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The Untold Truth Of Pokemon Unite

"Pokemon Unite" has had some time to let the dust settle. Released on the Nintendo Switch in July 2021 and for Android/iOS in September 2021, the title represents a new type of "Pokemon" game. In the short time since its release, "Pokemon Unite" has filled a void for casual players in the MOBA genre. Typically, MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) games like "League of Legends" attract hardcore crowds that love the competitiveness and high skill-cap of the genre. "Pokemon Unite," in contrast, also brings in lovers of the "Pokemon" brand and is far less punishing on its players by allowing for big comebacks and during its 10-minute matches.

The game's unique scoring and comeback mechanics have proven solid enough to cement a devoted playerbase made up of both competitive and casual fans. A multiplayer game is only as good as its players, and the "Pokemon Unite" community contains content creators, builders, and lovers of all things Pokemon. However, there's a lot you may not know about "Pokemon Unite," regardless of its constantly growing popularity. 

Tencent is behind the curtain

The initial success of "Pokemon Unite" is in no small part due to the power behind its main developer, TiMi Studios. Now, TiMi Studios is not a household name, but its parent company, Tencent, certainly is well-known. The biggest video game publisher in the world by a large margin (per Business Insider), Tencent is also a world-leading telecommunications and entertainment company based in Shenzhen, China.

Tencent has a slightly spotty reputation within the gaming community due to accusations of copying games and turning them into cheap mobile spinoffs. TiMi Studio's biggest hit before "Pokemon Unite" was "Honor of Kings," a game extremely similar to "League of Legends" that was released in 2016 right after Tencent acquired Riot Games, the creator of "LoL." Despite being criticized for these practices, Tencent shows no signs of slowing down its acquisitions or its production queue. After all, "Honor of Kings" has gone on to become one of the most widely played mobile games in the world (via TheGamer).

"Pokemon Unite" does not quite fit the same copycat bill that "Honor of Kings" does because it has its own unique gameplay. Having Tencent behind the curtains ensures that "Pokemon Unite's" development team has access to deep pockets, but at what cost?

Pokemon Unite has made changes for the fans

Most microtransactions within free-to-play games remain in the account boosting and cosmetics realm. Once those real money transactions start impacting the actual gameplay, however, then buying those advantages results in an unequal play experience. "Pokemon Unite" falls victim to this problem with its Held Items.

Held Items in "Pokemon Unite" grant Pokemon various stat boosts that, in theory, allow players to customize their playstyles. These Held Items can be leveled up to increase their bonuses with Item Enhancers, and leveling them up is possible with Aeos Gems, the in-game currency linked with real money. As noted by Polygon, players can buy stat boosts that make their Pokemon better than those who didn't pay.

Many members of the "Pokemon Unite" community, like YouTuber Arlo, have decried this practice as an unfortunate pay-to-win mechanic in an otherwise well-balanced game. Wary of the pay-to-win stigma, "Pokemon Unite" surveyed its users ahead of Season 2 to find out what changes they would like to see implemented. 

Listening to the community, "Pokemon Unite" introduced Super Item Enhancers and Max-Grade Trial Cards for Season 2. Super Item Enhancers increase a Held Item's to maximum level and Max-Grade Trial Cards allow players to use maximum level Held Items for a 1-week trial period. Both Super Item Enhancers and Max-Grade Trial Cards are easily obtainable for just playing the game, drastically reducing the pay-to-win incentives of Held Items.

Pokemon Unite is full of bots

"Pokemon Unite" is a breath of fresh air in the MOBA genre. Other popular titles like "League of Legends" and "Dota 2" have match lengths that typically hover around 30 minutes in length, on top of an already lengthy champion selection process. On the other hand, "Pokemon Unite" matches last a maximum of 10 minutes and joining a match is equally as quick and easy. This quickened pace helps "Pokemon Unite" situate itself as a more casual MOBA, but it might accomplish this whilst surrendering a crucial part of the usual MOBA experience.

In order to keep the matchmaking process snappy, "Pokemon Unite" will often include bots on teams to fill out the roster. These bots are disguised to look like real players, even going as far as using authentic-looking player usernames to disguise themselves.

The bot problem in "Pokemon Unite," however, goes even deeper. As noted by TheGamer, "Pokemon Unite" will often set players up in a lobby against a majority-bot team immediately after a loss, particularly if they're a beginner. The bots in "Pokemon Unite" are quite bad at the game, so it seems these matches are also designed to give players on a losing streak an easy win. Put lightly, "Pokemon Unite" handholds its players through rough patches to make sure the competitive edge of the game isn't taking too much a toll on them. Put harshly, these bot matches could trick newer players into a false sense of progression and lure them into longer play sessions.

Pokemon Unite has a plan for avoiding rage quits

Prominent MOBA games like "League of Legends" and "Dota 2" often struggle with toxicity within their communities. One of the common results with of producing hyper-competitive team-based games are environments in which players blame each other for what is going wrong. Surrendering is often seen a way of ending the game before victory conditions are reached, but a lot of the time this function within MOBA games is abused by players with a bad attitude.

"Pokemon Unite" brands itself as a more casual experience, and one way that "Pokemon Unite" ensures a non-toxic environment is by not allowing players to type messages to one another, opting instead to only allow basic pings during matches. Scoreboards keep track of everything in "League of Legends" and "Dota 2," but that convention was thrown to the wayside for "Pokemon Unite".

When asked why the scoreboard is not visible during gameplay, the Pokemon Unite team responded, "The matches last 10 minutes and players have the possibility of making a comeback, so we wanted people to play without giving up to the very end." In other words, almost every game of "Pokemon Unite" is salvageable right up until the end, so "Pokemon Unite" avoids rage quits by hiding the scoreboard and encouraging a bit more hope in its players.

Pokemon Unite's tournament scene

Nintendo is not always known to support the competitive scene for games like "Super Smash Bros." The Pokemon Company, on the other hand, has not allowed its competitive titles like the "Pokemon TCG" and "Pokken Tournament" to fall out of the esports limelight. At the beginning of 2022, it was announced that "Pokemon Unite" will be adding an in-client Tournament Mode and will also be included in the Pokemon World Championships in August 2022.

The tournament scene for "Pokemon Unite," however, doesn't end there. As with any popular competitive game, the devoted player community has organized tournaments of their own making. "Pokemon Unite" saw a burst of popularity almost immediately after its release as many content creators hopped on the latest trending MOBA.

YouTuber Alpharad hosted a 40 player tournament filled with tons of popular content creators, including the likes of Amouranth, Atrioc, and gsmVoiD. Split into 8 teams, the tournament consisted of a "round robin" format, with the top 2 teams at the end competing for supremacy. One of the participants, Wolfey, revealed that this was the first time he had played "Pokemon Unite" since its release, proving the game's value as both a casual and competitive title.

Pokemon is perfect for a MOBA community

The MOBA genre is ripe for players to create fan-made champions, thanks to their simple-but-flexible archetypes. MOBA games give players easy-to-understand frameworks that can be molded in an infinite amount of ways. The generic MOBA frameworksconsists of a champion with 2-4 abilities and a passive modifier. Give this framework to any fan of "League of Legends," "Dota 2," "Heroes of the Storm," or "Pokemon Unite," and the players will come up with countless versions of their own champions.

Now, take that dynamic and add an existing IP with hundreds of untapped characters and you have a recipe for tons of well-built community creations. One of the most well known fan-submitted Pokemon ideas is Politoed, which comes from redditor Owlydowly. From evolving Poliwag into Poliwhirl, and finally into Politoed, Owldowly presents this monster as an all-rounder, complete with thought-out mobility and abilities that seem on-par with the level of consideration seen in the actual game.

There is no telling whether these fan-made designs will have any impact on the Pokemons chosen to be made in the game or if the game mechanics fleshed out in these posts will be adapted in any ways. At the very least, "Pokemon Unite" seems to be inspiring its players in ways that make sense for the core series and time-honored MOBA conventions.

Pokemon Unite's community-created challenges

Another facet of having such a dedicated community are the new ways in which they invent playing the game outside of its normal rules. When something gets stale, many gamers just invent new arbitrary rules to freshen things up. Famously, the Pokemon community has created a fan mode called the Nuzlocke challenge for the RPG series. Nuzlockes, in Pokemon RPGs, dictate that players catch only the first Pokemon on each route — and once a Pokemon faints, they can no longer be revived or used for the rest of the game.

The exact specifications of Nuzlockes do not quite translate into the gameplay loops of MOBAs, but that hasn't stopped members of the community from adapting Nuzlocke principles into "Pokemon Unite." For instance, popular content creator spragels has invented a few "Pokemon Unite" Nuzlocke adaptations of his own.

Namely, the Christmas "Pokemon Unite" Nuzlocke requires players to play one game with each Pokemon in the roster. If one dies at any point, then that Pokemon can no longer be picked again. Eventually, no-death Pokemon will rise to the top. This process is repeated until there is only one Pokemon who has not died since the challenge started.

There are other fan modes within the "Pokemon Unite" community, like type-only challenges in which team compositions must comprise entirely of a combination of specific Pokemon types. These fan-made restrictions offer players new ways of experiencing the same content.

Pokemon Unite's community-driven statistics

It is no secret that MOBA players are a dedicated bunch. Ask any legacy player of "League of Legends" or "Dota 2" how long it took them to reach their current level of mastery and they will likely tell you, "a very long time." Improving in these games requires deep hypothesizing, concentrated reflection, and a willingness to fail forward. These pursuits of improvement can be aided by raw data.

It took a little bit after the game's launch, but "Pokemon Unite" now has its own advanced statistics for high-ranked meta games, thanks to the website UniteAPI. This website, developed by dedicated community members, allows "Pokemon Unite" trainers to input their playercard and receive detailed breakdowns of their most important statistics.

Players can glean the top Pokemon win percentages in specific ranked tiers, the most successful item builds for each Pokemon, and a constantly updated tier list, among many other features. Built by the community, for the community, UniteAPI gives competitive players in "Pokemon Unite" the high-level type of information required to push meta games to their limits. In other words, "Pokemon Unite" already inspires the same level of dedication that the mainline games have received.