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Competitive Pokémon Is Full Of Cheating, According To New Data

A week after the winners were crowned at the 2023 Pokémon World Championship in Japan, a new survey of the Pokémon Scarlet and Violet competitive community appears to show just how rampant “cheating” is in the hit Nintendo Switch game. The data looked at recent teams fielded by pros and found that barely 50 percent of them were legal under the current rules of the game.

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“We’ve gathered [more than] 850 recent rental teams and analyzed them with our usual *free hack checks*. A season finale of Chris Brown’s nightmare!” tweeted Kurt, the creator of the unauthorized Pokémon save editor PKHeX, referencing The Pokémon Company’s current director of esports. “Looking back at this year and years prior, we still see a roughly 50/50 split of teams being illegally modified.”

Several competitors were disqualified from this year’s World Championship due to stricter checks for hacked Pokémon, leading to a massive controversy across the fandom over what exactly constitutes cheating and whether The Pokémon Company needs to take steps to make competing more sustainable. Players have to spend hundreds of hours grinding through the games and training new teams whenever strategies change, leading some to simply “generate” their preferred teams using tools like PKHeX instead. They aren’t any stronger than normal Pokémon, but they are massively easier to acquire.

According to Kurt’s data, roughly 17 percent of World Championship teams had hacked Pokémon on them. That may have even included the 2023 champion, Shohei Kimura. Kurt’s analysis found his important grass/poison-type Amoonguss had a modified ATK IV stat of 0. Another top competitor, Tang Shiliang, beat 2016 champion Wolfe Glick in the early rounds. He appeared to be fielding a couple of possibly hacked Pokémon as well. It should be noted that simply having “genned” Pokémon doesn’t mean the owner actually did anything elicit. Players often trade for teams, sometimes offering payment in exchange, and don’t always know if what they’re getting in return is the real deal or slightly modified.

Those modifications can be uncovered using PKHeX, the very same tool used to create them in the first place. “PKHeX has an extremely powerful ‘legality checker’ feature which can identify which encounter a Pokémon originated from, under what conditions it learned moves, and checks other features,” Kurt told Kotaku. It also looks for the “Home Tracker” associated with using the game’s online storage tool, as well as analyzing random number generation patterns in search of anomalies.

How badly these shortcuts rank on the scale of cheating remains a heated debate. For some fans, it ruins the spirit and integrity of the game whose core fantasy revolves around painstakingly raising Pokémon like virtual pets. Others see it as an impediment to more people competing in online play and discovering the joys of high-level Pokémon play. Despite creating PKHeX, Kurt doesn’t consider its use in competitive play blameless.

“Sure it’s not an advantage during the battle (combative), but the time saved can be instead spent on brain training (understanding the meta/as many teams as possible),” he told Kotaku. “This year’s analysis didn’t change my mind about anything, but it makes it more clear the entitlement that some players have. They don’t understand that the future will likely not be as accessible as the cheat-enabled present.”

Kurt thinks it’s unlikely the next Nintendo console will have the same security flaws that made hacking so rampant on the Switch and isn’t hopeful that the company will introduce more official shortcuts for competing. “If players don’t get accessibility changes now, they’ll likely be in for a rude awakening in the future.”

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