Does Pokemon Unite Have Esports Potential

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Pokemon Unite is finally available on the Nintendo Switch and it is expected to release on Android and iOS later this year. Pokemon is the highest-grossing media franchise in the world with its video games earning over $22 billion across all titles till date. Despite the franchise’s presence in mainstream media since 1996, Nintendo never broke into the esports scene. While many Pokemon characters have been a part of Super Smash Bros, which is one of the biggest fighting game franchises in the world, there have been no esports titles till date. However, that may change with the release of Pokemon Unite.

What is an esports title?

There is no official definition of an esports title but it is generally seen as a game that has competitive player-versus-player modes where victory is predominantly defined by skill and not chance. Victory must depend on:

  • Intellectual skill (eg. Strategy, in-game calls, pre-game drafts etc.)

  • Physical skill (eg. High APM, quick reflexes, significant hand-eye coordination etc.)

It also needs to have organized, spectator-friendly competitions supported by either the players themselves, the publisher, or by third-party tournament organizers.

Does Pokemon Unite fit into the definition of an esports game?

Pokemon, for the longest time had titles that primarily focused on single-player gameplay, but that might be changing with the arrival of Pokemon Unite. The game draws inspiration from popular MOBAs and features player-versus-player gameplay. However, its potential as an esport will be defined by Nintendo and TiMi Studio’s willingness to create an ecosystem that enables competitive play.

Here are some of the top reasons why the game can become a competitive esport:

Available on mobile devices: Nintendo has proven itself as capable of creating competitive games with the Super Smash Bros games and Pokemon Unite is showing some signs of potential too. The biggest contributor to Unite’s potential as an esports title is that it is available on mobile devices with full cross-play support. Nintendo is known for its platform exclusives and the game being available on not just the Nintendo Switch, but also on mobile devices is promising.

Ranked mode with global leaderboards: In the official announcement, Nintendo announced that the game will feature a ranked mode with global leaderboards. Just like other MOBAs, Unite will require team communication. Pokemon Unite is getting a ping system, text chat, and even voice chat for the first time in the franchise to shape it into a competitive game.

Gameplay: There is a lot of focus on using abilities and items at the right time and it fits right into the gameplay loop of titles like Dota and League of Legends. While it is not as complex as PC MOBAs due to the lack of creeps, there is still some potential for the game as an esports title.

What could be holding Pokemon Unite back as a potential esport

Monetization: The kind of limitations imposed by TiMi Studios and Nintendo for the game is currently unknown. While unlocking the initial characters in the game is fairly easy according to a lot of reviews, that may change in the future as more characters are added to the game. Games like DOTA and League of Legends are totally free-to-play (F2P) and there are no gameplay mechanics that give you a power spike by investing money. It remains to be seen if TiMi Studios’ new title continues to be a F2P-friendly title for it to be considered an esport.

Developer Support: According to reports there will be no esports focus initially but the game could become an established esports if the player base takes it in that direction. However, it is very important to note that the game is being developed by TiMi Studios, the developers who have highly successful esports titles like Call of Duty: Mobile and Arena of Valor.

Conclusion

The game has all the elements needed to become a long-term competitive title. The ball is in Nintendo’s court to potentially shape Pokemon Unite into an esport. If the company provides TiMi Studios with the resources and support, the game could develop into a popular esport.