Pokémon Unite surprised both MOBA and Pokémon fans by being both fun and competent. But a highly competitive game based on a popular property creates an interesting conundrum: do you pick the best Pokémon for your team, or the one you’ve loved since you were seven?
Pokémon Unite did a great job adding a variety of popular Pokémon and making them all feel like you’d expect. Charizard flies and breathes fire the way you’d expect. And Gastly uses its massive tongue to pull enemies. As someone who’s been playing Pokémon most of his life, and MOBAs for almost a decade, it’s a treat to see the way Unite executes these characters and their unique kits.
But my desire to play Greninja — because it’s cool — often clashes with my desire to win. In a team already full of attacking Pokémon, my team could really use a Crustle tank or Eldegoss support. But what the hell even are some of these Pokémon? Why would I play a crab that’s also a rock when I can play fireball soccer with Cinderace?
It’s the classic MOBA problem dialed up to 11. Many MOBA players start their journey just looking to deal damage, and the transition into more supportive roles is pretty easy for League of Legends, where the characters are all original — making the jump from the pirate man cosplaying Gambit from the X-Men to a big bear made of lightning doesn’t involve a lot of long-held personal feelings. But when you mix in Pokémon nostalgia, it’s harder to be selfless.
Using licensed characters creates an odd phenomenon on both sides of the MOBA aisle. For players that love Pokémon like Slowbro and Snorlax, but hate tanking, they’re in for a rude awakening when they realize that’s what both of those characters excel at. On the flip side, players who’ve spent their entire lives despising Venusaur, but love playing ranged attack characters, will be disappointed to see the two intersect.
Outside of Unite’s ranked players, it’s hard to get a balanced team rather than one filled with popular Pokémon. Perhaps this would’ve also been an issue in the Lord of the Rings MOBA, Guardians of Middle Earth, had it reached the same level of success as Pokémon Unite.
Unite’s character roster and roll distribution is another key lesson for new MOBA fans to learn. The good of the team must outweigh your personal affinity for Absol or Garchomp. The other Pokémon will still be there the next time your team needs a more damage-focused character.
The true secret to Unite, and part of what makes it such a great little MOBA, is that all of its characters feel as well made as your childhood favorite. So, once I put aside my need to play as a character I knew, I found some great Pokémon hiding inside Unite’s roster.