Back when there were only 151 Pokemon, certain lesser-known monsters got to shine. One of those monsters was Tauros, who for a time was the undisputed king of Pokemon competitive play. It speaks to a very different, and somewhat easier to understand, period for high-level Pokemon, which was far less structured and codified than it is today.
Let's flash back to 1999. Kids across the U.S. were absolutely wild for the anime, the games, and most especially, battling. But there wasn't much infrastructure. So Nintendo decided to hold a tour.
In the summer of 1999, the Pokemon League Summer Training Tour officially kicked off in Minnesota-my home state. I'm ashamed to say that I never knew about it. If I had known, I certainly would have gone. I was an avid Pokemon battler at this time, and I was keen to test my skills against real competition, not realizing that my lack of a Snorlax or a Chansey put me at a big disadvantage.
The event, by all accounts, was a madhouse. The Gaming Intelligence Agency has a write-up and photos of the event, where they describe long lines as people waited to enter one of the three available tournaments. "Pokemon Masters" also awaited, challenging young trainers to defeat their teams led by the legendary Mewtwo.
Such events were one of the few ways for aspiring Pokemon battlers to meetup and play. This being the early days of the internet, there were few communities dedicated to battling, and even fewer resources. Competitive battlers gathered and swapped strategies on early message boards like Azure Heights. Pokedexes on sites like the Universal Pokemon Network offered a few insights, but otherwise there was precious little go on. Even the ever reliable Serebii was just getting started in 1999.
Still, if you knew where to look, you could find the makings of the community that we know today. Azure Heights was home to one of the very earliest battle simulators: Porygon's Big Show, a text-based online version of Pokemon's battle system that served as the forerunner to more advanced platforms like Netbattle and Pokemon Showdown. In other corners of the Internet, like IRC, fans were writing bots of their own that could simulate Pokemon battling. Such was the depth of passion that Pokemon inspired that fans found ways to battle long before Pokemon Diamond and Pearl properly introduced online play.
What Pokemon Battling Looked Like Before IVs and EVs
Pokemon battling was much simpler in those days. Special Attack and Special Defense were combined into a single stat, making Starmie and Exeggutor monstrous. IVs and EVs as we know them didn't exist, and neither did breeding, as I describe in detail in this piece from 2016. The systems that did exist weren't very well understood outside of the hardest of the hardcore circles, which was just how Game Freak liked it in those days, as it gave Pokemon a bit of an air of mystery.
On the battlefield, Hyper Beam, which is largely useless these days, was one of the best moves in the game, mostly because it didn't need to recharge after knocking out an opponent. The power of paralysis, sleep, and most especially freeze, likewise made them a staple of early strategy. As Smogon explains in its excellent rundown of classic Red/Blue/Yellow battling, most of the early mindgames revolved around finding a way to spread paralysis, as it was an extremely effective way to cripple an opponent's team and finish it off.
Some of the early stars of early competitive battle will be familiar to longtime battlers. Starmie, Gengar, Zapdos, and Lapras were all pretty good from the start. So was Alakazam, though in later years it was hardly the monster it was in Gen 1 (a Mega Evolution would eventually help to fix that).
Other monsters aren't so familiar. Rhydon is an odd sight on the Overused list, for example, as it vanished from general use around Ruby and Sapphire. So are Golem and Jynx. But the most peculiar of them was definitely Tauros-the wild bull Pokemon that is mostly known these days for being a region exclusive in Pokemon Go.
As late as Ruby and Sapphire, Tauros still had a place on many teams, including my own. Its Body Slam attack, which automatically spread paralysis, was absolutely deady. Here's Smogon's write-up of Tauros.
Tauros is one of the most powerful Pokemon in RBY OU, and by far the most dangerous one. Normal is the best offensive type in OU, with no real weaknesses (as Fighting-type attacks are almost never seen in OU) and two powerful STAB physical attacks in Body Slam and Hyper Beam. Tauros boasts a great 298 Attack stat and a great Speed stat, which leaves him outrun only by Alakazam, Starmie, Jolteon, and Persian, all of whom are fragile. Moreover, said high Speed stat gives Tauros a critical hit rate of 21.5%, making him even more dangerous. Tauros's defensive stats are also respectable, and, along with his typing and attacking options, allows him to go one-on-one against almost every Pokemon in the game if necessary.
And here's the suggested moveset:
- Body Slam
- Hyper Beam
For Pokemon competitive fans, this set is a real blast from the past owing to its relative straightforward nature and its inclusion of Hyper Beam. Nowadays, of course, Tauros is never used owing to the rise of new mechanics, Mega Evolutions, and general power creep. But in its day, Tauros was an absolute beast.
There are a few fans who still swear by the first generation of Pokemon competitive play even today. They will complain about the power creep of later generations, the rise of the doubles metagame, and the way that legendary monsters have come to dominate every team. And it's true: competitive battling from the days of Pokemon Red and Blue has a certain nostalgic appeal in its relative simplicity.
I personally long for the days of Pokemon Red and Blue. I miss being able to battle without feeling like I have to be completely invested in the metagame. I miss the relative innocence of the Pokemon League Summer Training Tour, which was full of kids who naively expected their trusty Charizard to clean up the competition with Flamethrower and Cut.
Those days, of course, will never come again. Competitive communities rule everything from Street Fighter, to Smash Bros., to yes, Pokemon. Nowadays we have all the resources we need to build an effective team and play in the metagame.
But before Smogon, Pokemon Showdown, and the Pokemon World Championships, we all thought we could be Pokemon Masters. And in the smaller internet of the late '90s, it was true, even if most of us didn't have a Tauros.