Pokémon GO Fest | Feature

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Pokémon GO has the best fan-community, bar none other.

I went to Randall’s Island Park in New York City for Pokémon GO Fest 2023 this past weekend, and that was my biggest take away from that event. No matter where I went during my Saturday morning timeslot inside the Park, there were strangers talking about Pokémon GO, trading battle tips, doing group raids, and trading anything and everything to anyone. It felt like a real, breathing, fan community of people who just wanted to enjoy this amazing mobile game together.

Nothing exemplified this more than my experience trying to trade for Pokémon that I did not have. At various spots throughout the event, Niantic passed out signs that you could fill in with what kind of Pokémon you were looking for in trade. I put up regional-exclusive Pokémon (and Flabébé!) because I figured “why not? Maybe I can negotiate for something that is region locked elsewhere in the world…”, since there are exactly zero plans in my near future to travel to France or New Zealand or any of a dozen other places in the world to get a Pokémon that spawned only in that particular country or countries on the far-flung side of the globe.

Pokémon GO Fest | Relicanth
This Pokémon is a New Zealand region-locked ‘mon. (Photo by author.)

And every time I put a new Pokémon on my small sign, whether it be for Klefki (France-only), Relicanth (New Zealand-only), or Sawk (Europe, Asia, Australia-only), there was someone who would inevitably come up to me and say “I’ve got you, give me whatever in return” when I said that I was just trying to complete my Pokédex. No extortion, no hard trading for some super rare Pokémon. Instead, it was just one Pokémon Trainer trying to help another Pokémon Trainer to fulfill the 25-year-old-plus motto of “Gotta catch ‘em all!”

There is some real magic in the absolute kindness of a fan community like that.

This column cannot be just about how great the fan community is when a bunch of strangers get together, though, so let’s talk about the rest of Pokémon GO Fest 2023. If you attended last year’s Pokémon GO Fest in Seattle, then you have the basics down: there are several GPS-tagged areas in the park area that each have exclusive spawns and a collection list to complete for a medal; there are various activities such as meeting fan-famous Pokémon Trainers, meeting illustrators, and even getting your picture taken with Pikachu or Eevee; there are large tent-like areas for players to hang out with others from their team; you can battle in a battle arena; there are plenty of Pokéstops to spin and raids to do; and there is an over-arching exclusive research quest with the Professor for you to do.

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Honestly? It’s a lot to do in a four-hour period.

Despite there being some slight mud from the day prior, each of the Pokémon GO Fest 2023’s four areas had an amazing-themed structure placed prominently in the area. While I am not knocking on the Pokémon GO Fest that I attended last year in Seattle, it was definitely a real improvement to see a giant volcano or a huge sand castle with a large crystal that you could get your picture taken in, a large swamp cave, or even a huge monument that changed whenever a new Pokémon GO Team took control (like Mystic repeatedly did!). It felt like there was a real effort by Niantic to make sure that people could have something significant to take pictures of and enjoy in each of the four areas. The Pokémon in each area were also completely different – with the exception of the Egypt/Greece region-locked Sigilyph that was available in each biome.

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In what was probably the smartest decision Niantic made, they split the entire event into two areas: the Athletic Field and Poison Swamp on one side of the park, and the Prehistoric Volcano and Cursed Treasures areas on the other side of the park.

Inside of the Athletic Field/Poison Swamp area (first area, just for convenience), there was the Pokémon Center Store. The fact that the only side attraction in this area was the Pokémon Center Store proved to be a really good idea, as the line to get inside to shop for merchandise was insanely long. I was given the opportunity to look inside to take photographs of the merchandise for this column, and there were so many types of Pokémon apparel and Pokémon plush available for purchase, including a dark gray t-shirt that was exclusive to Pokémon GO Fest 2023. My only real complaint about the merchandise was that they had sold out of several sizes on Day One of the event, and it didn’t look like they held back any stock for Days Two or Three. That was really surprising, as it meant those people who had the Sunday afternoon Park Experience were going to be picking through bare leftovers to find what they could wear.

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In the second area, there was a lot of additional content for people to enjoy if they wanted to take a break from catching Pokémon. While the lines were too unfortunately long (and I had too many Pokémon to catch and trade for!), I saw a lot of people were thrilled to meet Trainers that they only see on TikTok or YouTube or on Twitter and get pictures taken with them. It really didn’t surprise me that a lot of famous Trainers had large followings at these events and that the lines were always full. Additionally, there were photo opportunities and character meet-and-greets to participate in that were fun (and packed with lines!) too.

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My favorite part of the whole Pokémon GO Fest, honestly, was each of the Team tents. I am Team Mystic, and so I wandered into my tent midway through the event and found that they were doing a Pokémon trivia game with a crowd of people surrounding the stage. The person on stage would ask a Pokémon trivia question, which ranged from “what Pokédex number is Pikachu” to “name this Kalos normal-type Pokémon that I am thinking of” and “who here has the lightest-weighing Pichu?” No matter the question, a TON of hands would immediately go up, and she would select a person to answer. If they got it correct, they would win a pin.

Gentle readers, I thought I knew Pokémon. But after being unable to answer a lot of the tougher questions, I definitely don’t know Pokémon.

Pokémon GO Fest | Mystic Trivia.
One of the trivia sessions being held at the Team Mystic tent. (Photo by author).

My chance at a Pokémon GO Fest 2023 themed-pin seemed bleak…Until, at the very end of that particular quiz session, she asked for volunteers for a dance off. Before she could finish the word “volunteer” and before she could tell us what we would be doing, my hand shot up and I knew that I was in to win. Ultimately, there were five of us of different ages up at the front of the stage, and we were told to dance.

I cannot dance, for I have no rhythm and I certainly cannot keep a beat.

But you better believe I danced my butt off until they called time with every 80’s dance move and every dance lesson that Sinbad taught me in First Kid that I could think of. Ultimately, the Niantic person gave us all an event pin, and I definitely felt like I earned it.

Pokémon GO Fest | Event Pin
This year’s Pokemon GO Fest event pin. (Image by author).

The exclusive Pokémon GO Fest 2023 quest, where you can get Diancie/Mega Diancie, had a major quality of life improvement over last year’s Pokémon GO Fest event. In both years, you had to visit each of the different areas and complete a certain set of tasks in each one in order to complete that step of the research quest. Last year’s event was the fourth step, and I found myself having to rush hard to get to it and complete it during my event time window. This year, it was the second task to complete (after a fairly easy first one), and it served to incentivize me to visit each of the four areas early on. I thought it was a smart way to move people around the whole park area and to get them to see all the event has in store instead of just raiding and catching as many Sigilyph as possible.

The raids themselves were great. I finally caught a shiny Xerneas and a shiny Yveltal! The raids filled up extremely quickly, and I loved how close in location they were to each other. There were raids going on and refreshing nonstop, and I kept spamming Xerneas until I finally got my shiny. The shiny rate was also boosted for this event (as confirmed in my interview), and that was a relief as I wound up with zero shiny Pokémon at last year’s event. This year, I got a shiny Hitmontop, a shiny Throh, and a shiny Zangoose! It was nice getting those shiny Pokémon as I was just going around and catching whatever caught my eye.

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When time began to wind down to the last hour of the event, I ended up frantically running around to all four areas to try to finish up the medals and to try to finish up the Dancie quest. Four hours honestly isn’t enough time to do everything, see everything, and complete everything. If there is one big takeaway issue that I have with the Park Experience, it is that it was too short. I hope Niantic will expand it next year to a fifth hour for each section. I really did feel a bit rushed at the end, and I honestly didn’t want it to end when it did.

Afterwards, I wondered into New York City and I did the City Experience portion. Even though I was in East Harlem (which was right across the river from where Randall’s Island Park is), I found a lot of Pokémon there to catch and raids to complete. The City Experience this year was measurably better than Seattle’s experience due to one thing: the Campfire App. I was able to find raids in the area, both local and remote, and participate in them. I ended up clearing several Mega Rayqueza raids in the East Harlem area and at the LaGuardia airport before my early evening flight thanks to that handy app. While it is obviously not as much fun as the Park Experience, the City Experience was fun too and I did ultimately catch a Rayquaza (even if it wasn’t shiny!).

Pokémon GO Fest | Battle Arena
Trainers stood on each end and battled each other here. (Photo by author).

There are a few more points of interest that I want to highlight that I can’t really put in anywhere else. First, there were plenty of food trucks in the second area for people to eat at so they didn’t have to leave the Park Experience. While I did not partake myself, the people I saw eating seemed to enjoy it. Second, the Battle Arena was okay, but it felt like an in-person version of what I was already doing online. I wish that Niantic adapted a “show six, choose three” format or something for Pokémon GO Fest 2023, as I figure that the in-person events are the best way to test-drive new PVP content in a real-world setting where there aren’t Cup points on the line. Next, Niantic smartly picked a location with a lot of options for people to get to the event in, even though the bus drop off points weren’t labeled with a sign or something. Finally, I was annoyed that the New York region-exclusive Pokémon, Bouffalant, was not part of this event and you could not catch one if you had the event ticket because of that. While I was able to get one the day before, this meant that if you flew in on Saturday morning to do the event and then flew back out that same night, you wouldn’t be able to get it. All of these things are minor issues that I had with Pokémon GO Fest 2023, to be honest.

The moment that I loved the most about the entire thing was my experience in the Team Mystic tent, because it showed me what Niantic intended Pokémon GO Fest 2023 to be: a lot of silly, family-friendly, fun that is for everyone from Pokémon GO beginners to Pokémon GO experts.

If you can go to next year’s Pokémon GO Fest, then you should. I think you’ll love it just as much as I did.

Pokémon GO Fest | Trainers looking for Pokemon.
Two trainers looking for Pokémon. (Photo by author).

Did you attend this year’s Pokémon GO Fest? 

Where do you hope next year’s Pokémon GO Fest will be?

Let us know in the comments below!

Quentin H.
I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it.