Pokemon GO Trainer Battles: What Niantic Got Right and Missed Opportunities

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PvP was a long requested addition to Pokemon Go, and in December 2018 it finally arrived. At the one month mark, reaction to trainer battles is mixed at best. My large (and heavily engaged) Discord has about 5% of players going beyond their daily reward battles, and less than 2% showing up for tournaments. Anecdotally, this syncs with what is generally happening in other local groups as well as those around the world.

While some trainers are content to use a team of Pidgey to get their rewards, there is a subset of players who love the new addition. Servers are springing up to allow global PvP tournaments, and trainers are rushing to get to Ultra friends to compete with each other. The Silph Road has done an admirable job launching Silph Arena, which provides a standardized ranking system and a path to Regional or Worldwide PVP championships. For those who have long craved competition in Pokemon Go, their time is here!

This page is dedicated to what Niantic did correctly with their PvP implementation, as well as places where it could be improved.

What Niantic Got Right

  • The battle length is pretty perfect. Long enough to be exciting and add strategy, short enough to fit a match in when you only have a few minutes or are casually passing another player at a raid.

  • Niantic was wise to tie desirable rewards to the PvP launch. While the drop rate of Sinnoh stones got its fair share of complaints, this keeps trainers seeing PvP daily, and offers a chance to re-engage them as changes/improvements are made.

  • Battles with the team leaders. This gives solo players a chance to earn rewards, and finally gives those who missed out on their Ace Trainer badge a path to earn it.

  • Online Battles were a pleasant surprise, even if it’s just for Ultra & Best Friends. It’s very nice to compete with friends around the world or local friends while you take a break from work.

  • Adding a second charged move. This greatly increases the strategy of a battle. In addition, the extra move has application in raids and gyms (in theory). PokeDraft players were thrilled to give their Groudon a second move instead of having to constantly TM or max a second version.

  • Shields were a positive surprise. They add an element of strategy, allow for fun swings in matches, and help keep the battles long enough to be interesting.

  • While some were initially skeptical, having three different CP-based leagues was a smart move. This allows players to use their maxed Pokemon but gives resource-strapped players the opportunity to compete in other ways. In addition, it greatly increases the number of viable Pokemon. Finally, it gave min/maxers a new goal, as a 0/15/10 Pokemon may theoretically perform better than a perfect version, so there is a new reason to hunt.

  • Move rebalance. While not perfect (sorry Fire types), the reshuffle changed the balance of power and brought new Pokemon to relevance.

  • Competition! For the first time since the initial gym system, there are benefits to being a hardcore player. Those who grind have a resource advantage, but hardcore extends beyond what Pokemon you have. The players who are dominating PvP are the ones who understand type advantage, shield strategy, and optimal times to use a charge. Those who put time into practicing and/or understanding simulations are the ones who excel.

Missed Opporunities

  • Niantic dropped the ball on matchmaking and tournament hosting. Maybe 5% of a local community is engaged in PvP, but when all communities are combined there is a huge global demand to play. A basic matchmaking system could randomly pair two players and allow trainers to participate in PvP whenever they desire.

  • In a perfect world, Niantic would host tournaments and handle ranking. Imagine software similar to the Silph Arena in-game. What about 8 person tournaments that fill constantly, or huge global tournaments, both with in-game prizes like rare candy or TMs. What it Niantic offered ranked open play in addition to tourneys, used Elo ranking, and had robust leaderboards & a Regional/National/World tournament invite system?

  • It’s understandable why Niantic made the choice to give equal rewards to winners and losers, but even a small bump for winners would have been a positive change. Give players a reason to understand game mechanics and try to get better. Reward those who do

  • The move rebalance had benefits mentioned above; however, Niantic dropped the ball by not making the mechanics more public/available. It’s fine that PvE differs from PvP, but it is a mistake to only show the PvE move attributes in the game when the PvP versions can be so different.

  • The battles against team leaders have so much potential but are stuck on beginner mode. Do we really need them to use the same 3 mon every time? Or never use shields? Maybe it's time to allow users to opt in to increase difficulty!

  • Pokemon Go isn’t meant to mirror the handhelds, but this would have been a perfect opportunity to introduce a speed stat and make a subset of Pokemon much more useful. The application could be basic. Likely the biggest technical flaw of PvP is that simultaneous charged moves come down to a die roll. Imagine if speed determined who acted first in those situations instead of matches coming down to who randomly gets to fire their move first.

  • The 2-second tapping of charged moves is ridiculous. Why are we furiously pounding on our $1000 phones? Why should damage come down to who taps faster? It’s like Niantic went out of their way to fit themselves into the “tapfest” stereotype. Two seconds isn’t a long time, so there was no need for a mini-game.


An overwhelming majority of the GamePress staff writers are enjoying PvP so far (when not playing biowpn… he’s impossible to beat!). It has a nice mix of strategy and fun. It gives us something to do with our Pokemon, and in some ways may be the endgame so many have long desired. We’re still early in its release cycle and are holding out hope that Niantic can make some changes to improve it even more.