Pokemon GO's Matt Slemon talks about Season 1 of the GO Battle League

Competitive Pokemon GO play has taken a big leap forward with the start of the GO Battle League's first season. Shacknews talks to Lead Product Manager Matt Slemon to learn more.


This has been a challenging time for certain types of games. Given the current climate, it's proven difficult for a lot of Pokemon GO players to go out and explore the world around them. Niantic has made things a little easier by offering a giant Incense package, but there's also another way to engage with the mobile phenomenon and that's through competitive play. More specifically, the Pokemon GO Battle League.

Shacknews recently had the opportunity to speak to Matt Slemon, Lead Product Manager on Pokemon GO. We asked him about laying the groundwork for GO Battle League's Season 1, how player feedback from the preseason helped shape competitive play, rewards, and how Niantic hopes to shape the GO Battle League in the future.

Shacknews: How has the preseason period helped lay the groundwork for Season 1?

Matt Slemon, Lead Product Manager on Pokemon GO: The response to GO Battle League has been great and during the preseason the team was able to optimize and balance the feature so that Season 1 could be the best that it could be for players. We utilized this time to determine things like ideal length of seasons, rating thresholds for ranks and more. Some of the big changes we implemented into Season 1 include ensuring GO Battle League feels rewarding no matter a Trainers rank through unique encounters with Pokémon and making unique seasonal rewards like avatar items and a featured pose.

Shacknews: Can you talk about any specific player feedback that the team is using to help shape the future of the Pokemon GO Battle League?

Slemon: From the outset we always thought we'd do something with PVP but we just had to figure out the best way to do it. We then took a step in the right direction with Trainer Battles, and since then we've been listening to feedback from players who enjoy the competing aspect. We've heard and implemented the following:

  • A more reactive rating and matchmaking system that should make it easier for players to get to the right level of competition.
  • Ensured repeat matches against the same player were significantly less common.
  • Several changes to make battles more stable.

Shacknews: For those new to the competitive element of the game, how would you best advise players to prepare for the Pokemon GO Battle League?

Slemon: Jump right into it and try it out! We designed GO Battle League to be fun for everyone who plays, regardless of the level of familiarity.

Shacknews: What are some of the rewards that players can earn by participating?

Slemon: In addition to the ongoing competition and the ability for Trainers to move up in the ranks, Trainers will have the opportunity to encounter Legendary Pokémon including Darkrai, Altered Forme Giratina, and Thundurus. There will also be a chance to win avatar items and a pose.

Shacknews: Are there any special events tied to the Pokemon GO Battle League that players can expect to see in the future?

Slemon: We're envisioning GO Battle League as an evolving competitive experience in Pokémon GO and with seasons we're able to make meaningful updates. We’re planning on making adjustments, introducing new features, events and more in each season.

Shacknews: Let's take a moment to talk about balance. How will the team ensure there's a sense of competitive balance? And similarly, are there any Pokemon that will be banned from competitive play?

Slemon: During pre-season, we've continued to update GO Battle League so that everyone who plays will have a good time. Trainers will always be matched with others within their approximate rank to ensure an even competitive experience. For now the team has avoided banning Pokemon to let players use their favorites! We'll keep an eye on the long term balance of the league.

Shacknews: What elements of Season 1 will the team be monitoring and potentially looking to adjust for the future of the competitive game?

Slemon: Just like the pre-season, the team will continue to monitor any technical issues as well as the rating system and rewards to ensure balanced gameplay. We’re also excited to develop the experience further and will continue to keep you guys posted on upcoming new features.

Pokemon GO is in interesting times at the moment, with COVID-19 largely keeping people indoors. For more on how that's affected the GO Battle League, see this Twitter thread from Niantic Help. Season 1 of the Pokemon GO Battle League is underway now.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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