Why the Pokémon Unite reveal went wrong and how disaster could have been prevented
It was supposed to be a time of hype and excitement—fans couldn’t wait to see what today’s Pokémon Presents presentation was going to be about. But that excitement quickly faded and was replaced with frustration, and even outright anger, when the reveal was a Pokémon MOBA-style (multiplayer online battle arena) competitive game. The original Presents video has over 1.9 million views as of writing, with a staggering (and record-breaking, for Pokémon trailers) 152,000 dislikes. This figure speaks volumes about the community’s feelings towards the new game.
What went wrong
So do Pokémon fans simply hate the MOBA genre and massively popular games like League of Legends? Somehow I doubt that. I think that today’s reaction boils down to just three words: expectations, disappointment and uncertainty.
Expectations for Pokémon Presents
Although many figures in the Pokémon community urged fans to be cautious about setting hopes too high for the video presentation today, some YouTubers had already told fans that games like a new Let’s Go title were “confirmed” as being a reveal. Twitter even had “Let’s Go Johto” trending yesterday because of community anticipation.
As such, the presentation this morning had big shoes to fill if it was going to sate fans who had woken up early to get the latest Pokémon news (or stayed up late in other parts of the world).
It wasn’t just fans who had built up today’s Pokémon Presents though—marketing by the Pokémon team had made today’s revelations seem like they would be particularly groundbreaking for the series. In a way, they were, but with no details given, it’s hard to blame fans’ minds for immediately thinking this would be about the main series. Especially with Sinnoh remakes being so highly requested.
Even the very first portion of the trailer seemed to suggest this would be a mainline title, with footage highly reminiscent of the commercials for Pokémon Sun & Moon. And then we see the first look, something that looks vaguely Pokkén-esque at first glance.
This was the highly flammable atmosphere in which the reveal happened.
Disappointment after the reveal
Popsicles don’t taste bad. On a hot summer day, there isn’t much better. But if your husband/wife/mother/father hints they’re bringing home a three-scoop hot fudge sundae, it isn’t going to taste that great. It’s going to taste like frozen sugar water.
Even as someone who is genuinely excited for Pokémon Unite, I can’t fault fans who are disappointed. A mobile game, developed by a studio of controversial Chinese company Tencent, is not the announcement fans were looking forward to and does not necessarily scream “fun”.
The Pokémon franchise has really been, at its core, an RPG series. Spin-offs often break this rule, but spin-offs normally don’t get their own 11-minute presentation, either.
Even at the 4-minute mark, there was hope for another reveal during Presents. But then fans found out they’d be treated to an actual match, all but ensuring that nothing else would be covered. Womp, womp.
Uncertainty about this new spin-off
Love the idea of Pokémon Unite or hate it, no one knows how it will fare. Mobile Pokémon games do not have the best track record, with these titles adding to doubts about longevity of Unite:
Pokémon Duel, 2017-2019
Magikarp Jump, final update 3 months after launch
Pokémon Shuffle, updated from launch in 2015 to 2018
Pokémon Quest, no updates expected
Pokémon Rumble Rush, shutdown after one year
Pokémon Masters, required drastic improvements post-launch
None of these games are directly comparable to Pokémon Unite or its competitive, real-time gameplay, but fans have reason to be nervous after the poor support The Pokémon Company has shown for many of their mobile titles. Even Masters, developed by veteran mobile game company DeNA, couldn’t bring the Pokémon magic in the way fans had hoped. Who’s to say Unite will?
How it could have gone better
I am not a marketing expert—I’ll just put that out first. However, I do think that a stronger understanding of the Pokémon community would have massively helped their efforts to successfully reveal this game.
Personally, I believe The Pokémon Company was in a difficult situation: they wanted massive hype and a huge audience for their reveal, but worried that sharing details about it being a mobile and Switch title would detract from fan excitement. As for their concern, it was probably well founded.
They needed to give us some subtle signals about what expect. Hinting that this would be a “new type of Pokémon experience” or an “evolution in Pokémon competitions” could have gone a long way to let fans know they were going to get something new and exciting—and not a long-awaited remake or Let’s Go sequel. There was really no attempt to prepare fans for the reveal and it was even set up as something particularly special, something that truly felt as if it could be news about the main game series.
I guess I’m going to wrap this up with one more word, hopeful. Even if this isn’t something you’re personally looking forward to, I am hopeful that this will be a successful new game. It is a totally new genre and may have the ability to pull in fans that wouldn’t normally be interested in the franchise. It also has the potential to expand the series’ eSports offerings if they capitalize on it.
Hopefully their marketing team takes note of the staunch opposition Unite got and plans a little better for the next big foray into an untouched genre. Leave your thoughts in the comments below, I’m eager to hear what you think!