Is Pokémon Unite ready for its moment at the Pokémon world championships?

Delphox Pokémon Unite
Picture: Pokémon Company

Before last year, a Pokémon-style spin-off League of Legends feels like a little-known branch, even for a franchise that has treated Pikachu as a coffee-drinking detective. In a lot of ways, Pokémon MOBA makes a lot of sense – as a world filled with hundreds of unique monsters and built around combat – but this is the first time we’ve seen the franchise be adapted into a game. team-based multiplayer game popular as an e-sport.

Pokémon Unite was introduced as an accessible entry point into a scary genre and by most stats it was a hit. There are annoyances with the free-to-play model, like the overwhelming amount of in-game currency and the general lack of polish, but its 10-minute shorter matches emphasize quick scoring and matchmaking. , reliable, makes for a more accessible and instantly gratifying experience than League of Legends or Dota.

Coupled with the Pokémon license, perhaps unsurprisingly for the game – as of April this year – surpassing 70 million downloads worldwide on Nintendo Switch and mobile devices. However, this success in the first year seems like just the first step in the legacy of Pokémon Unite. Another mobile MOBA by TiMi Studio Group Arena of Valor has created a large competitive presence throughout Southeast Asia. Will Pokémon Unite be able to sustain this audience in the years to come?

An answer will begin to form at this year’s Pokémon World Championships in London. After being postponed for the past two years due to the pandemic, the event – featuring tournaments in the trading card game, Pokémon Sword and Shield, Pokémon GOand Pokkén Tournament DX (in it appeared last) – will host Pokémon Unite for the first time. Main prize? Huge $100,000 for the winning team, $20,000 for each player.

Pokémon World Championship 2022
Picture: Pokémon Company

While the Pokémon World Championships don’t draw the millions of viewers of the biggest esport events around, there’s hope that Unite’s debut will, at the very least, generate some interest and investment. New investment in the game next year. Currently, very few major esports organizations have sponsored Unite teams, perhaps due to The Pokémon Company’s push into the esports space to date, coupled with the uncertainty surrounding the long-term outlook. its.

For UK player BruvHD, 25, from the EU’s Nouns Esports team, a spot at the Pokémon World Championship offers a heavy sense of relief. Over the past year, he has played for various teams and has seen the roster rise and fall rapidly from the start, moving from his previous EU team Team Five Guys – the team that disbanded – to Nouns Esports in May. After the Regional Championships in June, the team came out on top as the best team in Europe.

BruvHD told us: “The biggest barrier is the Region because of how weird the quality assessment process is. “Basically, that means everything you’ve done up until the Area is just a seed [in the bracket]so every tournament [before] does not affect if you qualify. I think most players feel it’s pointless to play other tournaments, but people play to see how they perform.

it definitely feels like you can’t play the game, show up at the Zone and take down a consistent team that’s having a second place all the time

“They can encourage consistency through tournaments, such as automatically rating someone based on their first score. It will still make it more difficult for Regions since then you are losing a prize pool, but you certainly can’t play the game, go back to the Zone and take down a consistent team that is on the 2nd record. two each time – as only the top two teams qualify in the larger regions. That’s the main worry, because reaching Worlds is everyone’s ultimate goal. “

Only 16 teams qualified for the World Championships in 11 regions, with the short-term qualification process causing some confusion. Gaimin Gladiators, who have dominated North American tournaments for months, were eliminated in the Regional Championships – leaving them with no place despite their consistently strong performances at events. before. The addition of an in-game tournament mode designed for track shows some commitment to Unite’s e-sports scene, but there’s still a lot of improvement needed to ensure teams and players be rewarded and evaluated better so that they continue to invest.

The unstable competitive landscape is, in some ways, a reflection of Pokémon Unite’s tumultuous development over the past year. At launch, with so many new MOBA players joining at once, it was rare to find a team that actually worked together as a unit. As BruvHD put it: “Initially, it feels like if you find a stable team, you’ve got a huge advantage.”

Pokemon Unite Key Art
Image: The Pokémon Company

While there is controversy over the unchanged matchmaking system that brings players together regardless of rank to maintain fast queue times, Pokémon Unite has diversified and expanded in other areas. Since launch, 16 more Pokémon have been added – from Blissey to Dragonite, Espeon to Delphox. Compared to the early months, where the likes of Cinderace, Venosaur and Lucario were frequently the mainstay of the team, the team composition has become more diverse and surprising across different regions as a result.

It’s interesting because from the very beginning there are huge regional variations. I think that’s narrowing down a bit

According to Pokémon Unite Championship Series curator Jake Sprague, aka Spragels, the strategies used by the various regions, however, have begun to homogenize in recent months. “It was interesting because from the very beginning there were huge regional variations,” Spragels told us. “I think that is narrowing down a bit, maybe because more is being broadcast and people can see it, and there are balance changes in the game as well.

“Japan and Korea are always focused on the score. We had some of that in North America and Europe, but for a long time they were focused on fighting as a team. In other regions, most of the vibe I’ve seen has been after, I guess, you’d call what you would call ‘western meta’, which means more teamfights. Now that things have changed, it seems like that is shrinking everywhere and things are a little more focused on team battles. That’s mainly because the balance shift inside the game makes it harder to win just by scoring.”

The biggest change in the meta occurred in April when a patch reduced the power of two of the most commonly used items, Buddy Barrier and Score Shield. After the update, Score Shield, which was used to prevent others from interrupting targets, is no longer considered invulnerable. While Buddy Barrier, an item that will grant players and nearby teammates a shield after using Unite, is nerfed and cannot be stacked to increase defense.

This means that the Score Comp meta, where players relentlessly rush into the opponent’s goal area to score even a tiny amount of points, has reduced viability because Pokémon can be killed more easily than before. It was primarily seen as a positive change, prompting players to experiment with other Hold Items for different strategies.

The excitement surrounding the Pokémon World Championship is that for the first time these evolving strategies worldwide will clash on a level playing field, as delays in online matches are eliminated from the game. equation. In this sense, the event is not only an event to showcase the development of the game to attract more investment, but it is the first time that players and players can accurately read about the background of Pokémon Unite in the game. future.

Pokemon Unite Anniversary
Picture: Pokémon Company

“I can’t wait to see these different regions and strategies clash with each other because we will see some clear winners,” added Spragels. “I think that also really affected the game. It’s hard to say what’s best right now.

“I think each region has outstanding teams and it’s hard to say [who is best]because if you see the best team in North America going against the best team in Japan, one of these two teams is playing at a level of lag that makes it very difficult to distinguish what would happen if they actually had a fight. fair.

“In many ways, Japan is the most innovative region. I think they’re doing things that feel most out of the box. They’re playing this game on another level, and I don’t know if that’s above or below. The question is are these brainstorming levels or will they be defeated by teams that are more focused on teamfights? I can’t wait to see it.”

The Pokémon World Championship 2022 takes place from August 18-21 at ExCel London. Matches will be streamed on Pokémon Unite YouTube channel.

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