Pokémon is a series with a massive fanbase that spans across different age groups. As such, as younger players get older and more experienced at playing the game, they often seek a greater challenge than the game’s AI can provide. When we are no longer challenged by our environment, we have to find challenge in each other. This initially started with the Link Cable in the days of the Gameboy, but the development of wifi allowed for wireless communication and global interaction. This is the point where competitive Pokémon really took off, as you were no longer limited to your inner circle of friends or battle simulators found online. With the development of a larger competitive scene, different ideologies came into play, largely originating in a dichotomy between two groups of players: cartridge players, who played Pokémon on the system it was designed for, and simulator players, who play Pokémon on computer programs meant to replicate battles online. While this dichotomy has largely dissolved with time, and Nintendo seems to show no strong interest in cracking down on simulator play, the rulesets that originated in the two distinct circles still exist today.
The competitive Pokémon scene can be broken down into three subsets of the game: official tournament play, the Battle Spot, and online simulator play. Official tournaments refer to the Video Game Championships (VGC), an annual circuit leading to the World Championship. The ruleset for the tournament changes every year in regards to what Pokémon are allowed. There are three divisions: Junior, Senior, and Masters, all divided by age. VGC events also host tournaments for other Pokémon games and the official Pokémon card game. VGC battles are always in the Doubles format, meaning each player has two Pokémon on the field at the same time. For every battle, each player picks 4 out of the 6 Pokémon they brought to the tournament to use in battle.
The Battle Spot is the online quick-play for Pokémon. Battle Spot rules vary based on the format they are being played, but the most popular is the Battle Spot Singles (or BSS.) The Pokémon that can’t be used in Battle Spot include certain legendaries and event Pokémon. Each player brings 3 Pokémon into battle.
Online simulator rules vary widely depending on the simulator you play on or the community you follow. However, the most common characteristic of online competitive communities is the creation of tiers. Official Pokémon circuits are more restrictive on items and number of Pokémon used in battle, while tiered play based on the rules of online communities tend to be more liberal with items but more restrictive on what items and moves you can use, in addition to how you can play the game.
Tiers, at their core, exist to create environments, or “metagames,” where more Pokémon can be used in a viable manner. Not all Pokémon are created equal (a topic for another day) and there are many Pokémon that simply cannot be used effectively in tournaments. Tiers ban certain Pokémon from other tiers, creating a less competitive environment for Pokémon that might not be able to keep up with stronger Pokémon. So while you might never see a Fearow in an official tournament, in tiered play, this is a place where you can use Fearow effectively because it isn’t being outclassed by its competition.
These are the three main sections of the competitive community. All three formats can be played on simulators or using the game cartridge itself; it is the rules that matter more than the platform. With that being said, it is important to communicate with your opponent, because it is not fair if you both are playing by two different sets of rules.