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IVs in Pokemon Go: The Last Barrier to Optimized Gameplay

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When raiding for a Pokemon or hatching an egg, what's the first thing that pops into your mind? If you're like most players, then it's either "I hope that it's a shiny!", or "I hope that it has good IVs!". IVs have been around in Pokemon Go since the very start, and for many years they were as much prestige as they were utility. Sure, my 98% Mewtwo is nice, but my friend caught a 100%! I mean, we'll probably never see a case where that matters, but it's a 100% Mewtwo! It's inherently superior!

...and then PvP dropped.

The Great and Ultra League were, and still are, great additions to the Pokemon Go experience, but they also confused IVs quite a bit. No longer was the coveted 100% the best in all cases, and for the first time we saw cases where 1 IV could mean the difference between a loss and a win. It was anarchy! But, as time went on, we got used to the idea and suddenly saw a 0-15-15 as just as exciting as a 15-15-15, depending on the Pokemon. But now, years after that point, every new cup and change brings a small groan out of many players. "Ugh, do I have a good (insert relevant Pokemon here) saved?" is a common response for many of us, because to this day we have no way to actually ensure that we have a good Pokemon aside from mass-catching, and even then we can run into that one species that refuses to yield good IVs! On top of that, we now have multiple sources of Pokemon that force minimum IV floors, which directly hurts many species. For all of these reasons and more, it's time to take a look at the IV system in Pokemon Go, and contend with a question that has long been asked by many players in the community: is it time for the players to be able to take control over the IV system?

The Effects

So here’s a question: why is this an important subject? Is it just to make 100% Pokemon more common? No, not at all. With enough time and effort, it’s possible to get a 100% anything, mathematically speaking. In theory, anyway, as the odds are very much stacked against us in most cases. However, that possibility is not the case for the following:

  • Shadow Articuno
  • Shadow Zapdos
  • Shadow Moltres
  • Shadow Mewtwo
  • Mew
  • Shiny Mew
  • Shadow Entei
  • Shadow Raikou
  • Shadow Suicune
  • Shadow Ho-oh
  • Shadow Lugia
  • Celebi
  • Shiny Celebi
  • Jirachi
  • Victini
  • Meloetta
  • Hoopa Confined & Hoopa Unbound
  • Zarude
  • Any mythical currently out of rotation minus Meltan/Melmetal
  • And many, many normal Shadow/costumed/Shiny Pokemon!

All of these Pokemon are limited, meaning we can only get so many of them in the game at a time. And when we do get them, it can be downright heartbreaking if they have bad IVs, because we may not get another chance moving forward. These Pokemon are the crux of our argument, with other Pokemon falling into a secondary category.

So what is the big deal here? The fact that Niantic is slowly accepting the more competitive side of Pokemon Go, but denying all but a fraction of the players who happen to push the button to make their encounter at juuust the right millisecond the tools that have the potential to reshape the game. Anyone who’s played PvP to any great degree will tell you that IVs can make or break a Pokemon. In some matchups, the difference of 1 IV point in a stat can entirely change a matchup in the favor of one player or the other. And in most cases we can just say “probably should have kept hunting for better IVs before you invested in that one” and move on, but not with anything on the above list! If you happen to score the wrong IV spread and hit the wrong matchup, then the value of a player’s skill can potentially go right out the window in favor of the random whim of chance, and we are powerless to do anything about this fact! Admittedly, these situations are not particularly common, but the fact that we are denied the ability to play on an even field is definitely an issue.

Niantic’s Apparent Take on IVs

At the start of Pokemon Go, Niantic barely even admitted that IVs were in the game, In fact, they hid it to a degree that all but HP were masked beneath the algorithmic calculations of the CP formula. They were not important, and certainly not enough for players to pay attention to, Right? But then we were given the old review system, which would let us know how high of an overall IV threshold a given Pokemon crossed, which stat(s) were the best, and a threshold for the highest stat. This was the point where IV calculators really came into the forefront, and the concept of a “perfect” Pokemon became the goal of any raid. Fast forward a few years, and now we have a visual representation of IVs on Pokemon, letting those who have a feel for the placement of the colored bars know the exact IVs in all three stats at a glance. Niantic has slowly started to give in to the fact that IVs do matter to the majority of players. But as of now, just past the five-year anniversary of the game, we still have no way of manipulating one of the most important variables on a given Pokemon.

Let’s be brutally honest here: IVs are a big source of revenue for Niantic. We buy passes for a chance to catch Pokemon with a 10-IV threshold, we freely give geolocation data when searching for “free” Pokemon, and we take part in events that feature Pokemon that we want in hopes of finding our ideal IV spread. Niantic has very little financial reason to give us any form of IV-changing systems in the game. However, one fact does make it a good business move on their part:

We’re tired.

It’s slowly becoming a trend as of late that people are talking about how Pokemon Go is becoming stale. I’ve personally read articles about players losing interest to the point where crossing the street to catch a rare Pokemon just doesn’t offer enough of a reward to be worth doing. In this game, RNG (Random Number Generation, the system that most games use to determine random variables) is king, and the capricious whims of this king dictate that maybe 1% of catches have real value for players who have been around for a long time beyond just candy and Stardust. This game is virtually infinite, but what fun is exploring the infinite if it’s all exactly the same?


But let’s also look at that 1% statement. Why is it true? Because of the other half of this argument: once a player catches their goal Pokemon, the need to catch another of that species drops exponentially. For example: a few years ago I was fortunate enough to catch a 100% Groudon on its second run. Since that day, we’ve had a number of re-runs of the Continent Pokemon, and I’ve done a total of maybe 3 raids for the sake of helping friends. And on those 3 raids I also managed to catch a 96% shiny Groudon (this is THE ONLY Legend that I’ve had this kind of luck for). Financially speaking, I am one player who most likely won’t be giving another cent to Niantic for future Groudon re-runs. New move? I’ll gladly drop an Elite ™. The only variable that I can foresee is if I have to farm Mega Energy (Primal Energy?) for Primal Groudon someday. Every re-run of a Legendary Pokemon will see a number of players find a Perfect or “good enough” incarnation to raise, and then they’re done with that Pokemon. This is the reason that XL Candy is a thing, and also why it’s frustratingly difficult to obtain: every Pokemon has a value cap built in, and I can guarantee that Niantic has calculated the average value per player per run of a given Legend. And that is arguably the main reason that Niantic is hesitant to give us IV-changing items. 

Potential Fixes and Issues

So we have the previously mentioned issue of diminishing returns on both sides of the fence: players see less and less value in different Pokemon as time goes on, and Niantic makes less and less money on re-runs and events as players reach their fill. So how do we fix these problems in a way that makes an IV-increasing system more viable on its own merit? Our analog from the main series is the obvious choice here; Bottlecaps and Hyper Training. On the console games, a bottlecap can be used to “hyper train” a Pokemon and artificially max out one or more IV-stat on a single Pokemon.  If given out in a manner and frequency similar to Elite TMs, they could help substantially, but they also come with a set of unique pros and cons. Of course, the options don’t stop here. Re-rolls without the need for trades could be huge, as could setting custom stat-thresholds for those rerolls. For example; if re-rolling for the Great League, we could have the option of setting, say, 4 IV points as the minimum roll for Defense and HP, but 11 IV points as the maximum for Attack. Or heck; an item to re-roll a single stat would be absolutely huge, as it would give 1-in-15 odds of giving us an ideal number every time. It may take time to hit our goal, but at least it would be possible to reach that goal! When it comes right down to it, the more effective a fix is the rarer it should be, or the less effective the more common. The goal here isn't to max out every Pokemon in the game, but to give us some degree of control over our highest priorities, or at the very least the Pokemon with limited availability.

A Golden Bottlecap; used to max all IVs at once in the main series.

On the “pro” side, we have the fact that literally every Pokemon ever caught could become usable! Have a 10/10/10 Shadow Mewtwo? Given time, it can be perfect! Similar case with Zarude? Just work towards a few Bottlecaps and it’s golden! This could also open up the field to Pokemon that we already have to make the final strive to perfection. In reading this, many players have a 98% Pokemon in mind that they really want that last IV on, but if we were also given the opportunity to reduce IVs then this system could simultaneously save the Great and Ultra Leagues in one fell swoop. It would also make having a single individual Pokemon of a species something to look forward to rather than dread, because we’ll finally have more than one chance to get what we want.

For the “cons”, we come back to the diminishing returns for Niantic, as well as players! Assuming a player has a single universally-useful bottlecap when a new raid boss drops, a 98% catch is effectively a 100%, a 96% is effectively a 98%, and so on. Of course, this is far less of an issue on Niantic’s part since the introduction of the XL system, but this system still lowers the previously mentioned utility ceiling substantially, and could actually make the game a bit more monotonous if implemented too liberally. That’s why these items need to have limitations. Perhaps instead of a unique item to use as needed, this function would be better served by trading in candy? This would give us another candy-sink aside from the XL system, but even then the cost would almost need to be tremendous and based on species class in a manner similar to buddy walking. And if that’s the case, then we run into another issue: the utility of this system for PvP. Many of us look at our current Great and Ultra League teams and wish not to increase IVs, but rather to decrease them. Finding a Pokemon that’s 1 IV point short of the “perfect” point is generally great, but finding a Pokemon that’s 1 IV point over that same point is heart-breaking, as that will generally entail a huge drop in actual viability. But here’s the problem: 1 point is frequently nowhere near eough. Many players are using Pokemon that could stand to shave 2-4 IV points off of their Attack, meaning a hyper-rare resource would be far too valuable to drop. For this reason, it would be ideal to have IV-lowering capable of higher performance than IV-raising. For example: the same cost to raise 1 IV stat by 1 point should probably also give the option of lowering up to 3 points instead. 

We also have another con to address that is sort of the elephant in the room; if we release a way to increase IVs, then suddenly the person who’s over the moon about catching a 100% Hoopa doesn’t have quite as much of a treasure. And this is a fair issue to bring up, as the thrill of having something truly rare is a huge staying point for this game. But is that really reason enough to deny other players the right to climb the tower that you just happened to land on top of? And what about the next Mythical that comes around? Wouldn’t it be nice to have the ability to bring it up when it inevitably rolls into an 80%? In the main series, players can tell at a glance if a stat has been affected by Hyper Training, so perhaps a similar tell could be given here to reveal a given Pokemon’s artificially raised/lowered/rerolled stats? Honestly, it’s very possible to keep the prestige of a natural 100% while not leaving everyone else with a distinct lack of options.

Complaints Over Nothing

At this point, some readers may get to this point and say “unless a Pokemon has really bad IVs, it won’t make a real difference in anything most of the time. You’re just complaining that you don’t have a bigger digital trophy to show off”. And to that I will say: that’s fair.

In many cases, IVs don’t make a huge difference. If I catch a 96% Zarude and my friend catches a 100% Zarude and we max them both and give them identical movesets, then in raids and PvP they are probably going to perform pretty much identically, depending on the former’s stat-spread. But what if I catch a 100% and my friend catches an 80%? Or both end up with a 76%? In these cases, the lower Pokemon will likely have a tangible disadvantage in all game modes, and we’re left with absolutely no recourse or hope to fix this. Because of random-chance, our accounts have been given disadvantages when compared to others. IVs can be so important that RyanSwag from Swag Tips literally has an entire series on IV spreads for PvP, focusing entire articles and videos on the IVs for a single species of Pokemon! Honestly, it’s a bit ridiculous that we still lack agency on this front after all of these years. Pokemon Go is marketed as a friendly and inviting game, yet its Pokemon of value are given out with a cold hand of randomness that even the Main Series has realized is detrimental to the community years ago. Moving away from the idea of using this system to obtain a 100% Mewtwo; what about those who really want to use their non-yellow starter Pokemon for the Mega Evolution system, but have since caught more powerful variants? Or the person who caught their favorite Pokemon on the last day of a memorable family vacation, only to find that its IVs are too poorly distributed to make it worth the investment? Sure, you could say “it’s just a game, do what you want!”, but  anyone who has played Go Battle League to Legend rank will tell you: simply doing what you want is not rewarded in this game unless what you want just happens to be optimal.

Moving away from Pokemon Go, basically every other mobile game has some form of powering-up resource that’s hyper-rare, often available only via premium currency in its base form. However, in almost all cases they also give players some way to obtain this resource. It may take quite a bit of time to build up, but at least the hope exists. But, sadly, Pokemon Go falls to the whims of the RNG on this front, and not even a 10-stat base catch is enough to stop it from occasionally slapping us across the face with something sub-optimal. Sure, we’ve been given a lot of free raid passes over the years, but we sadly can’t just throw those passes at our Zarudes and Hoopas in hopes of making them better.

Conclusion

Over the years, Niantic has addressed many short-comings of this game, such as the introduction of Elite TMs to help deal with the problem of Legacy Pokemon. IVs are the last-frontier for giving us agency over a tangible disadvantage. And while they should not be easy to manipulate, as that will eventually harm the game, they should at least be available. Between Raids, Great League, Ultra League, Master League, and the plethora of unique cups that are running around every season, many players could need hundreds IV points changed in order to play on an optimal level. With every passing season and moveset change, more and more Pokemon need to be raised in order to optimize play. And at this point in the game, I just can’t see a reason to keep this door to higher gameplay locked by RNG to this degree. With Niantic pushing for the new Pokemon Go Champion Series, it almost seems compulsory at this point that they’ll need to open the IV system up so that players can start competing on the same level, leaving skill as the primary determining factor. One way or another, here’s hoping that Niantic follows the path forged by the main series and realizes how much of a stumbling block giving players no control over this fundamental part of the game really can be.

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About the Author(s)

Gamepress writer with a focus on theorycrafting and gameplay optimization with a background in business management and freelance writing.  A bit of a hermit, but also an outdoors enthusiast who loves cycling and hiking. Long-time Gamepress fan who is very proud to be a part of the team.

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