Pokémon GO Fest: Home Edition

by Jennifer Sherman,

In a normal year, Pokémon GO Fest would have returned to Chicago in July to celebrate the fourth anniversary of Niantic's most popular game. Responding to the pandemic, we instead participated from our own parks, backyards, and couches. No gatherings of thousands of players, food trucks, giveaways, or elaborate displays to create a festive atmosphere, but Pokémon GO Fest 2020 turned out surprisingly fun.

Tickets cost US$14.99 for 10 hours of special content on both July 25 and 26. The actual ticket price was nearly as much as past years, but with the added convenience of participation anywhere, most people spent far less than they would have at the usual in-person event. I had my doubts at first, but the experience was worth the price overall.

The first day got off to a rocky start for some players, particularly those who gained access to the virtual event first. Niantic's servers seemed overwhelmed, and Trainers like me lost Raid Passes due to related errors. Issues sending and opening gifts also impacted a key component of the challenge for friendship hour. Fortunately, most of the issues evened out within a couple of hours, though some problems lingered longer.

The damage was done for me early on the first day, and I was quite grouchy after losing Raid Passes. The Shiny rates seemed lower than a typical GO Fest, but some people still had luck on day one. Unfortunately, I was not among the lucky. I patiently persevered for the first few hours without a Shiny, but impatience took over around hour five, while my local chat groups were showing off their catches. After losing another Raid Pass in the early afternoon, and not getting a Shiny up until then, I rage-quit for more than an hour. Games are supposed to make you happy, right?

Eventually, I jumped back in and played from my couch for a while. Due to the special habitat hours with battle, friendship, fire, water, and grass themes, I was able to catch a wide variety of Pokémon and complete the Special Research tasks even though I grounded myself. The day-one Research tasks did take me quite a while, but they had a satisfying level of challenge.

My dog Yoshi and I enjoyed the excuse to venture to parks on both days and walk around areas we rarely visit. This wasn't necessary, of course, but it brought back the flavor of a traditional GO Fest or Community Day. The outdoor excursions were my favorite aspect of how I chose to spend the event.

Apart from Special Research, rare and vastly increased spawns, and new Shiny Pokémon, Trainers around the world could join in Raid Battles for new chances at Shiny versions of past Legendaries. Rotom also made its debut in the game, photobombing in AR mode. Niantic offered team lounges online and a variety of video content, but I doubt many players utilized those considering all the in-game action.

Around 7:00 p.m. on Saturday—one hour before the day's end—I finally caught my first Shiny: a bubblegum-pink Qwilfish. My attitude held onto residual saltiness at that point, and I hate pink, so that wasn't the most exciting catch. Still, I was determined to make the most of the first day, and I carried on all the way to the end. Another pink Qwilfish (yay...) and a Shiny Pikachu Visor Bulbasaur (aww, yay!) were my reward.

Day two took my sidekick Yoshi and I to even more parks in search of novel environments. Especially with the leaks, Team Rocket surprised few when they took over GO Fest on the second day. Thanks to having a couple spare Rocket Radars laying around, I completed the day's entire Special Research in around an hour and a half. There were no rotating habitats, and the spawns didn't vary on Sunday. Because of that, the consensus among local players I know was the second half of GO Fest felt lackluster compared to the first.

That said, I enjoyed myself much more on the second day. According to anecdotal reports, Shiny rates were higher, and I ended up with around five times as many Shiny monsters on day two. A three-hour makeup window Niantic will hold on August 16 due to day-one problems will provide a chance for even more.

As per tradition, the new Mythical Pokémon Victini launched in the game at the end of the Special Research. Trainers also had a new chance to defeat Giovanni and collect a very cool Shadow Mewtwo for the first time. I appreciated the opportunity to catch Shadow Moltres, Shadow Articuno, and Shadow Zapdos through the Research after missing out on two the last time they appeared in the game.

All in all, this year's at-home Pokémon GO Fest became a success that made the best of our current situation. Niantic's reported earnings of US$17.5 million over the weekend attest to that success. Though Niantic originally pledged a minimum of US$5 million of ticket sales to Black Lives Matter-related causes, the AR game developer is ultimately donating more than US$10 million.

First-day frustrations and disappointments (bugger off, Qwilfish) aside, day two redeemed Pokémon GO Fest 2020 for me. Having attended each of the Chicago events, I wasn't expecting much, but I ended the epic two-day catch fest satisfied. Will Trainers partake in next year's Pokémon GO anniversary events from their couches, or will we reunite in person? I hope global circumstances in 2021 give Niantic and us the luxury to choose.

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