A few months ago, I thought 2020 might be the end of Pokémon Go. Here was this thing millions use as daily motivation to exercise, see friends, feel rewarded for playing, and all of it was suddenly impossible. Socialising and many in-game activities like raids and trading were out of the question. Events were cancelled or indefinitely postponed. A lot of people felt they could no longer play. I remember thinking, even when things did start to get better, if this game could ever fully recover.
Turns out, people still really love playing Pokémon Go. A few months later, more than a million players bought a £15 ticket to this weekend's Go Fest 2020, which offered 20 hours of special bonuses and new creatures to catch. Obviously, things have started to improve in some parts of the world, but Pokémon Go's ability to ride out 2020 has been helped hugely by developer Niantic's numerous additions to make it far more accessible, wherever you might be playing.
So yes, Go Fest 2020 was different to Pokémon Go's usual summer festivities. Instead of hundreds of thousands of people descending on a few key cities worldwide, the event was opened up to everyone. Instead of a specific park with themed areas where you could encounter specific creature types, the game rotated its menageries of monsters on a hourly schedule. And instead of flying a physical hot air balloon overhead to signal the impending arrival of Team Rocket, the game's skybox was instead filled with virtual balloons piloted by the villains - and then celebratory fireworks once all was said and done.
There was a wide variety of Pokémon spawns on offer, from rare and sought-after species like Gible, to regional creatures I'd usually have to travel to other countries to find. More highly-prized Shiny Pokémon debuted in Go Fest 2020 than in any other event the game has ever run. There was the now-expected debut of a new Mythical Pokémon to add to your Pokédex (Victini), the surprise addition of another species new to the game (Rotom), the debut of the incredibly powerful Shadow Mewtwo, and improved repeats of other Shadow Legendary creatures received so far. Players got a decent helping of premium items and plenty to keep them busy, whatever their playstyle.
The event's questline was thin on its first day, though I was kept occupied by each hour's rotating spawns and real-time challenges to unlock further bonuses each hour. I loved the ability to keep track of the game's global community as they quickly succeeded (or struggled) with each new goal, as well as being able to see how specific friends were doing compared to me. All of this was developed to debut at Go Fest 2020, and I'm looking forward to see how it is used in the game again in future. Even small touches such as the raining confetti used to signal which spawn hour was active and whether its challenge had yet been completed was a nice touch. Over the second day, in-game and online, Go Fest's storyline properly kicked in as the event was taken over by Team Rocket - who were eventually sent blasting off again.
10 hours of Pokémon Go Fest 2020 done, 10 more tomorrow! Even after a very long and soggy day outside, still hate to see everything finish... but the firework show is a great touch pic.twitter.com/aBcWKtyK2v— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsEG) July 25, 2020
It didn't all run smoothly. Alongside all the new spawns and gameplay were some familiar old problems - most notably, server capacity. Here in the UK, my group struggled for around 30 minutes as the game's friendship challenge overloaded the app's friend list. There was some noticeable slowdown each day as the US playerbase logged in, Niantic's servers seemingly needing a few minutes to steady themselves from the sudden influx. In Asia, things got bad enough for an hour when Japan first began playing that Niantic has promised some kind of to be announced make-up. When every minute counts to catch something you won't find anywhere else, I can definitely appreciate some of the frustration I saw online - though out of 20 hours of gameplay, these were relatively minor disruptions.
The other major gripe I saw was a lower than expected Shiny rate. This is a tougher one to qualify, as it is so dependent on your own personal experience and expectations. Any player who has attended a Community Day event will have had days they got 22 Shiny Pokémon, while others they may have got just two playing exactly the same way. Still, what I saw playing out in my group and online was a general Shiny total equal to last year's event over the whole weekend. That felt like a lower amount per day, but an equal reward over the full 20 hours (and for a cheaper ticket price, without the need to travel).
Without the barrier to entry of physically going anywhere, it feels like Niantic had to strike a balance between the event feeling too pay-to-win for the general audience who didn't cough up, but still worthwhile to those who did. If anything, I was surprised by the amount of things available to those who simply wanted to play for free - which included many of the event's best raids and spawns in smaller numbers (though still without Victini and Rotom, and any regionals, Shadow Legendaries and Unowns).
What impressed me most, perhaps, was how much there was to do over the weekend, however you enjoy playing Pokémon Go. Whole sections of my local community basically ignored spawns over long periods to go raiding, some newer players catching returning Legendary creatures for the first time. Others who really like battling Team Rocket enjoyed doing that, while it easier and more profitable for a limited time. Whether people had a ticket or didn't, there was something to do - and as a moment for Pokémon Go in 2020, it seems to have reinvigorated lapsed and committed players for the rest of the year ahead. I ended my Go Fest 2020 weekend sitting in a park in the sunshine with friends, some of whom I hadn't seen for months, and things felt almost normal again for the first time in a long while.