Pokémon Go has become the most popular mobile game on the planet, but even we have to admit that the game is a bit lacking when it comes to teaching players how to battle. This often leaves new trainers blindly smashing their fingers into the screen, and while that might be enough to get by, it's pretty far from optimal. So here's a list of tips on what you need to know to be the very best battler in Pokémon Go.
While developer Niantic has already said it's working on more ways to battle, right now the only place you can fight against others in Pokémon Go is at a gym. To battle, you'll need to first hit level 5, and then join a team. The team you pick — Mystic, Valor or Instinct — determines what kind of battle you're going to have when you go to a gym.
If you visit a gym claimed by another team, you can pick six Pokémon to face off against all the opposing Pokémon currently at that location. You start off facing the weakest Pokemon in the gym, working your way up one by one until you've beaten every Pokémon in the gym or all your Pokémon have fainted.
However, if you visit a gym claimed by your own team, you get to take only one Pokémon into battle. In this situation, your goal is to defeat as many Pokémon as you can before your one Pokémon runs out of health.
Defeating enemy Pokémon removes prestige from a gym, while defeating friendly Pokémon adds prestige. Prestige determines the level of a gym, and as gym levels increase, so does the number of Pokémon that can be stationed there, up to a max of 12. In order to take down an opposing gym and claim it for you team, you need to reduce that gym's prestige to zero.
Defeating Pokémon (both friendly and opposing) will also grant you experience based on how many you take down.
Health and Revives
If your Pokémon's health hits zero while attacking an enemy gym, you will need to use a revive on that individual before healing it back up to full health. When you are trying to reinforce your own gym, your Pokémon won't faint, but they will return from battle with just 1 HP. Pokemon that have fainted cannot be used in battles, and Pokemon that are injured cannot be selected to defend a gym.
Pro tip: If you run out of revives but still want to battle, you can Power Up a Pokémon to wake it up from its fainting spell, then use potions to heal it up the rest of the way.
The Pokémon in Pokémon Go have just two moves, instead of the four in handheld games. These Pokémon get a standard quick attack, which does damage and builds energy, and a special attack, which spends energy and takes longer to perform, but does significantly more damage.
Quick attacks are performed by tapping on the screen, while special attacks are performed by holding down on the screen. In order to bust out a special attack, you need to fill up the energy gauge below your Pokémon's health bar. Depending on which special attack your Pokémon has, the energy gauge may be divided up into up to four segments. Each full segment will allow you to perform one special attack.
When you're ready to perform a special attack, simply hold down on the screen until the small bar at the top fills up. If you let go early, the special move won't be performed. The specific quick attack and special attack each Pokémon has are assigned randomly when you catch or evolve the individual Pokémon. These attacks come from a move list based on the original Pokémon games.
In addition, each attack is categorized by type (water, fire, electric, etc.), which can affect how much damage a move will do. In Pokémon Go, the formula is a little different than in previous games, so attacks where you have an advantage (fire vs plant) result in 125 percent damage, while attacks against a Pokemon that is strong against your type (fire vs water) deal 75 percent damage. If there are no type advantages, damage will be calculated as normal, and unlike in other Pokemon games, there are no immunities. To see a full weakness chart, go here (you can ignore the X's).
This is where a bit of skill comes in, because if you have good timing and strong cell service, you can dodge attacks, even special ones. This is super important for taking down gyms without getting beaten into the ground.
To dodge, all you need to do is swipe left or right as soon as you see a yellow flash around the edge of the screen. If you perform this successfully, you'll see a small dodge message pop up next to your Pokémon. However, you can't dodge while you are in the middle of attacking. That means that sometimes it's in your best interest to stop for a second, so you can prepare to dodge an incoming attack, especially if you're going against a Pokémon with moves like Solar Beam or Fire Blast, which can potentially take a Pokemon from 100 to 0 HP with one attack.
If you ever see an unclaimed gym or a friendly gym that has less Pokémon in it than its level, don't hesitate to put your own in. All you have to do is click on a gym and hit the button on the bottom left of the screen. Just know that when you appoint a Pokémon to guard a gym, you won't be able to use that Pokémon to battle at other gyms until your Pokémon has been defeated. You'll know your Pokémon is in a gym if its entry on your Pokémon list has a little badge next to it with the same color as your team.
Just be quick, especially if the gym is neutral, because there's nothing stopping people from swooping in and claiming the gym before you can. I recommend that you sort your roster by highest combat points (CP), so it's easy to find strong Pokémon to put in a gym when you need to.
Note: You cannot assign hurt or fainted Pokémon to defend a gym.
After you've taken down some gyms and enlisted your Pokémon to help guard those locations, don't forget to claim your reward. To do this, just go into the shop and tap on the shield icon in the top right. This will give you 10 Pokécoins and 500 Stardust for each one of your Pokémon currently stationed at a gym.
You can claim a reward once a day, and since this is the currently the only way to get Pokécoins without spending actual money, don't forget to check in and reap the spoils of your battles.
The safest way to earn coins is to put your Pokémon in one or two gyms and then claim your reward. But if you want to push it, you can try for five or more gyms. Just know that while you are out trying to claim more gyms, people will be trying to take over the ones you've already claimed. So if you stretch yourself too thin, you may end up with nothing.
Either way, the important part is to get out there and try this stuff out for yourself. Good luck, and happy battling!
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Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).