If you saw our updates on Facebook and Twitter Saturday, you know some things went down. But here is our review of the entirety of Pokémon GO Fest.
It started out like a well oiled machine. From the bag check and security, to the gates that scanned your wristband, the event was running smoothly. Instructions on activating the QR codes were clear and constantly announced. There were water stations and ATM's throughout the park. The team lounges were a much needed escape from the sun, and showed the progress of each challenge.
Areas spawning specific types of Pokémon were well marked. Photo ops were everywhere. There were charging stations, and places to hook up your phone to a big screen so everyone could see you battle a gym.
People called out the locations of Heracross and Unown to help each other out. Trainers were smiling and complimenting each other's catchy Poké-related T-shirts. The excitement and camaraderie from that cheesy video was actually happening.
Soon after, things began to break down. As more and more people swarmed into the park, it quickly became clear that there would be issues. The game started to lag. Trying to fight a gym without the app crashing was difficult. Eventually it became unplayable for many trainers, myself included. I went hours without being able to log on at all. When I finally did, I could maybe catch one Pokémon before it crashed again.
By the time opening ceremonies began at 10:30, people were mad. They booed Niantic CEO John Hanke as he came on stage.
Chants of "servers," "fix the game," and "we can't play" could be heard throughout the day. To his credit, he acknowledged the issues and boos instead of just going through with his spiel. And after the opening ceremonies, he stayed on the side of the stage for hours, talking to attendees and signing autographs.
(Niantic CEO John Hanke, bottom left)
The fest was obviously going horribly wrong. Trainers came from across the country and beyond, and could hardly even catch anything. But in terms of trying to rectify the situation, Niantic did what it could for the players affected. They announced updates throughout the day about the three problems they identified (authentication issues, crashing, and network issues with cell carriers). They tried to lessen the load by stopping lure visualizations and extending the fest to a 2 mile radius around Grant Park. This might have helped, but not nearly enough for the 20,000 people trying to use the app.
Once it became clear that there was no way to salvage the fest, Niantic announced they would give attendees a full refund and $100 in Pokécoins. After relieved cheers from the crowd, the mood inside Grant Park got considerably better. It still wasn't great, but the anger and frustration was largely replaced by disappointment and reluctant resignation.
When they announced that everyone at the fest would receive Lugia for free in their accounts, the crowd went wild. It wasn't ideal, but it was the resolution most players needed.
Niantic also announced that because team Mystic (somehow) contributed the most to the challenges, Articuno would be the next legendary Pokémon released. Furthermore, attendees were able to get it pretty easily. If the app crashed in the middle of a raid, or even just as you were about to defeat Articuno, it wasn't a waste. Once trainers logged back on and clicked on the gym they would be taken to the win screen. Then they got a guaranteed catch on the first Pokéball to hit that pesky bird. Now that didn't help when the app crashed on Charizard or Tyranitar raids, but the legendary Pokémon were most people's priorities anyway.
As a local Chicagoan it meant I had only wasted a chunk of my day trying to play, but I would still get everything I came for. For the trainers who had traveled all the way from Toronto, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and beyond, was it enough?
Overall, the fest itself was a legendary fail. For a large amount of attendees, the game was unplayable. Others had more success catching Pokémon, but few were able to get through a raid or gym battle. As the early minutes proved, this event had the potential to be something amazing. Maybe Niantic will be able to do better in the future. Maybe they'll find success in a scaled back version. Or maybe it was just too ambitious to ever work. On August 5th the first Pokémon GO Safari Zone event will take place in Denmark. Time will tell how well that does.
TL;DR: It started out with all the teams excited and ready to catch 'em all.
After a lot of frustration and failures, it ended with Niantic pulling together what was left and holding on tight.