How Pokémon Go Fest 2020 is going virtual this July

A game that encourages you to go outside and meander around while staring at your phone shouldn’t really be compatible with 2020. Yet Niantic have found ways to quickly adapt the game’s many parameters, reducing the grind, introducing new ways to take part in its activities remotely and keeping people engaged.

Now it’s time to try and pull off the same trick, but for their large scale community events, the Pokémon Go Fest. Traditionally held in the parks of cities all around the world, mass gatherings of people are obviously going to be off limits through 2020 and into 2021 – well, unless you’re in New Zealand – but that’s just given Niantic the push to make the next Pokémon Go Fest a global event that anyone and everyone can take part in, no matter where they are.

A two day experience from 25-26th July, Pokémon Go Fest is going virtual.

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So how exactly will it work? Well, it’s still a paid event, for one thing, with tickets going live today and costing $14.99. However, unlike the real world gatherings, there’s no limit to the number of tickets on offer. Niantic won’t be putting on their Scrooge McDuck swimsuits from the revenues, however, pledging that all ticket sales will be donated to help promote diversity and support anti-racist movements that have gathered real momentum over the last month. The minimum commitment will be $5 million, with half of that going to fund Black creators on Niantic platforms, and the other half going to non-profit organisations. Alongside their renewed efforts to foster greater diversity within the company, it’s great to see.

The Go Fest weekend will be paid, but the game will be building up to it in the three weeks before the event with activities that everyone can take part in. Professor Willow will pop up again with a quest to try and uncover a new mythical Pokémon, with weekly research challenges that all players (regardless of buying a ticket) can take part in over the coming weeks to unlock more and more Pokémon for the Go Fest weekend.

Then, when Saturday 25th July rolls around, everyone that purchases a virtual ticket can then take part in the event’s activities, leading up to the mythical Pokémon’s reveal on the Sunday and the chance to catch it. Everything will take place between 10AM and 8PM local time, so you won’t have to wander around in pitch darkness.

These activities work on a number of levels. Where Niantic would construct actual Pokémon habitats to visit and explore with specific Pokémon tied to the location, they’re shifting to a rotating system where each habitat and set of Pokémon will change through the day on an hourly basis. There’s going to be 75 Pokémon available through the event, most of which have already been released into the game, but with the event giving Niantic an excuse to highlight some of the more sought after and regional exclusive creatures. At the same time there are global challenges, such as to send gifts to friends that give special bonuses, individual rewards and in-game stickers.

And throughout the weekend, the physical team lounges have been transformed into websites where players can congregate and chat about the event as it’s going on. That will also go hand with the Niantic Social update coming to the game this month, which will let you see friends who are also online playing Pokémon Go in the new unified framework that the company are adding to all their games.

A lot of the event will be building off the changes and tweaks that Niantic quickly added to the game as lockdowns came into effect around the world, helping the initial dip in game activity to quickly rebound as it adapted to restrictions being imposed on player movements. That ranged from lowering the step count thresholds for certain in-game challenges and extending the distance with which you can interact with gyms and stops, to adding the Remote Raid Pass, so that you don’t have to head out to battle. Fortuitously, the launch of the Battle League head-to-head multiplayer mode was back in January.

However, the biggest thing missing from the virtual event is the irreplaceable feeling of actually being there – ironic for an augmented reality game. Sure, there’s the team lounges online, the timed habitats and the rare Pokémon to catch, but there simply won’t be the same buzz to it, especially for younger fans. So Niantic are helping you to add some of the physical trappings with the Go Fest Print at Home kit, featuring printable accessories and decorations for you to craft at home.

It’s safe to say that 2020 is not exactly going as Niantic – or anyone – might have planned it to but while the challenge of managing a range of activity-based augmented reality games might have seemed almost insurmountable earlier this year, it’s truly impressive how quickly they’ve adapted. I can even see this being good for the game’s future, with virtual tickets helping to… augment Go Fest even when they’re possible to hold in the real world once more, making the game more inclusive than ever.

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