Pokémon Go Fest 2020 actually worked as a virtual event!

Pokémon Go Fest 2020 has wrapped up. Although this was the fourth year for the event, Pokémon Go Fest 2020 was the first of its kind due to the pandemic and featured a completely virtual, global experience. Niantic sought to make this event accessible for every player, including the many of us who are still unable to leave our homes for anything other than the essentials.

Although there were a few technical hiccups, overall the event seems to have been a huge success. While Niantic has made clear that it plasn to eventually get back to live events, there is a lot the company could implement in the future to make this game more accessible.

Pokémon Go Fest 2020

By and large, Pokémon Go Fest 2020 was a huge success. Although I spent a fair bit of the weekend in my roommate’s car, the time spent playing at home still felt engaging and enjoyable. For a game built around the idea of getting out and exploring the world around you, Niantic has had to reimagine gameplay and events over the past several months. This started with minor adjustments to gameplay, but has extended to new features, like Remote Raid Passes and events like Community Day: Play at Home. All of that work clearly paid off with the implementation of Pokémon Go Fest 2020.

Global Challenges

Probably the biggest success of the whole event, the Global Challenges, were spot on. Even though many players bought tickets well in advance, it has to be difficult to gauge what participation will look like for an event of this scale and how best to implement them.

Niantic was able to set realisitic challenges that weren’t too difficult for the global community to meet, but also weren’t so easy that players were left feeling like they didn’t contribute. Completing the hourly challenges not only unlocked a bonus for the remainder of the hour, but also contributed to upcoming Ultra Unlock bonus events, which provided a rewarding experience for players.

Although a handful of the challenges were completed in less than 10 minutes, the challenges took an average of about 20 minutes to complete, leaving players with the remaining time in each hour to enjoy whatever bonus was unlocked. While Niantic included progress by team in both the Team Lounges and on the app, it was measured in average per player contributions, something this Instinct player really appreciates! In case you’re curious, here’s the breakdown for each challenge by team:

Habitat Challenge Completion Instinct Mystic Valor
Fire Fire type Pokémon caught 2 minutes 39.0 37.8 40.0
Water Great Throws made 16 minutes 26.9 28.4 32.8
Grass Berries used 7 minutes 17.5 17.7 17.8
Battle Raids battled 13 minutes 2.1 2.1 2.2
Friendship Gifts sent 10 minutes 9.1 9.1 9.2
Fire Fire type Pokémon caught 6 minutes 37.2 37.1 37.3
Water Great Throws made 18 minutes 22.1 22.2 22.1
Grass Berries used 29 minutes 16.5 16.8 16.8
Battle Raids battled 43 minutes 1.9 1.9 1.9
Friendship Gifts sent 12 minutes 9.6 9.4 9.4
Fire Fire type Pokémon caught 15 minutes 31.7 31.6 31.5
Water Great Throws made 28 minutes 16.4 16.4 16.2
Grass Berries used 27 minutes 15.2 15.4 15.2
Battle Raids battled 39 minutes 1.8 1.8 1.8
Friendship Gifts sent 29 minutes 8.7 8.6 8.6
Fire Fire type Pokémon caught 12 minutes 39.9 39.9 40.4
Water Great Throws made 17 minutes 20.3 20.3 20.3
Grass Berries used 30 minutes 15.1 15.6 15.3
Battle Raids battled 38 minutes 1.8 1.8 1.8
Friendship Gifts sent 56 minutes* 5.5 5.7 5.6
Fire Fire type Pokémon caught 17 minutes 30.8 31.2 31.3
Water Great Throws made 12 minutes 18.2 18.4 18.3
Grass Berries used 14 minutes 15.5 15.9 15.9
Battle Raids battled 23 minutes 1.9 1.9 1.9
Friendship Gifts sent 7 minutes 9.5 9.6 9.5
Fire Fire type Pokémon caught 11 minutes 27.1 27.3 27.3
Water Great Throws made 15 minutes 14.7 14.9 14.8
Grass Berries used 17 minutes 10.9 11.1 11.1
Battle Raids battled 23 minutes 1.8 1.8 1.8
Friendship Gifts sent 6 minutes 7.1 7.2 7.2
Fire Fire type Pokémon caught 11 minutes 23.2 23.2 23.1
Water Great Throws made 37 minutes 16.4 15.7 16.0
Grass Berries used 32 minutes 11.6 11.5 11.6
Battle Raids battled 17 minutes 2.0 1.9 1.9

It should be noted that the only challenge that came close to the wire for completion was the fourth Friendship challenge, during which Niantic had to disable social interactions temporarily. Even with that pertitent technical issue, players were still able to complete the challenge before the hour was up.

Keeping busy

In addition to the Global Challenges, the Special Research lines Go Fest Welcome and Rocket Straight to Victory took a good amount of time, but were also achievable. Incense worked incredibly well at keeping a steady stream of Pokémon appearing. Raids were happening almost constantly, so even if there were only a couple Gyms on the map, there was almost always a Raid to participate in.

Raid Invitations had a few technical hiccups during the event, but when they worked, it felt just like Community Day and Raid events before the pandemic. During Day Two, there was never a time where I found myself waiting for Team GO Rocket to show up. Plain and simple, this event had enough to keep players busy both days for the entirety of the event.

Social media engagement

Before Pokémon Go Fest even kicked off, Niantic set up Virtual Team Lounges to engage with the community. On this website, players could watch a keynote from CEO John Hanke, behind the scenes and making-of videos, engage with tutorials, and other fun for the community.

The page also had a live feed to Pokémon Go’s Twitter and a selection of Pokémon Go Trainer’s snapshots. All weekend long, Niantic’s social media team did a fantastic job interacting with the community, sharing snapshots, and really making it feel like we were all working together — even for those of us doing this event from home or solo.

This is something Niantic has had a bit of practice with since the first Community Day: Play at Home back in April, but even after having been so impressed with the company’s efforts for Community Day, I was amazed at how this event managed to bring the global community together. Because of where I live, I’ve spent the vast majority of the last six months at home. Even during this weekend, I didn’t get out of the car. However, I felt the community togetherness anyway.

The storyline

Between the pair of Special Research lines, the “vandalism” of the Team Lounges, the social media posts, and the updated dialogue for Team GO Rocket, the storyline for this years Pokémon Go Fest was engaging and fun. While part of that was in the weeks building up to Go Fest, with the Anniversary Challenge Event, it definitely felt more engaging than previous virtual only events. Over the weeks leading up to the event, Team GO Rocket’s plans became clearer and clearer. Alhough many weren’t shocked when the villains took over for Day Two, it was still a fun surprise, and the balance between gameplay and story was spot on.

Technical difficulties

As huge of a success as this event was, there were obvious technical issues. For one, there were issues with Remote Raid invitations. I ended up losing a Remote Raid Pass from one such hiccup. While I didn’t expect to hear back quickly, I put in a support request and within just a few hours, I had a new Remote Raid Pass in my inventory. You can’t ask for a better response time during a massive, global event like this.

The issues were also resolved very quickly. When players were unable to send out gifts — something necessary for the hourly challenge — Niantic managed to get the issue fixed with enough time that players still met the goal. While timing out in Raids was a real issue, the Raids kept showing up at practically every gym through the end of the event.

You cannot expect an event like this not to have technical issues, but how a company handles those issues speaks volumes. The message sent this weekend was that Niantic puts the community first. Plus, Niantic promised to hold make-up events for players who were affected by some of these issues.

Value

Another thing that made this event so successful was the value for your money. Even before tickets went on sale, Niantic announced that all proceeds from Go Fest would be donated at a minimum of $5 million, split between Black gaming and AR creators, and U.S.-based nonprofits working to rebuild communities in the wake of the pandemic. Tickets weren’t overly expensive either at only $15 USD or the local equivalent. However, even for players who didn’t buy tickets, there was still a lot of fun to do this weekend.

For those who wanted to spend a little more (or happened to have a few extra PokéCoins saved up), there were valuable boxes in the PokéShop that really helped. My personal favorite was the GO Rocket Box, which had four Rocket Radars (normally 200 PokéCoins a piece), 20 Max Potions, 20 Max Revives, and two Star Pieces all for 480 PokéCoins. I ended up buying an extra box just before the event ended so I’d have the extra Rocket Radars next month.

I’ve spoken with numerous Trainers, some who spent a fair bit and others who spent nothing at all, and everyone I spoke to had a great time. I even spoke with a few players who hadn’t played in months, and they still found themselves enjoying this event.

The future of Pokémon Go Events

I was a longtime Ingress player before Pokémon Go was even announced and I was always worried that the way Niantic hosted its live events would be prohibitive for most players. Between tickets selling out and the cost of travel to get to one of the few cities around the world lucky enough to host a live event, I’ve never been able to make it to a Pokémon Go event and was only able to attend a handful of live Ingress events. There are also many more who struggle with these games because of a physical disability or having an atypical work schedule.

While Hanke has spoken at length about the future of live events for Pokémon Go and other Niantic games, I hope that everyone at Niantic looks to the success of Pokémon Go Fest 2020, as well as the Play at Home Community Days, and considers incorporating the accessibility of virtual events into future live events. The pandemic has forced Niantic to evolve Pokémon Go and its other games, but I hope that the creators can see the massive benefits this sort of accessibility brings to everyone playing even after the pandemic has passed.

I still hope to be able to attend a live event for Pokémon Go eventually, but if Niantic can balance its live events with virtual events like Pokémon Go Fest 2020, I won’t feel as though I’ve completely missed out on an important aspect of the game.