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6 Stupid Reasons Ash Loses the Pokémon League Tournaments

In between "Pokémon" journeys, Jeremy enjoys working as a pharmaceutical chemist and campus manager.

Ash's Status With Fans

As popular as Pokémon is, many take issue with protagonist Ash Ketchum and his differences from the typical anime hero: the poor guy loses almost as often as he wins, and he's never conquered an official league tournament. You could argue this makes his journey more realistic, but it also disappoints audiences who want Ash to finally become a Master and complete his 1000+ episode journey.

I'm with you, guys—Ash makes many mistakes and questionable choices—but to be fair, he often loses for absurd reasons, especially in the championships. To see what I mean, let's take a look at Ash's ridiculous Pokémon League losses!

Ash and Richie

Ash and Richie

Vs. Richie (Indigo League)

Back in his debut adventure, Ash finally attained eight Kanto Gym badges (some without having to battle) and Pokémon Trainers around the world were eager for him to triumph in the Indigo League. After all, in the video games (Red and Blue), your character, who Ash is based on, wins the final tournament. Several battles into the League, Ash faces his friend Richie, basically an Ash-reskin using Pikachu and other similar Pokémon. Here are several reasons why this fight was absurd:

  • Ash had fewer Pokémon to choose from; his Pidgeotto was tired from having to carry him to the match (after an encounter with Team Rocket).
  • Ash's Squirtle is put to sleep by Sleep Powder from Butterfree, which counted as an immediate disqualification.
  • Ash's Pikachu faints early due to fatigue from Team Rocket.
  • Because of his Pokémon's exhaustion, Ash takes a risk by sending out the then-disobedient Charizard. This backfires when Charizard refuses to battle, costing Ash the match.

Ash (who at least advanced farther into the tournament than rival Gary) essentially lost because of a dumb status effect-disqualifier, a tired Pokémon, and a disobedient one he was forced to take a chance on due to desperation.

Blaziken vs. Charizard

Blaziken vs. Charizard

Vs. Harrison (Johto League)

After his Johto journeys, Ash assembled a dream team by mixing the strongest of his Kanto and Johto creatures, and fans rejoiced when he triumphed against rival Gary in a grueling match within the League (using a now-obedient Charizard).

Then Ash encounters Harrison, a skilled Trainer brandishing Pokémon from Generation 3 (the Hoenn region), which at the time were the newest games. This battle wasn't terribly skewed, with the only quirks being Ash's Totodile's Leer having no effect on Hypno (which it should) and Harrison's Steelix's Dig working on Noctowl (which it shouldn't).

Still, I'm aware the anime's battles function differently than the game's. Harrison ends up winning the clash when it comes down to Charizard vs. Blaziken, and while it wasn't the wonkiest of matches, it still came across as Nintendo saying "look at how strong the new Hoenn Pokémon are."

Ash vs. Tyson

Ash vs. Tyson

Vs. Tyson (Hoenn League)

The Pokémon Advanced series alienated fans by replacing Misty with May and having Ash stop using all previous Pokémon except Pikachu. Nonetheless, he eventually obtains the eight required Gym Badges to enter the championship. In my pick for the least memorable League defeat, Ash faces his friend Tyson with his Pikachu ultimately losing to Tyson's Meowth in the climax of the contest.

Meowth was able to match Pikachu's Thunder with Thunderbolt (a weaker move), especially shocking considering Pikachu's higher Special Attack and same-type attack bonus, but again, anime vs. game logic.

All in all, not too biased a match, although I have to wonder if things would have ended differently had Ash's Grovyle been fully evolved (it laters becomes a Sceptile) and Team Rocket's Meowth not warned Tyson's about Pikachu.

Darkrai vs. Sceptile

Darkrai vs. Sceptile

Vs. Tobias (Sinnoh League)

Here we are—the pinnacle of insulting League skirmishes. Having ventured through Sinnoh with new companion Dawn, Ash performs well in the League, besting rival Paul and making it to the quarter-finals. He faces Tobias in the usual 6 vs 6 match.

Tobias beats Ash using only two Pokémon. You can imagine how this infuriated fans, especially since Tobias used exclusively Legendary Pokémon (Darkrai and Latios), which very few Trainers in the anime have.

Most fans, myself included, believe Ash would have won this League had Tobias not provided a cheap defeat; Ash was the only Trainer in the tournament to vanquish a single creature on Tobias's team. Truly a disappointing end for the Sinnoh quest.

Pictured: An idiot

Pictured: An idiot

Vs. Cameron (Unova League)

In his Black & White experiences, Ash again resets his team to only Pikachu and travels with his most annoying companions yet: Cilan and Iris. One lackluster adventure later, he collects the eight needed badges, enters the League, beats rival Trip, and faces his friend Cameron. By the way, Cameron's an idiot, accidentally bringing five Pokémon to a 6 on 6 match and repeatedly smacking himself with his headband to decide which Pokémon to use.

The fight proceeds with things going a little too conveniently for Cameron. Here's the rundown:

  • His Hydreigon takes out two of Ash's Pokémon before falling and damages a third. At least Hydreigon is a third-stage and powerful Pokémon...
  • Cameron's first-stage Riolu defeats Ash's third-stage Unfezant, even with a type disadvantage.
  • Next, Riolu beats Snivy (and evolves into Lucario).
  • Finally, Lucario defeats a previously-damaged Pikachu, winning the match..

Yes, Riolu's evolution increased its power, but the entire encounter felt stilted. This emotion magnifies when we see Cameron lose his next match against Virgil with Lucario performing far more poorly.

By this point, many fans had abandoned the anime after a string of poor English dubs, new voice actors, and ridiculous League losses; this match didn't help matters. Some had hope that Ash would mix his old team with his new for the tournament (after all, Charizard returned for a bit earlier in the season) but no such luck. Could the next season chronicling the X and Y games redeem the show?

Ash-Greninja vs. Mega Charizard X

Ash-Greninja vs. Mega Charizard X

Vs. Alain (Kalos League)

Credit where it's due: this season put effort into showcasing Alain's power prior to the League, and we finally saw Ash make it to the finals. In his latest League match (as of this writing) at the Lumiose Conference, Ash narrowly loses to Alain, ironically to a Charizard.

The battle is better-scripted than prior encounters; no single Pokémon demonstrates too much power. Eventually, Ash's Greninja loses to Alain's Mega Charizard. No doubt about it, Alain is a skilled Trainer, but it still hurt seeing Ash so close only to lose to a Mega Pokémon. Yes, Ash's Greninja has a strange Ash-Greninja form that may increase its power, but not to the degree Mega Evolution does, costing Ash the match and the title.

Though we were once again subjected to a League loss after having Ash edge painfully close to victory, X and Y threw him some bones and was superior to Black and White. Trust me, Serena, Clement, and Bonnie are much less annoying than the two previous buffoons.

Future of Pokémon

As frustrating as it is to watch Ash lose time after time to justify his further adventures, we can at least find some diamonds in the rough. While they're not official championships, Ash won both the Orange Islands League and the Battle Frontier, and he's even beaten Legendary Pokémon (Articuno, Regice, etc.) with non-Legendaries.

Ash may be often be down, but he's never out, and we can always hope that maybe, just maybe, next time he'll prevail.

Update: Ash finally won a tournament, the Alola League, and it only took the 10-year old 22 years. Wait a minute...

Ash's Alolan art style

Ash's Alolan art style

Questions & Answers

Question: Will Ash win the next Pokemon League tournament?

Answer: The Sun and Moon series have definitely departed from the traditional formula, so it's possible this could be the last Ash Ketchum journey.

Question: In Pokemon, why don't most of Ash's Pokemon evolve?

Answer: Ash's team has gotten more evolve-happy over the years, but evolution is still much rarer in the anime than the games. This helps Pokemon place the focus on the most popular monsters when they finally do evolve, like Charizard or Greninja.

Question: Will Ash win the Sun/Moon Pokemon league?

Answer: He's been gradually getting better (he earned second in X and Y's league), but I still doubt it. Prove me wrong, Pokemon International!

Question: Why didn't Charizard listen to Ash?

Answer: Charmander began as a loyal comrade, but after evolving into Charmeleon, it got arrogant and believed Ash wasn't a skilled enough Trainer to wield it.

After Charizard took a significant wound against Poliwrath and Ash stayed up all night trying to heal it, it finally gained respect for its Trainer and began obeying commands.

Question: In Pokemon, who are the main villains of Black and White (the Unova region)?

Answer: Team Plasma, although in the anime, Team Rocket also appears in a much more serious rendition compared to their past goofiness.

Question: Why doesn't Ash's Pikachu evolve in Pokemon?

Answer: Way back in the original anime, Pikachu wanted to prove (against Lt. Surge's Raichu) that evolutions aren't always superior. In video game terms, Raichu undoubtedly has better stats, but in the anime, Pikachu might be a bit faster.

Additionally, this helps keeps the cuter Pikachu as the franchise's mascot.

Question: Could Ash-Greninja return in the Sun/Moon league (if they even have one) to help Ash win?

Answer: Possibly, but I doubt it. Assuming the tournament even happens, Pokemon generally prefers to market its newest creatures, not ones from old generations. We can always hope, though.

Question: Can Ash beat Lance?

Answer: Pokemon seems reluctant to have Ash beat an Elite Four member because it would signal the end of his journey and they'd have to find a new protagonist. So no, Ash couldn't beat Lance, at least until the anime is ready for someone new.

That said, people underestimate Ash, who has defeated several powerful opponents and been invited to join the prestigious Battle Frontier as a Frontier Brain. Plus, his Charizard against Lance's Dragonite could make for an amazing battle.

Question: Will there be a Alola League soon?

Answer: Yes, an episode titled "The Curtain Rises! Alola Pokémon League!!" is scheduled for release June 30th, 2019.

© 2017 Jeremy Gill


ASHHHHLOL on April 20, 2020:

The Sun and moon came out and ash indeed won.

khalkitty on August 13, 2019:

i feel that ash has made a strong impression on us and it would be sad too let him go, however perhaps if they added a new female protaganist more like a partner then ash could sort out his love life and improve as a trainer.

HeliX Sol on April 29, 2019:

I wouldn't mind Ash continuing to be the protagonist after winning one league since winning ONE LEAGUE wouldn't make him the best trainer ever, but I also wouldn't mind getting a new protagonist. Heck, at the very least I would've liked it if he beat the Kalos League and then we got like a little end montage of him redoing the Leagues he lost in previous seasons followed by a bit of narration stating he won all other Leagues around the world, thus actually fulfilling his dream, and as a bonus have it also said that he has a kid of some sort who aims to be a great trainer of his/her own and have them as the next protagonist or something! Or even have an aged up MAX or BONNIE as the next protagonist so it's someone we would already have some form of emotional attachment instead of some blank slate that nobody can get behind because it feels off starting with someone we don't know after following Ash's journey!

Montarious Rogers on October 22, 2018:

To be honest ash had some good pokemon that helped him with leagues and I can understand that some of his pokemon had reason why they lost but what really got me mad with this league (XYZ league) is that pikachu which was effective against charizard (not mega form) and took out some good damage. And I thought greninja would have taken down charizard for good with his last finishing move. O and greninja is also my favorite pokemon which made me even more angry.

Kevin on April 05, 2018:

I had seen many battle of Ash's in the series but he still lost all the time of the times I had seen. But his closest one was the XYZ.

Ian Rideout from Alberta, Canada on March 20, 2018:

Thanks. It's been a long time since I've watched Pokemon, but this was still an entertaining read. I do remember seeing the Indigo League fight with Richie years ago though. It's kind of a shame the series has gone on so long now and Ash still can't pull out a victory, but at the same time I'm not all that surprised.

Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on December 17, 2017:


Thanks for your thoughts; it's frustrating to see a series make the same mistake over and over. Your point on "Kalos League Victory! Ash's Ultimate Decisive Battle" shows that episode titles should avoid spoilers. If the titles are true, well they've spoiled a plot point. If they're false, fans feel lied to. Better to simply find a non-conclusive name.

TheShape on December 17, 2017:

Would I like to see Ash replaced? Yes I would. XY would've been a GOLDEN opporutunity to retire Ash: He's competent, he has a good team of pokemon, and could've settled down with Serena as end game (Still rooting for the AshxSerena end game though).

TheShape on December 17, 2017:

6. Tyson - This is where I felt things were getting ridiculous with losses. Pikachu loses to Puss in Boots. Regardless, I feel like this loss is somewhat the most acceptable. Ash put up a good fight, but lost to the better trainer who would go on to win the league.

5. Harrison - This loss made me mad as a kid and want nothing to do with Blaziken for the longest. Regardless I feel like this is also acceptable (Aside from the fact that Harrison is another plot device to ensure he loses like 5/6 characters on this list). Ash fought a good fight, but again lost to the better opponent.

This is where it gets frustrating

4. Ritchie - The first plot device of ensuring Ash doesn't win. Team Rocket ambush Ash and keep him away from his match and when he gets there it's just FILLED with BS calls.

1. Squirtle loses because he was put to sleep?

2. Charmander loses because it was recalled?

3. Charizard loses because he refuses to fight (Somewhat OK).

The most embarrassing loss Ash has suffered, but given how he didn't legitimately earn HALF of his badges, and was doing whatever he could to weasel his way out of training, I'm not surprised.

3. Cameron - It's one thing to make Ash an idiot after being so competent in DP, but to make him loses to an even BIGGER idiot? Let's look Cameron's track record shall we?

1. Thought the UNOVA league would be held in Ecruteak City which is in JOHTO

2. Pulls out a TV REMOTE instead of a POKEDEX to scan Pikachu (WHY he has a TV REMOTE on a journey is another question altogether)

3. Thought he only needed SEVEN badges to compete in the Unova League instead of EIGHT MINIMUM

4. Thought that eight badges would be enough and FORGOT TO REGISTER for the league.

5. Thought a FULL BATLLE was FIVE VS. FIVE when it should be a given that it's SIX VS. SIX since trainers are allowed SIX pokemon max on their person.

6. Uses a HYDREIGON FIRST in a battle instead of one of his last pokemon and makes TONS of bad calls in that battle (Swanna vs. Pikachu, Ferrothorn vs. Pignite).


2. Tobias - The ultimate copout in making Ash lose with the most obvious case of Dues Ex Machina to make Ash lose and nothing more. Bring a guy OUT OF NOWHERE and pack him with LEGENDARIES to run Ash over....

1. Alain - I love Alain as a character, I can understand that Ash put up a good fight, and lost to the stronger trainer, but it's still FRUSTRATING that he got so close only to lose when it was advertised that he'd win since:

- It's mentioned both IN and OUT of Universe that Ash had never beaten Alain in battle

- The title of "Kalos League Victory! Ash's Ultimate Decisive Battle"

- Ash-Greninja had been completely mastered and trampled a Mega Abomasnow, DOMINATED a Mega Sceptile, and before it was even mastered floored a CHAMPION.

- Water Veil Ash-Greninja by all accounts beat Charizard in their previous battle and dominating it almost the entire time.

Ash put up a good fight, but it's still infuriating..