Oct 1, 2021 - Technology

Monster "Pokémon" hit

Pokemon Company.
Image: The Pokemon Company.

The “Pokémon” series now has its biggest mobile hit since “Pokémon Go,” thanks to the massive launch of “Pokémon Unite,” a game whose announcement last year was met with derision from hardcore fans.

Why it matters: “Unite” is far from an underdog. It’s a flex by some of the most powerful companies and brands in gaming.

  • It takes some of the world’s most popular fictional characters (Pokémon)...puts them in one of the world’s most popular video game genres (MOBA — lane-based competitive games involving competing squads of heroes, à la “League of Legends”)….in a game co-developed by one of the world’s most successful game studios in that genre (Tencent’s TiMi).

By the numbers: “Unite” has been downloaded more than 30 million times since its launch on mobile on Sept. 22, according to industry tracker Sensor Tower.

  • That’s better than TiMi’s big MOBA “Honor of Kings,” which launched in 2015. Sensor Tower says that game has surpassed $10 billion in player spending.
  • On its first day on phones, “Unite” claimed the No. 1 spot on most-downloaded app store lists in 62 countries, according to tracker App Annie.
  • This is all after the free-to-download game had already launched on Nintendo Switch in July.
The Pokemon Company.
Image: The Pokémon Company

Fan skepticism had struck early: When “Unite” was announced last year, many “Pokémon” fans grumbled, downvoting the game’s debut trailer 161,000 times, before the Pokémon Company deleted it and re-uploaded it.

  • The re-uploaded trailer was panned, too, with comments like: “Stop trying to make Unite happen. It's not going to happen.”
  • But it turns out the game is quite fun, as Axios Gaming’s Megan Farokhmanesh recently attested.

What they’re saying: “I do genuinely think it’s great, but I’d say people have a love-hate relationship with it,” says Kotaku editor-in-chief Patricia Hernandez, a former colleague of mine who is one of the smartest (and entertainingly strident) Pokémon experts out there.

  • Hernandez said some fans have struggled with the game, in part because the MOBA genre — which requires that players learn characters’ moves and understand how to function as a successful team — is very demanding.
  • But some also flinched at the aggressive monetization schemes in the game, which pushed players to pay to advance and were toned down for the mobile launch.
  • “The reality is that MOBAs are gruesome in terms of lows,” she noted. “But the highs!”
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