Several competitors at a European Pokemon tournament earlier this month say they were penalised by show organisers for making innocent mistakes that were flagged during an effort to round up cheaters.
The players say that tournament organisers used team sheets, documents normally used as a reference for commentators, to assess the legitimacy of players' teams and punished players for entering the wrong information. Three players told Kotaku that this is not a standard they'd seen in Pokemon tournaments before, and lead to harsher penalties than expected.
Jonathan Evans, who placed 2nd in the Pokemon World Championship in 2016 and was a competitor at the recent EU Internationals, said that, when he filled out his team sheet before the match he mistakenly wrote down that his Tapu Bulu was holding the wrong item. He says that mistake cost him his monster, giving him one less to use to fight his opponent.
"I had been practicing with Meadow Plate Tapu Bulu, but at the last second I changed to Miracle Seed," he said. "Miracle Seed and Meadow Plate each do the same thing; both give a 1.2x boost to the power of Grass moves."
When the judges noticed the discrepancy on his team sheet, he was penalised in accordance of the rules for cheating: in addition to losing his monster he received a game loss.
Evans was not alone. "Me and 5 other people, including 2 other people who had gotten top 4 at Worlds 2016, had Pokemon or items removed as a result of this process," he said. "We also received game losses."
Organisers for the event could not be reached for this story. We were told by a rep for the Pokemon Company that they are on Christmas break.
In a video recapping the situation, competitive Pokemon player and YouTuber Duncan MacLeod theorised that the extreme measures were taken because of the changes made to Battle Boxes in Pokemon Sun and Moon.
Players can used a hacked 3DS to manipulate the new games' revised Battle Box storage system to change stats, items and moves at any time, such as between rounds at the tournament. Given that the game was only released a month ago and this is a new kind of hack, the competitive circuit does not yet have a protocol on how to handle this.
The players I spoke to said they weren't upset at the judges for enforcing the rules, but they did wish they had known that the paper team sheets would be taken so seriously.
"I definitely think the judges were justified in taking extreme measures, as the integrity of the competitive game is important," said Wolfe Glick, who placed first in last year's World Championship and also competed in the EU Internationals, "But I think they absolutely should have been clear beforehand about what was going to happen. The people I personally know who were negatively affected by the team sheet discrepancy were not attempting to cheat the system. They just made a tiny mistake."
MacLeod believes these these penalties made a difference in the outcome of the tournament. "Jonathan Evans and Markus Stadter both had incredible records in day one going into day 2 but then washed out of the competition completely in the second day due to losing keys parts of their teams to the strange checks the judges put in place," he said over email. "They could easily both have been in contention for top 8 or even a win." Stadter had previously finished 3rd in the 2016 World Championship and had written down the wrong nature for a monster.
"This was the only EU International, so it is very upsetting that the one EU international of the entire year's circuit was affected in this way," MacLeod said.
Players are hopeful that changes can be made to ensure the integrity of the tournament without penalising legitimate competitors. In his video, MacLeod suggests various checks for hacked 3DSes, but he, Glick and Evans all said that they also want better communication between the judges and players. "There has never been any penalty for a discrepancy between your team sheet and your team, which was part of the problem here," Glick said.
When I asked Evans how the EU Internationals would influence the rest of the circuit, he said, "I'll show you in two weeks at Dallas."