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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.
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!”

Go deeper

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Jan 7, 2022 - Sports

Why "super-champions" are dominating "Jeopardy!"

Amy Schneider. Photo: Jeopardy Productions, Inc. via AP

"Something streaky is happening on 'Jeopardy!' right now," The Ringer's Claire McNear reports.

State of play: Matt Amodio kicked off the show's 38th season with a 38-game winning streak (second-longest ever). More streaks followed, including Amy Schneider's current 27-game run (fourth-longest ever).

Updated 37 mins ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 2 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.