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How Ash Ketchum finally became a Pokémon master

A competitive Pokémon expert’s serious critique of Ash Ketchum’s career as a Pokémon trainer.

Illustrated image of Ash Ketchum with a Pikachu on his shoulder facing a Blastoise.

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Ash Ketchum and his rival, Gladion, were down to just one Pokémon each in the finals of the inaugural Alola league. All their friends and family watched in tense anticipation to see who would clinch victory with one final knockout.

Both sides released their Lycanrocs, though each was a different form of the same species. Ash’s was lithe, poised like a wolf ready to hunt. Gladion’s stood on its hind legs, strong and brimming with energy. The battle would come down to which trainer could better use what was essentially the same Pokémon.

Gladion ordered his Lycanroc to send out wave after wave of rocky spires toward Ash’s, which dodged them in the ring as it searched for an opening. Ash told it to get in close and strike with a high-speed dash called an Accelerock, but Gladion’s Pokémon used Counter to strike back with twice the power.

The two Pokémon traded blows until they were both on the verge of exhaustion. With one final Accelerock, Ash’s Lycanroc powered through another Stone Edge from Gladion’s to attempt a finishing blow. And while Gladion’s Lycanroc was ready with another Counter, Ash ordered his Pokémon to use a counter attack of its own. The crowd watched, stunned, as Gladion’s Lycanroc went flying out of the ring and fainted.

Ash won the battle. He had won many tournament matches before, but this one was different. After 22 years, seven regional leagues and many close calls, he was finally a champion. With cheers roaring in his ears, he stood with his mouth open, tasting absolute victory for the first time as a career of failures melted away.

The Pokémon anime is fictional, but many real-life fans who grew up watching Ash’s journey shared his happiness. They had spent more than two decades watching him struggle to claim a league win, and the more knowledgeable knew that many of his struggles were self-inflicted, the result of suboptimal decisions and a poor grasp of strategy. A trainer with Ash’s experience should, for example, know that ground-type Pokémon are immune to electric-type attacks, or that fully evolved Pokémon are mostly stronger than their earlier forms.

After all, a large portion of the anime’s viewers have beaten multiple Pokémon leagues in the video games, employing the same skills they knew that Ash, for all of his training and experience, should possess. After years of watching the show knowing that they could battle circles around Ash, they finally got to see him live up to their expectations. For anyone who understands Pokémon battles in the non-anime world, his triumph was a relief after years of relentless frustration.

But does winning his first league truly vindicate Ash as a trainer? Can we ignore the years of missteps? The only proper way to evaluate him is to compare his track record, and its context, against the scores of competitive Pokémon trainers who have won tournaments playing the video game. By applying a basic understanding of competitive Pokémon, it’s time to finally determine just how good Ash really is.

Illustrations of the heads of Ash Ketchum’s six Pokémon that he used in battle during the Lumiose Conference.

How Pokémon training works outside the anime

It’s easy to look down on Ash’s performance. After all, he has lost so many Pokémon league tournaments that even The Pokémon Company International dedicated an entire article to his failures.

The comparison is even more bleak when stacked against competitive Pokémon trainers, who use every ounce of the community’s accumulated knowledge to reach skill levels that would blow the minds of the anime’s characters.

But before delving into that body of knowledge, it’s important to distinguish the two kinds of competitive Pokémon, which are very different.

The first is the competitive singles community, which pits teams of six Pokémon in battles just like you see in the games, with one Pokémon on the field at a time. These players mostly congregate at, a community and resource for Pokémon that groups monsters into tiers based on their usage in online battles. By dividing Pokémon up in this way, it’s easy to see who some of the lesser-used monsters can viably compete against, letting trainers know when they can actually use their weaker, but beloved, Pokémon.

Smogon’s tiers are unofficial, but they are the most widely recognized. The site also holds frequent leagues and tournaments that have their own specialized rules for trainers to test their mettle.

Then there is the official Video Game Championship series, which adds more depth to the Pokemon formula. VGC matches are double battles, in which trainers pick four of their six Pokémon before every battle and use two at a time. Matches are also best-of-three, giving players chances to adapt to initial mistakes. Compared to single battles, double battles allow for much more strategy.

Both styles of Pokémon battles create their own metagames — that is, a shared understanding of the strongest strategies at a given time. These strategies evolve as trainers adapt or devise counters to the most dominant teams, and spread through the Pokemon community thanks to the internet. Many competitive teams are composed of the same Pokemon as a result, in stark contrast to the teams constructed by trainers in the anime.

But there’s more to team building than just picking the right battle roster. Some competitive trainers have much of the process down to a science, but it can be as complex as any physics problem. In fact, there are so many decisions to make when building a team that many competitive trainers will recommend that new players use someone else’s team while learning the ropes. Starting from scratch can be overwhelming.

To start, each Pokémon is born with a certain nature that affects the growth of their six stats: HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense and Speed. Based on a Pokémon’s intended role in battle, trainers must breed their Pokémon until each member has an ideal nature. Fortunately, the latest game, Pokémon Sword and Shield, has made finding the right nature easier thanks to mints, a new item that changes the effect nature has on a Pokémon’s stats.

Pokémon also have individual values, which range from 1-31, and act like genes. When combined with base stats, trainers can calculate a Pokemon’s potential at certain levels. However, these values are randomly generated without the help of certain in-game items, and Pokémon are usually only considered competitively viable if they have maximum IVs in every stat. This means trainers also breed every member of their team until they are essentially “genetically perfect.”

Pokémon also accumulate additional stat bonuses called effort values in battle. These allow trainers to tweak their team on an even more granular level, so that two Pokémon of the same species, with the same nature and the same IVs, can have slightly different stats.

Trainers must also pick each Pokémon’s four available moves. While there is always some variance among teams considering the many attack options available, the competitive community has generally figured out which moves are worth considering. All of these factors — stats, IVs EVs and moves — boil down into sets. Whether custom made or borrowed from others, sets are templates for how competitive trainers talk about Pokémon.

All of this illustrates the gap between competitive trainers and Ash. While he certainly puts thought into what Pokémon to use in a given battle, he has never gone to such lengths when building a team, nor does he have the resources to do so.

And these vast differences are the biggest reason Ash deserves some sympathy for his battling style.

The problem with evaluating Ash

In a vacuum, Ash looks like a chump next to any competitive Pokémon trainer. But after a deep examination of the differences between the games and the anime, it’s clear how unfair that comparison is.

After all, competitive Pokémon operates in an idealized version of the anime’s world. Trainers have access to any Pokémon at any time (including legendary Pokémon) and can whip them into fighting shape mere hours after hatching. There is also a deeply interconnected community that regularly exchanges information about best practices based on a cumulatively staggering number of Pokémon battles.

Ash, on the other hand, only has access to the Pokémon around him as he goes on his adventure. He certainly doesn’t have the time nor means to breed Pokémon in search of the perfect specimen. He can also forget about using legendary Pokémon, which real life trainers use all the time because of their generally superior strength. In Ash’s world, there are only a handful of each legendary Pokémon, if that. They’re not available for use.

Also, despite the prevalence of video phones and advanced technology in Ash’s world, there doesn’t seem to be anything equivalent to the internet. If there is, Ash certainly doesn’t use it to bone up on the latest competitive Pokémon trends.

Finally, Pokémon battles work differently in the game than they do in the anime. In the game, battles take place in distinct turns and are determined by defined stats, with each move resulting in roughly the same outcome every time it is used. In the anime, battles happen in real time, and moves can interact with the environment in unique ways that are impossible to replicate in the video game.

As a result of these differences, it’s best to compare Ash to his peers in the anime rather than judge him by the standards of the competitive scene. But that dodges an interesting question. What if Ash was judged by the standards of competitive trainers? What should he have been doing all these years? Let’s follow our plucky protagonist through the course of the Pokémon anime and critique his performance with a trained eye.

Illustration of Charizard laying on its side, sassily breathing fire on a peeved Ash Ketchum.

Early days: Kanto and Johto

Ash’s first tournament run is baffling in many ways, and it establishes many of the problems that haunt him throughout his Pokémon training career.

The first issue crops up before he ever steps into an arena: his team is painfully unevolved. While Pikachu made a big fuss about never wanting to evolve when Ash earned his third gym badge, his Squirtle and Bulbasaur also remained in their base stages. And while Ash eventually ends up with a Kingler, it starts the Indigo Plateau Conference as a simple Krabby. As a result, his only fully evolved Pokémon going into the league are Charizard, Muk and 30 Tauros, which only has one form.

His decision to keep some of his Pokémon unevolved may seem admirable to some (mostly himself), but from a competitive standpoint it’s an extremely bad idea. Each evolution boosts a Pokémon’s base stats, which means that unevolved Pokémon are at a significant disadvantage in battle. The game eventually introduced the Eviolite item to somewhat mitigate this problem, but the anime has always steered away from involving held items. As a result, Ash starts his tournament run at a handicap.

Things don’t improve once the battles begin. Ash constantly makes poor choices, only to be bailed out by blind luck or his opponent’s mistakes. His first battle, against Mandi, is a perfect example.

Ash leads with an unevolved Pokémon he has never battled with before: Krabby. He believes it’s smart to pick a water-type since they are battling in a water arena, but his opponent anticipates this by sending out Exeggutor, a grass-type. This immediately puts Krabby at a type disadvantage, but Exeggutor never uses one of its super effective attacks. What’s worse, Mandi never uses Sleep Powder, a status inflicting move that made Exeggutor a top-tier threat in the first generation of competitive battles.

Despite those missteps, Mandi looked like he was going to win. However, after landing a few attacks, Krabby evolves into Kingler mid-battle. This is impossible in a competitive Pokémon battle, but it happens quite often in the anime, whether due to luck or determination. The reason, in this case is luck, but it’s enough for Ash to sweep through Mandi’s entire team without a problem.

Sending out a Krabby to a grass fight was far from the only time Ash made a stupid decision during his first attempt at Indigo League. While battling a Cloyster, weak to electric attacks, he doesn’t use his electric-type Pikachu. And while his flying-type Pidgeotto could have soloed his fourth opponent’s entire team of grass- and bug-types, he doesn’t even bring it to the battle. Then there’s Ash’s loss to Richie in the top 16, which happened because his Charizard doesn’t respect him.

Ash’s worst decision in the Indigo League, however, is never using any of his dozens of Tauros, which was one of, if not the, strongest Pokémon in the original trio of games.

As a normal-type, Tauros has access to STAB Hyper Beam and Body Slam. The former is the strongest attack in the first games, while the latter both hits hard and can inflict paralysis on its target. In addition, Tauros has a handful of useful coverage moves, which made it an even more versatile threat.

Finally, Tauros is also one of the fastest of the original 151 Pokémon. Speed has always been a desirable trait in battles, but the stat was even more important during the first generation because it factored into a Pokémon’s chance to land a critical hit. Tauros landed crits often, and occasionally spread harmful statuses.

Basically, Tauros was everything a trainer could want rolled into a single Pokémon. The fact Ash doesn’t use three different Tauros in every battle, all with a slightly different moveset, is incredibly foolish.

By the time Ash qualifies for his next tournament, everyone in the anime world has begun demonstrating improvement. Ash still uses plenty of unevolved Pokémon (like Cyndaquil, Totodile, Bayleef and Phanpy), but he makes fewer mistakes when it comes to type advantage.

In fact, against Macy, he even predicts her attempt to counter-team him. As a fire-type specialist, Macy expected Ash to bring multiple water-types to the battle — which is exactly what he does. To handle those Pokémon, she brings the electric-type, Electabuzz. However, Ash anticipates an electric-type and brings his ground-type Phanpy, which is both immune to electric attacks and can hit fire-types for super effective damage. It’s one of the savviest moves Ash makes in the Silver Conference.

Unfortunately, for every lesson learned, Ash seemingly makes another error. For example, while Ash wisely brought his Phanpy, he squanders it in the same match. As soon as Macy realizes her Electabuzz can’t hit the Phanpy, she switches back to another Pokémon, Quilava. Instead of following suit and switching back to his water-type, he lets his Phanpy faint, forcing the rest of his team to operate at a huge disadvantage.

An unwillingness to switch out his active Pokémon comes back to bite Ash multiple times throughout this tournament (though it’s possible to forgive him because doing so was against the rules when he was competing in the Indigo League). Even Ash’s peers don’t switch half as often as competitive trainers do. Whether in single battles or VGC, it’s almost always smart to switch out Pokémon when faced with a disadvantageous matchup. This lets the smarter trainer slowly chip away at their opponent and back them into a corner.

Despite his refusal to switch, Ash’s Silver Conference showing was an improvement on his previous result, especially considering his opponents in top 16 and top eight.

First, he has to face down his original rival, Gary, who packs a potent, fully-evolved squad. Ash almost throws away the battle in the first half, wasting a Tauros and went down like a chump. Fortunately, Ash uses his Snorlax to even the score. Then, having finally gotten his Charizard under control, Ash endures a bad matchup against a water-type, Blastoise, which he should have lost. However, thanks to the steam created by the collision of fire and water attacks, Ash’s Charizard swoops in with a Seismic Toss to win the battle.

Ash loses his next battle because Harrison brings Pokémon from the third-gen region, Hoenn, making it almost impossible for Ash to prepare a defense ahead of time. The only thing Ash could have done, and something real-life players at Pokémon tournaments do all the time, would have been to scout out his opponent by watching their matches.

Information is, after all, a huge component of competitive battles. Because there are so many ways to customize a Pokémon, catching opponents off guard is one of the easiest ways to win.

Instead, Ash’s Charizard narrowly loses to Blaziken, and his second tournament ends with a respectable top-eight finish. If only Ash knew that Blaziken was a fighting-type, he might have taught his Charizard literally any flying attack. Fighting is weak to flying, and Charizard has access to STAB flying attacks. If Ash had done what many competitive Pokémon players do and scouted his opponent, he could have changed the outcome completely.

Illustration of Ash Ketchum and his rival Tyson pointing at each other, and Ash’s Pikachu and Tyson’s Meowth (in a cowboy hat) staring each other down.

Mid-career, mid-tier: Hoenn, Sinnoh and Unova

The middle of Ash’s Pokémon career is strange. His results show an impressive level of consistent success, but each tournament is such a mixed bag that it doesn’t always feel earned.

His top-eight finish in Hoenn’s Ever Grande Conference is as fascinating as it is silly. It’s the only time in the anime when trainers participate in double battles, mirroring VGC competitions. But in that setting, Ash plays down to the competition. His friendly rival, Morrison, is a total idiot who, at one point, inadvertently sabotages Ash by convincing him to leave his Pikachu in against a ground-type Dugtrio.

The double battles we see don’t involve the same well-considered teams found in VGC, but Ash occasionally makes the kind of decisions a real-life trainer might. For instance, he orders both of his Pokémon to attack one of his opponent’s, thus doubling up the damage on a particularly difficult Pokémon. In VGC, this is called double-targeting. He also uses the Icy Wind attack to slow down both of his opponent’s Pokémon, allowing his to attack first. This is just one of many forms of speed control, another essential VGC strategy. After all, knocking a Pokémon out before it can attack denies an opponent the chance to act, which nets a huge advantage.

If only Ash hadn’t ruined those good decisions by bringing two Pokémon that are weak to fire-types against an opposing Quilava and Charizard, ending his tournament.

Once Ash goes back to single battles, his decisions degrade further. In his top 32 match against Katie, he lets his Torkoal take a super effective Hydro Pump, and once again tries to Thunderbolt a ground-type with Pikachu. He’s lucky that his grass-type Grovyle is able to avoid ice attacks from Katie’s Walrein and fluke a knockout blow. If Ash hadn’t made such a rookie mistake with Pikachu, the battle would never have been so close.

Perhaps the worst part of Ash’s performance in the Hoenn league is the way he is eliminated by his top-eight opponent, Tyson: with Pikachu losing to a Meowth. This outcome isn’t completely outside the realm of possibility, but from a raw stats perspective, Pikachu has a slight advantage. As a result, it’s disappointing that Ash couldn’t overcome a mediocre opponent when he has defeated much stronger Pokémon time and time again.

To make matters worse, the Meowth uses both Thunderbolt and Iron Tail, two moves that Pikachu frequently deploys. The difference is that Pikachu, as an electric-type, has both a stronger Thunderbolt and resistance to both attacks. Considering much of the fight involves trading those attacks specifically, Pikachu should have won, and Ash should have advanced.

The only possible in-world explanation is that Meowth was at a much higher level than Pikachu, but decided not to evolve into a Persian. However, it makes more sense to lay the blame for this match at the feet of the show’s writers. Ash made perfectly fine decisions in this battle, but he lost anyway. Sometimes that happens.

Fortunately, Ash’s performance in Lily of the Valley Conference in Sinnoh is every bit as good as his showing t in Hoenn was awful. In Sinnoh, Ash finally embraces the power of evolution and brings a Staraptor, Torterra, Infernape and Gliscor. He does still have an unevolved Buizel and Gible, but at least the latter is that generation’s pseudo-legendary and plenty powerful without evolving.

Ash also realizes there’s no reason to avoid using all the Pokémon at his disposal, and brings back powerful teammates like Heracross, Snorlax and even a newly-evolved Quilava. This gives him more options than ever before, and his battles reflect that. Ash even teaches his Pokémon specific moves to counter opponents, like using Sleep Talk to attack with Heracross even after it is put to sleep by an opposing Crickitune.

Sinnoh also features one of the series’ only gimmick teams, something competitive Pokémon players often encounter during practice. The goal of these teams is often to subvert the metagame with unexpected strategies that no one could prepare for without sacrificing their matchups against more common Pokémon.

Conway, one of Ash’s opponents, pulls this off with his Power Trick Shuckle, a well known meme strategy for competitive players. The only notable thing about Shuckle as a Pokémon is its grotesquely high defenses and its nonexistent offensive potential. However, using the move Power Trick swaps its stats, allowing it to hit harder than almost any other Pokémon in the franchise. That strategy takes a turn to set up, leaving Shuckle vulnerable before it starts wrecking opponents, but it can do serious damage under the right circumstances.

The plan works in the anime about as well as it would in real life battle, meaning only briefly. But Conway’s Trick Room Dusknoir is another story. That move reverses the turn order, allowing slow Pokémon to attack before faster ones, and it’s a premiere strategy used throughout VGC battles. Conway uses it to take out two-thirds of Ash’s team, but Ash’s Gible is able to endure enough hits to land a devastating Draco Meteor. Ash does exactly what players normally do when caught by surprise: he stays calm and flexible, and pushes through. The fact Ash prevails against both attempts to out-strategize him is truly impressive.

Ash’s top-eight match against his rival, Paul, is also one of the best in the whole series. The way Paul’s Drapion uses Toxic Spikes to slowly whittle down Ash’s Pokémon creates the same tension that is felt all the time in competitive battles. Not every decision Ash makes is optimal, but they are for the most part solid.

The tragedy here is that Ash couldn’t use his theoretical best answer to Drapion, an Earthquake from his Gliscor. The powerful ground-type attack would demolish a poison-type, but the anime’s writers have avoided using that attack since Japan’s Chūetsu earthquakes in 2004. Gliscor does manage to eke out a hard-fought knock-out that helps Ash advance to the top four, but having access to Earthquake would have destroyed half of Paul’s team by itself.

The way that Ash is ultimately knocked out of the tournament is the most understandable of the entire series: his opponent has at least two legendary Pokémon on his team. Tobias is the best example of what it would look like if a competitive singles player found their way into the anime. He’s so strong that he basically solos the whole tournament with his trusty Darkrai. Only Ash manages to knock it out.

This tracks, since Darkrai was once one of the most broken legendary Pokémon of them all. It could put opponents to sleep with 100 percent accuracy using Dark Void, leech some of their HP away with Bad Dreams and then delete whatever health remained with powerful attacks. Pokémon’s developers have since adjusted Dark Void’s accuracy, making it much less frightening, but that change unfortunately came far too late to help Ash.

After Sinnoh, however, Ash regresses at the Vertress Conference in Unova. Not only does he return to his preference for unevolved Pokémon, he switches and calls for dodges far less frequently. This mostly hurts Ash during his top-eight match with Cameron, who only brought five Pokémon when he was allowed six.

Despite having a huge advantage, Ash gives up multiple unnecessary KOs, and essentially loses to two Pokémon: Hydreigon and Lucario. He also gets a taste of his own medicine, as Cameron’s Riolu evolves mid-match and proceeds to blow through half of Ash’s team.

Ash’s Lycanroc and Gladion’s Lycanroc illustrated as diametric abstract square shapes.

A rising master: Kalos and Alola

After taking a significant step back in Unova, Ash finally starts to take competitive battles seriously. For the first time in his career, the only unevolved Pokémon on his team during the Lumiose Conference is Pikachu. Otherwise, it is stacked with powerful choices like Talonflame, Hawlucha, Noivern, Goodra and Greninja.

The only flaw in Ash’s team is a slight over-indexing on flying-types (three out of six is a lot), but he has certainly made worse mistakes. He more than makes up for this by unlocking a powerful and unique transformation for his Greninja.

Because Ash advances all the way to the finals, many of the early rounds are shown off screen. The first full battle depicted, against Sawyer in the semifinals, is fairly competitive. Ash losing his fighting-type Hawlucha to a normal-type Slaking is a knock against him, but Sawyer’s strategy, which revolved around taking damage and returning twice as much, was sound.

Ash’s most impressive feat in this match is the way he uses the battle arena. After realizing Sawyer’s Aegislash needs some time to prepare its defenses, Ash orders Pikachu to toss a piece of a chopped up tree at his opponent to disrupt that preparation. The disruption gives Pikachu the opening he needs to land a big Thunderbolt and remove one of Sawyer’s most dangerous threats.

While non-anime trainers can’t recreate this strategy, it is similar to how many competitive Pokémon players have dealt with Aegislash. Instead of chucking wood, people use moves like Taunt, which forces a Pokémon to attack instead of defending. Creating distractions is an important weapon in a trainer’s arsenal, and the fact that Ash successfully pulled off the maneuver shows growth.

The finals match against Alain is a step up from what was already an exciting and competitive semifinal. Aside from mistakenly leaving his Noivern in against a Weavile that can hit it for super effective damage, Ash mostly respects type advantage and avoids being punished for not preserving particular teammates.

But after all the other Pokémon on both sides have fainted, the match comes down to the trainers’ most powerful teammates: Ash’s Greninja and Alain’s Mega Charizard X. In a competitive battle, Greninja should have the clear advantage, because a Hydro Pump almost always KOs even if Mega Charizard X has full HP.

However, because Ash’s Greninja doesn’t know Hydro Pump, the outcome isn’t clear cut. If anything, Mega Charizard X has a slight advantage at the outset because it can take a hit and return enough damage to take down the defensively frail Greninja. Still, thanks to a bit of foresight, Ash puts his Greninja in a seemingly good position to win.

Earlier in the battle, Ash made two good moves that could have tipped the scales between his Greninja and Alain’s Mega Charizard X in his favor. First, Ash’s Pikachu lands a single Thunderbolt on Alain’s Charizard before it mega evolves and loses its weakness to electric attacks. This would neutralize Mega Charizard X’s ability to endure a strong attack and counter for the KO.

Second, Ash wisely has his Goodra set up a Rain Dance, which weakens fire-type attacks and strengthens water-type attacks. He even timed it well enough that it is still raining when Greninja and Mega Charizard X start fighting.

However, Ash stumbles by not using a Water Shuriken to capitalize on that advantage before the rain clouds dissipate. As a result, Ash gives up his advantage and the battle turns into a slugfest, with both Pokémon meeting blow for blow. Then in true Pokémon anime fashion, Greninja and Mega Charizard X each launch one final attack that explodes upon contact in the center of the arena. When the dust clears, Mega Charizard X is still standing, and Ash’s chance to be a league champion slips through his fingers.

Regardless of the result, his signs of drastic improvement in Kalos foreshadows what’s to come in his next tournament, the inaugural Manalo Conference. This tournament features, by far, the savviest decisions by Pokémon trainers ever depicted in the anime. Even Ash’s choice to bring a completely unevolved Rowlett against a fully evolved Decidueye at least follows the rules of type-advantage.

The only problem with the competitive integrity of this league is its format. The first few battles allow trainers to use just a single Pokémon, the semifinal lets trainers use two and the finals allow three. And despite the glut of strong trainers who Ash faces, the fact that he doesn’t use a full team of six Pokémon in any of his battles takes some of the prestige out of his eventual victory.

Yet despite the short battles, Ash overcomes Hao’s evolutionary disadvantage and Guzma’s switch-centric combination of Scissor and Golisopod to return to the finals for the second time in his career. This time he’s facing off against his rival Gladion, who has nothing but tricks up his sleeve.

Gladion starts with his Silvally, which can change its type mid-battle. In an attempt to catch Gladion by surprise, Ash uses his newly evolved Melmetal. Unfortunately, this gambit fails because Melmetal is too slow to land an attack. Fortunately Pikachu is able to come in and finish the job, and also fight through the illusion-creating Zoroark. This comes at the cost of Pikachu, however, as both trainers trade powerful Z-moves.

That brings us back to the big moment: Gladion’s Lycanroc against Ash’s. Ash wins by using Counter in a way that’s not possible to replicate in the game. Normally, Counter only works when a Pokémon has been hit by another attack. Since Pokémon only move once per turn, it shouldn’t be possible for Ash to retaliate off of the first Counter. Doing so would mean one player was attacking twice in one turn. However, because the anime world of Pokémon isn’t bound by the same rules as the game, Ash’s perseverance becomes his crowning moment. For once, he makes few mistakes, and deploys creative strategies no one else could think of to achieve the victory that he, and his fans, had been craving since his journey began.


After examining everything Ash had to go through to win his first championship, I’ve come to the conclusion that determining whether he’s a good Pokémon trainer is probably more nuanced and less exciting than fans would like it to be.

Ash is a good Pokémon trainer, though probably not as good as he should be. Anyone who accuses him of being garbage is probably judging him disproportionately on his atrocious early performances. But after looking at Ash’s entire body of work, and also considering the unique challenges he faces when compared to real-life trainers, it’s safe to say he is fairly talented.

Despite essentially starting from scratch in almost every region he enters, Ash consistently assembles teams that can compete with the best trainers around. He also makes up for occasional lapses in judgement with a fair bit of creativity and determination.

Yes, he should probably know by now that his Pikachu can’t Thunderbolt a ground-type. Yes, if he spent some time catching and raising a diverse, fully-evolved team, he’d probably score easy wins.

Consistency is hard to achieve in Pokémon, whether in the anime or competitive tournaments. Only a single player, Ray Rizzo, has won the World Championships more than once, and few champions have even come close to a repeat performance. The sign of a great player is the ability to make the most out of the options at their disposal and navigate an unpredictable field of opponents and obstacles before them. Ash does that in each and every league he participates in, getting better every time. It’s time the Pokémon community recognizes how impressive that is.