3:15 pm EDT, July 17, 2018

Pokémon Go Fest 2018 was better than last year, but still underwhelming

Should being able to access Pokémon Go be counted as a huge success?

For attendees who attended Pokémon Go Fest last year and this year, it was a welcome relief to be able to connect to the game with no issues. As previously reported, I attended Pokémon Go Fest last year and it left much to be desired. But after a year of other city-wide events across the globe with mainly positive reviews, I was excited to give Pokémon Go Fest another chance. And while yes, I was able to connect to the game without any service issues, I have to say the in-game experience from start to finish left me feeling underwhelmed and hopeful for more.

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Here are a handful of things that Niantic, the developer of the game (as well as the forthcoming Wizards Unite game) did and didn’t do well.

Everyone was able to access the game

Unlike last year, for me and everyone else, there were absolutely no cell service issues while attending Pokémon Go Fest 2018. This year, Niantic held the festival in Chicago’s Gorgeous Lincoln Park along a 1.8 mile course across two days. Because of this, as well as the boosted cell coverage from major telecom providers, the experience of logging in to the game and experiencing it was perfect and seamless. Last year, during the one-day event in Grant Park, I was able to play the game for a total of about five minutes over the six hours I was there. Kudos to Niantic for completely reversing this major issue.

The habitats made for a fun real-life experience

Between the two main entrances where there were team lounges, hydration stations and photo op areas, Niantic created four “habitats” where specific Pokémon types would spawn. You’d find a ton of Slakoth at the Jungle Habitat, Snorunt at the Ice Habitat, Slugma at the Volcanic Habitat and maybe a shiny Aron at the Desert habitat. Complete with a billowing volcano, the Volcanic Habitat was certainly the centerpiece of the festival.

You weren’t going to leave without several prized Pokémon

Shiny Pokémon, for those who don’t know, are colorful variations of regular Pokémon that are extremely rare within the game. They are the most prized possessions in the game at the moment, and Niantic knows it. Over the last year, Niantic has centered many of the in-game events around the chances of players catching them, such as Community Day, a monthly in-game event where the odds of catching a specific shiny Pokémon are greatly increased. At Pokémon Go Fest this year, players had varying luck with the shiny catches. I personally caught three within the first 10 minutes of entering, but didn’t catch anymore throughout the day. Others were way more lucky. Additionally, the India-exclusive Pokémon Torkoal was available for the first time at this event for attendees. I caught many.

So what were some of the things that could have made Pokémon Go Fest 2018 better?

The prize competitions were catered to those who cheat in the game

I admit that I’m going to sound salty about this, but hear me out. At every team lunge and habitat, the festival had a person screaming in to the microphone (no need to scream, you have a mic!) getting players to come play a game to win prizes. With absolutely no merchandise or physical giveaways from the festival, these games became very important if you wanted a something to take home. The games were typically “who had the most” of any of the following: a specific Pokémon, distance walked, a specific Pokémon type, etc. However, for those who “spoof” within the game (a “spoofer” is a person who uses third-party apps or bots to manipulate their GPS to move and catch literally hundreds of Pokémon without moving from their location), it was the perfect opportunity to edge out traditional players. For example, I saw many scenarios like this: the announcer asks, “Okay guys, who has the most caught Pikachu!?” This usually followed with a few kids saying “I have 100,” or “I have 200,” followed by an adult nudging through the crowd to say “I have 9,658,” and then being awarded the prize. I realize that there’s not much that can be done about this, but it left many traditional players dismayed and let down since there were no other physical takeaways.

Where were all the gyms and raids?

This year there were no gyms and no raids during Pokémon Go Fest. Last year, for those who could access the game at Go Fest, there were extremely rare Pokémon spawning as raid bosses which created a very rewarding and exciting experience. However, it was clear that these raids were part of the problem with the game and cellular service crashing. My guess is that in order to keep people from congregating in clusters by the thousands and to clear up cellular connectivity, they eliminated raids from the festival. Okay, that’s fine, but when the festival was over for Saturday players, there were still no raids in the immediate area in Chicago. In fact, there were no raids in downtown Chicago until Sunday afternoon. Once raids did go live, they were the same two Pokémon that were announced after last year’s Go Fest: Lugia and Articuno, which every single person attending Go Fest surely has caught. This leads me to the next, and maybe the most important issue.

There were no surprises or announcements

Part of the excitement from last year, amidst all the chaos of the game not working, was when Niantic extended the game experience and raids all through downtown Chicago. Suddenly there were extremely rare Pokémon like Unown and legendary raid bosses spawning everywhere. Players took to the streets and it really felt like a community experience where we were finally getting what we had spent all day hoping to see. This year, there were no surprises. The in-game research quests that were to be finished rewarded the mythical Pokémon Celebi, which is certainly a huge prize for players. But, we all knew what was coming. The Unown spawning throughout the day spelled the word “Celebi” and players who finished early were casually asking “Did you catch Celebi yet?” Additionally, Niantic tweeted this photo ahead of Pokémon Go Fest 2018 featuring the Generation 4 starter Pokémon Turtwig, Chimchar and Piplup. As such, attendees expected that at some point these new, unreleased Pokémon would be spawning in the game for Go Fest attendees, but that never happened. Many left the park saying “I really thought we’d be getting these new Pokémon today,” myself included.

Pokémon diversity was severely lacking

Though the physical “habitats” within Go Fest were cute, there were only around five-10 specific Pokémon spawning at those locations all day long. There was no diversity in spawns which meant attendees were seeing the exact same Pokémon all day long (most of which attendees had multiples of for over two years now). The consensus with myself and others was that this was a pretty big disappointment. All of these Pokémon are easily found elsewhere. Is Niantic sure that what Go Fest attendees want are six hours of very common spawns?

What do attendeess want for Pokémon Go Fest 2019?

One of the things I would suggest for Niantic is to ask for feedback and suggestions for Go Fest. To the company’s credit, it does seem to be more aware of what’s Going on within the game’s passionate fanbase than it was a year aGo. But, Go Fest 2018 was a reminder that there’s still work to be done when it comes to keeping attendees interested in this game.

It would also be great to have Go Fest in another location. Though I personally love Chicago, the ethos of the game is to get out and explore, right? Having this in a different city every year would truly live up to this mantra.

I left Chicago happy with Pokémon Go Fest this year, but am hopeful that by 2019, the third time will be the charm.

Did you attend Go Fest this year? What was your experience like? Leave your comments below.

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