Many MOBAs suffer from the snowball problem: one team jumps ahead to a significant lead and stays ahead the entire game, leaving little chance for the opposing team to catch up, and leaving little recourse other than a dubious surrender. Pokémon Unite attempts to fix this problem with two major mechanics: the Zapdos boss fight, and double scoring, both of which occur in the final 2 minutes of the 10-minute match.
Unfortunately, the developers massively overcorrected, to the point where many players complain that the only thing that matters are those last two minutes that surround the Zapdos fight.
Here’s the situation. Regardless of how a match is going, Zapdos, the legendary electric bird, will spawn in the middle of the map at exactly two minutes remaining in the match. Whoever performs the last hit to defeat it will earn 30 points, while the rest of their team will gain 20 points, for up to 110 points (max points per player at that stage is 50). Zapdos, like Rotom, will also disable your opponents goals so you can instantly score once you make your way to their goals.
Here’s where it gets even crazier. Starting in the final two minutes of a match, all scored goals are worth double the points. If you run to a goal with 20 points, it will count as 40 when dunking in those final 120 seconds. That’s a huge change akin to Sudden Death in many online games, in the hopes of keeping a losing team fighting to dramatically turn things around in the end.
Winning the fight for Zapdos has become such a crucial step in every game that many players believe it’s the only thing that matters. If a team handily wins the inevitable team fight at Zapdos and gets all those points, they can easily score hundreds in the matter of a few seconds. No matter how well a team played before that, they could lose a game by losing one bad team fight in the end (if it’s even a team fight to begin with).
While short death timers and double points all contribute, the most egregious problem is last-hitting on Zapdos. A team can win a team fight, start fighting Zapdos, but one well-timed sniping Venusaur can steal it out from under them. It doesn’t help that the map is relatively small, and thanks to the jump-pad at the spawn-point, players can reach the Zapdos area in mere seconds.
Pokémon Unite desperately needs capture points in its major mob battles: Rotom, Dreadnaw, and Zapdos. Instead of awarding the winner to the person (and team) who deals the winning blow, turn the area into a capture point after the Pokémon is defeated that players must stand on for several seconds before gaining the rewards. This prioritizes a well-coordinated team and eliminates the chance for random ranged attackers of stealing it. It also puts the winning team in a vulnerable position for a few seconds, and could reward a counter assault if an enemy team moves in quickly to take advantage, without feeling cheap or unearned.
That one change may be enough, but I suspect additional changes will need to be made to avoid the chaotic lead changes in those final two minutes. Points doubling off everything is a bit crazy, and leads to weird strategies like purposefully leaving your opponent’s top goal intact so you can more easily score when the points are doubled. Maybe a tactic from the 3v3 Quick match mode could be borrowed, where points are doubled only for about 10 seconds after a team-mate scores their (non-doubled) points, and only in that particular goal.
Pokémon Unite is a fantastic implementation of MOBA gameplay, backed by one of the most beloved gaming franchises ever conceived. The MOBA genre has been iterated on many times over the last decade, and Unite has a lot of great features going for it, including the much shorter 10-minute matches and the concept of scoring goals versus destroying defenses. With some significant tweaks to those critical final two minutes, Unite could easily be one of the most enjoyable and user-friendly MOBAs to date.