When we first got a glimpse of Pokémon GO while it was in beta, we learned that gyms would be contested by three differently colored teams. At the time, we were kind of scratching our heads about this game design choice. After all, what about a color would inspire any sort of teamwork or competition? It all seemed so arbitrary. Who cares if you’re Yellow, Blue, or Red?
The answer, it turned out, was EVERYONE.
Pokémon GO has managed to strike a very subtle balance that gives incoming players just enough information to feel confident choosing a team, but not enough information to encourage min-maxing behavior. Once a player reaches Level 5, which is just enough time to understand how the game works but nowhere near enough time to begin strategizing meta-game elements, Pokémon GO encourages you to pick one of three teams.
As it stands, this decision is permanent. There’s no going back after making the call. This and a handful of other dynamics have worked together to give team members with a sense of self-identify and competitive spirit. Because each team promises particular vague perks to players, the choice that a player makes says something about their priorities. Through the exaggerating effect of internet memes, absurdist humor, and playful aggression, each of these teams has already taken on a distinct personality. Let’s take a look at how they’re each regarded in the community.
Again, these mild preferences have been exaggerated into massive stereotypes through the engine of the internet, so take the following with a grain of salt.
Yellow Team Instinct is the left-most option on the Team Select screen, and therefore the team that most people encounter first. These team members are promised perks to Pokémon egg hatching, and their extolled virtues are trust and instinct. If Team Instinct were a Hogwarts house, they would probably be Hufflepuff. In Magic the Gathering terminology, these are your Timmys.
Instinct members are generally regarded as more casual players. The complete lack of any competitive elements in Instinct’s credo makes it an attractive option for loner players or those who would prefer to peacefully collect Pokémon and explore the world rather than battle over gyms.
Blue Team Mystic is the center option on the Team Select screen. Members are promised perks related to Pokémon evolution, and the general team spirit has a scientific feel to it. The focus on evolution means that these players are more likely to be interested in the longer-term game, foregoing an immediate competitive edge for more optimal footing in the long run. Meet House Ravenclaw, MTG designation “Johnny.”
Mystic players see themselves as more long-range planners, which makes them appear intolerably smug and superior to the other teams. They’re naturally competitive – why invest in evolution if you’re not looking for power in the long run? – but for them, it’s not necessarily about winning. It’s becoming a common practice for Mystic players to take down Valor gyms and leave behind only a low-level Magikarp to add insult to injury.
Red Team Valor is generally the last team players are exposed to before they have to make their decision. Immediately the group is presented as a team that seeks victory at all costs, and members are promised perks to attack. Depending on who you ask, these players either embody the courage and determination of Gryffindor or the slimy brutishness of Slytherin. Magic players will be familiar with the Spike mentality.
Valor members are competitive players who enjoy winning, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. The Internet Exaggeration Machine has them casting themselves as unstoppable powerhouses and Team Mystic casting them as barbaric, inarticulate morons. The flame-wars and memes now blot out our noonday sun.
Let the feuding commence
The competition taking place between teams is occurring both in the game world through gym combat as well as in the meta-game world through memes and online communities such as those on Reddit. The humor at the core of these feuds centers on players treating the game with ad absurdum gravity while leading what are effectively propaganda campaigns upholding the values of one’s own team while stereotyping and ridiculing members of opposing teams.
So far, the culture surrounding the game has been developing with an all-in-good-fun atmosphere, although some players have already taken things a little too far with acts of vandalism or property damage.
As long as you’re engaging the community in a courteous and creative way, there’s really no wrong team to pick. (Unless, of course, you decide to join those reprobates on Team Valor alongside scoundrels like Joe Hindy.)