We're far removed from the days when you'd see people at every city street corner being guided around by their smartphones to catch pokémon. But some people have loyally stuck with the hit mobile game months after its popularity waned. Pokémon Go Fest was supposed to be a reward and real-world celebration for those players. Unfortunately, for those who traveled to Chicago's Grant Park to participate and nab the legendary pokémon, things got off to a very frustrating start.
Shortly after the event kicked off earlier today, a devastating mix of spotty cellular network reception and server problems prevented attendees from logging in. The game was basically unplayable, which in turn made the elusive pokémon that drew people from around the country (and world) unattainable — at least for now.
As he attempted to make opening remarks on stage, Niantic CEO John Hanke was met with a chorus of boos and shouting. Fans cried out for his company to restore order and get the game working. There were repeated chants of "We can't play!" Niantic has been working to rectify things in the hours since, but has already offered $100 worth of Pokécoins and a full $20 ticket refund for those who made the trip. "It's a small gesture, but we're sorry," chief marketing officer Mike Quigley told the crowd — still to more boos. "This is not the day that we had all envisioned, but we appreciate your patience."
Niantic will also be extending the radius that players must be inside to catch rare pokémon to cover two miles outside the park for the next 24 hours. If you're at Pokémon Go Fest, you can expect an email with more specifics soon.
"I spent more time trying to get the game to load than I have playing it," said Laura, who was using a phone with AT&T service. But early on, network issues were affecting all four of the major US carriers. "It was rough in the morning," said Abbie Harrison, a Verizon customer. "They're turning off animations for the lures and stuff to make it run better. It's running better now. I'm actually able to log in. It was really spotty and nothing would show up on my screen. I can now actually see and do things."
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Other players were less bothered and arrived expecting some at least some early inconveniences. "I came in from Montana knowing it was the first one and there would probably be issues and it's about the experience and it will be better next year," said Marcia Welliever. "I had a stem-cell transplant five years ago and shouldn't be here. Now I catch critters and it keeps me moving and it's giving me my health back. When I got here around 12:15, I couldn't get in at all," she said. "I've just been patient."
The situation seems to have improved some over the last few hours; The Verge's Megan Farokhmanesh and Dani Deahl are both on the ground, and you can expect more on the event soon. Niantic is running a live stream, but has chosen not to allow embedding. You can view it here.