Credit: Pokemon

Should pro Pokemon players be punished for hacking?

The competitive Pokemon community has been buzzing in recent weeks following the reveal that many of its top pro players are actively engaged in hacking the game. One question has come through that buzz above all others: Should these pro Pokemon players be punished for their hacking activities?

Hacking and cheating aren’t new problems in competitive gaming and esports. They have long been an issue, and fans typically agree on the need to punish those who break the rules aggressively, setting an example that such behavior won’t be tolerated in a competitive setting.

The question now being asked in the Pokemon community is the result of revelatory admissions made by prominent pro Pokemon player Brady Smith, who told in an interview that cheating in Pokemon in tournament settings was rampant after he was caught taking part himself. And it’s the type of cheating involved that has everyone asking questions and wondering if changes need to be made.

Should using hacked Pokemon really count as cheating?

Central to the debate around the game’s competitive scene is whether used hacked Pokemon in pro tournaments should really count as cheating. Pro Pokemon is all about using optimized sets of trained Pokemon in battle with one’s opponents, but acquiring and training this Pokemon is where the competitive nature of tournaments can run against the grinding nature of the base Pokemon games.

Finding, catching, training, and properly optimizing Pokemon can be a time-consuming process. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing for players who are enjoying the games casually. It can even be part of the fun, working one’s way through battles across different regions, figuring out the best Pokemon types to use and how best to train and evolve them. It’s part of the reason many play the games to begin with.

But things are different in competitive venue. Meta strategies evolve, and pro players need to be able to adjust to these tactical considerations dynamically. The ideal lineup and optimization of Pokemon could change within weeks or even days of a major competition, with prestige and money both in play.

What does a player do then? Should they just grit their teeth, grind it out as best they can, and show up with a lesser team of Pokemon? Few would be willing to make that compromise. So instead, many players are choosing to make a very different compromise by using and trading for hacked Pokemon.

What’s the benefit of using hacked Pokemon in tournaments?

Using hacked Pokemon allows tournament competitors to skip the grueling grind required to ready Pokemon for competition, which is especially relevant when players are having to prepare on relatively short schedules for upcoming events. These schedules can become tighter when changes in meta strategy require updated Pokemon and Pokemon teams.

pokemon trainer

This calls into question what the purpose of professional Pokemon tournaments really is. Is it to determine which player is most proficient in battling teams of Pokemon against each other? Or is it the winner to be the player with the most time available to grind those Pokemon to perfection, plus the willingness to commit nearly endless hours to the process?

The latter option would seem to better fit the spirit of the game, but not so much the spirit of good competition. Nor does it allow players to practice and prepare for actual battles, given how busy they’ll have to be just grinding their Pokemon into an ideal state.

It’s easy to understand, then, why there is such debate. Are pro Pokemon tournaments about the competitive play that happens at the event, or the preparation that leads up to it?

Until Pokemon tournament organizers decide to make a formal decision in changing the rules to better accommodate one side or the other, expect this debate to continue into the foreseeable future.

Jared has been involved in gaming media for over two decades. He loves narrative-driven single-player games just as much as he loves competitive multiplayer titles, from RPGs like Planescape: Torment to MOBAs like League of Legends. You can follow Jared on LinkedIn, Twitter or Muck Rack.