Pokemon Go's return to Chicago was a huge success, as thousands of fans enjoyed the first day of Pokemon Go Fest.
Pokemon Go Fest returned to Chicago this weekend, nearly one year to the day that Niantic held its first ever live event. But while last year's Pokemon Go Fest made headlines for its technical problems and other issues, this year's event should be lauded as a pinnacle for what Pokemon Go could be.
ComicBook.com was invited to the event and arrived at Chicago's Lincoln Park at 11 AM - about an hour after the event started. One of the first things that stood out was the lack of any real lines. Only a few players were standing in lines for Will Call, and the only occupants of the many Help Tents at the event were some very relaxed looking volunteers/staffs.
The centerpiece of Pokemon Go Fest was a new set of Special Research tasks that would allow players to encounter and catch the Mythical Pokemon Celebi. The Research Tasks provided Pokemon Go players with a cute little story, and tied into how Niantic set up this year's event.
While last year's Pokemon Go Fest was condensed into a relatively small area, this year's event was spread out over a 2 mile stretch of Chicago's Lincoln Park. Niantic set up four "habitats" for the event, around which different types of Pokemon would appear. Each habitat had a small real world set, with volunteers hosting giveaways every 30 minutes or so.
While the sets weren't overly elaborate, they added to the lighthearted atmosphere of the event. Players could watch steam rise up from two volcanoes set up in the Volcanic Habitat or watch snow fall around them in the Glacial Habitat. It made for fun photo opportunities, and also kept walking the park from being too monotonous.
The habitats also tied into the Pokemon Go Fest's main storyline. The habitats had suddenly popped up and disrupted the usual Pokemon's routine. In order to discover how to reverse the habitats, players needed to capture 10 Pokemon of six different types, which would lead Professor Willow to declare that they needed the Mythical Pokemon Celebi's help. After capturing a handful of Unown, Celebi would appear and get to work on reversing the unexplained habitats. Players were also rewarded with catch encounters for several fully evolved Hoenn region Pokemon, the first time that players could actually catch Pokemon like Metagross, Ludicolo, or Shiftry in the wild.
Unlike last year's event, players had almost no issues connecting to the game. There was one very small "dead zone" in which signal was a problem - but the setup of the event kept people moving and away from standing in one place for too long.
While a steady rain fell for a decent chunk of yesterday's events, it didn't seem to mute players' enthusiasm. The two mile path around Lincoln Park was filled with a comfortable amount of people for the entirety of the day, with only a handful of chokepoints (usually puddles in the path) that caused congestion. Team Lounges set up at the north and south ends of the event were full for most of the day, with emcees coordinating trades between players and holding mini-competitions constantly.
Pokemon Go Fest also highlighted other aspects of the Pokemon Go community. A group of Pokemon Go YouTubers were treated like celebrities, stopping to pose for photos constantly while filming their own adventures at the event. Many groups made t-shirts just for the event, showing off their team loyalties or which online group they belonged to, while others wore fun Pokemon-themed costumes. The Silph Road (a subreddit that serves as the main hub of Pokemon Go news) also had a large presence during the event, with a special app and plenty of meet-up.0comments
My only criticism of the event were the long food lines - there were two spots where food trucks were set up, but they had massive lines from the time I arrived to the time I left. I heard the average wait time for food was about an hour, even in the middle of the afternoon between meals. Luckily, Chicago has no shortage of restaurants, so it wasn't hard to simply walk out of the park and grab a quick bite of food. Other than that, I didn't hear of any significant complaints about the event, which is impressive given how fans are quick to criticize the game when they feel it's not up to their standards.
Pokemon Go Fest represented everything that Niantic envisioned Pokemon Go to be two years ago: an active and engaged community enjoying a day at the park and using most of the game's many complex features. Personally, I never thought I'd see the day where thousands of players congregated to celebrate a mobile game, but Pokemon Go has continued to endure and succeed on a scale like no one imagined.