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What Ever Happened to Pixelmon: From NFT disaster to potential comeback

At the height of the speculative NFT mania early this year, Pixelmon raised $70 million on the back of a grand vision and misleading marketing. But a lackluster art reveal tanked the collection's price and spawned one of the most notorious memes in NFT history. Now under new management, Pixelmon is hoping to make a comeback.

What is Pixelmon?


At the beginning of this year, Pixelmon was advertised to be an voxel-styled (think Minecraft) Web3 game where players could collect, train, and evolve creatures inside a Pokémon-inspired metaverse. Through just a few impressive screenshots, the project established partnerships with Llamaverse and Nanopass – both respected NFT communities that compounded the awareness Pixelmon would receive.


As time went on, their marketing claims got bolder. Pixelmon flaunted a game demo made by their world-class game development team whose track record included clients like Activision and Disney, as well organizing a $100,000 Minecraft tournament prior to its mint date.

Though the information shared with the public was scarce, the stunning sneak peeks had convinced many that Pixelmon was coyly on  its way to becoming the next big thing.

With such immense demand, the project was confident announcing the details of its mint. On February 7th, Pixelmon Generation 1 NFTs would be distributed via a Dutch auction starting at the high price of 3 ETH . And it worked, with users paying a minimum of 2.4 ETH  (Ethereum, worth approximately US$7,500) before the collection had sold out within the hour after release. Just like that, Pixelmon had raised approximately 23,000 ETH, or about US$70 million dollars according to Ethereum's price at the time.

The only thing left to do was wait for “The Hatching,” the art reveal where holders would hatch their virtual egg into one of Pixelmon's mythical creatures. 

Introducing Kevin


In late February, the long-awaited art reveal finally happened after several delays. Pixelmon's litepaper at the time had promised “the largest and highest quality game the NFT space has ever seen," but the unveiled artwork was vastly disappointing compared to expectations.

Instead of the polished models seen in Pixelmon's promotional material, many holders found themselves with laughably bad designs that even the project founder, Syber, admitted was "a horrible mistake". The collection's price plummeted 83% as a result, with an average price of 0.49 ETH, a far cry from its initial 3 ETH mint price.


The revealed artwork was so vilified by the wider NFT community that  a pixelated zombie named “Kevin,” became the unofficial mascot of Pixelmon. And true to the meme-driven culture of the NFT space, traders even began ironically buying Kevin tokens up to its peak price of 4.98 ETH, more than 10x of the collection's floor price.

To rectify this situation, Syber made a pledge in the Pixelmon Discord to allocate US$2 million to completely revamp and redesign the NFTs at a higher quality. But still, things weren’t adding up…

Syber's misdeeds come to light


After Pixelmon's disastrous launch, on-chain sleuths started analyzing the wallet holding the 23,000 ETH of project funds, scrutinizing why the designs seemed suspiciously familiar, as well as digging into Syber's mysterious past.

First, it was revealed that 400ETH was withdrawn in order to fund an NFT buying spree that included multiple blue-chip projects like MAYC, Azuki, and RTFKT's CloneX. Syber claims that this was to make opportunistic trades given downtrending market prices. No prior notice was given to the Pixelmon community, sparking concerns on whether this would qualify as a misappropriation of funds, given that the revenue generated from the NFT sale was to be solely used for the development of Pixelmon.


But the smoking gun turned out to be that many of the Pixelmon designs were actually stock assets from the Unity Asset Store, a popular asset marketplace for game developers.

Previously, Syber had claimed that the creation of each Pixelmon had a rigorous art pipeline involving a concept artist, 3D modeling team, and animators before it was ready for production. The revelation that many of the published designs were simply plagiarized middleware assets called the project's entire legitimacy into question. Even the previously released game demo seemed suspiciously like another template on the Unity Asset Store.


With users delving deeper into the rabbit hole, each misstep seemed more shocking than the last. Just who was this founder who fleeced millions by selling empty promises?

Meet Syber aka Martin Van Blerk


In response to the controversy and various threats, Syber was doxxed as Martin Van Blerk, a 21 year old from Hamilton, New Zealand. 

Netizens claim that prior to NFTs, Van Blerk had also raised funds through various Kickstarter projects including a watch collection and a card game called Psycho Chickens, that — even two years on — have failed to deliver their products. 


On Pixelmon, Van Blerk said: "I've taken steps not only to realize that, okay, maybe I was out of my depth, "Even though we didn't deliver on the artwork, the focus is on the game and we are fully committed, on the promise of that game."


Syber took steps to redeem himself by refunding the NFTs he had purchased and set the traded royalties for Pixelmon to 0 percent. Shortly after, Van Blerk set his Twitter to private.

A Comeback in the Making?


Nowadays, Syber is no longer involved with Pixelmon, and instead, leadership has been passed to Giulio Xiloyannis, a former executive of fashion ecommerce site ZALORA, and co-founder of the Web3 aggregator, LiquidX. In a series of statements issued to Artazine, the new CEO details the efforts made to overhaul the entire project. 


To start, Xiloyannis has begun bolstering the Pixelmon team, released a staking system for existing holders to accrue rewards on their NFTs, and most importantly — swapping the voxel art style for a more modernized look for each character complete with its own animations and unique sounds.


Pixelmon will still be developed into an open-world RPG game where you catch and train Pixelmon. Inclusivity, being free-to-play and being mobile-first will be prioritized, and  play-to-earn mechanics will be scrapped, and replaced with a more sustainable model dubbed Right-of-Game (RoG)


In stark contrast to its former founder, the team now openly shares developmental progress and redesigns for each Pixelmon. Feedback is encouraged to the extent that Xiloyannis replies to questions daily in the '#ask-the-ceo' channel on Discord.


Pixelmon’s changes are a good thing, but Xiloyannis still recognizes the enormous hurdle he will need to overcome in order to regain the public’s trust. “We need to become the most trusted executors in Web3 gaming,” he says. “We’ll need to build a great company so that people will start focusing on what we do, and not what the first reveal mistake was.”


A major milestone will be in early 2023 —when Pixelmon plans to have a closed demo version of the game available along with a physical event. 


If Xiloyannis and the rest of the new Pixelmon team pull it off, it'll be the greatest comeback story in Web3. But in the meantime, we'll always have Kevin.