Competitive Trainer School ep.1: Formats & Tiers

Hi guys, girls and anything in between! This is a concept I wanted to do since I first started to be good at Pokémon. It took me few months to be a OK competitive team builder and I am still learning how to play properly. In these articles called Competitive Trainer School, I will cover each theoretical aspect for competitive Pokémon. Each article will cover one important aspect and hopefully help you learn how to get better. Keep one thing in mind: I can teach you, but I cannot think for you. Once you have this knowledge, it is your turn to apply it.

Special thanks to Fildrong, Redemption and Hari, the three French YouTuber who taught me everything (or almost) and gave me back my love for Pokémon.

If it is to start playing on Hard mode for Pokémon Insurgence, to enter the official Would Championship Series, to claim dominance over Smogon’s alternative format or just to chill out with friends and have exciting matches, competitive Pokémon is at your reach and there is one little more step to do.

I am not a professional competitive trainer. I do not pretends to hold the holy sacred Truth and in no mean replace experts and experienced players. I simply think I have strong enough bases to share my knowledge with less experienced players.

In that time, back in 2018, where I was coatching newer players, they always asked me about vocabulary and team advices. Sure, I would answer them before they send me their (ofter crappy) teams. Before ANY comments, I always asked one thing:

What format is it?

You see, Pokémon is not a game where there is only one way to play competitively. This is for me the most important thing to learn. Before knowing terminology, I think a player must first learn what game they are playing.

There are two major entity when talking about the Pokémon Esport. Those are Game Freak and Smogon, using respectively the VGC and the OU. These two have radically different ruleset. Asking for OU advices to a VGC player is like asking for Hockey advice to a Basketball player.


Game freak host the World Championship Series, or WCS. Often called VGC for Video Game Championship, followed by a year (Ex. VGC 2020, VGC 2015), this is the official competitive format supported by The Pokémon Company. These matches are fought using double battle, where players each have 2 Pokémon on their side of the field at the same time.

At the beginning of every game, and that is one of the main difference between official formats and Smogon format, in VGC, player chooses 4 Pokémon out of a team of 6 at the beginning of every matches during the team preview. This add another notion of strategy, where you choose the Pokémon you think will will beat what your opponent bring out.

Banlists are also very different between the official and the unofficial formats. In VGC, the banned Pokémon are every Mythical and restricted legendary Pokémon. Mythicals are banned since they are often limited distribution in order not to give advantages to certains players. Restricted legendary includes every box art legendary at the exception of Kyurem and Mewtwo who aren’t allowed and Suicune who is allowed. Pokémon with the Battle Bond ability (so Ash-Greninja) is also banned.

When playing VGC, every Pokémon that have level over 50 will be brought down to 50. Also, each Pokémon must have different Pokédex number. This mean that you cannot use twice the same Pokémon, or having twice the Pokémon but with different form. As for example, Rotom-Heat and Rotom-Wash cannot be used in the same team.

It is also prohibited to have twice the same item held by team members. This mean that if both my Gyarados and Mimikyu have Life Orb, then my team is not allowed. In that case, one of my Pokémon should have another item, so I would give my Gyarados a Wacan Berry.

Games are put on a timer. According to the official Pokémon Video Games Rules And Penality Guidelines, players have 90 seconds to decide the Pokémon they will send during the team preview. Each players have 45 seconds to decide their action at the beginning of each turns and have 7 minutes of total play time. Live competition and special events are played under a 15 minutes timer where bigger tournament like regional or wolds are played under 20 minutes.


Smogon is an american community that have its very own competitive enviroment, guideline and ruleset. Game Freak does not like their formats, but they cannot argue on the fact their formats are far more popular. As far as I checked it is way easier to find ressources on Smogon’s competitive environnement than the officials formats.

In OU, the games are played in single format, where each player sends only one Pokémon at a time.

The games follows the Smogon-wide Clauses, the Smogon’s home ruleset:

  • Sleep Clause: A player cannot intentionally put more than one (1) of the opposing Pokémon asleep.
  • Species Clause: A player cannot have more than one Pokémon of the same National Pokédex number on their team (same as the VGC rule).
  • Evasion Clause: A Pokémon cannot have Double Team or Minimize in its moveset.
  • OHKO Clause: A Pokémon cannot use Fissure, Guillotine, Sheer Cold or Horn Drill in its moveset.
  • Endless Battle Clause: A player cannot intentionally prevent the opponent from ending the game without forfeiting.
    • For example, a Slowbro holding a Leppa Berry can create an endless battle using the moves Recycle, Heal Pulse, Slack Off, and Block. To do so, Slowbro traps one of the opponent’s Pokemon, PP stalls it, and heals Struggle damage indefinitely using Heal Pulse and Slack Off.

Then, the OU also have its own rules aside from the Smogon-wide Clauses. In generation 8 case,

  • Pokémon from the Uber tiers are banned.
  • Arena Trap, Shadow Tag and Moody are banned.
  • Baton Pass is banned.

The games have no level restrictions, so pretty much every Pokémon are level 100. I said pretty much, because of 1 strategy: FEAR. This is not relevant now, but I will talk about that later.

And now, the BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VGC AND OU: Where you play. Where VGC is played on cartridge, the OU is played on simulator! More accurately, Smogon has developed the simulator Pokémon Showdown!. This simulator has only one restriction: You can co whatever you want, as long as it is possible in the original game.

There also exist other Smogon tiers and alternative metagame, but for the sake of simplicity, I will keep it short for now. If you wonder about them, don’t panic. I will fully explain the smogon tiering system them in a later article, they are long to explain but worth listening I promise.

Advice #1: Before making a team, make sure you decide and know what are the rules you are playing.

I know this is a lot to take on for the first time, but please, these are very important notions to know before creating your team. You can thank me, I kinda dished out my Math homework and took most of my day to write my Tyranitar analysis and this article. I had to make a lot of cut and editing on that one, but I will make my best to keep it simple the next times. I know people often get headaches when I’m talking strategy.


ah, this is what I wanted to see. Thank you so much for writing this article!!!


@PeterHolmes74, I have a newfound respect for your talent now.


Don’t forget doubles ou. the online system on cartridge takes forever and the showdown sim is much faster another reason for smogon’s increased popularity. tiering is based on how effective a pokemon is, as some normal mons can outclass legends, such as cinderace or blaziken over cobalion.


I will tackle the smogon format later on.




Thanks for this bro
I am a beginner and really wanted to get into competitive play
Thanks again really appreciated


Bit of a necro, but that’s why I made this series. You can access further episodes with the links under the like button.