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Pokémon Go's upcoming Hoenn Tour marks a big change to paid events

That's the ticket.

Pokémon Go is currently gearing up for its third annual Tour event: a weekend-long spotlight on a particular region of the Pokémon world and all the species originally found within it.

This year, after the turns of Johto and Kanto in 2021 and 2022, it's time for Hoenn: the setting of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, and the home of Mudkip, Metagross and many other favourites.

The big difference this time around is that developer Niantic has dropped the need to buy a ticket for the majority of Tour's gameplay. It means fans can take part in the weekend's storyline, choose a focus on Ruby or Sapphire spawns, and catch Pokémon with a boosted chance of being in their sought-after Shiny versions without the need to pay up.

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Primal Groudon and Primal Kyogre will debut in raids during Hoenn Tour.

Hoenn Tour still offers an optional ticket alongside it, albeit for a long-term Masterwork Research questline that ultimately results in a Shiny Jirachi. There's also the debut this year of an in-person Tour event, held separately the weekend beforehand in Las Vegas, which has now sold out after quickly shifting 50,000 tickets. But neither will be the focus when the global Hoenn Tour begins.

Held from 10am to 6pm local time on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th February, Hoenn Tour will see a storyline featuring the return of the mysterious Rhi and the introduction of the powerful Primal Kyogre and Primal Groudon.

Gameplay will be familiar to those who have played in years past, with rotating habitats offering different selections of Pokémon over the day, including several Hoenn species available as Shiny Pokémon for the same time, and yes, new costumed Pikachu variants.

Pokémon Go Hoenn Tour's optional Masterwork Research.
Pokémon Go Hoenn Tour's Masterwork Research leads to a Shiny Jirachi. In previous years, Masterwork Research has been designed to last days or weeks following an event.

A neat twist will see players competing to complete research tasks, with those who picked the storyline's Ruby option pitted against those who picked Sapphire. Whoever wins each hour will tip the balance between Primal Groudon and Primal Kyogre raids becoming boosted in the hour following, and influence a smaller selection of Pokémon spawns that can also appear.

Niantic has confirmed to Eurogamer that no other ticket will be sold as part of Hoenn Tour, and that Shiny rates will be boosted whether players decide to pick up the Jirachi Masterwork Research questline or not. [UPDATE: Niantic has clarified this boost refers to select species; not all will be boosted.]

So why the change? It's an interesting move, and one which could potentially come as a reaction to a criticism of paid events I have seen personally in the past: where players and communities who have not had good Shiny-hunting luck end up weighing the value of an event entirely on that and that alone, rather than everything else on offer.

Making the event free to all - including its boosted chance of encountering Shiny Pokémon - also makes the weekend a more accessible event for more players to get involved in, akin to Community Days.

Is it all good news? That may depend on how many Primal Kyogre and Primal Groudon raids you end up doing. Previous event tickets have usually included a generous helping of raid passes, and it remains to be seen what offers Niantic may have on those, for people wanting to grind out their luck on a perfect Shiny.

Overall, though, it's an interesting move to take for Pokémon Go as it heads towards its seventh anniversary this summer, and remains the main profit driver for Niantic while it continues to experiment with other games. Most recently, Niantic launched NBA All-World, adapting the studio's real-world gameplay for a sports fan audience. Up next will be Peridot, an original franchise from Niantic more akin to a virtual pet game. After that, a game based around Marvel superheroes is also in development. And finally, Niantic continues to develop Pikmin Bloom, which seems well equipped this year to tee up the release of new Switch game Pikmin 4.