Pokemon GO Fest wallows in the irony of the game’s one-year anniversary


Pokemon GO Fest just ended, and it was steeped in server crashes, poor communication, and angry fans. Wait, that sounds like the game’s launch.

If you happened to mosey by Grant Park in Chicago on Saturday, you might have seen an impressive sight. More than 20,000 Pokemon GO players wandered the park, attempting to catch Pokemon, participate in raids and gym battles, and shared their love of the game throughout the day as a part of Pokemon GO Fest. Pokemon GO Fest celebrated the game’s one-year anniversary by selling tickets to players for this premiere Pokemon GO experience, which was meant to include increased Pokemon spawns, in-game bonuses, and potentially a legendary Pokemon.

Technically, it included all of those things. But in a twist that will ring familiar to anyone who played the game at launch, server issues utterly demolished any hope at having fun people may have had.

The problems began rather early, as reported by Andrew Reiner of Game Informer. His tweets chronicle a sad tale of disappointed and frustrated players, supplemented by occasional announcements from the most boring livestream imaginable. The livestream was meant to follow the event and bring some excitement to those of us at home making due with supporting from the sidelines to meet bonus challenge goals in-game, but most of the time it was just a static image with bad music. For nine hours.

Reiner’s tweet above is nowhere near the only example of players who could not connect. According to numerous videos and reports from Pokemon GO Fest, barely anyone could play the game for any meaningful period of time. It just kept crashing. Players could see all the rare spawns and fun things to do around them, but the minute they tried to catch an elusive Unown or do anything else, the game just decided it was done.

This resulted in some, er, anger:

They’re chanting “fix the game,” if you can’t tell.

Niantic did not, likely because they could not, likely because the problems were once again the result of inadequate preparation for so many people trying to do the same thing on their phones at the same time. AKA: it was the exact same thing that happened when Pokemon GO first launched, and servers couldn’t handle the stress. Not only were 20,000 people playing in Grant Park, but worldwide, more people were playing than usual, trying to cash in on other event bonuses. Though unconfirmed with screenshots or large numbers, I’ve had several friends report server issues today at locations far removed from Grant Park.

(Reiner did, eventually, get an Unown).

Just from watching the livestream, I could tell things were a mess, and Niantic exacerbated the problem with their usual poor communication. With all the grace and savvy of “minor text fixes,” Niantic CMO Mike Quigley stepped onstage an hour before the event was scheduled to end to tell everyone to try standing near a tower, or connecting to WiFi. Yeah, thanks.

In the end, there was some compensation. Players who bought tickets will receive $100 in PokeCoins and a full ticket refund. Everyone who was at the event received the legendary Pokemon Lugia, and Lugia was also unlocked as a raid boss worldwide, with Articuno (go #TeamMystic) following close on its heels. But that’s not going to be satisfactory for those players who paid hundreds of dollars in airfare and paid for hotel rooms to be at this event.

Watching all of this unfold from home was just…painful. Pokemon GO peaked in its first few weeks, and while the game remains highly popular, the huge numbers of players quickly tapered off in the game’s early days, with bugs, server issues, and poor communication oft cited as factors in the decreased popularity. It’s terribly sad to see an event intended to spark a renewed interest in the game on its anniversary go so far south. Even if players are adequately compensated and Lugia ends up being amazing and fun, the bad publicity and soured impressions from Pokemon GO Fest will linger in peoples’ minds.

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If you’re not in Chicago and love Pokemon GO, though, now’s an amazing time to play it. All the rewards unlocked by the folks at Pokemon GO Fest will be in effect for 48 hours, and Lugia is on its way. Cash in over the weekend if you can, but beware of any server issues lingering from the festival.