Pokemon Fever Infects San Francisco, drawing thousands into the streets

Pokemon fever hits San Francisco

Whatever people think about the still nascent Pokemon craze, one thing is for certain: The viral mobile app has a way of bringing people—especially perfect strangers—together.

Thousands of San Franciscans found that out for themselves this week, as an estimated 10,000 Bay Area mobile users gathered to participate in a Pokemon Go crawl. The now ubiquitous Nintendo game had two starting points in San Francisco that eventually converged into one, sending crowds into a frenzy as they tried to hunt down the game's elusive characters.

Pokemon characters came back to life this month as Alphabet spin-off company Niantic launched "Pokemon Go" in conjunction with Nintendo—an augmented reality mobile gaming app that lets users catch Pokemon in real life. App intelligence firm Sensor Tower estimates there have been over 30 million downloads since launch, a number that's surely growing as the craze picks up speed.

A participant holds a Pokemon Go Lyft card during a San Fransisco Pokemon Go crawl.
Deborah Findling | CNBC

What started as a gathering of a few friends to meet up and catch Pokemon turned into a massive turnout for fans, initially alerted to the idea by a Facebook event page.

The event was neither sponsored by or affiliated with Nintendo or Pokemon Go parent company Niantic. But local businesses and even a few large companies decided they needed to catch them all as well—luring in participants by holding giveaways and creating themed drink and food specials.

Representatives from Lyft gave away $50 credits for new users, as well as 20 percent off discounts to Pokemon Go Crawl hot spots. Other companies like Haagen Dazs, Omni, and Red Bull also gave products away to attendees.

Yet as one might suspect, would-be Pokemon trainers were occupied by other things.

"There's a Golduck over here!" shouted one exuberant player, sending a large group slowly shuffling over to catch the creature. A Goldduck is a beady-eyed, blue, duck-like and hard to spot Pokemon.

For the uninitiated, there are three calls to action in the game. First, players must catch Pokemon by spotting them, tapping them and throwing poke balls at them (a ball-shaped device that contains the creatures).

Second, users must find "Pokestops," or fixed physical locations where users can swipe for potions, poke balls or revives. Lastly, users also find towers, or gyms, where new trainers can take their caught Pokemon and battle others.

The benefit of having real life users in person and in masses is that the three teams the app sorts users into "Team Instinct", "Team Mystic" and "Team Valor" (also know as the Yellow, Blue, and Red team) can help each other succeed at battles by standing together in real life and by proxy, the game.

Unlike other mobile games, users are urged to explore the real world in order to uncover different elements, and get some exercise in the process.

The game is overlayed onto Google Maps and users can unlock virtual Pokemon by standing physical locations.

San Franciscans partake in a Pokemon Go crawl.
Deborah Findling | CNBC

Nintendo, which owns roughly about a third of the game, has benefited from the game's popularity. The stock has surged over 120 percent in the last ten days and nearly doubled the value of the company since its release, but it tumbled on Friday after the company told Bloomberg News that the impact from Pokemon Go would be limited.

Pokemon Go is available in the U.S., 26 European countries and this week was made available in Japan.

—By CNBC's Deborah Findling.