Report from Louisiana: Pokemon Go is Still a Thing

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  Last week Mark Rougeau at Rolling Stone wrote about the “hardcore” Pokemon Go players in the Los Angeles area. A casual player, Rougeau found himself in the world of hardcore Pokemon Go players after a post he made on Reddit begrudging gym turnover in his neighborhood brought him more attention than he intended.

Many are under the impression that Pokemon Go died after the initial flurry of play when the game launched but one look at ticket sales at the embarrassingly epic fail of Pokemon GoFest in Chicago this weekend would belie that.  Thousands of players descended on Grant Park in Chicago hoping to catch rare Pokemon and capitalize on special bonuses released just for the event.  Sadly, Niantic, did not plan well. Servers crashed, players were shut out, and the CEO of Niantic was booed from the stage when he came out to apologize for the problems.  Epic fail.

Scoff if you will, but some of these players came from all over the country and even from other countries. They bought airline tickets, hotel rooms, planned vacations, only to be stuck in long lines waiting to get into Grant Park and then shut out of the game once they got in.

By mid-afternoon Niantic was refunding ticket prices due to the “degraded experience” and giving players $100 in Pokecoins which can be used in the store to purchase a variety of items such as Pokeballs, extra storage, and incubators for hatching those eggs you get from Pokestops.  When problems persisted and the live stream wouldn’t even work, Niantic finally released two of the “legendary birds” in Chicago and then the rest of the country to appease wildly disgruntled players who were burning up social media in disgust and frustration with the mismanagement and poor planning.

Pokemon Go players are indeed hardcore.  The casual players have moved on but the ones that are left are serious:

When Pokemon Go launched in July 2016, it became an instant cultural phenomenon. It seemed like everyone was playing it, and if you weren’t playing, you were marveling about how it had caused the world to go crazy. Mainstream news outlets covered the “Pokemon Go craze” while players gathered in the hundreds and thousands to hunt for rare Pokemon in large cities like Los Angeles, Seattle and New York.

By the fall, the world appeared to have moved on, their precious Pokemon trapped forever in Poke Balls that would never again be tossed.

There are people that have become mini-celebrities over this game, famous on YouTube or famous in their own community for hitting top levels and holding down gyms for extended periods of time.

Intense rivalries can sometimes arise between teams (Mystic, Valor, Instinct) in areas and most players are hardcore angry about “spoofers” or cheaters.

I’m sort of a casual player of the game and have been since its launch (level 34, Mystic); most players I’ve met watched the show when they were kids and collected cards. I’m too old for that but I did buy cards for my son who collected them. He’s twenty-five now and he plays the game, too.  We play it together and it’s been a sort of fun thing we do together. Even Rougeau notes that aspect of it:

In a game with players as dedicated as those who love Pokemon Go, it’s inevitable that some ugliness will emerge. But many of the players I spoke with also said Pokemon Go is their social life. It’s how they met their friends. It takes them to places they’d never normally go, and they’ve gone on adventures that they cherish.

After Niantic’s release of the “legendary birds,” my son and I spent the day with 50 or 60 local players in a Telegram call-out group running from gym to gym to battle and collect these pixelated creatures.  It’s crazy, I know. But somehow it’s fun, too.  From a cultural aspect it is simply amazing to me to see literally 50 or 60 people (just in OUR group, there are others) descend from locations all over the city on one gym to battle a Lugia or Articuno.  It’s intense. Are there better things we could be doing?  Maybe. Are there worse things we could be doing?  Definitely.  Is it any different than the guy going out to play golf or the lady going out to shop garage sales? Nope.

The people I’ve met on these runs are great people and are of all ages and professions. There’s a chef, a marine, a commercial fisherman, a landscape man, a couple of stay-at-home moms, a teacher…it’s not just pimply kids that live in mom’s basement.

And it’s fun.

Niantic has invested a lot in this game and has worked hard to keep it engaging for players with special events, a slow rollout of Pokemon creatures, various challenges and now the epic fail event. Hopefully they will figure out what went wrong with the Chicago event and do better next time. Meanwhile, people are still spending money to play the game. You can play for free but I doubt you’ll find a hardcore player who hasn’t bought an incubator or some Pokeballs in the shop.

As the initial infatuation with the game has faded, the hardcore players remain and Niantic is cashing in. The subculture of players is huge and they are serious.

This isn’t about a bunch of pixels to them.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.