Last weekend’s Pokemon World Championships were a long overdue celebration of the competitive Pokemon. The first WCS in three years was notable for a few reasons. It was the first (and only) championship to feature Sword & Shield in the VGC, the first TCG championship to feature a rotation set entirely in the Sword & Shield era, and the final year that Pokken Tournament DX will be part of the WCS. This year also marked the WCS introduction of Pokemon Go and, remarkably, Pokemon Unite, which is currently celebrating its first anniversary. Unite’s presence at Worlds is a particularly big deal for fans, both because it legitimizes the competitive scene, and because it provides an opportunity for the community to connect directly with the developers – something that hasn’t always been easy for Pokemon Unite players.
If you follow Unite closely, there has been a noticeable lack of communication between the developers and the community throughout its first year. Unite has a handful of issues like any new game, but its biggest problem has always been the way that player feedback has gone unacknowledged. The Unite community is a passionate group of players that want to see the game grow and improve, but without any kind of consistent communication from The Pokemon Company or TiMi Studio Group, it’s been hard to gauge whether or not the developers are even listening. The most we ever seem to get are rudimentary patch notes that sometimes conflict when you read them in different languages and almost always have to be supplemented by in-game testing. Unite has offered great ways to provide feedback via surveys, but there hasn’t been any indication that that feedback has been received.
After speaking with producer Masaaki Hoshino during a roundtable interview last weekend, I found a lot of assurance that the developers are in fact listening to feedback and planning to improve the game based on it. Though it may seem fruitless, those surveys and comments are reaching the developers. I asked Hoshino about all of the biggest concerns and frequently requested features, and none of it came as a surprise to him. And while he wasn’t able to provide a lot of specifics about the kinds of changes and improvements they’re planning, the fact that a representative for Unite is acknowledging the feedback at all is a big deal for the community. Here were a few of the topics we discussed in the interview.
Matchmaking in Ranked has been a point of contention with players from the very first season of Unite. Matching with players far below your skill level is a constant source of frustration among players, which only seems to compound as you climb higher on the ladder. Unite’s Ranked mode favors progression and short queues, so even players with a sub-50 percent win rate can eventually climb to the highest rank. Some changes to matchmaking were made at the end of last year, and the rewards for climbing the ladder have improved in recent seasons, but solo and duo queue players are still experiencing frequent, if not constant, low-quality matches. I asked Hoshino if the team was working on matchmaking improvements or if he felt like the system was working as intended today.
“We certainly recognize that there is room for improvement,” Hoshino says via his translator. “We listen to community feedback and there is a lot of feedback on matchmaking. It’s something that we continue to try to get more feedback on and want to improve upon. There are some things that we are considering that we aren’t ready to share yet, but it’s something we definitely recognize is a problem that we’re trying to fix.
Public Test Server
One of the most direct ways that Unite collects data and feedback from players is through the newly released Public Test Server. Hoshino says that the purpose of the PTS is to ensure new Pokemon are released in a balanced way, and while it has been successful so far, the team is still working on ways to get the most out of it.
“The PTS is still relatively new and we’re still trying to figure out how to best utilize it,'' Hoshino said. “The first time we used it was for Buzzwole. Something [I] try to keep in mind is that when we introduce new Pokemon we don’t mess up the entire balance of the game. I feel that [the PTS] succeeded with Buzzwole so we’ll continue to use the PTS server to optimize the game.
Ranked And Competitive Features
I asked Hoshino about some of the most commonly requested features. A lot of players would like to see Unite implement a Picks & Bans system for ranked and tournament play. Other MOBAs like League of Legends use Picks & Bans during character selection to add some additional strategy to team composition and prevent over-powered characters from dominating the format. “It's something we definitely hear,” Hoshina says. “It’s something that is part of the consideration and something that we’ve been talking about as well.”
Surrender is also a controversial feature in Pokemon Unite. Though similar games also allow players to Surrender when the match isn’t going well, some players find it unnecessary for Unite, which has much shorter matches than other MOBAs. It’s particularly frustrating when a team decides to surrender before the Zapdos fight because until the bird goes down it’s still anyone’s game. “We recognize that there is some negative feedback in the community towards that as well, so we’re considering things,” Hoshina says.
Unite License Inflation, Theia Sky Ruins, And More Eeveelutions
Despite the recent increases in Unite License prices, Hoshina says we shouldn’t expect the cost to continually increase. “It’s really a case-by-case basis for each Pokemon,” Hoshina says. “Tyranitar just happens to be – out of various considerations – slightly higher priced than other licenses, but it's not necessarily going to always increase from here. This is very specifically a Tyranitar situation.”
Hoshina talked a lot about the new map, Theia Sky Ruins, and confirmed that it will be replacing Remoat Stadium in both Quickplay and Ranked. You can read about all the Sky Ruins details here.
While I didn’t expect a direct answer, I had to ask him about the rest of the Eeveelutions. With Espeon, Glaceon, and Sylveon in the game, many players are eagerly waiting for their own favorite Eeveelution to join the fun. “I personally want to see all Eevee teams,” Hoshino says. “That’s something we need to think about, yeah.”
Going Into Year Two
Unsurprisingly, the big focus for the second year of Pokemon Unite is going to be competitive play. “Given what we’ve seen at WCS and all the competitive play here, what we want to do is continue to improve on the competitive side and even improve on the events that we have,” Hoshina says. “There’s certainly a lot we want to do there as we move forward.”
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