Pokémon Unite: How Tencent’s past might affect Pokémon’s future

Pokémon Co. broke their YouTube records this week when a highly anticipated announcement rapidly turned sour. The reveal of Pokémon: Unite on June 24 was supposed to be an exciting new chapter in Tencent & Pokémon Co.’s relationship, but the reveal trailer was met with a massive number of downvotes.

The new mobile Pokémon MOBA didn’t receive hate solely for its genre, but rather for a combination of factors.

Any game company would be excited for all of their game releases, or at least appear that way to the public. However, an overzealous marketing team revealed that a new title mandated its own Pokémon Presents. It only took a matter of seconds for YouTubers to stir the conspiracy pot and get fans riled up on speculation. The stream began in grandiose fanfare, strongly indicating that Pokémon would be doing something that was going to be groundbreaking.

The footage eventually cut to a loading screen featuring 10 different Pokémon, and a low-resolution MOBA arena. The flashy trailer does its best to make the game look like a title worth jumping out of your seat for. Some fans did, only to immediately sit back down when greeted with a Tencent logo. The Tencent branding lasted all of five frames, but was enough for the internet to rear its head in distaste.

The video is sitting at 150,000 dislikes at the time of this writing, with 81,000 likes, making it the most disliked video on Pokémon Co.’s YouTube channel. Other publications that posted the trailer were met with similar dislike ratios, and a plethora of negative comments.

I don’t blame Pokémon Co. for making a MOBA, and this could be a major success for them still.

Tencent’s questionable past

Any number of questions can be raised about Tencent, but that is a deep and dark rabbit hole. Two facts should be made clear. The first is that Tencent makes significant profits off of the information that its applications collect from users’ devices.

The second is that Tencent is guilty of participating in censorship and surveillance at the request of the Chinese government. Games can have an incredibly hard time becoming successful in China, due to the chokehold restrictions that the government places on foreign media.

Mobile games have proven to be fairly successful for Tencent, but Pokémon and Nintendo in general have yet to see a massively successful mobile title since Pokémon GO first launched. Even the gaming giant Blizzard couldn’t get their fans on board with the mobile game hype train when Diablo: Immortal was announced in 2018.

Logically, bringing a Pokémon title to the world’s largest gaming audience is a smart move. Yet it’s one that might not have been possible without partnering with Tencent.

Moving past the political issues surrounding the title’s announcement, the game has a very Tencent-mobile-title look. The game looks very similar to Tencent’s long-running MOBA Arena of ValorArena of Valor has an esports scene and a thriving one at that. The two are extremely similar in graphics and style, but the borrowed framework from AoV might allow Pokémon Unite to improve upon the previous’ mistakes. Which in turn could lead to Pokémon adding another title to their competitive roster.

Pokemon Unite’s future is on the line

The initial reception to Pokémon Unite was a brutal one, but an experience that Pokémon Co. can learn from. The Pokémon fanbase is easy to excite, and a MOBA is definitely not what they expected, nor wanted. Viewers weren’t upset so much that the new Pokemon game was a MOBA, but rather that they watched an 11-minute video for a mobile game while expecting Let’s Go Johto.

Going forward, Pokémon Co. will have to be careful in how they market Pokémon: Unite to their audience. Half of the fans had their dreams of a Diamond & Pearl remake crushed, and others are unhappy with the partner that Pokémon developers have chosen for their next step with the series.

The game has yet to receive a launch date, but will be free and will have cross-play between Switch and mobile users.

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Malik Shelp

I am a digital media specialist focusing on the entertainment industry and producing visual and written content. I began in the music industry covering music festivals and interviewing artists before transitioning to sports. I primarily cover Overwatch, Call of Duty, and occasionally Fortnite and CS:GO.
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