Pokémon Go has launched a new kind of raid activity - Elite Raids - designed to test players' mettle in return for ultra-rare creatures.
Beyond being a test for players with a buffed-up Pokémon team, Elite Raids also seem like Pokémon Go developer Niantic's latest nudge to get users back outside in big numbers, generating the kind of crowds you might see playing pre-pandemic.
The first evidence of Elite Raids began popping up in-game on Friday, with an extended 24-hour countdown clock on some Pokémon gyms and a flashy new raid egg on the game's map. A message stated these raids would require players to take part in-person at the raid site itself, rather than using a Remote Raid Pass to join from the sofa.
Other features, announced via a Niantic blog post, also seemed designed to encourage in-person play: a shortened 30-minute battle window, so players were more likely to bump into others at the raid site, and a quickly-deleted mention of in-game "surprises" for players who stuck around after the raid ended. It was all very mysterious.
This first round of Elite Raids was for Hoopa Unbound, a Mythical creature players could only have one of to date - and only then if they were playing during last autumn's in-game season.
But the rollout of the first few Elite Raids - as ever with new features, beginning in New Zealand and Australia - was a little bumpy.
Players were quick to point out these raids would interfere with Saturday's Litwick Community Day, when special in-person raids to extend the day's event were already scheduled. The rollout was delayed, with later regions receiving their cluster of Elite Raids on Sunday.
Other concerns from players included the sheer number of Elite Raids out there - with some players in smaller communities seeing their only gym hosting an Elite Raid countdown for 24 hours, rather than any other raid boss.
We are aware this is impacting availability of 4-star Raids, and we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience.— Niantic Support (@NianticHelp) October 15, 2022
As for the Elite Raid's post-battle "surprise", players noticed enhanced spawns of Pokémon within a 50-metre radius of the raid gym, including a couple of sightings of Legendary creatures such as the Kanto birds. A new UI icon highlighted when players were stood within this radius, though there were mixed reports of the feature working for all users.
In my community, the 24-hour countdown meant we could plan our Elite Raid route in advance, and at 2pm yesterday a small crowd did gather - including a few local players interested by what was going on in-game who had simply turned up on the off-chance. We beat a string of Elite Raids, though had mixed luck with the post-raid spawns - a Dragonite was the most interesting thing I saw.
Elite Raids will return again later this season, Niantic has said, and presumably feature another ultra-rare creature. It's an interesting concept with some good ideas - I'm all for the game getting people outside - though there's still room for fine-tuning around their timing and bonuses. I've been waiting a while for EX Raids to return and, if this is their permanent replacement without the old invite-only barrier to entry, I'm happy with the change - and interested to see which Pokémon is featured next.