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Off Topic > Video GamesJun 29, 2020 10:00 am CT

Who is Pokémon UNITE really for, and why now?

Pokémon has been around for more than 20 years. Most famous for its RPG format of collecting and battling pets, it has seen a number of types of games. There was pinball, a number of puzzle games, and whatever Pokémon Snap was supposed to be. And now the newest is Pokémon UNITE, a MOBA title, where two 5-player teams of Pokémon face off, scoring points in a 10-minute match.

Pokémon UNITE is a collaboration between The Pokémon Company, Tencent Games (the largest video game company in China), and TiMi Studios, which makes a number of mobile games. Pokémon UNITE will be available on Nintendo Switch and on mobile devices — but not on the PC, where a lot of MOBAs are often played. This brings us to the question: Why a Pokémon MOBA now?

League of Legends is created and owned by Riot Games, and Riot Games is 100% owned by Tencent. For the company to make another MOBA, with a popular brand, is not a leap. League still remains extremely popular, with millions of players logging in daily. While League is over a decade old, and other MOBAs have shown some success, nothing has been able to match their numbers. A list of the most popular MOBAs, put together in 2019 shows League as number one with more than 27 million players logging in per day, DOTA 2 as number two with less with than 450 thousand daily players, and Heroes of the Storm in third place with about 300 thousand daily players. It would be no surprise that out of all of these games which one Pokémon would want to team up with.

Pokémon fans might like this new format. Taking control of different Pokémon, using their moves to beat up others, teaming up to have some cool combos is nice — like Super Smash Bros. on a larger scale. In the past, Pokémon has proven to be on the cutting edge of tech. They utilized the Game Boy in its early days, they showed us what a mobile game could do with Pokémon GO! So why only get into the MOBA genre a decade after the most popular one was released?

The best guess would be esports. Pokémon doesn’t have a setup to delve into the esports scene, and that is one of the larger growing markets of the video game industry. One company that has had a lot of success in the esports industry — Tencent. League of Legends is big in esports, running professional tournaments since 2011. While this is still a matter of Pokémon being late to dinner, this would now give them a format where they could enter the esports scene in a way none of their previous games allowed. Better late than never.

At least we get a free Pokémon game out of it. Or, that is to say, a “Free-to-Start” Pokémon game. That was how the video described it. MOBAs are known for microtransactions, as are games by Tencent. And Pokémon GO! proved that The Pokémon Company is not afraid of microtransactions either. This is a guarantee in the game, but to what extent? Play as much as you want, but limited to which Pokémon you can play? Can only play five times in a day unless pay-to-play more? How much is free will determine what kind of market this game is for.

Another oddity with a Pokémon MOBA is the toxicity of the player base usually associated with MOBAs. League players are not usually described as a friendly, welcoming group full of child-friendly language. Even HOTS players have shown to use salty language when a match does not go well. How will that go over in a Nintendo game, when Nintendo has a friendlier, more family-friendly reputation than other consoles? Will they disable chat? Only have pre-selected chat options? At the very least, they need to filter swear words with Pokémon language. Like, “Get your pika on the pika-pi objective!”

It is nice that they are starting off with First Generation. It is the most recognizable, and what draws people in right away. However, they will want to roll out the other generations sooner rather than later. Unless their only target audience is people over the age of 30. There is a reason they are called Generations. My 12-year-old son is a Sun and Moon kid, Seventh Generation, and he will want to see Alola Pokémon.

A free Pokémon game, I’m in. I’m playing Pokémon Café Mix now, waiting for more news. I’ll temper my expectations of cost, and how fast they roll out generations. But I fear what in-game chat will be like. Even if it isn’t as toxic as League — if it is on the level of HOTS, for instance — I’m going to want my kid to avoid it until he’s older, and I won’t enjoy it. I do not want to see Pokémon go down that path. I would like to see what they do with the teams in esports. Real-life Pokémon Arenas will be exciting, if they recreate what is in the anime. I’m just not ready to add another game to my viewing schedule — OWL takes enough of my time.

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