits of Regionals (each with multiple weekends to boot!), the ability for players to earn their invites is still easier than it’s even been before. The players who’ve qualified in the past two years have easily gotten over 300 Championship Points without League Challenges, and surely they can do it again.

Furthermore, the few coveted spots that award players with an automatic Day 2 invite are supposed to show who performed the best over the season, and allowing some players to milk a potential 90 Championship Points from what is essentially a local tournament seems to take away from the prestige of a top 16 invite (for the US/Canada). When two players are neck and neck for that last spot, the player that performed better throughout the season but didn’t attend League Challenges will lose out to the one who did, which doesn’t seem very fair to me. Getting an invite is supposed to separate the best from the rest, and thanks to League Challenges, the water is a bit murkier.

Well, that’ll do it! Hope you enjoyed reading my article, and my thoughts on the matter! Do you like League Challenges? Dislike ’em? Sound off, I’d love to hear what you guys think! Also, I’d like to wish everyone the best of luck at any upcoming Cities they may be going to! A lot of people are shooting for that 300 CP mark, which makes this season one of the most competitive ever. See ya around!

– Michael

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