A pair of Ohio residents are today hoping for a return to normality after a bruising experience in the internet spotlight.
This week, 29-year-old Kaitlyn Covey of Dayton, Ohio found herself at the centre of a Pokémon mystery that attracted the attention of millions.
Covey was the first player in the world to obtain a legendary Pokémon in the global smash hit Pokémon Go. The story of how she got it, however, was far less clear.
Covey's story has remained the same throughout: that she received Articuno as a gift directly from Pokémon Go's developer Niantic. She had emailed the studio the day the app launched about a Pokémon lost in one of the game's frequent early crashes.
It wasn't like Covey went out to get attention. Her Articuno was originally spotted by other players around her local area of Dayton, Ohio. Naturally, the sight of an unreleased legendary Pokémon roosting atop the city's gyms quickly drew attention.
A huge thread on Reddit quickly commanded other players to the area, where they provided their own screenshots and videos of Articuno within the gym locations.
Kaitlyn Covey was quickly identified from her player name, KaitCovey, and she began responding to fans over social media who asked for more information.
As word spread of how she'd gained the ultra-rare Articuno, Covey roped in her friend Tom Bentley, who dabbled in Twitch streaming, to try and prove she was telling the truth. But what should have been a cause for celebration became a sustained fight to be believed.
Along with Bentley, Covey spent over an hour on Twitch showing the Pokémon to viewers who disbelieved their story, responding to requests to restart the app, log in on different phones and more - such was the belief that the Articuno was a fake and she was lying.
To be fair to the game's community, it was natural to be suspicious (I also was, when first reporting the story). Gifting a legendary Pokémon seemed such a random, erratic gesture from Niantic, when it has said in the past these ultra-rare Pokémon were being saved for release at huge, future events.
For its part, Niantic initially stayed silent - it did not back Covey up.
Add to all this the spate of fakes floating around the internet - such as videos of a player hacking 3D models for other unobtainable monsters such as Mewtwo and Ditto into the game - and it's natural the community was cautious.
Still, the Ohio pair tried their best to offer up all the proof the could - including Niantic's original email - as mainstream media began to report on the tale and fans worldwide called Covey's story into question.
Yesterday we reported on one of the Twitch streams where Articuno was shown off. Covey remains off-camera, and at one point Bentley can be heard saying she is currently busy "sending a text to her mom right now, who's worried".
The timing of Articuno coming to light was unfortunate - Covey's story blew up just as weeks of positive feeling to the app among Pokémon Go fans has begun turn.
Niantic riled up Pokémon Go's fanbase over the past week by blocking much-loved third-party services such as Pokévision and removing all sign of the app's long-broken tracking feature.
Fans did not take either decision well, and loudly criticised Niantic for making decisions they claim make the game less fun to play while failing to explain the reasons for such changes.
Players have incredulously pointed out how Niantic, owner of the world's hottest game, is still hiring for a community manager, and how the developer has seemed woefully unprepared in its ability to communicate with a rabid fan base which is rapidly being left to feel isolated.
As seems par for the course for anyone attracting attention online, Covey received abuse from people who disbelieved her story or who were simply jealous.
Niantic, meanwhile, went from saying nothing to actively making the situation worse. Early yesterday, someone representing the developer issued a garbled response to Geek.com stating the Articuno "was not from Niantic. It's either a spoof or someone hacked the game," but that the developer was still "looking into it" as it didn't have "clear answers at the moment".
Seeing this response, many players rounded on Covey and Bentley - who at this point were still trying to prove their story via Twitch.
Other fans who still believed her story squabbled about how if it was true, Niantic had made a huge mistake in granting a rare Pokémon so easily.
Eurogamer has repeatedly tried to contact Niantic about this story, although has not heard anything back at any point.
Later yesterday, Niantic finally issued an official statement as it announced it would pull all legendary Pokémon from player accounts worldwide. This short response is more ambiguous - it suggests an Articuno shouldn't be in any player's possession, without explaining how any may have got there.
Intriguingly, it also reveals Covey was not alone in having a legendary in her possession.
"We recently noticed that a few Legendary Pokemon got into a few accounts when they shouldn't have," a Niantic spokesperson said. "To preserve the game's integrity and as a measure of fairness, we have rectified the situation and revoked the legendary Pokemon from the Trainers' accounts."
Covey and Bentley were playing Pokémon Go and on their way to a gym when Articuno was pulled from Kaitlyn's account. Her Articuno was gone for good.
Late yesterday evening, Niantic re-issued the above statement via its public Facebook page for the game. Notably, it had changed - and now, finally, it admitted the truth. It had granted Articuno to some players. Kaitlyn Covey's story was true - and she had been telling the truth all along.
"A few of our Legendary Pokémon had erroneously been granted to some Trainers. Thanks to the help of several of our Trainers, we were able to locate them and bring them home safely."
In a final stream last night, Bentley reflected on the whole saga and shared an email from Niantic to Covey sent just before it finally admitted its part in the Articuno saga.
"We really wanted to be excited about this," he said, before reflecting on the events of the past few days. "If it was a mistake, or not, who cares."
It seems the developer was, finally, spurred into speaking publicly after Covey told them how some of the game's fanbase were treating Niantic's confused statements as proof she had lied, and how the constant abuse directed at her was causing her distress.
Bentley read out Niantic's email to Covey. Here it is in full:
"Dear Trainer, we're sorry you are experiencing distress due to your social media post. It has come to our attention that an unreleased Pokémon was added to your inventory by mistake. To preserve the integrity of the game and as a measure of fairness we have decided to remove it from your inventory. You'll still find it in your Pokédex.
"We've added 10 Lures and 10 Lucky Eggs to help you catch some on your own," - to which Bentley gives a sarcastic thumbs up. "You'll also keep your Pokédex intact. Please continue to enjoy the game, play safe, and exercise care when revealing your identity on social media - for this or any other app."
With Articuno gone and Covey finally vindicated, the mystery is solved. But it's unclear if Covey still views the whole experience as a positive one.
For fans, Niantic's erratic handling of the saga will do nothing to instill confidence in the developer, or its ability to handle its role as guardian of the biggest new mobile game in the world. It was slow to respond while Kaitlyn Covey received abuse from players, and even then took time to get its message straight.
Speaking with Eurogamer last night, Bentley said he was looking forward to a return to normality after an unusual and confused couple of days.
"I think we are just going to leave well enough alone and move on with life," he concluded. "We enjoy playing the game but beyond the madness of the past couple days - we just wanna go catch 'em all now."
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