Now that's it finally out in the open and playable for millions, the question of whether a Pokémon Unite pay to win mechanic exists is a massive point of conversation (and friction) for the F2P game right now. As detailed in our Pokémon Unite currency guide, this fun little MOBA title has a lot of moving parts in terms of progression. Skins, characters, avatar customizations, item upgrades, and more all use different coins and tokens that can, for the most part, be easily obtained just by playing the game. But does its microtransaction purchases mean Pokémon Unite is pay to win? Right now, yes. Yes it is.
What Is Pay to Win?
Pay to win (sometimes abbreviated to P2W) is a term used to describe when a game allows for players to spend real money to gain a competitive advantage over non-paying opponents. Most F2P games in this genre offer the ability to spend real money to buy premium currencies that are then used to obtain new characters, skins, and other cosmetics that don't affect the balance of the game.
In the case of a Pokémon Unite, pay to win is baked right in. Albeit sneakily. Real money can be used to buy Aeos Gems which can then be used to upgrade the stats or passive bonuses of their Pokémon's equipment, gaining a distinct early advantage over those who attempt to reach the same point by simply playing the game.
Is Pokémon Unite Pay To Win?
Rather than limit its microtransactions and premium currency to speed up the unlock process of non-competitive cosmetics, the offending Pokémon Unite pay to win mechanic does allow players to gain a district competitive advantage. It's one that can be obtained through regular play, but paying real money will speed up the process.
The way this works is through the Pokémon Unite Held Items. Simply put, a Pokémon can have three Held Items equipped to it and once. It brings these into each match to gain passive abilities like faster movement speed when outside of combat and passive health recovery. They also come with some relatively small core stat bonuses as well. These can all be obtained easily enough with in-game currency earned just by playing, but the issue boils down to the ability to upgrade them with the Item Enhancer currency.
Once a player reaches Trainer Level nine, they can start using the Item Enhancer to level up their Held Items. These can be upgraded up to 20 times, increasing their core stat bonuses with each and their passive bonuses at level 10 and 20. The Pokémon Unite pay to win mechanic stems from how these Item Enhancers are obtained and how much of an advantage they give to those who upgrade them Held Items faster than the non-paying public.
Currently, Item Enhancers can be obtained by raising your Trainer Level, completing Event objectives, exchanging tickets earned through regular play, and as rewards for the free tiers of the Pokémon Unite Battle Pass. This means there is no easily noticeable method to obtain Item Enhancers by using real-world currency.
Though the shop doesn't show it, you're able to buy Item Enhancers using paid Aeos Gems when you attempt to buy them without enough Aeos Tickets on hand. Aeos Gems can be exchanged for Aoes Tickets at a 1:1 ratio using this method, which can then be used to buy additional Item Enhancers, allowing you to increase the stat bonuses of Held Items fast faster than a non-paying player will be able to.
As the amount needed to upgrade Held Items increases as its level goes up, so does the cost (or time commitment) needed to max one out and have it reach its full potential. This costs around $40 worth of premium currency per Held Item. That's a whopping $120 for a complete set of three upgraded Held Items you can take into battle at the same time.
Any player can upgrade their items to the same point over time for free simply by playing the game, but the fact that paying players can reach this point much more quickly means that the Pokémon Unite pay to win fear is real. For now, at least.
Historically speaking, only a tiny percentage of those who play a F2P game make the transition to P2P. And those who do tend to spend a lot. That means while most will gain this advantage slowly over the course of the game, a small portion of the playerbase will have the ability to dominate matches with boosted stats gained through fully upgraded Held Items.