Pokémon Go is already proving itself to be one of the year's most popular games, and it hasn't even completed its worldwide launch yet. Developed by Niantic, the game uses real world location data to populate Earth with iconic Pokémon to be caught, trained and – of course – fought with.
The free-to-play game is far removed from the traditional Pokémon experience of Nintendo's mainline handheld games, tackling many familiar aspects of the beloved series with radical approaches.
We've already published guides to aid you in finding and catching Pokémon, and how to level up and evolve them with stardust and candy. Now, we're going to focus on how to battle, and compete with other players for control of gyms.
What are gyms?
Gyms are the large silver/grey markers (when unclaimed) you'll see sporadically on your map among the plentiful PokéStops that grant players new items. They also appear in red, blue and yellow when claimed by a team, with Pokémon appearing atop them when you're close enough.
Players pick a team to join when they hit level 5 and approach a gym. These teams are Instinct (yellow), Mystic (blue) and Valor (red).
Claiming and training at a gym
If you approach and tap on an unclaimed gym, you'll have the option to place one of your Pokémon there (so long as its at full health) to both protect the gym and to train against. Wanting to do both successfully means it is best to assign a Pokémon of yours with a decent CP (combat points) number, but not your top-rated Pokémon.
While your most powerful Pokémon will be able to defend the gym better, you'll want them for when you're trying to claim other gyms and to make training easier. If you want to train your other Pokémon at the gym you don't want to be putting them up against a Pokémon that's more powerful and more likely to win.
To train against a Pokémon at a friendly gym (it doesn't have to be your own 'mon either) you go up to the gym, tap it and start a one-on-one battle. We'll explain how to battle below.
To claim a gym that belongs to an opposing team, you'll need to battle the Pokémon there. To do so you go up that gym, tap it and hit the battle icon in the lower right of the screen. You'll then be presented with a team of the six Pokémon you possess with the highest CP - who aren't knocked out or hurt too badly.
If your most powerful team members are knocked out or wounded, you can leave the screen, use potions or revives, and return to it.
How to win a battle
Pokémon battles in Go are simple in concept, but hard to master. You do not fight an opposing player in real-time, but instead take on the Pokémon they have left there. Battles do not take place in the series' traditional turn-based fashion either. To win a battle you simply need to take down a player's one Pokémon with your team. However, some gyms are defended with multiple Pokémon from different users which must be taken out in a succession of battles.
To battle the player must tap to attack and swipe left or right to move their Pokémon accordingly, in a circle around their foe, to dodge their attacks.
Tapping the screen uses your Pokémon's primary attack. A blue bar under your Pokémon's name and health bar will slowly fill up one block at a time. Once a block (the number varies depending on the attack) is full, tap and hold on the screen to use a second, more powerful attack. One of these attacks will consume one block from the bar.
To dodge, swipe left or right. This is trick at first and – if we're being honest – largely a crapshoot with little way to tell for sure whether you've dodged an attack successfully or not. An indicator pops up above your Pokémon to say when they've dodged, but if you swipe multiple times in one direction they can be in an area of the screen where this cannot be read.
Players are able to switch Pokémon should the one they're currently using be low on health or not very effective. This happens live, without any kind of pause screen however, so if a Pokémon is very low on health they'll often be knocked out before you can switch.
If a Pokémon of yours is knocked out, it will be automatically switched for the next in your team as presented before the battle begins.
What do wins and losses actually mean?
Each gym has a Prestige rating, which represents how tough a gym will be to take down.
Any sort of win nets the player experience points that will level them up. Winning against an opposing team will whittle down their Prestige rating, while winning training battles at gyms your team has claimed will raise your own rating.
If a Pokémon you've set to defend a gym loses and that gym is claimed by another team, that Pokémon is then returned to your team automatically.