I went to Pokémon Go Fest, and it was a disaster

With phones in hand, a flock of humans pummeled a damp weed of Chicago’s Grant Park. Despite a mouth-watering immature perspective and bump of fervent music, their eyes sojourn glued to their screens, that commanded their any movement. “Unown!” someone yelled, and heads snapped up. “Where?” yelled one child as he pennyless into a sprint. A few others energetically pursued.

In a early hours of Pokémon Go Fest, that took place this past Saturday, this joyous rush steady itself a half-dozen times. Pokémon fans came from opposite a US and over to applaud a anniversary of Niantic’s outstanding success of a game, a tellurian smartphone materialisation that has drawn people of all ages, races, and genders together to bond over a common goal: collecting pokémon. There have been hundreds of these unaccepted gatherings in a form of bar crawls, meetups, and parties given a game’s release, yet Pokémon Go Fest was Niantic’s biggest play — a sold-out, day-long official event for adult to 20,000 people. Fans came awaiting a possibility to constraint singular pokémon and attend in activities, culminating in a plea that would unleash some of a series’s mythological pokémon into a practical wilds. But as connectivity problems and in-game crashes done Pokémon Go unplayable for attendees, a day spiraled into a large-scale relate of a game’s beginning problems.

Pokémon Go Fest kicked off during 10AM, yet fans began to arrive in a early hours of a morning. Lines like dual twin snakes wrapped around possibly side of a park’s opening and trailed down a block. When a gates opened, a throng stretched, yawned, and solemnly trickled into a cordoned-off venue.

Inside a park, a festival was all-encompassing. Scattered opposite a lawn, still murky from surge a night before, were earthy towers designed to demeanour like pokéstops, in-game locations where players batch adult on items. A collection of vast monitors invited players to offshoot adult their phones and promote their gym battles, while others displayed stream stats on battles or tip players. On a north finish of a park stood 3 tents — one red, one blue, and one yellow — denoting a game’s teams: Valor, Instinct, and Mystic. Inside any tent were concessions, beanbags to call down on, and, many importantly, dozens of tables given with charging stations for mobile phones. From these 3 tents, guest had a perspective of a categorical stage, where a day’s announcements took place. The stage’s humongous speakers pumped a “uhn tiss uhn tiss” of general techno into a flourishing crowds.


Jack Chasteen was one of a festival’s guests. An 18-year-old from a south suburbs of Chicago, he won his tickets by a raffle hosted during a internal Sprint store. He’d done a agreement with a lady in line subsequent to him: given winners would accept dual tickets, they vowed to share if possibly of them won. Her sheet was a propitious number. “We were both dismayed and shaken,” he said. “I was jolt like we won.” He came alone a initial day, yet spent his morning assembly new players. Despite experiencing some teenager technical problems with a app, he was cheerful. “The game’s a bit wobbly. You get logged off. But we adore a diversion anyways.”

Chasteen nostalgically compared a tie issues during Pokémon Go Fest to a early days of a game’s release, when a servers frequently crashed underneath a large bucket of new players. “It’s kind of like a accessible sign of how it used to be,” he joked, “even yet those weren’t a best days.”

Kevin Diangkinay, too, trafficked to a festival alone. His friends couldn’t get time off work, yet he wasn’t endangered about drifting solo. “With Pokémon Go, we feel a tiny some-more connected,” he said. “Everyone’s here for a same goal.” Diangkinay pronounced he snagged his sheet online when they initial went on sale for $20, yet he knows others who paid as many as $400 by scalpers. “I didn’t wish to contend anything, yet that’s crazy. That’s double my moody here.”

Why would anybody compensate a 2,000 percent markup? “The FOMO is real,” pronounced Diangkinay.

Three adult players sat inside a Team Instinct tent. Ranging from ages 38 to 61, a organisation trafficked from Canada to attend a festival. They’ve all been personification given a game’s launch and were fervent to get their hands on one of a mythological birds, fabulous pokémon in a series. “Zapdos would be cool,” pronounced Vicki Ghabban, as she gestured to a pokémon’s escutcheon emblazoned on a Team Instinct table. But technical issues were apropos some-more common, and a contingency that they’d locate their pokémon seemed to lessen by a moment.

Nearby, a actor yelled “Heracross here!” and a tiny organisation of runners fast gelled into a mob, rolling toward a singular goal. There was a stroke to their movements as they flocked past, backpacks bouncing. But when they reached a spot, they all done a same unhappy frown, as if cued by an invisible maestro.

“It’s gone,” pronounced one lady in beating moments later.

“We missed it?” asked a male wistfully.

Another shook his head. “Damn, man.”

A second possibility came soon, as a Heracross spawned on a north finish of a park. But as a organisation of players attempted to locate it, their accounts began to crash, simply losing some-more than dual dozens catches. By a time a initial plea was about to start, usually before 11AM, some-more players began carrying problems. As a proud onstage horde talked about a events to come, a lady station in a throng with a hiker belted out “Fix a servers!” The intone was contagious, and some-more people assimilated in. As a promotional Pokémon Go video began to roll, tools of a throng chanted in unison: “Fix a game.”

When Niantic CEO John Hanke took a theatre shortly after, his acquire was a call of boos. Hanke started his acquire speech, yet stopped after usually a few words, quickly hesitating before he continued on to speak about a continue picking adult predictions of rain. “I know some of we guys have had difficulty removing logged on this morning,” he pronounced as a throng continued to bark in anger. “I wish to let we know we’re operative with a dungeon companies, ATT, Sprint, Verizon, perplexing to get that worked out. We’re operative on a diversion server to get that worked out.

“So we wish to ask we guys, greatfully know we’ve got a whole Niantic organisation operative opposite this, so greatfully be studious with us, okay?” Hanke did his best to convene a crowd, job out a families he’d seen during a event. But a atmosphere remained tense. A man’s voice boomed out above a rest: “Fix a game!”

“We’re operative on that,” Hanke replied. The CEO again attempted to pivot, acknowledging those who traveled. He speedy all attendees to gait themselves for a prolonged day. “This is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.

Reactions to Hanke’s accepting were mixed. After he left a stage, a organisation of players huddled together. “I do feel bad everybody started yelling during him,” pronounced one player. “I don’t,” countered another, who forked to a months of credentials Niantic had heading adult to a event. “I can’t even record in,” he resolved as he trekked divided to a Valor tent.

Early afternoon

Unfortunately for both players and Niantic, a problems were usually usually starting. Like so many others, by 11AM we was incompetent to get my diversion to work. The loading shade — a Tyranitar confronting off opposite a organisation of pokémon — became a informed steer on my phone. Even when we managed to record in, my diversion crashed a second we successfully prisoner a pokémon. When we circled around a park, players lurched hopelessly, as they struggled to record in or get their games to work properly. One lady shouted, “A weed thing! There’s another weed thing!” to her companion, and a lady circuitously shook her phone. “Oh my god, work!” she pronounced with irritation. The plea plodded to an end, and players collected around a categorical theatre once some-more for a results.

There was a cacophony between Niantic’s contented onstage horde and a throng itself. As she energetically asked, “How was that challenge?” she was met with a rumble of boos. It was painfully ungainly to watch — Niantic employees attempted to keep a conditions underneath control, while players became ever some-more agitated. The throng eventually diluted from a stage, and one raw lady walked divided jolt her head. “What a rubbish of a time,” she said.

The onstage presentations continued via a day, yet they were drowned out by boos and chants of “We can’t play.” The categorical theatre and a adjoining margin became something of a laughable city hall, a place where strangers collected to atmosphere their grievances, mouth-watering a undone acclaim of a crowd. “This is a failure!” yelled one guest. “This is a ripoff!” chimed in another.

Just past 12:30 in a afternoon, John Hanke sat onstage smiling and signing autographs. “Screw you, John!” yelled one male station nearby a fences on a stage’s left. His name is TJ Kosek, and he’s a 22-year-old who trafficked with his dual sisters and father from Ohio.

“Five and a half hours to get here,” he pronounced of their journey. The family arrived usually after 7AM and waited some-more than 3 hours to get by a entrance. Inside a park, Kosek pronounced he wasn’t means to play during all. “We were not given any kind of reason on what was happening,” he said. “It’s been a shitty time.” Kosek didn’t know if he and his family would hang around many longer. “We’ll see if [the game] starts loading by a subsequent eventuality [at 3PM]. If it doesn’t, we don’t know what we’ll do. We competence conduct out. It feels like a large ripoff. Tolls here, gas here, hotels, parking, nothing of that shit was cheap. Nor was profitable for a tickets here, that wasn’t inexpensive either.”

Kosek’s story is a common one. Many players, generally families, trafficked to be partial of a festivities, and they were a brew of irritated, discouraged, and angry. Many suspected there will be refunds during some indicate (which was another renouned intone during onstage presentations: “Refunds!”), yet a $20 sheet frequency creates adult for a cost of transport or hotels. Other players seemed to take a event’s failures in stride. Two organisation from Ohio, when asked about their experience, simply laughed. “We’ve been disappointed,” pronounced Will Allen. But they found that a knowledge fake a bizarre arrange of camaraderie. “We’re all pity a pain,” he pronounced of a people he’d met so far. “We’re not alone.”

Late afternoon

Some players chose to hang out a day — they were already there, after all — yet other people left in droves. As a line shaped to exit a park, another line still existed outward to get in. Festivalgoers continued to filter in good into a afternoon. Many didn’t know about a disaster they were watchful to enter, while others listened rumblings about a festival’s problems. “I have been removing a garland of tweets about people angry about a connectivity,” pronounced Will, an 11-year-old actor who flew in from Atlanta.

He waited in line with his mom for some-more than an hour and a half in hopes of throwing a mythological pokémon. Despite a widespread problems, he was carefree that he would be means to play. “But we know that in here, they’re perplexing to solve a issue.”

Julian Florence, a 29-year-old Chicago native, didn’t hear a sight about a problems after an hour of watchful in line. “I was kind of awaiting it, given there’s so many people out here personification a game,” he said. “Of march there’s gonna be some kind of server issues. we usually wish a diversion works for me. Looking brazen to removing in.”

Back inside a park, Niantic finally had some answers. The company’s CMO, Mike Quigley, told a throng that they identified a problems as three-fold: one was on a cellphone network provider side, and dual fell on a shoulders of Niantic. iPhone users were experiencing a pile-up bug, while players on all inclination had authentication problems. Quigley steady a news he delivered progressing to those who might have missed it: refunds would be provided, and players who successfully checked into a eventuality with their reserved QR codes would be credited $100 in in-game pokécoins, a practical banking that allows users to squeeze pokéballs, revives, and more. “We know this is not a day we had all envisioned,” he said. The radius for capturing special pokémon was extended to dual miles outward a park, and it would final by a weekend.

Niantic’s mea culpa calmed a crowd, during slightest a little. Instead of booing as Quigley exited a stage, one male yelled, “Thank we for trying!” As a throng diluted once more, an awkwardly on-the-nose strain filtered out from a speakers. “Together we can make it ‘til a end,” a carol repeated.

The hottest hours of a day passed, and news of refunds successfully widespread via a crowds. The mood gradually found a equilibrium. Finley Horner, a 22-year-old from Minnesota, pronounced a day’s problems were not wholly on Niantic. “I consider between those [cellular network problems and a refunds], they’re kind of doing all they can,” she said. “It’s not like they can compensate for everyone’s transport losses that they paid to come here. They can usually do so much.” Horner described her day as softened than anticipated. “I approaching it to be a dumpster glow right off a bat,” she said. “I would report this as a prohibited mess.”


Just before 5PM, Niantic was prepared to call it. It was dual hours progressing than expected, that was maybe a biggest indicator that a eventuality was strictly a disaster. All press interviews with Hanke were initial pushed, afterwards canceled for a day. In a matter to a sister site Polygon, a orator described a organisation as “horrified” by a day’s events and fervent to learn from their mistakes. The large poser plea teased for a event, a possibility to plea Lugia in a raid battle, felt as yet it played out many differently than intended. There wasn’t a large final event. Instead, everybody who had checked into a festival would get a Lugia in their account. Because Team Mystic collectively prisoner a most, Articuno was a initial mythological bird to beauty a game. The proclamation was met with cheers, yet players — notwithstanding being invited to sojourn in a park until 7PM — flooded by a gates and into a Chicago streets.

Niantic didn’t respond to additional questions about a festival for this article, yet it betrothed some-more information on a site soon.

In a hours that followed, a area around Grant Park remained a heart for Pokémon Go players. Walking on a sidewalks, we were still expected to get stranded Red Rover-style in a organisation of players with their faces slanted toward their screens.

The game’s problems, despite improved, persisted prolonged into a night. Just before 10PM, a organisation of during slightest 30 players collected on a path to salary a raid opposite Lugia. Again and again, they attempted to compete. And again and again, a players sighed and scowled in beating as their screens froze.

Pokémon Go Fest finished they approach Pokémon Go began: it was a mess, yet in a feverishness of a summer evening, a biggest fans couldn’t utterly move themselves to quit. Dozens of players, their faces bright by loading screens, continued to daub dutifully on their phones.

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