It may not seem like it sometimes, but Pokémon GO is a team-based game. At level 5, every player chooses which team they’d like to play for: Instinct, Mystic, or Valor. The teams are largely cosmetic, as the only difference to how you play the game is which team leader you prefer to consult with when determining whether or not your recently caught Pokémon is utter garbage or a hidden gem.
Besides that, the team you choose determines who you battle when taking on gyms. You can only attack gyms that are controlled by opposing teams, and fighting an allied gym merely means you’re practicing your skills. It can be a benefit to your team, but it’s hardly the thrilling experience of conquering an enemy’s gym and making it your own.
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If you find yourself in an area dominated by blue or red or yellow, with no opportunities to take on a gym yourself, you might have the desire to switch teams for your shot at glory. The only problem is that Pokémon GO doesn’t allow their players to switch teams. Ever.
It’s a curious design choice, given the fact that Niantic, the makers of Pokémon GO, have never tried to curb each team’s recruitment in any way, thus leading to some lopsided team numbers. The exact roster values aren’t publicly disclosed, but based on various polls it seems that team Mystic is the most numerous Pokémon GO team, followed by Valor in second and Instinct in third.
If Niantic is fine with having one team outnumber all the rest, then why not allow players to switch teams to balance things out?
One of the reasons could be that Niantic plans on making the teams more unique in future updates. How that might be is pure speculation, but as each team has a certain legendary bird as their emblem, it would make sense for those teams to have a chance at catching those legendaries in a big update.
It could also be that Niantic fears that players would abuse any switch system, switching to an opposing team in order to take the gym and then switching back once it had been conquered. Team infighting would become rife in such a world, completely dismantling the sense of camaraderie that already exists amongst Pokémon GO players.
If that were the case it would be an easy problem to solve: simply limit players switching by implementing a time wall that prevents players from switching teams too often. Or they could include a pay wall that costs players in-game currency (Pokécoins) before they can switch.
Or there could be some larger update that would pit the teams in more direct combat with one another, although if that were to be the case one would think that Niantic would have the balance the team rosters at least somewhat.
Whatever the case may be, Niantic so far has no interest in allowing players to break ranks, so if you decide to pick up Pokémon GO be sure to check with your friends what team they’re on first.