This post is part of the Gym Stagnation series – an in-depth look at balance problems in the game Pokémon Go, its causes, and some possible solutions.
Pokémon Go currently has a serious problem with overcentralization. The same few gym defenders are found in almost every gym, outstripping the Combat Power scores of all competition. In busy areas, it has become almost impossible to justify leaving Pokémon with Combat Powers lower than those of the current top tier defenders in gyms. In almost all cases, it is in individual players’ best interests to plug gyms with whatever defender currently has the highest Combat Power out of those they have left, and players who do not do so are effectively sacrificing their gym defenders’ chances of holding their positions in gyms in favour of trying to introduce some variety into the gym metagame.
Many players are hoping that, as more Pokémon are introduced to the game, the gym deadlock created by the repeated presence of those same few defenders – Dragonite, Snorlax, Gyarados, Vaporeon, Rhydon – will break down. There’s some truth to this: Pokémon like Tyranitar and Blissey are projected to have an average Combat Power score high enough to join this elite group. However, as it stands, the introduction of 2nd Generation Pokémon like these won’t solve the problem for long. The main reason for this problem is the phenomenon of Combat Power inflation.
The longer Pokémon Go exists, the more high CP Pokémon will come into existence. The game has already reached a point where the sheer number of high CP 1st Generation Pokémon has already consigned the majority of 2nd Generation Pokémon to irrelevance, as far as gym defense goes. They simply will not be able to meet the high standard that has already been set by the likes of Dragonite and Snorlax. As for the suggestion that the addition of Tyranitar and Blissey will help to reduce gym stagnation, there are reasons to be skeptical. As players begin to acquire the likes of Tyranitar and Blissey, and other high CP Pokémon like Dragonite and Snorlax continue to come into existence in steadily higher numbers, once-common gym defenders whose stats are not quite up to par with these top tier defenders will fade into the background. As Tyranitar and Blissey take their place among the gym defending elite, the likes of Golem, Exeggutor and Lapras will likely find it increasingly hard to keep up, as their typical position in gyms slips ever lower.
One day, even Dragonite and Snorlax could be poor choices for gym defense
When legendary Pokémon are finally introduced to the game, gym stagnation could get even more extreme. Some legendary Pokémon really would help the problem: currently, the likes of Zapdos, Mew, Articuno and Moltres are projected to be strong enough to compete for those high gym positions, but not strong enough to knock Dragonite off its perch as the top ranked gym defender. Mewtwo, however, is a different story. If introduced to the game in the same way as other Pokémon, its CP would be so high that it would comfortably eclipse the likes of Dragonite. Even if only a few select elite players had access to a high CP Mewtwo, they would always be putting them in gyms, to guarantee that lucrative top spot. If these same players also eventually got access to another ultra-high CP Pokémon like Ho-oh, the same phenomenon would occur. Ho-oh and Mewtwo would set the new standard for gym defense, with every other Pokémon in the game becoming a second rate option that would inevitably fall before the strongest legends did. To some extent, that seems appropriate, but the novelty would wear off quickly as every gym was topped by these same top tier legends over and over again.
Why Combat Power levels will probably change even if Niantic finds another fix for the gym stagnation problem
Presumably, Niantic is fully aware of the flaws in the gym system and the way Pokémon are ranked exclusively by CP. They may change the system one day, so that high CP alone is not enough to guarantee outstripping the gym position of all other defenders. However, Combat Power has other more general problems.
In its current form, Combat Power is biased in favour of Pokémon with a high Attack stat. These Pokémon are given artificially inflated Combat Power scores that suggest they are stronger than they actually are. This may have been a way for Niantic to discourage the use of ultra-defensive Pokémon as gym defenders, as these could lead to drawn-out battles that casual players would get bored of. That’s just speculation, as it’s hard to see how any gym battle could feel more drawn out than the process of catching literally thousands of Pidgey, but it’s possible. Regardless, having a Combat Power system that is biased against Pokémon that are not designed to be strong attackers will have some undesirable consequences down the line. Certain Pokémon who are supposed to strong, stalwart defenders – the legendary Registeel comes to mind, with its projected max CP of around 2200 – will seem ridiculously and disproportionately weak.
A stat calculation formula that is biased against Pokémon with “all-rounder” stats and a Combat Power calculation formula biased in favour of Pokémon with ridiculously high Attack stats will come together to make many Pokémon that should be relevant totally irrelevant. Under current projections, the defensively-inclined Lugia will be around 1000 CP weaker than its counterpart Ho-oh. It’s hard to see how Niantic could promote the opportunity to get a Lugia as being as significant as the opportunity to get Ho-oh when it is, unless something changes, going to be so much less impactful on the game’s multiplayer environment.
There are other examples of Pokémon whose Combat Power projections are totally out of proportion with those of other Pokémon who they are supposed to be as good as, some even worse than the Ho-oh & Lugia example. These examples will be covered in more detail in the second part of this analysis: Mismatched Counterparts.