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Pokémon Unite: Pay to win?


Pokémon Unite is the latest pokémon-themed Spin-Off on Nintendo Switch and reinvents the popular franchise from a MOBA perspective (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena,) like the famous games Dota 2 or League of Legends.

The title, created by TiMi Studio Group (recently purchased by Tencent, already the owner of Riot Games, creators of League of Legends), therefore refers to the milestones of the genre (and Basketball?), creating very fun and enjoyable gameplay but with a rather visible flaw.

Although the title presents itself as a Free to Play some choices portend a spectre behind the scenes. And I'm not referring to Gengar.

The spectrum is that of Pay-to-Win.

Although certain aspects of the game are purely for aesthetic use (such as the additional costumes for our favourite pokémon or our in-game avatar), others are visibly marked on Pay to Win.

Some of the available Pokémon

Some of the available Pokémon

The first aspect is related to the rewards for the level up of our avatar, where many players have found little agreement with the rewards that are not linear with the difficulty of achievement.

The bonus for reaching level 38 (out of a maximum of 40 total levels) is only double the reward obtained at Level 9.

Speaking of experience, the value of experience points needed to reach level 9 corresponds to approximately 7,000, while reaching level 38 corresponds to approximately 139,600 experience points. A big difference for a minimum gain and little impact in terms of gameplay.

Therefore, it would seem that levelling up is not seen as a real goal to be achieved but only as a natural consequence of the game.

For example, in Pokémon Go, levelling up is a much more gameplay-related factor as it allows us to increase the maximum CP of our favourite Pokémon and guarantees a "symbolic" growth effect. In Pokémon Unite we can reach the maximum potential directly from level one (or so it might seem, the game does not guarantee access to advanced Pokémon statistics but only indicative values).

A tangible effect of the player’s level increase is the possibility of obtaining additional Slots for items that can be equipped by the pokémon that we will decide to use during our games. We will talk about this specific topic specifically a little further on.

The second aspect is related to the ways of unlocking the characters.
Some will be part of a group that is always available once unlocked, while others will be available in rotation to allow the game development team to keep the metagame fresh and fun or to try to remedy deadlock situations due to the use of optimized Pokémon and Equipment configurations once a "Pro" scene is created.

Returning to the available Pokémon, these will be unlockable by purchasing specific licenses as rewards or through the use of in-game currency. Or with Real Currency converted to In-Game currency.

We, therefore, have two choices:
Try to unlock the licenses during our normal games, for example, 8,000 in-game currency.
Unlock licenses with the use of real currency, for example, 4 $.

These licenses are quite expensive in terms of in-game currency also because the rewards for the level up that we have seen previously are not scalable with our growth in-game.
Therefore many players rely on the second method with a possible outlay of up to around a hundred dollars.

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The third important point to deepen is related to the equipment for our Pokèmon. In this case, we are not talking about the cosmetic elements but about the pieces of equipment that affects the enhancement of our pokémon such as the increase in life points or the speed of movement.

One of the principles of MOBAs is to provide all players with characters with the same characteristics at the beginning of the game (except dark mechanics to benefit new players to make the difference between new players and pro players less oppressive) and provide bonuses and items temporary as rewards for positive game actions such as eliminating an opponent or winning a strategic position.

Pokèmon Unite, on the other hand, provides the ability to upgrade Pokémon before entering battle, creating a substantial difference between those who have access to greater resources than those who have not upgraded their Pokémon yet.

Let's imagine a fight between two Pokémon of the same type. With the same general characteristics, even changing only one parameter in one of the two pokémon will significantly shift the comparison in favour of one of the two participants.

Attack speed, Health points, Defense and Attack, cooldown time of special moves and Movement speed are all values ​​that have a significant impact on the fight and the general course of the game.

Even if the game takes place in 5 vs 5, the presence of a single enhanced character makes all the plays of the other players less effective, not only of the opponents but also those of the same team, as they will compete for the achievement of their quests or simply to be the MVP of the match. For one person who has gained an advantage, 9 people have seen their gameplay deteriorate. Not a fair play choice.

As already mentioned, it will be possible to make the Pokémon that will be deployed in battle wear up to a maximum of three Items.

Another point of debate is the fact that the Item itself has levels.
Therefore an item at level one will not be comparable to the same item at level 10 or level 20.

Currently, the maximum level for items is 30 and is done through the use of Item Enhancer. To bring an object from level 1 to level 2, 3 Item Enhancers are required and this number progressively increases up to a maximum of 300 Item Enhancers for passing from level 29 to level 30.

But how many resources does it take to get a single item from level one to level thirty?
The calculation has already been made available and corresponds to 2,587 Item Enhancers for a single object, 7,761 Item Enhancers for an entire playset of equipment items.

Currently, all the possible rewards present in the game would allow us to collect enough resources to enhance a single item at most. To upgrade the other two it would be necessary to use the daily and seasonal rewards.
Ironically, using only the daily rewards, it would take about 500 days to collect the sum of Tickets needed to purchase the Item Enhancers.

An alternative?

Pay around $ 45 for each additional item, for a total of around $ 90.

Also considering that the different pokémon rely on different strategies, the three items at level 30 that we have just created will most likely not be compatible with all styles of play and therefore it may be necessary to have a greater diversification.


Pokémon Unite can be a welcome variation of the basic mechanics but at the moment it is still too tied to Pay to win elements to be interesting even for players who want to be able to enjoy the game freely even without having to pay with real currency.
We will see how the game will be affected through player feedback and what changes will be made to make it better for more casual players.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Christian Allasia

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