Resource How to Start Playing VGC Tournaments


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This past weekend at Salt Lake City regionals, z0mog asked me if I would be willing to help people pick up VGC, since it can be very confusing to start. I figured that making a post on the forum and leaving it as a permanent resource would be the best way to do it. Last time I made one of these was for the Smogon VGC Major, but that was for an online, unofficial event and was mostly just a metagame primer. Hopefully this will be more comprehensive and future-proof.

First of all, I wrote a short Flying Press Article that gives a basic overview of VGC's circuit. You can find that here. I would recommend skimming it just to familiarize yourself with some of the VGC jargon.

I'm going to split this post up into 4 sections: finding tournaments, preparing for tournaments, playing tournaments, and answering a Q&A.

Finding Tournaments

Effectively we use two types of distinctions for tournaments, locals and regionals+ (sometimes called majors). For the remainder of the 19-22 season (at the time of writing this, at least), local events are cancelled. However, for seasons after this one, it's fairly likely to assume they'll be back. You'll definitely want to take advantage of local events if you have access to them, as they really help supplement your invite to worlds or create your path to worlds entirely. To find these tournaments, you're going to want to use the Pokemon Event Locator (obviously nothing here for now but when they resume this is where you'll find them). The event locator is super simple. Type in your information and it'll spit out events in the radius of miles/KMs that you select.

Regionals+ are a bit easier. Typically every season there will be a page that will have all the remaining events listed. For regionals that's here and for internationals that's here. In quick table form, here are they regional+ events left for the season that anyone can enter.

CityCountry/US StateRegional/International/Special EventDate
IndianapolisIndiana, USRegionalMay 6-8
SeacacusNew Jersey, US (close to Newark airport)RegionalMay 20-22
VancouverBritish Columbia, CanadiaRegionalMay 27-29
MilwaukeeWisconsin, USRegionalJune 17-19
ColumbusOhio, USInternationalJune 24-26
BilbaoSpainSpecial EventMay 6-8
BremenGermanyRegionalMay 20-22
LilleFranceRegionalMay 27-29
MilanItalySpecial EventJune 3-5
FrankfurtGermanyInternationalApril 22-24
PerthAustraliaRegionalMay 20-22
MelbourneAustraliaRegionalJune 10-12

Once you decide which tournament you're going to, you're going to have to get your financials sorted. Unfortunately, VGC isn't cheap. You're going to have to look into travel, accommodation, entry fees, and food at the minimum, if not also things like Uber/Lyfts and entertainment.

For flights, I use skiplagged. It shows me a lot of flights at once and sometimes the hidden city options really really help. Be sure to check all viable airports around you, even if you think you found a good deal on your first attempt.

For housing, I would strongly recommend looking into splitting an airbnb or hotel with a group of 4ish if you don't have someone to house you for free. There's no real life hack for entry fees, but I would probably plan out food stops in advance. It'll save you time and possibly money, though admittedly a lot of food runs at regionals are fairly spur of the moment.

Alright, congratulations! You've picked out your tournament(s) and have your entry fee paid, flight and hotel booked. Now we have to prepare.

Preparing for Tournaments

In almost every Smogon event besides live tournaments, you're given a week to prepare for a specific opponent and you can change teams in your best of three. In live tournaments, you can also change your teams in between rounds. In VGC, your team is a commitment. Your battle box will be locked and you'll be asked to submit a team sheet (either digitally on or a handwritten sheet). Please please please take the time to make this teamsheet correct by the way, you do not want to be punished for team sheet errors. They can cost you game losses or even have your entire Pokemon removed, which will obviously negatively impact your tournament.

To be good at VGC and build a good team, I think you really do have to be playing very actively. This means laddering a few times a week, either on Sword/Shield or on PS, and keeping up with tournaments around you. I highly recommend following VGCPastes, Victory Road, and Nimbasa City Post on twitter, as these are three excellent resources that will keep you in the know. Pokemon is a very social game and you really do need to be following the discussion, so I highly recommend making a twitter and following at least these accounts and possibly those of some top performing players as well. All three also operate some form of website to help you visualize: VGCPastes has an entire spreadsheet depository of top performing teams, and Victory Road and NCP both operate websites with tournament results and team reports available.

I don't think this article is the place to talk about Trick Room, Tailwind, and Fake Out, but just some general advice on building your team: you're going to want to make it consistent. You're playing anywhere from 7 to 9 rounds of best of three games where your opponent has room to adapt, so teams that rely heavily on techs or only beat a select few matchups make for significantly weaker calls than well put together teams with a much more reliable matchup spread across the board. This is why you will almost always see bulky offense as the biggest share of archetypes at the top tables. As ck49 put it on Twitter, you're going to want to build with both vertical and horizontal synergy in mind, meaning:

Making the transition from playing Smogon to VGC really isn't that bad with the right amount of effort. Prinz and z0mog are some of the best modern examples of players who made the switch, but Nails, Blarajan, and Jibaku famously did it last generation to be some of the most successful players in VGC 16-18. Just be sure to play enough and anything is possible.

I cannot reiterate enough that Pokemon is a social game. It is in your best interest to find people to practice with specifically for the tournament to supplement just loading up ladder games, as you can get in bo3 play or prep specific matchups. There are pros and cons to prepping with people both attending or not attending the tournament that you should keep in mind. With preparing for people in the tournament, they're much more likely to be motivated and will want to help you because the practice is mutual, but that's one more person in the tournament that knows your team and likely has a gameplan for you. In large events, realistically, this won't be a problem unless you and your partner are a small group of players with the same record. Obviously, the inverse is true for those out of the tournament: you won't have to play them but likely their motivation will be lower. If not though, and someone is willing to put a lot of work in alongside you, definitely choose this route. Oftentimes for me, my prep groups have been a mix of both.

The Tournament

You're here. It's time to win. Let's walk to the venue. In the COVID era, you're going to need to show a vaccine card with 3 doses or 2 doses where the last dose was less than 7 months ago. You'll also need a mask that isn't made of cloth, I suggest an N95 or KN95. In pretty much any time, your bag is going to be briefly checked, and then it's on to the event hall. Switch events are played in LAN mode, so there will be some people there to help you set it up. After that's done, you'll need to have your battle box locked. If physical teamsheets are involved, this would also be the time where you submit those. Be warned, this is going to take a while. A lot of boxes need to be locked and there are only a few judges. We got to the venue at 6:30 AM (admittedly a bit early) and didn't start round 1 until 10:00ish. Be prepared, keep some snacks on you, chat up the people around you, talk to friends, etc.

VGC Tournaments use Swiss, as most people know. The length of the tournament will be determined by the size of the tournament. You can use something like 6prizes' top cut calculator to estimate what record you'd need for top cut or championship points, and how many x-2 players will bubble into top cut (normally this is between 0 and 3). It is adviseable to play out all of your games, firstly for the experience but also definitely for the points. Most tournaments will see all players finish x-2 (where x is the total amount of rounds minus 2, i.e. 6-2 in an 8 round event) earn points. Even some x-3 players can slide into points, like Wolfe did at this past SLC regional.

Here's how actual rounds work: pairings are going to be posted, either physically or digitally (SLC was digital only, keep your phone charged!!), and there will be a table number posted. You walk over to the designated area for VGC play and sit down at your table number, it doesn't matter which side. Your opponent will come over (ask their name to double check you're in the right place, it will also start up a conversation to make the wait a bit less awkward) and you can set up your switch on the dock provided. These have power cords built in, so you won't have to worry about charging. If you have a Pro Controller or any other wired controller (I really recommend it), you can plug those into the dock as well. Your controller has to be wired, and even Joy Cons have to be attached to the switch when using them. You'll be given a code to enter the battle using Sword and Shield's Live Competition function in the VS menu, and that's that! You're on to battle. You have 50 minutes to finish your games, which is almost always plenty to finish your best of three in time. If your match approaches time, a judge will come over and inform the timer protocol to you both, which is an additional 3 turns in the game you're playing.

Between pairings being posted, the actual round, and result compiling, you can expect rounds to take about 70 minutes after the first 1-2. If you finish really early and there's food in the hall you can maybe make a run, but definitely take the time you have to hydrate and use the bathroom if necessary. You may be asked for a hack check throughout the event, which is where a judge will come over and pair with your switch to make sure your Pokemon are legit.

Standings are posted. If you finished x-0 or x-1, you're guaranteed to make top cut for tomorrow. All the x-2 players will likely be anxious to see if they snuck into one of the few remaining top cut slots, including you if you're one of them. Standings are posted and... boom! 7th place! What happens to you now?

Well first of all, congrats on top cut! The judges are going to need you to come to a designated area to give you a rundown on Sunday's proceedings and check your Switch again, or for the first time if you dodged a hack check during Swiss rounds. Show up tomorrow and play your best!

You have the whole night to prepare for your top 8 game, and you'll know who your opponent is since the bracket is revealed (1 seed plays 8 seed and works its way in). Even if you're tired and just want to celebrate, at least put a bit of time into the prep process. Sunday morning comes and it's as simple as it sounds. Win your top cut games until you win the tournament, and go home if you lose. If you do lose, a judge will escort you to the prize table to pickup a few goodies and the rest of the day is yours to enjoy.

If you didn't make top cut, you're free to go as soon as final standings are posted (besides 9th-16th, who get a few TCG packs as prizing), which gives you about an extra hour to enjoy your night. You don't have to show back up on Sunday, but you're likely going to want to because championship sunday is the best. It's when the event shifts from a competitive gauntlet to a real community moment, as friends gather around and watch the insane top cut games about to unfold on the stream (if there is one around you).

And that's pretty much how a tournament functions! I hope this guide was comprehensive enough. I'm now going to reply to a few tweets directed at me when I said I would make this post when I woke up this morning, but this is the gist of it. Message me/reply to the thread here or on Twitter @zeePKMN if you'd like to ask anything else (preferably not discord) if you have any questions :)

So I think we've done a good job talking about IRL tournaments, but for many reasons IRL is not available to everyone and that's okay. I think after 2 years of a super strong grassroots scene, VGC online will be around for quite a while. I'm going to shill for Victory Road again here, as their tournaments are some of the largest and most prestigious online events. If you want weeklies (on PS!), I'd look into Mt. Silver and their sister org Rose Tower, the former of which has a discord here. Playing them is basically the same as IRL events in terms of prepping and team lock and such, but you may use open teamsheets instead, which means you can see your opponent's PokePaste minus anything that would reveal stats (EVs, IVs, Natures). Battlefy is a daunting platform to use at first but it isn't too bad, you get a notification every time a new round is up and a chatroom opens to communicate with your opponent.

The three accounts I plugged earlier definitely help, but specifically for VODs of tournament games I would look at the Official Pokemon Channel, there's such a wealth of high stakes games recorded there that people would never thing to find amidst the TCG trailers and animated shorts.

We talked about teamsheets a bit but please ask if there are any more questions. In terms of what to bring, here's what I'd suggest

ESSENTIAL: Switch, Phone, Money, Identification, Chargers
RECOMMENDED: Snacks, Pro Controller, Headphones (you can't listen to music but you can plug them into your Switch), Water/Energy Drinks, Tylenol, Power Bank, any Medical Supplies you may need (i.e. my diabetes medication)

Of course there are other things I think you should bring with you but probably leave at your accommodation, Toiletries (DEODORANT AND TOOTHPASTE), Laptop (you probably wont have time to use it, though it's a nice powerbank for charging because outlets are limited), and extra clothes.

Teambuilding and breeding are definitely two different skills. I think this article has some good pointers on building teams, but I would honestly just turn to youtube for a teambreeding guide.

THIS IS A BIG ONE! I try really hard to move past my games while the tournament goes on, and review them afterwards to learn what went wrong. When you start playing your first couple of losses will really sting, but if you let one or two losses set you off than the tournament is as good as lost. You have to learn to move past hax, admit when you got outplayed, and just chill. Talk to friends, listen to music, drink water, use the bathroom, call a friend or family member, anything you need to regroup!

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