Pokémon UNITE has evolved the competitive gaming scene
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Featured Image Credit: The Pokémon Company, Tom Ryan-Smith
I'll be completely honest - if you’d have asked me a few days ago what the first thing was that came to my mind when I thought of the competitive Pokémon scene, I wouldn’t have said Pokémon UNITE.
Despite being an avid Pokémon fan, I never really got into the 2021 multiplayer battle arena title. I played a few matches around the time it was first released and had plenty of fun with it, but then went back to the main series games. Prior to this past weekend, I thought that I wasn’t entirely alone in this, and had made the assumption that the title doesn’t have the same enthusiastic following as the Trading Card Game and Video Game Championships. However, I only had to step foot into the 2023 Pokémon European International Championships hall to be proven completely and utterly wrong.
We asked Pokémon EUIC attendees who they’d choose to be their real-life partner Pokémon, and got some incredibly varied answers. Take a look below.
This year’s Pokémon EUIC took place in London, and as the first competitive Pokémon event I’ve ever attended, I went in fully expecting to dedicate my time towards the VGC (aside from a visit to the haven for all merch, the pop-up Pokémon Center, of course). When I got closer to the main entrance on Saturday morning and heard the hubbub and excited yelling from attendees in the crowd, I presumed that they were all already gathered around the VGC stage, but no. All the hype was for UNITE.
There were hundreds, if not thousands of people enthusiastically cheering on their favourite UNITE esports teams. The first match I watched pitted team Woof Woof against Gigachad Gaming, whose name earned a hearty snort from me. Even though I’d played the game before, as I watched their antics on-stage - both teams coordinating strategic attacks on each other, each competitor carrying out their designated duties with aplomb - I could hardly keep up with what was going on. I had no idea that such fierce assaults were even possible - these guys were melting the health bars of the Boss legendary Pokémon that appeared in the arena, all while ambushing and defending themselves from each other in a thoughtful, calculated manner.
After the match ended and I sat in awe of whatever the heck I just watched, I started to get just a little concerned. Having been invited to the event with a media pass, I'd also been entered in a media and influencers' Pokémon UNITE tournament later that day. This was set to take place on the main stage after the actual UNITE finals. No pressure, then.
It was clear I needed a plan, and fast. Myself and GAMINGbible’s very own Tom Ryan-Smith (who was also feeling a bit nervous at this point) decided to squeeze in some last-minute practice in the hopes of at least contributing something to our teams’ efforts. And that we did - our matches went well, which helped quell my nerves somewhat.
While I got in all the practice I could, it was soon time to head back to the UNITE stage to watch the grand finals of the EU Aeos Cup, and believe me when I say that it was impossible to sit in that crowd without getting hyped. The Talibobo Believers took on the losers' bracket winners, Nouns Esports, over more than two tense hours of hard-fought back and forth wins.
Nouns Esports had emerged from the losers' bracket with a vengeance. They burst forth and gave it everything they had in order to bag three wins and force a bracket reset - taking the finals to a second round where they’d have to win another first-to-three bracket to take home the crown.
However, the Talibobo Believers weren’t willing to give up, and they fought back - hard. As the two teams entered the final match, the winners’ bracket finalists held a 2-1 advantage over their opponents, but it wasn't remotely clear until the final scores were displayed who'd actually come out on top. No one in the room was breathing as the points were tallied up, but the moment that the Talibobo Believers were declared the winners with a 13-point lead (which was secured in the last possible second of the match), the crowd erupted. Spectators jumped to their feet and excited screams filled the hall as the victors hugged each other on-stage. The atmosphere was electric.
After that, there was no way that I wasn’t going to give it my all in our own mini showdown. We were sorted into random teams - each led by a person already knew the game well - and after being placed with an incredibly solid squad including YouTuber and streamer Oli ‘TheOrionSound’ and Marti Merrick (also of YouTube and Twitch fame), I was genuinely feeling rather confident. Oli coordinated a seemingly unbeatable strategy for us to follow, we all worked out exactly how we were going to approach the match, and there was no way that it could go wrong.
Full disclosure, it went wrong. While I’d love to have said that this match marked the start of my unbeatable competitive Pokémon UNITE career, it turns out that a bit of practice in the media room doesn’t translate to having skills on the same level as anyone from Nouns Esports or the Talibobo Believers. We gave it our all, but sadly lost the fight. I’m sorry for letting you down, team.
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you exactly where things fell apart, and as the least-experienced person in our little troupe, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I wasn’t partially responsible (although I was told that my Slowbro’s Surf attacks had helped at one point, so we take those). Despite our loss though, it was an immensely fun time, and the buzz of trying to band together to fight for different points on the map and adapt to the ever-evolving situations of the match was genuinely exhilarating, especially with the backdrop of a huge crowd behind our monitors.
While the match itself might not have gone smoothly, the whole experience has made me determined to get better at UNITE. Since that fateful day, I’ve been unable to stop thinking about our match, the thrilling final, and the impressive feats that the many talented players pulled off. Hopefully, with a bit more practice (which isn’t squeezed in between events on one of the busiest days of any big Pokémon fan’s calendar), I might actually be able to become a worthy competitor. Same time next year?