This article is part of our Personal Playthrough series.
There might not be a video game series I love more than Pokemon. I've played every main series game since the introduction of Pokemon Red and Blue. Hell, I've played nearly every spin-off of the treasured series, save for the Pokemon Ranger games (who thought it was a good idea to not get to battle with any of your Pokemon?) and I've loved each one.
So you can probably understand the utmost joy I had upon the release of Pokemon Go, the augmented reality mobile game that arrived in July of 2016 and proceeded to dominate headlines everywhere throughout the first few months of its infancy.
While the popularity of Pokemon Go naturally died off as the summer months progressed, I remained diligent in my pursuit to catch them all - rather catch them all while remaining in the confines of the United States of America. Through brutally mucky and cold winters and even more brutally warm summers, I trudged through the ever-changing Wisconsin weather, racking up kilometer after kilometer on my eggs and pouring over the Silph Road reddit page to learn new techniques and tricks. At some point, and I couldn't quite tell you when, Pokemon Go became more than just a game - it became a lifestyle.
So much so that on June 8, when Go-creators Niantic announced the first ever Pokemon Go Fest, which would take place in Chicago on July 22, I was practically beaming with happiness. While I am thankfully situated in a place that has a fairly active user base, I had mostly kept to myself throughout my Pokemon Go experience to this point, going on lengthy walks with just my like-minded fiancee all the while trying to avoid the now nails-on-chalkboard-esque question "You still play that game?" The thought of going to a massive event where I could share my love for the Pokemon franchise with 20,000 other people, all while playing the game I loved in a new city seemed like a dream straight from a fairy tale.
Even more, this event figured to be a way to reintroduce people to Pokemon Go who may have been turned off by the onslaught of connectivity issues that plagued the game upon its release. Selfishly, I also hoped this event would be a way to give my mother, who has struggled at times to grasp what an "esports event" might look like, a chance to dip her toes into the world that occupies my life on a 24/7 basis. So I set approximately 100 alarms (ok it was three) on the day of the ticket release, anxiously awaiting my chance at earning a way into the coveted event. I quickly scooped up four tickets, one for myself, my fiancee, my best friend who had strayed away from the game near the beginning of winter, and my mother, who had proudly told me she had made it level seven just days prior, so we could all enjoy the event together. I felt even more fortunate just minutes later, as it was announced tickets had sold out within six minutes.
As the days creeped by, I set goals for my traveling companions to help them better enjoy their time come Chicago. "XP", we all decided, was the most important resource to mine, as the many means to gain experience would eventually allow our party to catch the more difficult creatures easier. My fiancee, who begrudgingly became my companion on many late-night walking adventures earlier in the year, started to fall out favor with the game after hatching one too many Mantine upon the release of Generation 2. Her goal, sitting at level 27 at the time, was to reach level 30 before the event, giving her two weeks to grind away at the experience. My best friend, Dillon, who was heavily into the gym scene in his hometown, but who had gradually lost interest in the game alongside others around him, was given the task of going from level 24 to level 28. Alongside the level increases, he was also told to perfect his "curveball throw" which he had learned only days earlier could give a user a better chance at catching Pokemon. My mother, having joined the game just a few weeks prior, was tasked with making it to level 20, simply because I was fearful of how the more hardcore players would treat a would-be level 7 player. Each went to work on their task, and with a tangible goal in mind, it was clear the excitement for Chicago wasn't present in just me anymore, it was in all of us.
But as we made it to the final week before Chicago, tragedy struck. My grandpa, who only a week earlier had been admitted to the hospital for what felt like a routine procedure to remove built up fluids, passed away on Monday, July 17. It wasn't exactly unexpected if you follow the old adage that elderly couples tend to die close to one another, with my grandma having passed away in January. Still, it caught me by surprise.
I was heartbroken, to say the least. Since this piece is supposed to be about Pokemon Go (I know, I veered off that path long ago, but let's pretend I'm still trying) I'll save you from the grief I felt towards the death itself. Just know it was immense, particularly considering it meant I now would not have a grandparent able to celebrate with me at my wedding. But with the funeral scheduled for July 22, I was also sad to know I would be missing out on the event I never knew I desperately craved. If I'm being honest, it all felt so unfair. I wanted to share this event with my friends and my mother, and it was all taken from me. As more information regarding the Chicago event began to trickle out, including the guarantee of legendary Pokemon, I become less attached to the game. It just didn't feel worth it anymore.
Desperate to try and find a way for my fiancee, who may have been more heartbroken than me in regards to the death, and myself to still attempt to join in on the festivities in Chicago I called the helpline provided in the envelope given with the bracelets, to see if it was possible to bring in multiple phones for one guest. Reassured by a representative from Front Gate Tickets that we would be allowed to bring in three phones, so long as we had three corresponding bracelets, both my fiancee and I felt a twinge of relief for the first time in a week. Graciously, Dillon agreed to take one of our phones along, and we quickly set up a plan for the weekend. He would use one of the wristbands to take his girlfriend into the event, giving him another set of hands to catch the wide variety of Pokemon available, who would then log onto my account (being the higher level one, and therefore easier to catch things) while I would sell the remaining two tickets. He would then play with my fiancee's phone and his own.
Having heard stories of the tickets going for 10 times their value on eBay, I became intrigued at the possibility of reaping some sort of benefits from my utter devastation. Selfishly, I posted one of the wristbands on the site for $200. If I wasn't able to go, I was going to at least get something of value for the ticket. Immediately I became flooded with offers from people looking to attend. After some back and forth, I finally agreed to sell the wristband to Bryan, who agreed to pick up the item at Chicago. My fiancee, in her astute wisdom, suggested we hold onto the third wristband, just in case the Front Gate Ticket representative didn't know what they were talking about. Feeling guilty for inadvertently turning into a scalper, the game plan would be to give away the third and final ticket to a child or parent, so long as we didn't need it for ourselves. My motto at this point was "the more people that could flourish from my misery, the better". With a suitable plan in place, my fiancee and I put together a cheat sheet of sorts for Dillon to follow. Needing just Togetic, Feraligatr and Unknown to complete my regional Pokedex, I was intent on Dillon hatching any and all eggs, while simultaneously catching every Unknown and Heracross in site. My fiancee's directive was much simpler - do everything possible!
With our instruction manual typed up, a plan set in place, and our phones detached from our hands, all that was left was to mourn Saturday. Following the funeral, my fiancee and I returned home to read about how the Chicago event was progressing. We had gotten text updates from Dillon intermittently throughout the funeral, but not enough to put together the disaster that had befallen Chicago.
Dillon had been one of the lucky few to enter the event "on time", meaning he was able to slip into Grant Park at 11 a.m., a full two hours after the event officially opened. While my fiancee's phone was apparently good enough to open occasionally, his only managed to operate during the beginning and ending portion of the events. And even then, it was spotty at best, according to him. But that was all still better than the fate my account had to suffer. Having gotten to the entrance, Dillon attempted to walk through and pick up the three QR codes needed to active each our accounts, which would then unlock all of the goodies available to catch. However, it was there he would learn that the organizers had enacted a "one phone, per person" policy, meaning our promise from Front Gate Ticket had been dissolved. Following the "last resort" orders I had given Dillon the night prior, he took the QR code for himself and my fiancee, leaving my account high and dry. Proceeding to give away the wristband to a lucky father and his kid, my dreams of partaking in the ultimate Pokemon Go event had officially been dashed.
Frankly, I understand the reasoning behind it. I, like many others who might read this, had been fed up with spoofers and cheaters in a game that was built on the premise of exploring new places and physically walking to areas in the real world. I'm all for ensuring a fun and fair experience for the people that paid to attend. But it was still hard to have my hopes rejected once more.
To see my fellow Go Fest players also struggling to enjoy their time at the event was no solace whatsoever. I don't think you could have drawn up a worst case scenario for the first major Pokemon Go event. Between players unable to log-in, Niantic failing to provide enough food and drink stands to appease a disgruntled crowd of 20,000, not enough space and physical activities available to the players in the meantime, and a heavy emphasis on video content of a game that could not be played, the Chicago Pokemon Go event appeared to be the real life incarnation of the "this is fine" meme.
According to Dillon, many of the people there managed to pass the time by relaxing in the few pockets of shade provided in the park, with many openly suggesting they anticipated such a catastrophe to occur. I imagine I would have been frustrated were I at the park, but that didn't seem to be the sense given who he spoke to.
As the day dragged on and it became clearer the event could not be salvaged, I began to put my own misery aside to instead grieve for the people who had been able to attend the event. Especially someone like Bryan, who paid 10x the value of a regular ticket, but wouldn't get to participate in the event at all. It wasn't really a decision in my mind after all the misery that occurred that day, I wanted to have the chance to make someone feel just a bit better. I texted Bryan to let him know I would refund the payment, on the account that he literally couldn't participate. Having bought a Sprint phone earlier in the day in hopes of finally getting on the game (to no avail of course), the gesture seemed to be a welcome surprise for Bryan. Feeling like I had done my good deed for the day, I gave my phone to my fiancee and settled into a nap around 3 p.m. central time. What I awoke to was a scenario I could never have imagined early Saturday morning.
Shortly after I dozed off, Niantic announced they would be refunding everyone their tickets, as well as giving $100 worth of Pokecoins (the in game currency) and a free legendary, Lugia, to all who attended. Great for someone like Dillon, who managed to check into the event, but bad for Bryan, who still had yet to actually load the game. On par with the course, it was my fiancee, not Niantic or any other officials, who broke the good news to Dillon, as it quickly became apparent that communication from the developers was brazenly lacking. Hoping to hide me from even more desolation, (as I, too, wouldn't have been able to receive the rewards) my fiancee opted to keep the free Lugia and coins a secret for a while after I awoke, dutifully breaking down all the other mishaps that occurred while I slept. It was only later she would break the news to me. But by then, information was released (again, not to the entire Grant Park) that the event had extended out two miles past Grant Park, freeing up enough cell service for the majority of the remaining participants to explore Chicago with game in hand. It was then that we contacted Bryan once again, to see if he had been able to log in. If he hadn't, it meant I could grab the QR code and potentially attend the event on Sunday, which had been extended thanks to the Go Fest misfortune.
Not wanting to get my hopes up anymore, I braced for the worst case scenario. Thankfully (for me) Bryan had been unable to sign in the entire day, and was willing to hand off the code as he was forced to fly out the following morning. And just like that, my fiancee and I began preparing for a drive to Chicago.
Wanting to get there as early as possible, we left at 4:30 in the morning. Factoring in filling up for gas, and any potential pit stops, we planned to make it to our pre-purchased parking spot by 8:00 a.m. Arriving just after our designated time, we quickly gathered our things, including two battery packs, a ton of sunscreen, two bottles of water, and marched forward to our designated meeting spot with Dillon.
I opened up my Pokemon Go app near Grant Park, and couldn't believe my eyes. Chansey, Porygon, Heracross, Unknown. More Machop than you could count. For someone who has currently caught 1,130 Pidgey, the surrounding areas of Grant Park may as well have looked like Christmas in July. But on cue, my iPhone 6 crashed. It would become a troubling trend throughout the next two hours. Undeterred, our gang of three marched onwards to our first raid, one of the legendary birds, Articuno, which just so happened to be placed on Cloud Gate, otherwise known as the "Bean". Despite being fairly early in the morning, Pokemon Go players were already out in full force, with upper wards of 200 players congregating near the reflective sculpture. That sparked ugly problem No. 2 - spotty cellphone reception.
Despite all of our research the day prior, our group of three hadn't figured out yet to avoid the large pools of players in order to actually play the game. We tried for 20 minutes to get into the raid, with only my fiancee making it to the actual raid itself before her phone also crapped out. Frustrated, we walked away from the raid, having burned through one raid pass without any of us actually battling. On the advice of reddit user reneritchie we also used Lucky Eggs to take advantage of the new Pokestop spins, in hopes of gaining more experience, but that ended up causing more damage than good.
By the time an hour had passed, my phone had crashed 13 times, and I was only able to use five minutes of my two half hour eggs. As I would learn throughout the day, the additional swirls and item signifiers of a Lucky Egg would eventually wear down my phone, rendering it useless until restarting. A second raid, this time a Tyranitar, near the Art Museum netted us our first "successful" capture, but each one of us was kicked out of the raid at one point during the battle, only to come back to a nearly finished off Pokemon. While I enjoyed the perks of full 20 people battles, the raid victory felt a little bit hollow given I didn't actually partake in it.
We continued walking down the side of Grant Park, as we were unable to get into the actual park itself thanks to event staff taking everything down. As we closed in near Roosevelt University, we stumbled upon our first Lugia raid of the day, and immediately settled in to try and capture the mythical Pokemon. Unfortunately hundreds of more people had the same idea, and for the next 45 minutes, a pack of desperate Pokemon trainers attempted to join the raid, to no avail. While I had given up rather quickly - my phone had crashed 21 times by that point - my fiancee and Dillon tried in earnest to get into the raid. They even set up a private group raid with a handful of the surrounding members (no small feat for my normally introverted fiancee), but it wouldn't work. Each of us left the area despondent, quietly bickering with one another on what to do next.
With the clock ticking closer to 11, it was decided we would accompany Dillon to his parking garage a few blocks into the city, as he had to leave our excursion early. With my phone having now clocked in 26 crashes in a two hour span, I was frustrated, tired and hungry, with my fiancee equally frustrated at her inability to catch any of the legendaries herself. It seemed like a recipe for pre-marital disaster. However, as we continued to wander further into the city, a magical thing happened - both of our phones began to work! As we bid Dillon adieu, we decided to catch a quick bite to eat and then scour the inner blocks of Chicago in hopes of utilizing this newfound success.
I can't begin to describe the anticipation I felt having arrived at the first legendary raid within the city. It had been a roller-coaster of emotions throughout the weekend, and frankly, I didn't know if I could take one more dip down. There certainly didn't appear to be any less people within the area, as pockets of ravenous Pokemon fans dotted each side of the intersection. So it was with some happiness, but mostly relief that I finally managed to get into the battle countdown of the raid, the first time since the Tyranitar two hours ago that I pulled off the feat. Even better, I managed to stay in the raid the entire time, mainly swiping left and right with my Blissey and Vaproeons (yes, I was that guy) to avoid any attacks. At that point, I hadn't yet figured out it was 100 percent catch rate, but thankfully a fellow trainer reminded everyone in the vicinity to "Pinap the bitch", (a Pinap berry is used to gain additional candy upon capture, but does nothing to improve the odds of catching) confirming the light green ring around my Articuno was no illusion. With the catch complete, I turned to look for my fiancee, who needed to walk across the street (another theme of the day) for her phone to register where the Pokegym was hidden. She too seemed to be feeling a mixture of relief and happiness, so with little trepidation I crossed the street to see that she also had caught Articuno, but failed to heed the "polite" announcement that I could have sworn would have been heard from across the street.
And thus began perhaps some of the most fun I had ever had playing Pokemon Go, as together we began roaming for raids by chatting with other players or simply wandering around the streets of Chicago. If someone was strong enough to throw a stone over the many hotels and other skyscrapers littering the streets, they would have been easily able to hit a legendary raid on each toss, as more seemed to pop up by the minute. For the next eight hours, I would join over 15 raids, enjoying the pleasures of each raid always having 20 players (thanks spoofers!) and even managing to participate in the battle itself. While my phone would continue to crash, it wasn't nearly as frequent, and never to the point that I couldn't participate in the fun. At each stop, I would chat up the other people, joyously watching as the raid counter would whittle down without fear of being kicked out. I would see fellow players literally throw their phones in the air over a capture of a perfect Tyranitar, see others scroll through pages of their caught Articunos and Lugias, and overhear on more than one occasion some whisper "I can't believe this is real". This is how I always imagined the first Pokemon Go event to be.
As the day began to wind down, we wandered closer to Grant Park to finish a few of the remaining legendary raids near us. While I still could not play the game and have a Lucky Egg active at the same time, my fiancee had been able to play continuously with the experience boost for the majority of the day. She had easily blitzed up to level 30 at that point, as we had stopped to catch nearly every Pokemon on the way to whatever raid we would attend. Despite few people being near the raids themselves, we never had any trouble finding 20 people to whittle the remaining Articunos and Lugias down. I felt a twinge of regret by that point, utilizing what had been clearly become a spoofer's honeypot while other honest players were forced to struggle away at their own nearby raids. Still, the day felt like a success, and far be it from me to judge the ethics of a game I had long since become too exhausted to supervise.
As we walked past Grant Park for the final time, I couldn't help but think about the oodles of emotions that flooded through those poorly spaced gates in the past 48 hours. Chalk it up to my own sentimentality, having ridden a wave of my own feelings, but it all felt so irresponsible. I'm sure I wasn't the only one to have looked forward to this event upon booking it, but yet here I was, taking advantage of a situation that truthfully should have never happened to begin with. In the coming days, Niantic would attempt to appease the fans, doling out coins, free legendaries and a plethora of in-game bonuses to cauterize the beatings it took throughout the weekend, but I can't imagine it was entirely worth it for those who could not stick around Sunday in Chicago. The happiness and camaraderie I got to feel Sunday was everything I had dreamed it would be - yet it will be forever singed into my head the joy that was robbed from others.
If there's one thing that I hope can be taken away from this event for the future, it would be an improvement of communication. How many other people would have made the necessary arrangements, had they known earlier in the day the event would have been extended into Sunday? How many people would have tried to move into the inner depths of Chicago had it been made clear to everyone in the far corners of the park to take refuge in the skyscrapers? Were it not for the Silph Road reddit and its dutiful reporting, I would have never had the chance to even partake in this event, having given up all hope of attending early Saturday. How many people didn't even know of the resource, and instead were forced to find information from many of the dreadful click-bait sites, or worse yet, Niantic's own Twitter page/help line?
It's these questions that I can't help but get rid of, despite enjoying the fruits of a successful venture to Chicago. I came away with a sense of communio (shoutout to St. Norbert College) that I never knew was possible. But how many others could have felt the same thing?
Editor's note: the names listed in this article have been changed for no particular reason