The official tournament circuit for competitive play in Pokémon is the Video Game Championships (VGC), established in 2009, which in different territories is managed by different groups. At the recent Korean Pokemon Trainers Cup Finals some players, upset at what they saw as mismanagement generally and in particular a poor tournament format, organised a protest during a dead rubber match: All would use Pokémon equipped with Metronome, a command that chooses almost any move in the game at random, and just spam Metronome through the match.
This would obviously lead to some bizarre matchups, and the cherry on the cake as far as the pros were concerned is the in-game text for Metronome: Pokémon wag their fingers back-and-forth to summon the move.
The tournament organisers did not see the funny side. VGC player and Team Korea Manager Nash was disqualified alongside four other players, and later took to social media to explain what was behind the protest and the disqualification.
I'm not going to get into the weeds of VGC rules and tournament formats, except to say that Pokémon Korea chose a qualifying format that involves best-of-one matches that has proven incredibly unpopular among competitive players. It also recently cancelled the results of a qualifying tournament, and as a sop to those who had done well offered a bye in the first round next year: Essentially confirming that the same hated format would remain. In addition to this the Korean scene has had a difficult time post-pandemic in returning to live events.
"No IRL events, constant problems in tour system, disregarding younger divisions, absurd compensations for the problems they caused," said Nash. "But the real problem behind all this is that they show absolute disrespect to our players."
The protest took place during the Trainers Cup Final Round, which would decide 1st through 4th place standings, but as Nash explains the team was already qualified for Pokémon Worlds Day 2 "so not much was at stake". Thus the players colluded to turn up with teams equipped with Metronome and spam the move in protest at the tournament organisers.
One player was banned before the match with no explanation given. The rest of the players submitted their teams for the match, and shortly before it was due to begin all got an email saying it had been cancelled. The substitute for the banned player had also joined in on the Metronome fun, and he got banned too.
"The reasoning behind it was that we all locked-in Pokémons that learned one specific move," said Nash. "According to Pokémon Korea, this falls into prohibited acts". More specifically, the players were cited for actions that Nintendo and / or The Pokémon Company (TPC) "deems inappropriate". The players were banned for… well, for doing something that TPC didn't like.
One of the teams deployed in the protest can be seen below.
The team I locked in, fyi.Other three players have locked in similar teams in their respective styles.'blue' Florges in tribute to my good friend. https://t.co/ktFc9dncsr pic.twitter.com/fLT58iQuNrJune 3, 2023
To play devil's advocate, competitive Pokémon is obviously big business and this protest was basically intended to turn the biggest tournament on the Korean circuit into something of a charade. The players doubtless expected there would be some blowback, but being banned from the Trainers Cup and losing their World Championship entry slots feels rather heavy handed.
"The Pokémon Company Korea has, over the years, been seriously lacking communication," Nash told TheGamer. "From how I see it, the series of events that have happened to not only South Korea, but Asian regions in general–from terrible formats to technical issues and disqualifying top contestants without valid reasoning–all leads to the same problem. Disrespect to [its] fans."
the entire top 4 of korean nats was dq’d for running 6 pokemon with metronome. TPC’s announcement phrased it in a way that makes it seem like they did something illegal / cheated. this is so unserious and it really sucks tpc will just get away with it scot free https://t.co/dHSJPohDER pic.twitter.com/JMzCSBtnO9June 3, 2023
And if the goal was to shift attention away from the Korean scene's problems, that's not exactly what has happened. The banned players have become lionised within the competitive Pokémon community for speaking out at Pokémon Korea on behalf of all the rest, and the stunt's now garnered much more attention than a weird Metronome-only battle ever would have.
"I’m proud of the Korean players," said former Pokémon world champion Wolfe Glick. "I've been around for a long time and I'm not shocked they were disqualified because TPC really cares about their brand image [...] and making a protest at their tournament… they're not gonna let that fly one way or another. The players probably knew they were taking a risk and really did it for the betterment of their scene, and that's why people are talking about it right, they didn't break any explicit rules [...] it was the fact they were doing it in protest that TPC Korea didn't like.
"I think it was very very brave of these players to risk their shot at being the World Champion. The fact that they were willing to risk it and they did lose it I think is very admirable, I don't know if it's something I could have done in the same position to be honest".
Here's former world champion Sejun Park, whose disposition is usually nothing but sunshine, adding his voice to the chorus.
The current state of Korean+Asian VGC operation is a ridiculous mess, and TPC is showing absolutely no respect to players who love and care about VGC. DQ'ing is all the real response we've got through the years.We desperately need help, communication, and change.Hear us, TPC. https://t.co/JQiVBV0V2QJune 3, 2023
On a basic level, you have to put in a lot of work and really love the game to ever have a shot at being the best Pokémon player in your region of the world. All of these players reached that stage and any could have won this tournament, but instead they chose to use that opportunity to highlight what they believe to be bigger problems in the scene. Whichever way you look at this, there's no doubting their bravery.
As for The Pokémon Company and its many subsidiaries, they are secretive in nature and from a business perspective that approach makes a lot of sense. It is responsible for managing one of the biggest media brands in the world, only talks about things in public when they're ready, and glimpses at its inner workings are few and far between. In many of the fields it works in, this is no problem.
But when it comes to competitive Pokémon, which TPC clearly wants to have some sort of control over, that same lack of communication is a weakness. The Korean scene has big problems, and when the most high-profile Pokémon players in the world are united in condemning what's been going on then silence is not the answer. If the response to player protests remains a simple thwack of the banhammer with no further engagement, you wouldn't be surprised to see those wagging fingers begin to pop up more and more elsewhere.