I spent two days with thousands of Pokémon Go fans and had a blast — here's what it was like at this year's Pokémon Go Fest
- Last week, Niantic held the annual Pokémon Go Fest, a four-day event in Chicago where Pokémon Trainers gathered to catch trade, and battle Pokémon.
- Niantic says that there were tens of thousands of players in attendance, speaking to the continuing popularity of Pokémon Go.
- I went for the first two days of Go Fest, and had a total blast. Here's what it was like.
- Visit Business Insider South Africa's homepage for more stories.
Do people still play Pokémon Go? It's been 3 years since the AR mobile game was first released, and based on the crowds in Chicago last week (not the mention the recent $4 billion valuation (R 59 billion) of the company who makes the game) the answer is a resounding "yes."
Niantic, the game's developer, kicked off its third annual Pokémon Go Fest in Grant Park in Chicago from June 13-16; a sold-out festival that brought Pokémon Trainers from all over the world to the Windy City to trade, battle, and of course, catch rare Pokémon exclusive to the event. Niantic tells Business Insider that tens of thousands of players showed up across the four days.
Unlike previous years (which I also attended) tickets to the 2019 Go Fest were sold within the app, and in order to purchase them you had to also win a lottery drawing. To accommodate more people, the festival was four days long this year, up from two.
Another new twist: Attendees were assigned a date, time, and place to show up. You could come to the park before or after your assigned slot, but all the activities that make the event special only showed up in the Pokémon Go app during the allotted timeframe.
I was there on the Thursday and Friday of the event, but my app didn't activate until the second day - before that, all I could do was look around and take photos.
While there were a few network hiccups, and a temporary evacuation on Saturday due to a thunderstorm threat, the rest of the event seemed to go off without a hitch. That's a good thing, considering that the first Pokémon Go fest in 2017 was a notorious fiasco.
I was one of the lucky few to check it out this year, and I had a total blast. Here's what it was like inside during my visit, on the first two days of the event:
Pokémon Go Fest has grown so massive, it now spanned four days. To keep crowds under control, Niantic, the game's developer, gave every ticket-holder a day, time, and place to enter the park. My ticket got me in at 9am on Friday from the North Gate.
While I waited for the event to begin, I plugged my phone into one of the Pokéstop-themed charging stations that were scattered around the park.
People were situated around these throughout the day. It was a long day of gameplay (10 hours), and so a dead battery could ruin everything.
There were large coloured tents set up in the field at each end of the park for each of the three teams players can join in Pokémon Go: Instinct (yellow), Valor (red), and Mystic (blue).
There were chairs inside the tents, so trainers could relax with their teammates, get some shade, and make new friends.
Here's what the game looked like in my app just before 9am.
And here is what it looked like after 9am, when it officially started. For the unfamiliar: Each of those blue pillars is a Pokéstop, where players can pick up items. Each and every one here also has a lure to attract wild Pokémon — those are the pink dots.
Suddenly the area was filled with Pokéstops and various rare Pokémon like Unown started to spawn.
Rare Pokémon like Absol were spawning in the wild. They normally are only found under special circumstances, like in a multiplayer raid battle, or else by performing certain tasks.
The main goal of the day was to catch the Mythical Pokémon Jirachi by completing a series of tasks for Professor Willow, your mentor in the game.
For example, the first task required spinning 7 Pokéstops, sending 3 gifts to friends, and making 3 new friends.
I took up the challenge, and made some new friends.
While I completed Professor Willow's tasks, there were 4 main themed habitats to explore in the park. The first one I encountered was called “Spooky Woods.”
Inside were trees covered in cobwebs and a creepy-looking well with smoke shooting out of it.
A sign nearby the well advised people not to climb inside it.
Trainers could find several Ghost-type Pokémon spawning inside Spooky Woods, like Drifloon and Sableye.
I was lucky and managed to catch a rare "shiny" Sableye, which is a different color than the normal ones. One of the main perks about going to Go Fest is that there are way more shinies than usual — typically, they're very rare.
There was also a designated arena in the North side, where trainers could battle each other for prizes. I watched, but didn't participate in any battles. This was new for this year's event — battling was only added to the game late last year.
Next stop: The “Winter Forest!”
This was a snowy habitat spawning Ice-type Pokémon like Snorunt and Alolan Sandshrew.
In-game research tasks also asked trainers to take augmented reality photos with certain Pokémon in their natural habitat. A fun task had you finding a Snover (pictured here) in another area, and bringing him back to his wintery home.
When taking snapshots of my Pokémon throughout the day, rare monsters would photobomb the picture. Then, you'd get a chance to catch them. The game has had events like this before, but not with so many rare Pokémon.
The Buckingham Fountain, the park's central landmark, was just south of the Winter Forest and served as the centerpiece to the event.Trainers could catch water-type Pokémon here like Lotad, Feebas, and Krabby. The fountain was also a nice way to cool off, since it sprayed water at passersby.
This giant-sized Squirtle was lurking by the fountain, so I had to get a selfie.
The third area I visited was called the “Fairy Garden.”
There were giant colorful flowers set up along the walkways.
And there were gateways that shot out bubbles. This area, naturally, spawned Fairy-type Pokémon, like Ralts and Clefairy.
I heard a lot of players talking about networking issues with the game around the Fairy Garden. While the game was slow to load at times, it wasn't that bad for me.
The final habitat I visited was called the "Sandy Desert." This was located at the South entrance of the park, and it was placed on top of pre-existing baseball fields.
Since it had rained on Thursday, much of the sand had turned into mud. While it was perfect weather on Friday, players visiting on Saturday dealt with pouring rain and the threat of a severe thunderstorm — which forced players to temporarily evacuate the park.
The mud was perfect for taking a photo of Hippopotas.
Here's what it looked like in my game at the South end of the park. Pokéstops were everywhere.
Some of these Pokéstops featured the winners of an photo contest Niantic held earlier this year.
Normally, "Pokémon Go" restricts you to trading one shiny or legendary Pokémon with another player each day. At Go Fest, though, that limit was bumped up to 5, and players got a discount on how much in-game Stardust it costs to make the trade.
Trainers were given placards on which they could write which specific Pokémon they were looking to trade. Most people I saw had the signs tucked into their hat or pants as they walked around the park, which encouraged people to approach them.
I ended up running into two friends from Miami whom I had met back in 2017 at the first Go Fest, so I traded a few Pokémon with them instead of making a sign.
It took about 2 hours to complete Professor Willow's tasks, so by 11am I had finally caught Jirachi!
But there was much more to do after the tasks, like have your picture taken with giant mascot versions of Pikachu or Eevee. I decided to skip this opportunity and focus on catching Pokémon instead.
I took the time to catch some Pachirisu — a regional Pokémon who's usually restricted to the far northern hemisphere, that who was spawning all over the place at Go Fest.
I also stopped by the Pokémon Center merch store, which was selling official Pokémon souvenirs.
The lines for this were very long. It could take 30 minutes or more to get all the way to the front.
Many people I spoke with made this their first stop of the day to get it out of the way.
These exclusive, limited edition Go Fest T-shirts were the hot item at the event. So, of course, I had to buy one as well.
You could also buy other Pokémon souvenirs like stuffed animals, or this Pikachu hat and cape.
It was cards only — no cash or Pokécoins accepted.
Niantic also had its own merch store on-site for the first time. The Niantic area also had benches for Pokémon trainers to rest on outside, while relaxing music played.
They were selling water bottles ($24 (R355)), drawstring bags ($12 (R177)), and hats ($18 (R266)).
Many of the trainers I saw came in costume or wore Pokémon themed hats.
Paul Magnuson from Chicago showed me his Jirachi balloon hat. Jirachi was the special legendary Pokémon attendees could catch after completing a series of tasks.
This trainer was wearing a Charizard hat and had wings on his back.
To keep everyone hydrated throughout the day, there were water stations where you could fill up the bottles you brought or purchased at the store.
Several popular YouTubers who play the game, like MYSTIC7 and PkmnMasterHolly, were in attendance to meet fans and sign autographs.
Lines to meet-and-greet with these influencers were extremely long.
Niantic staff held fan contests in the tents and in the various habitats. Prizes including official Go Fest tee shirts were awarded to trainers who could show the hosts specific monsters, like the heaviest Pokémon in their Pokédex.
At the end of each day, players gathered by the stage for a group photo. Here you can get a better look at the size of the crowds in attendance on the Friday. The mood was also much more positive than 2017 when network crashes ruined the day.
After the event ended, Team Rocket started to photobomb any Poké-photo you took for a brief period of time.
And while the people who had tickets seemed to have had a successful day, those who didn't get tickets banded together and played on their own at places like Chicago's Navy Pier.
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