Nintendo Switch MOBA Pokémon Unite launched last week and promises a fresh experience in the genre that includes esports heavyweights League of Legends and Dota 2.
But what’s it like to play across the generations, and could it introduce youngsters into the world of competitive gaming? Esports News UK editor Dom Sacco and his son get to grips with Unite.
“Watch out, Rebecca!”
My four-year-old son has a knack for naming Pokémon. Ever since I introduced him to Pokémon Y and he decided to name his first Krabby ‘Craig’ and Sudowoodo ‘Nothing’, much to my amusement, he’s kept up the tradition.
Now he’s doing the same in Pokémon Unite. Only this time he’s not naming the Pokémon.
He’s playing the game and has been referring to someone to ‘Rebecca’. Telling them he’s on his way, or that they should watch out, or follow him.
“Who’s Rebecca?” I ask.
“It’s this trainer on my team,” he replies.
“Oh right,” I smile.
At first I think he has renamed another Pokémon, but turns out it is one of his teammates he’d spotted in the pre-game lobby that he’s named.
Pokémon Unite is the first game my son is playing online with other players. Granted it’s only AI bot matches, but he understands pretty quickly there are other humans behind the screen as he plays. And it’s added another dimension for him – he feels like he’s part of a team uniting for a cause.
“Go on Rebecca – yes!” he says as they score some points in an enemy goal zone.
Pokémon Unite is a 5v5 team MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game that swaps the towers and bases of traditional MOBAs for hoops, or zones. As you defeat AI enemies in the jungle, or other opponents, you collect points. You can deposit these points by dunking them into an enemy goal zone. The team with the most points at the end of the match wins.
It makes for a more simplistic but still surprisingly fun MOBA.
My son has had a fascination with Pokémon for a while now, but Unite has taken his excitement to another level. It’s much more fast-paced and in-the-moment than the traditional turn-based Pokémon games, even more so than Pokémon Go, which he also enjoys.
Attacking with his Pokémon in real time, rather than having to select from a bunch of moves that he doesn’t yet know how to read, is more engaging for him. He’s desperate to play the game whenever Mrs Sacco decides he’s allowed to.
“This game is really good,” he says, when I ask him what he thinks of Unite. “It’s about when I’m fighting with Pokémon and there’s evolved ones you can smash into!”
What else does he like about the game?
“When I won,” he says.
I feel like Pokémon Unite is the perfect entry point for younger gamers into the MOBA genre. Dota 2 and League of Legends have a PEGI age rating of 12, and you need to know how to use a keyboard and mouse, and be able to type.
Unite fosters a competitive spirit that rests within esports, and gives younger players – or those not familiar with this type of gameplay – a taster of that world.
It’s easy to pick up and play, and although it’s still a very new title, I have a feeling it’s tough to master (much like other MOBAs). It also has similar features to the likes of League of Legends, with post-match graphs and stats, challenges to complete and other characters to unlock.
I wonder how many players Pokémon Unite may introduce to the MOBA genre, who will go on to either become a fan of esports as they grow up, or even secure a career in the space. It’s a clever move by Nintendo/The Pokémon Company. With Riot Games’ owner Tencent Games behind it too (via its developer TiMi Studios), it doesn’t surprise me.
My son tends to like playing as Machamp, Gengar and Snorlax, and as an older player who had a Charmander way back in the original Pokémon Red, I’ve been spamming Charizard. Well, you start out as the base Pokémon and it evolves as you level up.
The game opens up talking points between us, as we discuss different strategies and characters, and other choices the game throws your way.
“Why did you choose to be on team purple over orange?” I ask him.
“Because I like purple and it’s my favourite colour,” he responds.
Can’t argue with that I guess.
Lastly, what would he say to other boys and girls thinking of trying Pokémon Unite?
“I’m the best Pokémon trainer in the world… (pauses)
That might not have been the kind of answer I was looking for, but in a way wanting to win reflects the experience Pokémon Unite gives us: a new type of game set in the world of Pokémon, which is accessible, but more importantly, gives young players a taste of competitive MOBAs.
Gotta win ’em all!
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.