I said it three years ago and will say it again, during Pokémon GO’s launch week, I think Niantic temporarily solved World Peace.
I still remember the excitement of people shouting ‘Pikachu!’ and everyone scrambling to the same spot to tap and swipe their screens. The delight and joy of seeing familiar faces and building dex seemed to unify so many people all over the world.
The game has had its highs and lows ever since, but Niantic’s support certainly hasn’t faded. With events popping on a seemingly weekly basis, new raids and shinies all the time, and now just days after its third birthday, another massive festival in Dortmund.
It’s a perfect location. The Westfalenpark has beautiful flower arrangements, refreshing woodland areas, lots of wide, open spaces, with sky cars floating above for stunning top-down views. It’s also just the right size for you to comfortably get around everywhere without overdoing it.
Walking through the gates, there was a real sense of excitement about the day. I was greeted, almost immediately, by a Shiny Mawile. My first ever, and it would also be the first of thirteen Shinies through the day – some of which also came from trades.
Others I spoke to had better luck than me – coming away with numbers in the twenties. Then there are people like my girlfriend who were worse off, getting eight total.
But it wasn’t just about different coloured Pokémon as Niantic gave us the chance to catch the regional Carnivine, the rare Legendary Jirachi, as well as Unown letters ‘W A K E U P !’. Plenty of fantastic trade options there for those willing to make the trip over.
In fact, I’ve already set up a few trades in our local community since coming back, swapping for the likes of Heracross and Torkoal in exchange for my Dortmund haul.
But for me, it was the experience of being there. Listening to people excitedly squeal when something they really wanted appeared on their screen, discussing which areas of the park they wanted to visit and grind, and reading scrawls on their boards to see what they wanted to trade.
Unexpectedly, I actually got my first Illumise by swapping an Unown I grabbed from Gamescom last year.
Niantic are trying to recreate that launch magic a little bit with GOFest as it’s an event that encourages you to interact. I mean, the first task in the Field Research for Jirachi asks you to make three friends. Unsurprisingly, we were stopped several times by people flashing a QR code at us.
And wonderfully, it draws people from all over the world. While we went over with members of our community from Cardiff, we also chatted to people from the Netherlands and Italy, bumping into others from Australia and Japan.
The atmosphere was just lovely, with adults and children spending time together, joking and bonding while glancing at some pixels on their screens. Each one entering that park with different aim and hopes for the day.
It shows that Pokémon GO is a special, one-of-a-kind game that really connects people. I loved my day in Dortmund, but it wasn’t all perfect.
Signal, as you might expect, was a problem. Thousands of people playing the same game at the same time, squeezing past one another to reach different park areas caused my game to crash time after time. Issues varied from total lockup to lost connection. Some areas ended up being total dead spots.
Weirdly, though, where the problems lie seem to be a very specific issue to an individual. I often had to hotspot from my girlfriend who’s signal was perfect in some areas and vice versa when hers started to dip. No phone seems to be the same and almost everyone encountered some issues on the day.
To be honest, the fact that the game was serviceable at all is genuinely impressive. It’s little surprise, that they stripped raiding from the park during GOFest hours.
The water bottle policy at the gate was utter rubbish, though. I’m not sure whether it’s a Westfalenpark thing or a Niantic policy or a bit of both, but it needs to change. They ask you to bring in a very specific sized water bottle – 330ml – any bigger and it will immediately thrown away, no questions asked. It’s weird, and finding one in the surrounding area, let me tell you, was a challenge.
And trying to find bottled still water – not mineral – in the park takes some serious detective skills. There’s free water spots all around where you can fill up if you wish, and the water tastes ok. But if you’re not into filling stations and prefer your water bottled – or if you had your bottle chucked away at the gate – you’ve got a bit of a problem.
The problem was, they weren’t even doing proper bag searches. The amount of people we saw walking around with big bottles once in the park was alarming. Not to mention the amount of people using two phones. Which, by the way, was something else Niantic banned.
Niantic also massively underestimated demand for their merchandise stands. Most plushies had sold out by Saturday because queues were hectic more often than not. Depending on what you want, you’re probably better off going and getting it early.
It’s astonishing that Niantic can still underestimate their multi-million phenomenon after all these years, but the success of GOFest proves interest in the game is still strong, despite the launch of Wizards Unite and other rival games.
I’ll be going back to GOFest next year to celebrate Year 4. And who knows, I might even complete my dex by then.
Written by Laurie Jones and Ray Willmott
We paid for our own accommodation, entry and travel to the event and are not sponsored by Niantic.