Playing Pokémon Go Fest during a pandemic

Niantic

This weekend's Pokémon Go Fest brought trainers around the world together -- albeit remotely -- to complete challenges, fight a menacing foe and capture tons of rare Pokémon.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Pokémon Go developer Niantic managed to throw its annual celebration to celebrate the game and its trainers by introducing new mons and rewards for participants. The event, which took place Saturday and Sunday, brought Victini to diligent players who completed every quest step along the way and gave Pokémon Go enthusiasts three post-Go Fest challenges to look forward to thanks to the completion of various tasks by millions of players worldwide.

ESPN's Brian Bencomo and Sean Morrison both took part in the festivities and made it to the finish line Sunday. Here are their thoughts on Pokémon Go Fest and some of the (literally) shiny prizes they got out of the weekend.

What were your impressions overall on Pokémon Go Fest?

Sean Morrison: I came in a bit skeptical because of the circumstances, but Go Fest was well worth the price of admission.

Saturday was a ton of fun and a great reminder of just how many people play this game worldwide and how much the community can accomplish in-game when working together. The plot twist on Sunday was a big surprise, at least to me, and the rewards for the questline that day were incredible.

Honestly, I don't think I would've ever gone to a Go Fest if this remote one hadn't happened. My experience this weekend has me thinking about taking some time off to go to an in-person celebration next year when, hopefully, everything is back to some semblance of normalcy in the U.S. and abroad.

Brian Bencomo: I hadn't participated in an in-person Go Fest before, so I really didn't know what to expect from this weekend's online event. I came away mostly satisfied. It felt like a really big Pokémon Go community day, or 10 community days stuffed into one.

Right from the start I got 200 Ultra Balls just for using incense, so I thought that was awesome. I naively thought those would last me for the entire 10-hour event on Saturday. Boy, was I wrong. By the fifth hour I had pretty much exhausted all of those Ultra Balls and most of the other Pokeballs I already had. There were just so many different kinds of Pokémon to catch, so many challenges to participate in and dozens of raids going on in my area.

I tried walking around for the first hour, but I had to spend most of the rest of the day with my phone hooked up to an outlet because POGO was really wearing down my battery with everything there was to do. Sunday was not as fun (more on that below), but just based on my experience Saturday, I would do this again and would seriously consider traveling somewhere for an in-person Go Fest if that ends up happening next year.

How did your experience Saturday compare to Sunday?

Morrison: Saturday felt a lot more rewarding just in terms of the Pokémon I saw wandering around, but Sunday's quest line, while repetitive, definitely had the better rewards for your efforts. I also preferred the pool of Legendary 'mons available in raids on Sunday to Saturday's group, so that tipped the scales a bit in favor of Day 2.

That said -- and fair warning, I'm filling this list with caveats -- the challenges on Day 1 really made it feel like this was a worldwide community event. It seemed special and one-of-a-kind. Sunday just seemed like an individual effort, which took away from my desire to, say, toss berries at every Pokémon I saw or line up great throws each time I started an encounter.

Bencomo: I enjoyed Saturday a lot more, and that probably has to do with my playstyle. I'm much more into catching as many Pokémon I can rather than battling. I loved how many different kinds of Pokémon were available every hour -- water the first hour, grass the next, and on and on throughout the day. I also really enjoyed the hourly challenges -- during one of the hours if players around the world combined to use enough berries, then all players would get a certain bonus for the rest of the hour. By the fifth hour of the day, I had completed the Go Fest welcome challenge and had pretty much exhausted the 200 Ultra Balls I received at the start of the day.

On Sunday, however, it seemed like there just wasn't as great a variety of Pokémon and nothing really new was appearing except in raids. Sunday was all about defeating Team Rocket, and I got stuck on one of the challenges in which I had to defeat the Team Rocket leaders. I just kept encountering grunts rather than leaders. I did eventually find and defeat Arlo, but Cliff and Sierra just weren't appearing to me, so, sadly, I didn't get a shadow Mewtwo or Victini. I did get a Shadow Moltres though!

Sean, I heard you got a few friend requests over the weekend ...

Morrison: I made a really stupid decision on Day 1, and it continues to haunt me and my notifications.

One of the steps in the Day 1 special quest line was to add a friend. Singular. I could have easily done this by searching the Go Fest hashtag on Twitter and copying down someone's code for a friend request. I did not do that. I willingly became one of the fools who posted their code on Twitter out of fear that, if I didn't, I wouldn't get someone to accept my request and thus would miss out on rewards.

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Within an hour, I had 200 friends on Pokémon Go. That is likely more friends than I've made in my entire life. Even worse, some of those people added me just to complete the quest step and then removed me, which let even more people request to be my friend.

Could I delete the Twitter post? Sure. Will I? No. It's a reminder to never do this again, and I'm also the most popular I've been since my mom started letting me host poker nights in high school. Gonna ride this wave for a little bit longer at least.

Bencomo: I'm kind of envious, Sean. Just think of all the gifts you'll be getting every day now! I seriously thought about sharing my trainer code on Twitter like you did. In fact, I still might do that ...

But I actually did the boring thing this weekend and just scrolled through Twitter looking for trainer codes to finish up the quest that required me to make a new friend. I added somebody from Uruguay and somebody from Australia.

What was your highlight of the weekend?

Morrison: Definitely finishing the Day 2 quests and getting the Victini. It wasn't hard by any means, but adding another Mythical 'mon to my collection and knowing I got everything I could out of the event was a nice moment. That alone made Go Fest money well spent for me.

Bencomo: I always get excited about catching shiny Pokémon, and I added several new ones to my collection this weekend. I also participated in several raids the past couple of days and even tried out the new feature where you can invite your friends to take part in a remote raid with you. Doing a remote raid often means spending some money to buy a remote raid pass, so I like that Niantic made three available for free on Saturday. With these free passes (plus a couple more that I bought) I caught a Groudon and a Palkia.

Did you get any cool shinies?

Morrison: You know how we all do that unhealthy thing where we go on social media and compare ourselves to others? According to Twitter, I had the worst shiny luck in the world during Go Fest.

Brian texted me within the first hour of the event hitting his time zone and had caught a shiny Unown. MY DREAM. I did walk away with a shiny Feebas and Clamperl that look really cool, but my only others were an event Squirtle and Charmander, and -- hot take here -- I really don't care for event Pokémon. None of the 14 Legendary 'mons I caught during Go Fest were shiny either, which was a punch in the gut considering how many remote raid passes I had to use to even have a shot at them.

All that said, I probably had better luck than someone out there. No one's going to brag about putting up a goose egg on shinies over an entire event, after all.

Bencomo: For me, shinies are always the highlight of Pokémon Go Community Days. I always tend to get at least a couple of shinies on those days, and Go Fest did not disappoint in that regard. I did indeed kick off Saturday with a shiny Unown during the first hour, and I actually got another one on Sunday, so I'll be waiting for your best trade offer, Sean.

I also got a shiny Torchic, Tangela, Clamperl, Mudkip and Durant. I'm most excited to see whether my shiny Clamperl will evolve into a shiny Huntail or Gorebyss.

Was there anything that surprised you about the event?

Morrison: I was pretty surprised by how many remote raid battle invites I got from my new close friends. I managed to catch three legendaries I didn't have -- Palkia, Dialga and Giratina Origin Forme -- thanks to random people sending me invites and me offering up the raids to other new pals. By the end of Day 2, I was ignoring Team Go Rocket balloons and just refreshing to see if anyone had sent a callout for a new raid. They were that frequent.

I was also unpleasantly surprised by how bland the Pokémon encounter pool was on Sunday. The first day's rotation-style encounters led to a lot of fun and interesting opportunities for shinies, and it made you want to be logged in the entire time the event was going on. On Sunday, that dwindled a bit for me.

I get why the hourly challenges went away because of the aesthetic Niantic was going for, and I really liked the rewards for the main special quest during the event, but I wrapped that up in an hour and a half and was left wondering what I should do next.

All that said, Victini is one of my favorite Mythical Pokémon. I'm super excited to try it out in the Go Battle League.

Bencomo: I was surprised by how many Legendary Raids were available throughout the weekend. As I mentioned above, I was able to catch a Groudon and a Palkia, both of which I didn't have. I was unsuccessful in catching a Kyogre -- though I already had a couple -- and wasn't able to catch a Dialga, which would have been cool.

I was disappointed that there wasn't a multistep quest on Saturday outside of the initial welcome challenge. When I saw that Sunday would feature several Team Rocket-themed challenges, I wondered why that wasn't the case on Saturday too. I suppose the unique hourly challenges on Saturday were sort of taking the place of having multistep challenges that you could work toward throughout the day. I too was disappointed by the lack of new Pokémon available on Sunday, though I suppose after all the rotating habitats on Saturday, I can't complain too much about this.

Should Go Fest continue to offer a remote option in the future?

Morrison: As I said at the start, I'm planning to go wherever this festival takes us next year, but I think a remote pass with the same or similar rewards would be a huge win for Niantic, not to mention great fan service. As the girl in that Old El Paso ad-turned-meme says: Why not both?

I'm not sure if Niantic would be willing to share revenue numbers from this event or not, but I'd be very interested to see how much they made off this Go Fest compared to past years. We'll certainly be asking them now that things have wrapped up. Regardless of what Niantic's decision is, as long as this event is on next year, I'll be there.

Bencomo: I too agree with the little girl from the commercial (one of the great commercials of all time, by the way), and think it would be a good idea to have a remote option in future years. As much as I'd love to go to an in-person Go Fest, I'm not sure I'd be able to unless I could also plan a vacation around it. I could see Niantic having a big in-person event in the future along with a smaller remote Go Fest as an alternative for those who can't travel. I wondered how many people would pay $14.99 for a remote two-day event, and based on all the excitement I saw on Twitter, it seems like this weekend was a rousing success for Niantic.