2020 has caused tumultuous changes to our daily lives, but one of the most noticeable on a personal level has been the lack, or the dulling, of big events. Birthdays and wedding anniversaries have passed by without much of the circumstance we had planned, and similarly gigs, conferences and festivals have come crashing to a halt in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. Pokêmon Go Fest, an event that aims to bring Niantic’s global community together, seemed destined to be another victim of 2020, but instead their solution proved to be both elegant, and a whole lot of fun.
Pokémon Go Fest 2020 had to take a more… indoorsy approach last weekend. Gone were the physical even spaces to visit in favour of virtual team lounges and streams, gone were the geo-locked Pokémon spawns in favour of scheduled spawns throughout the day, but there was still plenty to do and play with through the two days.
Personally, some parts of it were a little more successful than others. I didn’t really feel like engaging much with the virtual team lounges, and didn’t really keep tabs on the schedule for when Pokémon of different types would be appearing. Instead, my approach was a little more casual, dipping in most hours throughout the day to see what was popping up on my screen.
You see, the weather on Saturday was absolutely shocking. No way was I going to go out in that rainy hell, and with a PokéStop right outside my front door and not one, not two, but three Gyms that I can reach depending on how wonky my phone’s GPS feels like being, I can get plenty of Pokémon Go action from my living room.
Then Team Go Rocket invaded on Sunday, taking over dozens of PokéStops, flying around in their big dumb balloons. I hadn’t quite finished the initial set of Pokémon catching goals from the first day, but now I had a ton of battling to do and a new quest line to follow. With the weather improved, I decided an extra long walk was in order for the afternoon, to put an end to their menace.
Well, I didn’t quite manage it on Sunday, that string of quests thankfully continued through for me to carry on with over the following days, letting me put an end to Team Rocket’s latest menace yesterday afternoon.
Go Fest in the Leighton household
With two young boys in the house, and one eternally hopeful dad, Pokêmon Go Fest hit its target audience right in the Meowth with the Leighton family. After months of home schooling and short walks around the local area, Pokémon Go Fest managed to feel like a real and tangible event, and one that we could still enjoy without having to make the trip to Liverpool’s cancelled event.
We were able to do the bulk of our Pokémon catching from the comfort of our living room for a start. The three PokéStops we can spin meant we got to put Team Go Rocket back in their place many times across the weekend, and their low-level grunts gave my youngest son little trouble as he tapped away at the screen of my phone. Tying that in to then capturing and purifying their poor Poké-lackeys gave us an immediate start to bolstering our own roster of pocket monsters, and the limited opportunities to capture them made for some nail-biting encounters.
Armed with some incense, the Pokémon Go Fest weekend was also a fantastic time to capture new, and previously unseen Pokémon. Creature after creature appeared around us, and further cries of delight were brought when it turned out that Squirtle, Charmander, Bulbasaur and Pikachu were wearing the same Pikachu cap the boys were. I find occasionally that Pokémon Go can feel a little run-of-the-mill, facing you with an army of eternally dull Pidgeys to capture and little else, but here it felt vibrant, alive and exciting. It showcased the absolute best of Pokémon Go, and it’s served to reawaken a love for it in our household.
Beyond that, the structural targets and activities of the weekend kept things flowing along nicely, and when it was time to pop out for a walk, Pokémon Go directed us towards the local gyms on a route we otherwise wouldn’t have taken. It reminded me of the sense of discovery and excitement that the game had when it originally launched and, with other friends playing along at home or in their local towns, there was still the sense of camaraderie and community that the Go Fest would have brought anyway.
I hope that it becomes a regular feature of the Pokémon Go Fest calendar, even when things – hopefully – return to normal. It’s never going to capture the feeling of being in a huge crowd of Pokémon Go fans, but equally, that idea seems pretty alien right now. In a world of social distancing and household bubbles, Pokémon Go Fest brought an event to 2020 that felt fun, vibrant and – all importantly – inclusive, and may even have done more for the game’s community than the traditional event could have ever achieved.
The most important thing, obviously, is that the Pokémon Go Fest got us playing the game again, and I’ve kept playing it through the week. For some reason, while I’ve been going for daily walks through the lockdown to make sure that I’m getting out of the house and doing something, often tying in with a trip to the shops or some other chores I need to do, I’d never really decided to turn Pokémon Go on and leave it running in my pocket. A lot of game innovations passed me by like Adventure Sync running in the background, or the new Battle League. Even raiding is something that I’ve barely interacted with since its introduction a few years ago.
I don’t quite know yet if it will truly stick, but this certainly feels like a template for Niantic to continue to use and evolve (geddit?) for future Pokémon Go Fests. Even if the city park takeovers return in 2021 or 2022 – seriously, who knows at this point? – they should absolutely run alongside a virtual event of some sort. This got me interested, it got me engaged, and it felt open to anyone and everyone.