This article was originally published February 2019.


Over the past couple of weeks, discussion in the Pokémon Go community has been focused around an incoming item that might not even appear [Editor’s Note – Spoiler, the item did appear]: it’s called the Team Medallion. The item has been found by dataminers, nearly always a sign that it will appear in the game over the coming weeks or months, and is a real-money item which can be bought once every 365 days, and allows players to switch their in-game team affiliation.

The ability to switch teams in Pokémon Go has been a requested feature pretty much since the game launched, and it’s not tough to see why. It’s been nearly three years since Pokémon Go launched, and when starting players are given a choice to join one of three differently-coloured teams: Blue Mystic, Red Valour, or Yellow Instinct. At launch these teams had very little separating them other than their leaders – in-game characters who encourage you, rate your Pokémon, and basically act as the in-game tutor. Each is represented by one of the Gen 1 legendary birds, so most players picked teams based on which legendary bird or leader design they most enjoyed.

Over the years things have changed quite dramatically, however. If you play Pokémon Go today, your chosen team dictates most of the late-game action. In-game currency is earned by holding control of gyms, which is more easily done when you work with other players of your team colour. Rewards in raids are awarded based on team colour contributions, with the team that does the most damage to the raid boss having the best chance of catching it after the fight. It’s easier to take part in Pokémon Go‘s end game if you have other people around you playing on the same team.

Now, this system wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that team colour balance is pretty uneven. Specifically my team, the yellow team Instinct led by leader Spark, is the least populous team in the UK by a wide margin.

You occasionally see areas around the country with Instinct strongholds. I’ve taken part in a single raid which was primarily Instinct, but on the whole playing as Instinct in Pokémon Go is playing for the underdog team. You have to put more time in, be more persistent, get better at the mechanics, and have more luck than your peers to keep up while playing. It’s not a choice I made knowingly but, three years later, it now strongly dictates how the game works for me.

With the knowledge of this incoming Team Medallion item, the concern is obviously that things will get even worse for Instinct. Players might jump ship to a more popular team for the added rewards. This would have the knock-on effect of making Instinct even more ‘difficult’ to be a member of than it already is. But whatever happens, I don’t plan to switch teams any time in the future.

Playing as team Instinct has really defined a lot of my experience playing Pokémon Go. I’ve spent years actively going out of my way to make friends with other Instinct players, lining up my raiding schedule with them to give us the best possible chance of taking and holding gyms, or getting good raid rewards. I’ve found there’s a real sense of community in being on the team expected to do worst, and it drives us to do better and prove the stats wrong. I’ve found a family of fellow trainers determined to be the very best, like no-one ever was, who battle against the raw numbers to get there.

Playing as an underdog was never a choice, but has come to define my Pokémon Go experience. If I walked away from that now, it would feel like I was irreversibly changing the experience I’ve loved these past years. Sure, our leader Spark may be meme trash, the butt of jokes within the community, but his passion and excitement are palpable. He’s MY team leader.

It’s odd how, these days, communities often obsess over ‘upcoming’ datamined items, which sometimes aren’t added at all, cut content, and whatever else isn’t in the game they’re playing right now. It’s human nature to imagine, I suppose, to wonder what the future may hold, even if that’s only the future of Pokémon Go. If the Team Medallion does come to pass, and my contingent of underdogs shrinks even further as a result, I’m ready. An underdog can be lots of things, but the very best are known for never giving up.


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