By Quentin H. / August 1st, 2022
Ever since Pokémon GO was first released worldwide in 2016 for iOS and Android platforms, it exceeded 500 million downloads within the first two months. One of the hallmarks of Pokémon GO and its development company, Niantic, Inc., is the Pokémon GO Fest. These events give trainers an opportunity to meet up in real life to trade Pokémon, battle each other, participate in raids, and more while surrounded by everything Pokémon.
During this year’s Pokémon GO Fest celebration in Seattle, I met up with Humberto Kam, Niantic, Inc.’s director for Global Live Events. During our interview, we talked about everything from how a venue is selected for a Pokémon GO Fest, what we can expect for the Finale event taking place in August 2022, to his favorite Pokémon and more.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H., with Operation Rainfall, and you are?
Humberto Kam: I am Humberto Kam, the director of live events for Pokémon GO.
OR: We are in Seattle today on Day 2 of the Pokémon GO Fest 2022: Seattle. This is the first in-person event that y’all have had since the pandemic started.
HK: We’ve had a couple of events – a Pokémon GO Safari Zone: Seville earlier in the year, and we had an event in England last year as well. But this is our first [Pokémon] GO Fest since the pandemic. 2019 was the last time we had an in-person Pokémon GO Fest. So, this year, we’re packed with a global event, including Berlin, Seattle, and Sapporo – we had Berlin a couple of weeks back.
OR: What has it been like to put together this event since the pandemic started?
HK: Honestly, it has been a lot of fun. Just getting out, flexing those muscles again, figuring out ‘[h]ow do we create a physical experience for people, [how] do we enhance the game experience?’, which is obviously at the center of things. My background is in inspirational design, so it was really great to marry those two again. When we pivoted to virtual events in the past two years, we had a lot of great learnings, and we found that we were able to reach so many more players than those that are able to come to the physical locations.
For this year, we decided ‘You know what? Let’s take the best of the pandemic, which was the global event, and bring back the live events.’ So, we have a five-part series, starting off with the global event in June, then Berlin and now Seattle, then we’re going to have Sapporo in a couple of weeks and then a finale event that is brand new this year to cap things off on August 27.
“[We’re] trying to give the trainers who are so into the game a reason to come celebrate with us.”
OR: How do you go about designing one of these events for in-person gameplay?
HK: We have a game design team, and they really look at what Pokémon are desirable for our audience, what they are looking for that they might not be able to have available because they are regional Pokémon. We also love to see what big Pokémon – whether it is a mythical or a legendary – that they can bring around. And this year, we introduced the Ultra Beasts into the game. So, at that point, we started to build the event around that.
We created an experience, and then married it with a physical place. We figured out what kind of habitats we can create, and then started to work with artists to create these amazing physical environments for people to explore and have fun and take photos with Pokémon in – these whimsical environments that can only happen at a GO Fest event.
OR: Now this Pokémon GO Fest is split into two sections – the morning session right now is the Park experience, and this afternoon is the City experience. Can you talk a little about that?
HK: Honestly, one of our goals as a company is to get people to explore. We’re looking at the Seattle Center – we want to make sure that the number of people here have a great experience. And so maybe we can take a little bit of time to break up the group into two, or break the experience up into two, and have people go out and explore. There are so many players who aren’t from Seattle, so let’s expand it and bring the game out into the city.
OR: If you go out, you will see that there are different biomes in the area. How did you go about designing and building each individual biome?
HK: So, we started off with a theme, for example – the Electric Garden. We wanted to know which Pokémon would be a good fit for that. Then we worked with our agency to actually create pieces that compliment what is already there. When you look at the Seattle Center, at the Electric Garden installation, it’s already there and it is so fantastic and spectacular that it became a natural centerpiece for us to enhance and build around.
For example, the fountain here is such an iconic part of the experience for visitors in the Seattle Center, and we thought “how can we make it a little different, a little special for visitors who come here for the first time or for visitors who come here weekly to play?’ And that’s where the idea came to turn it into an oasis- we have a home for Pokémon like Lapras to live in.
OR: There is a Pokémon here that has been catching a little bit of buzz online – the Snorlax with a cowboy hat. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
HK: We always try to find something a little special that is unique to the events. And when it came to this assignment, it was funny – we had a hundo Snorlax, perfect stats, spawn in Berlin. And literally, we saw people running out and [we] were like ‘What is going on?’ And someone just yelled ‘HUNDO SNORLAX WITH A COWBOY HAT!’ We were done here; we did our job. *laughs* But there were ways to take something really loved, like a Snorlax, and find ways to get people excited about it. He is loved as he is – but [we love] any way we can find a new way to present him to our trainers.
OR: Panpour, Pansage, and Pansear – those are regional Pokémon that are appearing at this Pokémon GO Fest. I know, because I just caught them. Were you involved in helping to choose those regionals to appear?
HK: I personally wasn’t, but the game designers look to see what we can bring to the event. They also look at which shinies might make a good debut at an event. That’s when we said “okay, let’s bring all of them here and let’s introduce, specifically here, the Panpour shiny.” So, we had a Panpour shiny debut.
[We’re] trying to give the trainers who are so into the game a reason to come celebrate with us. But yeah, the game designers are always so passionate and dig into the data and look into the different chunks of what is popular or what hasn’t made an appearance in a certain region for a long time – just to make sure that the experience is fresh and exciting for everybody.
OR: As a practical matter, how far back did you have to start planning this event?
HK: Well, after this, we are going to take a big, long nap and then plunge into 2023, if that gives you an idea. Honestly, it is a rather large effort – everything from game designers to our ops team to if we have to design a new feature, working with the different vendors. Things take a little bit of time [and] they ramp up significantly over the last six months. We are taking copious notes about what is working, and what people like or don’t like, so that we can use that right away at next year’s event.
OR: Something that came out recently with Pokémon Trading Card Game is that it is now linked to Pokémon GO the mobile game, and you can in fact learn to play the card game here today. Could you tell us a little bit about the connection between Pokémon GO and the card game at this event?
HK: To be honest, it is something that my predecessor, Michael Steranka, started. He started working with the Pokémon Company and their trading card group a long time before this event. They are great partners, and when we decided ‘[y]ou know what? The cards are going to be coming out at this time and the Pokémon Company is international but is based out of Seattle,’ so we reached out and said, ‘[w]e’ve got GO Fest coming up, so let’s find a way to collaborate and introduce our players to the larger Pokémon universe and so fans of the card game could learn more about the Pokémon GO too.’
It’s a great partnership, and we are excited to have them here, as you can see. So, we have the cards for sale, and people can learn how to play the game. So, it is a great fit.
“We want to make sure that all of the players can play well.
We want to make sure that people [at Pokémon GO Fest] can get the best possible experience.”
OR: What is something unexpected that, as you’re planning one of these events or running these events, that has happened to you?
HK: One thing that was very [much] a happy surprise when we were thinking about this stuff was when I got a call from one of our colleagues, and he said ‘you know what? We might be able to bring the Team GO Rocket hot air balloon to the event.’ *laughs* So it was like ‘[o]kay?!’ And then next thing you know, we’re trying to find a place for Team GO Rocket to touch down, and hopefully this afternoon the balloon will be making an appearance in the Mercer Garage just across from the Dream landscape.
So that’s one of those – we didn’t have it planned, it wasn’t something, but we had the opportunity to bring Team GO Rocket and we were like ‘[l]et’s go for it!’ So, there was a little bit of scrambling there, but it was absolutely worth it. The balloon went up yesterday, and I was grinning from ear to ear. Those unexpected things, honestly, just delight people and you have to be open to that kind of stuff [and] maybe not be as strict to the plan as you were a year ago.
OR: Do you play [Pokémon GO] yourself?
OR: What team are you?
HK: I am Team Instinct. So, I just reached level 39, and so I now am trying to get to level 40. I have gotten my fair share – I understand that Team Instinct gets a little bit less love than some of the other ones, but it’s great. Part of my interview process – every time I was asked ‘[d]o you play the game, what level are you? Do you play PVP, what kind of team are you running?’
Honestly, it just speaks to the culture that we just want to make sure that people are passionate about the game, and we actually bring that trainer perspective to the meetings so it isn’t just about ‘how can we make this work?’, but it’s about ‘[W]hat is good for the trainers, what will get them excited?’ My predecessor is level 50, and he is just excited about the game now as when he started with the company five years ago. That dedication to the game translates to, hopefully, a much better experience for our trainers. We’re fans too.
OR: Do you have a favorite Pokémon, and if so, who?
HK: Garchomp, he is my boy. He was a Community Day, and I wasn’t too familiar with him. I caught him, and he was actually the first one to let me do well in PvP and he just became my boy. I love it when I have the buddy feature on, and he brings a gift. It’s a tough-looking Garchomp who goes ‘[H]ey! I found a pinecone for you!’ It just makes me laugh. How about you?
OR: Mawhile is my favorite Pokémon and has been for quite a while. The dark/fairy [type].
HK: What gen?
OR: Ruby/Sapphire gen. He has an amazing Mega Evolution.
HK: That was introduced in Pokémon GO in the last six months.
OR: Did you ever think about bringing Mega Evolutions in for [Pokémon GO Fest]?
HK: To be honest, that wasn’t something we really considered for this event. We always look at all of the things we have. We kind of kept it, honestly – we just wanted to flex our muscles back for our first year back and not bite off too much. But the Mega Evolutions – they have been wildly successful from what we can tell, and the players really, really enjoy it. Part of it was, to be honest, to make sure that the experience was as good as possible for our guests and when it comes to connectivity and stuff like that, that the raids are a little challenging. They are absolutely part of the game, and we want to make sure that they are – but we tread lightly just because of the productivity around that.
We want to make sure that all of the players can play well. For example, in this particular one, we are not allowing people to invite people to the raid here just because it really becomes a performance issue. We want to make sure that people here can get the best possible experience.
OR: Speaking of performance issues – it is little bit amazing how you have this many people in one place [who can play Pokémon GO]. And with one exception, yesterday, you managed to not have any connection issues so far. How do you make that happen?
HK: We actually have people on staff whose entire job is to make sure that doesn’t happen. That people don’t have issues- obviously, we can’t prevent everything. But we have staff that work very closely with carriers, including Verizon who is a partner here. We deploy extra bandwidth, so it’s part of our plan and it’s part of the very first day – part of the criteria for choosing a venue is looking at connectivity and how great it is.
OR: What other criteria do you look at for a venue?
HK: In the past, it has been about creating – for example, Berlin. The site was fantastic and beautiful, it was a large park, very green. It just invited exploration. So those places that can one, accommodate the number of players we have, and also have a way that feels inviting and conducive for exploring. The other thing is that we want to make sure that it is successful. We have a player base from all over the world, so we want to make sure that trainers can get to the destination and that it is not hard to get to. We’re doing Seattle, and in the past, we’ve done Chicago. Those are big cities with easy access to them, so that’s another consideration.
OR: Is there anything you’re excited about coming to Pokémon GO that you can tell us about?
HK: There is so much that I am excited about.
The Finale is going to be fantastic. We are doing it for the first time. The Ultra Beasts have been making appearances here and there in each of the events, and it is all coming to a head in the finale. We have a great list of Pokémon that will be making an appearance, so it will be quite an exciting time.
OR: A lot of the content this past year has been tied to Pokémon Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon and the Alola Region. We’ve done missions for all four of the island guardian deities, and it seems like this story theme has been shifting to the Ultra Wormholes. Will all of that be concluded with the Finale?
HK: We are missing Professor Willow, so we hope so! *laughs* He has quite the fan base, and they are quite upset that he is missing. So yes, we hope to have this story come to a happy end.
OR: How can players participate in the Finale?
HK: Tickets will be available soon, so people who will get the details on that. But if you’ve already bought a ticket for the Global Event, you’re not going to have an issue and you won’t have any additional purchases for that. But if you happen to have missed that, it will be for sale for $10.99 in the App Store, and that’s all you have to do. And you’ll be able to hopefully play with your friends and family as you join in for the Finale.
OR: What dates are the Finale happening on?
HK: The Finale is happening on August 27.
OR: Thank you!
Did you attend Pokémon GO Fest in Berlin or Seattle? Are you planning on attending this weekend in Sapporo?
Tickets are on sale NOW for Pokemon GO Fest 2022: Sapporo.
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