Year 2 of Pokemon Unite is fully underway with a new map, Theia Sky Ruins, as well as major changes to Unite Moves, a slew of new Pokemon to try, new Boost Emblems, and a couple of significant reworks to underperforming ‘mons. While these big changes were exciting at first, it didn’t take long for the community to realize the overall impact to the game has not been very positive. In fact, the balance is further off right now than it ever has been before - so much so that many matches feel predetermined at the character select screen.
On top of that, changes on the new map have created significantly more opportunities to snowball your opponents and fewer chances to catch up from behind. While the game has undeniably shifted into a more skill-focused and team oriented position - a boon for the competitive scene - the lack of improvements to matchmaking has left players in Ranked with the lowest quality matches we’ve ever seen. Unless you’re playing with a full team of five, Pokemon Unite feels terrible to play right now.
Unbalanced characters have created an oppressive meta on the Ranked ladder, and for the first time ever, it’s not just the newest character that’s overpowered. The rework to Mr. Mime has turned him into a powerhouse that can sustain as well as a Defender and deal damage and stun better than most All-Rounders. Even without team support, Mr. Mime can go toe-to-toe with almost any at-level opponent, and even after a small nerf early in the season, the Pokemon is still dominant.
We’re seeing similar performance from Glaceon, Gengar, and to a lesser extent, Mew. Those four are so much more viable than every other Pokemon that it’s common to see at least three (or often all four) on every team. In fact, if the opponent has a Glaceon, Gengar, and Mr. Mime and your team doesn’t, the match is almost certainly lost before it has even started. This unbalance forces people to play a small selection of Pokemon if they want any chance of winning and puts anyone that doesn’t have (or can’t afford) these characters at a disadvantage. Three weeks into the season, it’s clear that the devs aren’t in a hurry to address the situation. Pokemon Unite has never been this unbalanced before.
Balance changes will come, and hopefully, Pokemon like Mr. Mime and Glaceon will be brought down to a more even power level. That’s a straightforward problem to fix, but there’s another, more complex issue plaguing Unite right now: the skill gap. Poor matchmaking and an easily climbable ladder have always been a problem for Unite, but the changes to the layout and gameplay on the new map have accentuated those issues to an untenable degree. Simply put, you need a coordinated team to win, but unless you’re bringing four of your own friends, the chances of having a competent team to play with are almost zero.
Theia Sky Ruins is a much better map than Remoat Stadium for a number of reasons. It’s much larger and contains more XP to farm, so teams have a lot more options about where to go, what to focus on, and even what items they bring to the fight. The Rayquaza changes also mean that, unlike Zapdos, the team that snipes this final objective doesn’t automatically win, so scoring and defending goals is a lot more important. The skill ceiling has been raised considerably on the new map, and from a competitive standpoint, the game is much better off for it.
Unfortunately, the exact things that make Theia Sky Ruins a superior map are also the things that are ruining the game for regular players. Without genuine skill-based matchmaking, matches are filled with a mix of players at every skill level. Getting randos to show up for team fights, defend goals, and play for objectives is nearly impossible, and the aforementioned map changes make it much harder for a single skilled player to carry their teams. A lot of Unite players simply don’t know how to win games, and the matchmaking system makes no effort to group those players together in order to give those of us who play to win a better experience. Games are won and lost by a single dunk on the new map, and it's endlessly frustrating to watch your clueless teammates wander around the map while the enemy scores on the goal they ought to be defending - especially at the highest tiers of the ranked ladder.
Players by and large aren’t willing to learn the intricacies of the map in order to be successful, and unfortunately there’s a lot to learn. One of the most infuriating scenarios involves the top and bottom objectives. Whereas previously the bottom Dreadnaw objective was essential, the bottom objectives on the new map are virtually useless - and in the case of Regice, literally useless. Alternatively, the once forgettable top lane Rotom (Regieleki on the new map) is of singular importance. Securing this objective is often a win condition, and watching your teammates wander around while you fight tooth and nail, struggling to secure this objective, is enough to make your blood boil. Everyone I know has played countless games where their jungler is busy soloing the Regice while top lane suffers, and there’s no reason that should be consistently happening in Master ranked games.
Until significant changes come to matchmaking, Unite cannot improve. It has always been a huge problem, but at least on Remoat Stadium it felt like a sufficiently skilled player could drag their team to victory kicking and screaming. That’s not the case on Theia Sky Ruins. Players have to perform their roles and work with their team if they want to win, and that overwhelmingly isn’t happening now, no matter what rank you manage to climb to. Tightening the ranks and removing the safeguard that allow players with negative win rates to continue climbing the ladder is the only solution. It will mean less players reach Master overall, but it's the only way to create a healthy play environment for the people that actually want to compete, coordinate, and win games together. There’s only so long people will put up with being forced to play with clueless, selfish teammates.