By Jeff Hoogland, Contributing Writer
Top Pokémon UNITE Trainers from around the world gathered in London to show us their best at the first ever Pokémon UNITE World Championships. For spectators, the Championship delivered a phenomenal two days of competitive Pokémon UNITE. This event showcased the depth of different strategies at the highest levels of Pokémon UNITE.
Our top four teams not only all came from different regions, they all approached Pokémon UNITE in a different manner. Examining their performances provides a great snapshot of the overall action. Let’s take a look at the key things that allowed each of these teams to find success at the World Championships, and look ahead at what’s to come as the new season kicks off.
4th Place: T2 (Japan)
Headlining T2 was their superstar Tsareena player, Mame. Mame navigated the Fruit Pokémon at the micro level with deadly precision. Weaving in and out of engagements where many other players would have come up short, Mame racked up knockout after knockout.
The power of Mame’s Tsareena was able to truly shine in part due to excellent team coordination. Takishima’s Blissey provided an endless stream of eggs to keep Mame nice and healthy. Supercell with Snorlax frequently displaced the enemy team, giving Mame extra room to maneuver around or escape.
Beyond their individual performances, T2 easily had the most unique “macro” play of any team to compete on the World Stage. That is, the positioning of their team as a whole on the map at any given point was often very different from other teams. The most surprising macro from T2 was the fact that they often skipped clearing their central area at the start of a game. This allowed T2 to have more Pokémon in the top and bottom paths when wild Pokémon were being contested to gain an edge in early exchanges. Once the contested wild Pokémon were cleared in the paths, T2 would send members to quickly clear the central area before the next contested wild Pokémon appeared on the map.
T2 approached the midgame of Pokémon UNITE differently from other teams, as well. While almost every other team at the World Championships put a high priority on claiming the Drednaw objective in the bottom path, T2 did not. Similar to the start of the game, T2 again prioritized contested wild Pokémon. While their opposition was clearing Drednaw, T2 sent their high-damage Pokémon to clear every other wild Pokémon off the map.
This strategy of clearing wild Pokémon above everything else meant that T2 often had the highest Pokémon levels in the game towards the end. When the 2-minute mark hit and Zapdos appeared, T2 was ready to dominate the most important team fight of the game. This was on full display in game three of the Winners quarterfinals. T2 gave up every Drednaw in this game, but still had the highest-level Pokémon with two minutes to go.
While T2 made a deep run in Worlds, ultimately their tournament run ended in the loser semifinals in a close three-game match to Nouns Esports.
3rd Place: Renaissance (APAC)
In a tournament that was dominated by melee brawlers, Renaissance demonstrated the power that some of Pokémon UNITE’s ranged attackers have to offer. Renaissance was the only team at the Pokémon UNITE World Championships to bring the powerful special attacker Gardevoir out to play, with that role put in the hands of Kamiru.
When Kamiru came out of the central area as a Level 5 Kirlia with Psyshock they were truly a force to be reckoned with. Psyshock deals three powerful bursts of damage in a row, doing massive damage to both wild and enemy Pokémon alike. This is especially potent against enemy melee Pokémon who generally need to be up close to contest last hits.
In addition to playing Gardevoir, Renaissance was one of the few teams to consistently select Venusaur at the World Championships. Venusaur and Gardevoir are both what the Pokémon UNITE community refers to as “scaling” Pokémon, which is to say that they are incredibly powerful in the late game if they are able to acquire the levels they need.
Game after game throughout the World Championships, Renaissance would reach the pivotal Level 13 on Gardevoir and Venusaur to dominate team fights. This was especially on display in the first game of Renaissance’s quarterfinals match against iClen. Kamiru racked up 11 knockouts, 12 assists, and 134,000 total damage with Gardevoir!
As the tournament progressed, though, Renaissance’s willingness to try unconventional picks would ultimately be their downfall. Against Nouns Esports in the loser’s finals, Renaissance lost while bringing out a team composition that included Alolan Ninetales and Delphox.
2nd Place: Nouns Esports (Europe)
For many observers, Nouns Esports was a favorite to win the entire tournament going into Worlds, myself included. While they fell just short of that goal, finishing second place in such a tough field is no small feat. The European Regional Champions proved yet again that they are one of the best teams around when it comes to competitive Pokémon UNITE.
Headlining Nouns Esports roster was definitely ADESu on Dragonite. Firing off Hyper Beams again, and again, and again secured countless important objectives over the course of the World Championships.
During the Regional Finals that Nouns Esports won in Europe, Bruv said that their pre-game ritual was asking the team if they could play against something other than Blissey. During the World Championships Bruv’s request was granted several times and they played Mr. Mime to great effect.
While Mr. Mime is a bit of an atypical Pokémon choice, Bruv is arguably the best in the world at playing it. The strength of Mr. Mime comes from the fact that the Confusion move it learns at Level 4 has a large amount of burst damage. This means Mr. Mime is excellent at securing last hits on contested wild Pokémon early in the bottom path. We saw this on full display in Nouns Esports loser’s finals match against Renaissance, where Bruv had a two-level lead against their counterpart in the bottom path at the 8-minute mark.
Nouns Esports had the longest route possible on day two of the Pokémon UNITE World Championships. Losing in the quarterfinals of the winners bracket, Nouns Esports won four matches in the lower bracket to climb their way back to the Grand Finals. Ultimately, however, Nouns Esports would be eliminated in the Grand Finals by our champions, BLVKHVND.
1st Place: BLVKHVND (North America)
BLVKHVND (pronounced “black hand”) put on a dominant performance at the World Championships. In addition to winning the Grand Finals with a 3-0 sweep, BLVKHVND did not lose a single match over the course of the tournament.
BLVKHVND’s unbelievable run through the World Championships is a testament to strength and flexibility of their team. While the powerful pink Pokémon Hoopa and Blissey were ever present in BLVKHVND’s compositions, their damage carries varied wildly game to game.
Over the course of the two-day tournament, BLVKHVND played the following Pokémon:
Perhaps even more impressive than the mastery of so many Pokémon, is the fact that players Overlord and Junglebook were even flexible in the role they played during the games. While Junglebook was the team’s “default” central Pokémon player, there were times that Junglebook would swap into the top path and Overlord would take over the central area.
Overlord’s specialty when it comes to micro gameplay is Pokémon that feature free skill uses: Lucario’s Extreme Speed is free every time it cuts across an opponent for the first time. Tsareena’s Queen’s Majesty buff gives you a free skill use every third time it’s used. Greninja’s Surf is free if it KOs a Pokémon. Watching Overlord’s mastery with a character like Greninja is really something to behold. A five-KO streak is impressive when it happens on the ranked ladder. It is absolutely incredible when it happens at the World Championships. During the first day of the tournament Overlord did exactly this while also securing a Drednaw to boot against iClen.
Similarly, seeing Junglebook dance around the battlefield with the hypermobile Cinderace is truly a delight. The Zapdos fight during the first game of the Grand Finals is one that really stands out in my mind as showcasing the power of Cinderace. Junglebook puts up a steady stream of damage on the opposing team, while remaining at a safe distance from the opposing melee characters that could quickly cut him down.
Overlord and Junglebook did an excellent job of showcasing the fact that mastery with a Pokémon and proper teamplay matter far more than simply playing what is “best” in a given Pokémon UNITE format. BLVKHVND was the only team to play Cinderace and Greninja at the World Championships, Pokémon that were thought by many to be suboptimal going into the event. They won every single game with these two Pokémon. Congratulations to BLVKHVND on becoming the first Pokémon UNITE World Champions.
Overall Metagame Breakdown
In my Worlds preview article I predicted that Blissey and Hoopa would be incredibly popular on the world stage. Our Champions, BLVKHVND, backed that up, playing both powerful support Pokémon throughout their undefeated run in the tournament.
Something that did come as a surprise, though, was the fact that Tsareena ended up being the undisputed most popular melee Pokémon at the event. Being selected more than twice as often as the second most played melee Pokémon, Aegislash, Tsareena was on nearly every team at some point throughout the event. Lucario and Machamp were not only third and fourth in terms of melee pick rates, but they also had the lowest win rates among melee Pokémon when selected.
Another interesting development at Worlds was the return of Snorlax as a premier defender in competitive play. We saw Korean all-star, Blossom, leverage Snorlax to great effect for team No Show at many points during the event. Heavy Slam, followed up by a Block in the direction of his team often allowed Blossom to isolate members of the opposing team to pick them off. On the North American side, Pikadiff for IX Gaming was fantastic at landing Heavy Slams that could knock up an entire opposing team at key moments.
Lastly, with how important securing the last hit on objectives like Drednaw and Zapdos is, Dragonite was the most popular central area Pokémon at the World Championships. Dragonite’s Hyper Beam is unmatched in its securing potential with how much damage it can deal at once.
Looking Forward to the Future
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In case you missed it at the Pokémon UNITE World Championships, it was unveiled that a new map is coming soon to competitive Pokémon UNITE: Theia Sky Ruins. This map will not only bring with it new objective Pokémon, such as Rayquaza at the two-minute mark, but also new wild Pokémon!
Unlike Zapdos, who makes goals completely defenseless when captured, Rayquaza will give your surviving team a score shield that also increases your scoring speed. This means simply stealing a last hit on this final objective is far less likely to bring your team victory. Your team will need to be prepared to mount a push afterward since the opposing team can defend their goal zones from attempts to deposit Aeos energy.
In addition to a new map coming to Pokémon UNITE, we also now know September will introduce three new Pokémon releases, as well! I am excited to see how the strategies employed by top teams, such as our champions BLVKHVND, continue to evolve as so many new variables are added to competitive play as we head into UNITE’s second year.
Congratulations again to BLVKHVND as the first Pokémon UNITE World Champions. And look forward to another year of exciting Pokémon UNITE battles as players start to qualify for the 2023 World Championships next year in Yokohama, Japan!