In the Pokémon universe, the worst lot to have in life is to be a rival to the player character. The savage Pokémon gods went an extra step when creating Hop, your main rival in Pokémon Sword and Shield.
Above I posted that this article contained spoilers for Pokémon Sword and Shield. It would be more accurate to say that this post has no spoilers for anyone who has ever played Pokémon game before. Hop, by his very nature of being a rival in a Pokémon game, is destined to a life of second place. Hop was literally a born loser. His entire presence in the game is as a barometer for how strong I have gotten over the course of my journey and to spill money as I beat him like a piñata.
Being a rival isn’t an easy job, but it can be carried out with a certain level of dignity and professionalism. Beating a rival should make you feel one of two ways: “good” or “not bad.” I feel good when I beat Blue (Gary) and Silver because those dudes are jerks and they need to be taken down a peg. I feel good beating Barry because he’s a clown town. I don’t feel bad beating my rivals in Pokémon Ruby, Saphire, and Emerald because the battles are all in good fun. I feel good beating Barry because he’s a total clown town. I don’t feel bad about beating my rivals in X or Y because they got other stuff besides Pokémon battling in their lives to be good at. I don’t feel bad beating Hau because he’s pretty chill about the whole thing. Sword and Shield even has cool rivals in the form of smug goblin child Bede (feels good to defeat because he’s a smug goblin child) and cool girl Marnie (doesn’t feel bad to defeat because she still has fans and is still way cooler than me).
Battling Hop just makes me feel bad.
The tragedy of Hop is that he has a huge chip on his shoulder. His big brother Leon is the current unbeatable champion of the Galar region and Hop is the one who is going to take that silly hat-crown from him. He’s gonna be the very best. Like no one ever was. And right there is the cruel joke of Hop’s existence: he’s a rival who thinks he’s the player character in a Pokemon game.
You see, Hop goes beyond hopeful dreaming. He is dead sure he’s going to be the next champion despite all evidence to the contrary. He’s lost every time we’ve had a battle. He’s lost to Bede. He lost to idiot rich boy who couldn’t wait one day before destroying the world. Heck, he lives next door to an only child who doesn’t have a dad. How could he NOT know he’s a secondary Pokémon character?
I understand this kinda part of Hop’s storyline. His big brother is literally an undefeated champion. He’s lived in his brother’s shadow all his life and probably has a chip on his shoulder. I understand, dude! I got brothers and sisters too and sometimes its hard not to compare yourself to them! But his adamant claims that he will be champion in the end despite defeat after overwhelming defeat takes this belief from “inspirational dream” to “pathological delusion.” He is a second banana trying to play first fiddle, and bananas don’t have arms.
And that’s what lead to me crushing Hop’s dreams in front of a crowd of thousands. Did I feel a little bad for him? Maybe. But at this point he had every chance to back out, to reexamine his goals and ask why he was doing what he was doing. You don’t have to be the best at everything. Sometimes it’s ok to have a goal and try your best. I’m nowhere near the best at Pokémon than Hop and I’m ok with that. My middling score in any competitive game is proof of that.
Hop seems to mellow out a bit after that loss. He settles down and begins thinking about becoming a Pokémon Professor, a title you apparently get when another professor gives you a lab coat. But I can’t shake the feeling that he’s settling a bit. I shattered his unflappable confidence and dunked on him so hard that he’s quit battling to become a giant nerd. Well you know what they say: those who can’t do, teach. At least he can be a professor with a cool theme song.
Zachary Long is a Pokémon trainer who takes time from trashing fictional 11-year-olds to sometimes write on TAY. He can be found on Twitter and pretty much anywhere else as InvadingDuck. Currently playing: Pokémon Sword, Apex Legends, Tangle Tower, and The Outer Worlds.