Pokémon GO Fest 2018 Was Actually 'A Walk in the Park'

posted on by Jennifer Sherman

As advertised, Pokémon GO's 2018 summer anniversary event was "a walk in the park," both literally and figuratively. I have no doubt that Niantic's marketing team was trying to stick a message in that subtitle that this year would be different. Fortunately, Pokémon GO Fest 2018 panned out as the developer planned, there were minimal hiccups, and it was a lot of fun.

I previously wrote about enjoying last July's inaugural event in Chicago despite its problems and chaos. There were issues with admission lines, cell network connectivity, and servers. Many players were unable to participate for much of the event. Niantic apologized and announced the same day that it would give all attendees US$100 in in-game currency. The ill-fated event resulted in a lawsuit that Niantic is in the process of settling.

Nevertheless, I was still satisfied with my overall experience last year, and the event provided a unique venue to connect with players from all over the world. Many fans of the smartphone app have noted the remarkable way the game has managed to build a sense of community among players. Last year's Pokémon GO Fest encapsulated that warm and fuzzy feeling even if parts of the day seemed to threaten a riot. The larger than planned release of the game's first ever Legendary Pokémon also helped to boost moods after the event concluded.

This past weekend's event removed a few aspects of the previous event, including some potentially problematic features. There was no fencing surrounding the park, so attendees could move in and out freely. There was no main stage with presentations from key staffers, which caused unfortunate scenes last year. There were zero in-game Gyms inside the park, creating a reduced chance of mobs that would strain cell networks in tight areas. Other noteworthy omissions were sponsor booths and a counter selling official merch.

The new key feature of Pokémon GO Fest 2018 was the change of venue from Grant Park to Lincoln Park. Attendees did laps around a 1.8-mile walking path that was more in tune with the game's "get out and go" motto. Niantic must have remembered how many fans created their own awkward walking path last year along the inner perimeter of the comparatively small and fenced-off area. It was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and mostly sunny when I attended this year, so walking along the path was a tiring but fun affair.

Apart from some weary expressions due to heat, I saw practically nothing but smiling faces as I walked around on Sunday. Niantic reported on Monday that 21,000 players attended the event itself, 180,000 participated in the Chicago area, and tens of millions took part in Professor Willow's Global Challenge worldwide. With those participation numbers, Trainers had no real difficulty completing the challenge and unlocking a number of in-game rewards that last until July 23.

According to Niantic, attendees walked an average of six kilometers (about 3.7 miles), completed an average of 36 research tasks, and caught an average of 350 Pokémon each. I was not nearly as focused or down-to-business as many players I encountered, but I still managed to catch a couple dozen of the coveted Regional Pokémon Torkoal, plus more than 60 of the ultra-rare monster Unown. Shiny Pokémon of certain varieties were in abundance, and I added a total of ten to my collection. Shiny Plusle and Minun debuted for the event. Of course, the Mythical Pokémon Celebi was the top prize for attendees, and it is still unavailable to people who did not attend.

Four "habitats" were fully decorated areas inspired by real-world glacial, desert, volcanic, and jungle environments. Niantic stepping up with the habitats this year helped players feel like they were immersed in the game, and plenty of people were hanging around these areas for the ambience alone. More than 50 species of Pokémon were available in each habitat, including key creatures with Shiny variants.

Both the team lounges and habitats throughout the park held new giveaways for exclusive medals, posters, and T-shirts. These giveaways were entertaining but caused frustration among some fans. A few of the trivia questions were controversial, and the people conducting them seemed to have varying levels of experience with the game. The same staff members also helped facilitate trades among attendees. Overall, the crowd engagement throughout the park was an enjoyable addition.

Fellow attendees I interacted with had just a few key criticisms of the experience this year. There appeared to be ticket sales problems that allowed scalpers to capitalize on the system. Some people who succeeded in buying tickets reportedly chose to use GPS spoofing, which is against Niantic's terms of service. They could apparently participate without attending after receiving wristbands with QR codes in the mail. Other attendees posted QR codes online.

I personally had no problems at the event other than occasional connectivity issues, which weren't excessive and seemed reasonable considering the local network traffic and demand on servers. That is probably thanks to the various mobile cell sites Niantic hired for the weekend. Only game sponsor Sprint provided cells on wheels last year. But this time around, every attendee was able to catch virtual monsters with ease.

Niantic has one more leg of its Pokémon GO Summer Tour event and Global Challenge left this summer. Players will flock to the Safari Zone event in Yokosuka, Japan from August 29 to September 2. Here's to hoping the event goes as smoothly as Pokémon GO Fest 2018 and visitors can catch bags full of Tropius, Shiny Wingull, and other special creatures.

Sources: Pokémon GO's website (link 2, link 3)

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