Competitiveness, exposure, and emotions: Why Pokémon UNITE’s Twitch Rivals tournament meant everything for indiebear

The MOBA based on Pokémon characters has a "long and healthy" future ahead, according to one of the best players in the world.

Screengrab via The Pokemon Company

Twitch Rivals selected 20 Pokémon UNITE professionals and content creators to compete on Dec. 2 in the biggest tournament the MOBA has had since its July 2021 release date. The trainers flew to Aeos Island to compete at the Remoat Stadium, the game’s map for five-vs-five play, and split into four teams.

Unlike traditional esports tournaments, events like Twitch Rivals: Mobile Showdown ft. Pokémon UNITE are known for their laid-back atmospheres, but the tournament’s grand final was intense. Each of the two opposing squads had two professionals from TTV, the best team in the world. Everything indicated GoofGG and zugrug’s team would defeat their TTV teammates indiebear and Lutano in the series’ decider after they took down Zapdos, a game-deciding objective.

Indiebear and Lutano’s team tried their best to stop additional scores, and the latter went for a Hail Mary-esque play alongside Voporeon to put his squad ahead. The duo pulled it off, and Lutano capped 38 points with less than 20 seconds left. 

They weren’t sure the effort would be enough to win the tournament. But Lutano, indiebear, spragels, Voporeon and Kishtar soon realized they had won the match by just four points in the final seconds of the goal-counting screen. All of them began to shout with excitement, almost in unison.

One of the trainers—Canadian player Inder Gill, better known as indiebear—was particularly excited with the opportunity to compete in such an exclusive tournament. He wouldn’t have taken part in the event if he hadn’t quit his formal job months prior and put all his chips in playing and streaming Pokémon UNITE for a living. Twitch Rivals: Mobile Showdown is arguably the game’s first big step towards building its esport, and it’s also the culmination of indiebear and his team’s hard work. In a matter of months, indiebear went from a monotonous, yet lucrative job as a sales representative to becoming one of the most important figures in the Pokémon UNITE community.

He didn’t enter this journey alone, though. The five players on TTV—indiebear, Lutano, GoofGG, zugrug, and ToonSlim—were old acquaintances from Heroes of the Storm, a MOBA from Blizzard Entertainment whose esports scene is now practically deceased. The first four played together under Team Freedom‘s banner; Lutano and zugrug competed as players, while indiebear coached and GoofGG managed.

When Pokémon UNITE came out, the five friends started grinding and streaming the new MOBA together on Twitch. Indiebear loved it so much that he left behind his career as a sales representative to embark on this journey with TTV when it became clear he couldn’t do both.

“I was working from home and I’d dedicate the first four hours to my old job and I’d stream during the last four hours,” indiebear said in an interview for Dot Esports. “If I received a customer call or an email, I’d mute my stream and do my work before coming back. I was already getting burned out and it was a difficult choice to make, but I’d hate it if I looked back a couple of years from now without taking a chance on UNITE.”

So far, the Pokémon UNITE grind is paying off. TTV had a “ridiculous” stretch of wins when the game came out, encompassing 15 or 16 titles. They enjoyed so much success in these past months, that indiebear eventually stopped counting after they won their 35th tournament. Aside from the competitive success, they’re all growing as content creators and have achieved partner status with Twitch.

Four of TTV’s players received invites to participate in Twitch Rivals: Mobile Showdown ft. Pokémon UNITE this month. The event became the biggest Pokémon UNITE tournament in terms of prize pool: $7,500 plus a year’s worth of Doritos to the champions—a lot more than other online events.

Additionally, the Twitch Rivals: Mobile Showdown event offered a massive amount of exposure for the pros and content creators who attended it. The action in the official broadcast lasted four and a half hours, averaging 4,119 viewers and a peak of 10,279, according to stat-tracking website SullyGnome. These numbers don’t include the viewers who were watching via their favorite player’s stream.

“I’ll be honest, this win felt greater than a lot of other wins that we had recently, that’s for sure,” indiebear said. “The games were tough, they were really competitive, they were against two of my other teammates who are also brilliant at the game. To win in that fashion is a moment I’m going to take for the rest of my life and never forget.”

Pokémon UNITE has a semi-professional scene for now. The bigger tournament organizers and esports companies have not yet gotten involved in the growing title. Indiebear was somewhat skeptical about the future of the game’s competitive scene in the beginning as a result of Nintendo’s aversion to esports and competitive gaming in general. 

Despite the demand, Nintendo took years to launch a professional Super Smash Bros. circuit for Ultimate and Melee in North America, and it was only after Panda Global, a major esports organization, became involved. But the Canadian believes the MOBA is on the right track.

“I think the fact that Twitch and The Pokémon Company have worked together to put Twitch Rivals up for Pokémon UNITE should be a key indicator that the game has a long and healthy future ahead of it,” indiebear said. 

Just days after the Twitch Rivals: Mobile Showdown tournament took place, The Pokémon Company announced Pokémon UNITE would join the 2022 Pokémon World Championships next August with a prize pool of $1 million, and that the top 16 teams in the world would attend the event. The information was removed from the press release moments after it was out, but it shows the publisher is planning to put money into the esport. A circuit of this magnitude could attract esports organizations and sponsors interested in taking part in the competitive action on Aeos Island.

The future’s looking bright for indiebear and all of his teammates in TTV. Since Pokémon UNITE’s release, they always dreamed of having a big circuit to compete in, and they may get their chance next year.