Is Pokémon UNITE pay-to-win? How spending gives an advantage
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Pokémon UNITE has just released for the Nintendo Switch and it has been a large success so far. With the community already thinking the game is esport ready, some players are skeptical on whether or not Pokémon UNITE is truly a fair game or if it’s “pay-to-win.” This is due to concerns that the Held Item mechanic is locked behind a paywall that requires quite a lot of money to overcome.

Pokémon UNITE’s Held Item crisis has led many players to voice their concerns with the game’s microtransaction policy, Some players are already pointing out the numbers behind it. If players aren’t ready to get their wallets out, they might need to get ready to “just play better 4head.”

Maxing out items gives players a competitive advantage over those who don’t

When looking at the held items in Pokémon UNITE, players need to understand that each item has two effects. The first is a special effect and the other is a raw stat increase. The special effects on each item are unlocked at certain thresholds. To be specific, each held item has three special effect thresholds at Levels 1, 10 and 20. Despite the special effects fully being unlocked at Level 20, each item’s level cap is actually Level 30. This is where the raw stat number comes in. At each Level between one and 30, an item gives more raw stats to the Pokémon its being held by. Using the held item Buddy Barrier as an example, lets examine what the item looks like at Level 30 compared to Level 1 and Level 20.

At Level 1, Buddy Barrier gives the Pokémon holding the item 20 HP and also the first threshold of its special effect. The special effect of Buddy Barrier states that when the Pokémon uses its Unite move, that Pokémon and nearby ally Pokémon with the lowest HP are each granted a shield equal to 20% of their max HP. So, this effect and the 20 HP are on the item at Level 1.

At Level 20, the item gives a whopping 400 HP and the special effect heals for 40% of the their max HP. At Level 30, the item goes from giving 400 HP to 600 HP. The 200 HP is again a big jump from Level 20 to 30 but an even bigger one from Level 1 to 30. Remember this is just one held item. A Pokémon can hold three at a time.

Free-to-play players can’t realistically max out items without paying

In a reddit thread by user, u/Yepthatsawaffle, they broke down how many tickets a player needs to max out a held item. Tickets are the form of currency used to upgrade held items in Pokémon UNITE. They are acquired through daily missions, events, battle passes and ranked rewards, among other ways. In the thread, the user stated that it takes 10 tickets to buy one item enhancer. They also said it takes 567 item enhancers to get an item from Level 1 to 20. This equates to 5,670 tickets. From Level 20 to 30, the price gets a lot more expensive. It takes 2,587 item enhancers to fully upgrade an item from Level 1 to 30 or 25,870 tickets.

In the same thread, the user broke down how many free tickets and item enhancers players can earn by just playing the game. They stated that the game gives a total of 27,850 tickets. This includes things like level rewards, the free battle pass rewards and the ongoing events. This total, when converted into item enhancers, would be enough for just over one fully maxed item. That or about five Level 20 items.

The user also outlined the grind for tickets outside of those initially given out. They stated that daily missions reward 100 tickets. This would mean that daily missions alone would take almost a year to max out one item. There are also ranked rewards that are given to players after every ranked season. If a player can manage to climb to expert rank, they would receive an additional 6,000 tickets.

What this all means

A player can theoretically get a set or two of Level 20 items pretty easily. But when it comes to maxing out multiples, it will take nearly a year at the current pace. And that’s just for one set of items. The user also noted that a player can just skip the grinding and purchase enough item enhancers to max out an item for around $40.

Players who play the game consistently to complete events can level up two sets of items to Level 20. But, they cannot realistically get more than one item maxed out for the foreseeable future without spending money. This means the free to play players will be playing with a 2/3rd item stat handicap at best; while only using a couple of Pokémon of their choosing that fit the items they leveled.

In the scenario that a Pokémon has three different HP items equipped with them — being Buddy Barrier, Assault Vest and Score Shield — the difference in HP from Level 20 to Level 30 is a significant 440 HP. Level 1 to 30 is 1,267. The rule of thumb to remember is that an item’s raw stat value at Level 20 versus Level 30 is about 2/3rds.

The problem becomes larger once the mobile port comes out in September of 2021. If the issues are not fixed, brand new players will likely be playing against nearly maxed items. This would create a poor experience for anyone trying to play the game.

ASU alum with a B.A in Sports Journalism, Warren is one of the premier TFT Journalists in the scene and is a decent TFT player as well who has peaked Challenger and has had multiple accounts in Master+ over all sets. Warren also specializes in other esports content including League of Legends, Valorant, Smash Bros, and more.