When booting up Pokémon Unite for the first time, most players likely expected to see some form of microtransactions to be offered since the game is a free-to-play MOBA.
Even with those expectations, early feedback for the gameplay and Unite’s core mechanics has been mostly positive. But that doesn’t extend to The Pokémon Company and developer TiMi Studio’s use of premium content.
Within Unite, there are five different monetization methods being used, a premium battle pass, Energy Reward enhancements, two for different types of cosmetics, and items that can be used during matches. That last aspect is where most players have taken issue with the game’s approach to microtransactions because it brings a pay-to-win element into the conversation.
These items, which include series staples like Leftovers, Choice items, and more, give players additional bonuses on their Pokémon. But unlike the Battle Items, which just act as one-time uses, the Held Items act as permanent bonuses.
Equipping a Rocky Helmet, for example, will deal additional damage to nearby opponents when the holder is damaged. This effect isn’t temporary and, while it does play into the core mechanics of the regular Pokémon games, it directly impacts gameplay in a substantial way.
This wouldn’t be a problem if players just needed to unlock or purchase the item once. But Held Items can be upgraded using various in-game currencies, including several that tie into microtransactions.
As one Reddit user, who reportedly has worked on mobile titles before, put it: “Yes I have unlocked a few characters through the Welcome and Launch campaign, but these are temporary acquisition tools to get you hooked, and not part of the game’s standard progression.”
Obviously, Unite is going to suffer from the same FTP stagnation that most “free-to-start” titles run into, with leveling and worthwhile rewards eventually slowing to a point where microtransactions will be heavily favored post-launch.
It’s unclear how this specific element of the game will shape up over time. But in a worst-case scenario, free-to-play users will eventually be gated out of being competitive in matches because other players have upgraded their Held Items to a point where the bonuses give them a distinct edge in gameplay. It’ll be up to TiMi and TPC to do something to streamline progression and keep the game balanced.