Massively on the Go: Guide to Pokemon Go’s battle system basics

No, not like this.

As much as I love some of the game’s systems that encourage social play, Pokemon Go’s obtuse battle system from the start was problematic. It’s certainly gotten better from the early days in terms of UI design, but there are still some major issues combined with the fact that the difference between having just enough people and one extra person can really trivialize an encounter, especially if that one person knows what he or she is doing. This guide is meant to help you be that one extra.

While we’re going to talk about battling today, I want to start with some of the basics, especially for returning players who may not yet have communities. It’s not that people will communities won’t find this helpful, but you (hopefully) already have people who can walk you through all this and more. That being said, I will have some tools/sites that some seasoned players may not be familiar with. For now though, this guide should help you take out enemy gyms and spread your name across town.

The pre-match

As in any good RPG, half the battle actually occurs before the actual fight. You need to know Pokemon type weaknesses and strengths first. Gamepress has a pretty good visual guide, and main game series vets, don’t ignore it! While you may be used to Ghost-types being immune to Normal-type attacks from the Pokemon main series, immunity doesn’t exist in POGO. Abilities don’t either, so your Gengar isn’t safe from ground based attacks that’ll be super effective against its Poison typing. Once you have a basic understanding of the types though, it’s easier to use our previous guide on picking Pokemon to keep to build a team.

Then there’s picking moves, which the resources in the above guide should help with. In general, what you usually want to do is match your Pokemon’s typing with its moves and focus on one type per Pokemon. This is to take advantage of Same Type Attack Bonuses (STAB), but also weaknesses. For example, Rayqauza is a Dragon-type and a Flying-type Pokemon. While it can learn flying type attacks and dragon type attacks, you don’t generally don’t want one to have both, as nothing will be weak to Dragon and Flying moves. You can build a Dragon-type attacker and a Flying-type attacker if you want to invest in two Rayquaza, but it’s inadvisable to do both with the same one. Pick a type for your ‘mon and invest in that.

I will toss in one other tool for up and coming trainers: Pokebattler. This is for people who want to run simulations for min-maxing purposes, but it can also be useful for getting an idea of what movesets you want for your Pokemon.

Click to enlarge


Battling is easier now than ever before. Tap anywhere on the screen to attack. This is called your “fast attack.” When the bar(s) above your charge attack are full (you may have one to three bars depending on what the Pokemon’s special attack is), you can hit the charge attack button at the bottom of your screen. Conversely, you can just tap that button the whole time to use your special as soon as it’s available.

Dodging by swiping left or right is still possible. However, there is still a dodge glitch that can put your Pokemon in a state of limbo, not being dead or alive and simply wasting potential DPS. For this reason, there are many people who simply don’t dodge. If you want to dodge, my general rule for people who haven’t learned all the attacks and animations is to watch the bottom right side of the screen. Text will appear when a special attack is being used. Swipe left or right until the text then says that you’ve dodged.

Do not attempt to dodge if the special attack would KO your Pokemon. This is what triggers the bug. Just accept fate and use a revive after the battle. 12/13 Update: This bug is practically gone, but can still appear.

You’ll see “Super effective,” or “Not very effective” pop up here too. That’s what your Pokemon is using against the enemy, not the damage you’re receiving. It’s still a bit incomplete feeling, I know. However, pre-fight, the game does pre-select a team for you, but it’s based on defense and survivability.

For example, in the above image, I’m using Machamp against Blissey. While Machamp is one of the top picks, defenders (especially Blissey) usually have a moveset to punish players using Pokemon strong against their weakness. Machamp (fighting) is super effective against Blissey (normal), but Machamp takes extra damage from psychic and fairy type moves, both of which can be learned by Blissey. Because of this, the game often will pick, say, Aggron, because it resists both types. The problem, however, is that Aggron doesn’t deal much damage, and with certain Pokemon (mostly just Blissey, Chansey, and raid Pokemon), you want to defeat the Pokemon before the timer in the middle reaches zero, at which point you lose. This issue is magnified in raids, especially if you have less than 6 people. Do not let the game pick your team. Make a team whenever possible.

Click to enlarge.

Taking and maintaining gyms

“OK, so I can fight. So what?” Sadly, unlike in the current main series, there are no Pokemon performances here, so you’re probably going to have to battle at some point. There are some fun outfits to buy for your trainer though, and I love incubators to hatch Alola Pokemon I get from friends, but that’s for a different article. The thing is, you need premium currency for that. Enter gyms.

1/4/2022 Update: ARGs, especially by Niantic, can often be abused by stalkers to harass fellow players. Stalking can escalate from simple annoyance to more serious crimes quite quickly. While we have a series on this plus a general safety guide, it should be noted that gyms in particular are the tool with which players can abuse to track their fellow player. Do not follow another player because of gym grudges, do not target them because of gym grudges, and do not escalate things because of gym grudges. It’s not uncommon to talk with the other team and strike a deal, but because ARGs take place in the real world, and because Niantic refuses to deal with real-life consequences of their games until government or financial interests force them, your RL actions may lead to law enforcement intervention. Do not PvP in real life, and if you are concerned about stalking, participate in gyms away from your home/office in public areas. Have designated play areas if possible so as to not accidentally create a path leading to your home/office.

The game’s core actions revolve around gyms, capturable territory. While catching Pokemon is fun, raising and battling them is where the action is. Taking a gym for your team and helping to keep it gives your team bonuses for spinning it as a PokeStop plus defeating raid bosses that spawn there (look for an egg for upcoming raids or an orange timer for active raids). I’d suggest taking local gyms the most since they also give you more items as you earn reputation at them and spin them as a PokeStop. Battling, leaving a defending Pokemon for awhile, raiding, and feeding berries to Pokemon guarding that gym will all increase your reputation.

You also get PokeCoins (premium currency) for keeping a Pokemon in a gym. Every ten minutes nets you one coin, up to 50 per day, after the Pokemon returns home upon fainting. That means if you only put one Pokemon in a gym, and it stays in that gym for three days, you get only 50 coins and only at the time it’s finally defeated. For safety, it’s often best to have a few Pokemon in a few different gyms.

Don’t worry, as most gyms are easier to take than before too. A gym can hold only six Pokemon, with no doubles (so you will only have to fight one Blissey at most). High CP Pokemon lose their CP (in the gym, not permanently!) faster by the minute but are obviously harder to defeat. Don’t worry about that either: The game scales CP based on your level! So even when max-level players drop max level-Pokemon, the Pokemon appears only as strong is it would be if that trainer were the same level as you!

When attacking a gym of Pokemon at their strongest, you’ll need to defeat each Pokemon at least three times. I say at least three times because people can click on a Pokemon to feed it berries. Anyone on that team can do this, even remotely. It’s best to attack with friends, but sometimes, that’s just not an option.

Remember, Pokemon have types with their own weaknesses and resistances. I know that can be overwhelming, so let me give you a few tips. First, make a preset Pokemon Party. We’re going to make a basic battle party for tackling gyms today, but you can use this screen for making PvP parties as well. 12/13/2021 Update: The above video shows you where to make your parties, but for people who prefer text, just open the game’s menu (the pokeball icon), click “Battle,” then switch to the “Party” tab. From there, hit the green “+” icon to make a party, and select one of the grey “+” to start choosing pokemon that will be on that team.

You will need a strong Machamp and Hariyama, and I’d recommend putting it first (though if you have a strong Lucario, that is best, though rare). If you can’t get one of each, maybe use two of one for now. The reason is that the best gym defenders (Blissey, Chansey, and Snorlax) as well as many popular ones (Tyranitar, Slaking, Rhydon, Lapras) are weak against fighting types. They should come first in your party. Heck, if you want to make your whole party just Machamps and Hariyama to feel safe, I wouldn’t blame you, though maybe toss in a decent Espeon, Flareon, Arcanine, or Charizard. I say this because Blissey and Chansey will often have a Psychic and/or Fairy-type move that really hurts fighting types. If you’re in a pinch and looking to play lazy, a good fire type should help, but Espeon is a flexible attacker as well.

Assuming you don’t want to overcompensate for the meta, you have other options, and don’t worry, I won’t bother with legendaries that you probably don’t have. If you have a good Dragonite, have one of those on your gym team. A good water type (like Vaporeon), grass type (Exeggutor or Venusaur), ice type (Lapras, Walrein, or Piloswine), and/or electric type (Jolteon) will do well too. Tyranitar isn’t bad either if you have one.

Once you defeat the gym, put something in it. Do not put in a Pokemon you actually fight with, as you won’t be able to use it while it’s in the gym! If you’re worried about revives and potions, you can keep high CP Pokemon you catch or evolve just to put into gyms and send to the professor once they’ve been defeated. If you want to be a team player, again, Blissey, Chansey, and Snorlax tend to be the best. However, if you don’t have easy access to them, Slowbro, Azumarill, Venasaur with poison type moves, Clefable, Exeggutor, Vaporeon, Muk, and Tentacruel are accessible defenders that aren’t too shabby. 12/13/2021 Update: Wobbuffet is a very strong choice, but Jellicent, Sylveon, Gardevoire, and Galarian Slowbro or Galarian Slowking are useful too.

Conversely, you can leave Pokemon you want candy for in a gym. For example, if you need magikarp candy, you can leave magikarp in a gym you’ve noticed isn’t often taken for awhile and remotely feed it berries. Feeding a Pokemon berries not only gives you stardust to power up Pokemon with but may give you that Pokemon’s candy, which is the other half of the power-up requirement (and evolving process).

With this, you should be able to get yourself some coins and help make a name for yourself, even if it’s just when coming back from work to take half dead-gyms around the local shopping center. It’ll also be enough to let you be somewhat useful in a raid situation, which we’ll cover soon.

Other battle types

For PvP players, there’s battle leagues: Great league (under 1500 CP), Ultra League (under 2500 CP), Master League (No CP cap), Cups (restricted to specific themed types), and variations on these. PvPoke can help you get an idea of what’s relevant, but one thing to keep in mind about PvP battles is that there’s no dodging. Instead, you use shields. Prizes are won depending on how well you perform in a set of five rounds, and you get more bonuses at the end of each season (which lasts about a month and a half).

Obtaining rank 20 grants you the most bang for your buck, as your rank cannot fall before the season reset. It also unlocks the potential to encounter legendary pokemon for you 3-win reward. It’s not uncommon for players to purposefully lose at this point just so future matches are easier and thus, increasing the players’ chance at getting a legendary encounter. However, ranks 21+ do grant exclusive avatar items, with rank 25 granting the set jacket and pose for the season.

For PvE players who want a solo challenge, look for Rocket Balloons when you first log in or black Pokestops (which look like blue, glitchy pokestops from afar). These allow you to battle Team GO Rocket, who use Shadow Pokemon which you can rescue and purify. Shadow pokemon deal 20% more damage, but take 10% more damage, and can only learn a Community Day move if you use a TM to get rid of the charge move Frustration, and that only is possible during special events. Shadow Pokemon also can’t Mega Evolve.

As usual, The Silph Road provides players with a preview of what the Rockets are currently using on their teams, as well as the hints of which team they’ll use. For example, if a rocket says, “These waters are treacherous,” it means they’re using Water types, while, “Don’t tangle with us” means they’re using Grass types.

One big thing to remember about Rocket Battles and PvP, though, is that the best DPS pokemon aren’t necessarily best in this mode. Survival matters. So while Mewtwo is a great raid pokemon, it’s actually quite bad for PvP. Rockets, however, not only grant Shadow pokemon which can deal more damage, but these pokemon can be purified, raising each of their stats by 2 and decreasing the cost stardust and candy to evolve, level up, and unlock skills on that pokemon. Rocket Leaders (who can only be located by collecting 6 Mysterious Components from grunts to form a Rocket Radar) can leave behind shiny Shadow Pokemon, but also red 12k eggs with rare pokemon such as Panchan and Sandile. They do take quite a bit of effort to hatch though, so be mindful that they may clog up your egg inventory if you’re not careful.

Massively OP’s Andrew Ross is an admitted Pokemon geek and expert ARG-watcher. Nobody knows Niantic and Nintendo like he does! His Massively on the Go column covers Pokemon Go as well as other mobile MMOs and augmented reality titles!
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