Despite being a beloved Pokemon, Eevee has never been considered a strong pick for competitive play. For Giovanni Costa, that perception doesn't matter: He has dedicated himself to proving everyone wrong about Eevee.
Giovanni Costa is new to Video Game Championship series (VGC), the global Pokemon double-battle competition. He didn't even know Pokemon had a competitive side until Sejun Park won the 2014 World Championship with a Pachirisu on his team. Seeing Park win with something so unexpected gave Costa the spark to get involved.
"I always thought that was really cool of him to be able to take a Pokemon that no one thought would be good and just make it good," Costa said. "I decided I wanted to do something like that."
Costa threw his hat into the ring during the 2016 season and got 10th place at the Pokemon World Championships. That's pretty impressive for a newbie, and that season taught him valuable lessons that eventually set him on the path to building on the ultimate Eevee team.
Unlike other players, who often switch teams throughout the season, Costa prefers to refine a single team for every year-long format. So, when the 2017 rules allowed the use of Pokemon from Sun & Moon, Costa quickly settled on an Eevee-focused team. Anchoring the strategy is Eevee's new signature Z-move, Extreme Evoboost.
"It's silly to say this, but the team started as a joke," Costa said. "I wanted to use Eevee just because I love the [new move's] animation."
With the Z-move, Eevee can double all of its stats (except for HP) in a single turn. 270 doubled isn't anything to write home about, but Eevee isn't supposed to use those boosts to get KOs. Instead, Eevee serves a supportive role by passing its boosts to a teammate, using a move called Baton Pass. That way, already-powerful Pokemon can get a buff and actually do something with it.
The whole process takes two turns to set-up -- one for Evoboost, and another for the Baton Pass. However, Eevee's frailty in HP, defence and special makes it vulnerable during those turns. To help with that, Costa uses a bulky Clefairy with the move "Follow Me", which redirects opposing attacks away from Eevee. With its defensive stats doubled by the Eviolite item, Clefairy can keep using Follow Me to keep the boosted Pokemon that switches in for Eevee healthy, soaking up all the damage in its stead. Additionally, it also comes packed with a "Friend Guard" ability which reduces the damage done to its partner by 25 per cent.
Another situation where Clefairy comes to the rescue is when opponents try to counter Eevee's boosting strategy by manipulating the turn order. By setting up "Trick Room", a move which changes turn order so that slower Pokemon move first, players could theoretically attack any Pokemon boosted by Eevee before they can move. In response, Clefairy can use its extremely low speed and the move "After You", which lets its partner bypass the normal turn order and attack next. That way, a Pokemon with the "sweeper" role on the team can do its job of knocking out the enemy no matter what the opponent does.
Accordingly, the rest of the team was made up of various hard hitters that can make use of Eevee's Z-Move to single-handedly KO an opponent's entire team. Costa filled the last four slots with Arcanine, Tapu Bulu, Muk and Pelipper at the start of the season, but at the time, that didn't work as well as he'd hoped.
He continued to refine his strategy with the help of US National Champion Chase Lybbert, who suggested using Tapu Fini and Pheromosa instead of Pelipper and Muk. Tapu Fini is naturally one of the bulkiest Pokemon in the format, and doubling that bulk gives it plenty of time to take down opponents. Pheromosa, on the other hand, has one of the highest attack and speed stats in the format and can do a lot of quick damage even without a boost.
Costa also went on to swap Arcanine and Tapu Bulu for Krookodile and Gengar to cover some weaknesses. Krookodile can also take even greater advantage of its boosts with the move Power Trip, which gets a 20 base-power boost to its damage for each stat change on the user. With 10 changes hailing from Eevee's Z-Move (two for each of the five boosted stats), the attack has a whopping 220 base power. Gengar, meanwhile, has a wide range of coverage moves that can hit a variety of Pokemon weaknesses.
Costa continued to polish that strategy until making a breakthrough at the Dallas regionals last year. While he'd failed to make it to the single-elimination bracket phase of the European International Championship or San Jose Regional, he was only a single win away from doing it in Dallas. However, he would have to defeat close friend and three-time regional champion, Riley Factura.
Able to maintain control through most of the three game set, Costa executed his strategy almost perfectly. Tapu Fini completed a simple sweep in game one, but Factura was able to come back in game two with some good switches. When it came to game three, though, Costa caught Factura off guard by passing the boosts to Krookodile and later copying them with a Psych Up from Tapu Fini. With two juiced up heavy-hitters, Costa had an easy path to the top-cut.
While he lost in the top-16 due to a High Jump Kick miss from Pheromosa and some minor misplays, the players and teams that make it to "top-cut" are usually considered among the best by the VGC community. By getting to that point, he'd proven Eevee could hang with the big dogs.
Then, to solidify his conviction even more, Costa decided to enter into a smaller side-tournament the next day to see how things went. He didn't drop a single game despite facing off against top players, such as US championship point leader Ian McLaughlin and former senior division world champion Kamran Jahadi.
Now his sights are set on the Anaheim Regional, which starts on February 18-19, where Costa wants to improve on his previous record. To do that, he'll have to continue playing around threats like Roar and Haze (which can nullify his boosts entirely) and hope luck is on his side. The thing is, while Costa has contingency plans against attempts to stop Eevee's boost passes, he can't really plan for random elements, like statuses and critical hits. Recently, he also benched Gengar for Goodra, since it has similar coverage but far more bulk -- which is important for making the most of the boosts.
Costa has certainly fallen in love with the team, but not everyone feels the same way. Some consider Eevee to be a gimmick.
I was asked at a PC if I'll ever stop using "gimmicky" team, I then proceeded to beat that same person with the gimmicky team in question
— Giovanni Costa (@The_One_Gio) January 15, 2017
@The_One_Gio says the Eevee player
— ?Caleb Ryor ? (@CableVGC) December 28, 2016
Most of the hate stems from the fact that Costa's use and potential popularisation of Eevee means players have to go out of their way to prepare for it. While the moves used to counter Eevee teams can be used in other situations, many competitors would prefer not having to spend the valuable move-slots. After all, using move-slots in preparation for a single match-up could weaken a team against a many others.
Others believe the Eevee team has no potential and harp on Costa for sticking with it. This early in the season, an assessment like that is still hard to prove. Historically, there is precedent within the VGC for "gimmicky" teams that prove themselves, however.
Back in 2007, Japanese player Izuru Yoshimura won a tournament featuring Snorlax, Metagross, Smeargle and Bronzong. Smeargle and Bronzong would typically work together to set up Trick Room so that the slow Snorlax could come in and max out its attack stat with a Belly Drum. Then, Metagross would copy those boosts with a Psych Up and the two would go to town against the enemy team.
Yoshimura went on to win the 2008 World Championships, and it was done with a stat-boosting strategy. While several players were sceptical of a strategy like this at the start, plenty went on to adopt the archetype. Even three-time World Champion Ray Rizzo used it in regional qualifiers to lock-in an invitation to the world championship.
"I get a lot of hate for using Eevee, but I never let it get me down because I want to play the game my way," Costa said. "Whether I win or lose, I think I'm doing a good job of making Eevee belong to me, and that's something that most players can't say."