Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Is Pokémon Unite Really Pay-To-Win?

The free-to-play MOBA "Pokémon Unite" finally released for Nintendo Switch on July 21. While the quality of the game has spawned plenty of debate, one point of contention has taken center stage: is "Pokémon Unite" pay-to-win?


The game features multiple items you can buy with real-world money, including Pokémon, clothing, and special costumes. Similar systems exist in titles like "League of Legends" and "Smite," which also charge players for new characters and skins. The microtransactions dividing "Pokemon Unite" players center on Held Items.

Held Items in "Pokémon Unite" (via Serebeii.net) provide a variety of stat boosts, all of which can be increased through upgrades. You can upgrade Held Items using Item Enhancers acquired by playing the game or spending real money. The initial upgrade only costs 3 Item Enhancers, giving the appearance that you can fully upgrade a Held Item using materials acquired through play. However, the later upgrades cost upwards of 2,000 Item Enhancers, encouraging players to spend money to hit these milestones faster.


Does the Held Item upgrade system make "Pokémon Unite" pay-to-win? How much does this mechanic impact the game?

Upgraded item advantages have divided Pokémon Unite players

The Pokémon subreddit has racked up multiple posts about the possible pay-to-win aspects of "Pokémon Unite" and opinions seem mixed. 

One Redditor created a thread complaining about the ability to pay money for better items that grant improved stats. Another user responded that it will take time to determine if the game is really pay-to-win, since it's hard to know how much better Level 30 items are compared to the roughly 10-20 levels that you can easily obtain by playing. In a separate Reddit thread, a fan wrote, "Sure, paying for items is bad, but if you're a bad player, you're a bad player and will lose." One poster responded that the issue was more about good players consistently losing to other good players who have paid for better items.


Gene Park of The Washington Post decided to test the Held Item upgrade system for himself, dropping $100 on "Pokémon Unite." While he didn't win every match, the upgraded Held Items appeared to help in most cases. There are other factors involved of course, like the skill of your team and how frequently "Pokémon Unite" matches you against bots.

"There's no doubt about it: 'Pokémon Unite' has a pay-to-win model," concluded Park. "You still need a well-balanced team of defenders, attackers and support, with everyone communicating clearly ... But a coordinated team of five who paid for stat boosts? They will always have the advantage."