Team Rocket Strikes! How Did the Pokemon Go Fest Go Off the Rails?

By Jeff Francis
How did the Pokemon Go Fest go wrong?

A lot of anticipation had built up for the recent Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago. Players from around the world booked flights and bought tickets to attend the one day event to celebrate the massive success that the mobile game had enjoyed over the last year. Help whetting the appetites of avid trainers was the sparkling lure of being able to capture the legendary Lugia during the event. Plus, there was the added bonus of rubbing shoulders with thousands of other fans to look forward to as well. The Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago was meant to be a sparkling jewel in the game's crown, but it all came crashing down as the event turned into a fiasco and a major PR nightmare for Niantic. How did the Pokemon Go Fest go off the rails?

By all accounts, it looked like the Pokemon Go Fest was going to be a successful event. First, the event was built upon one of the most popular mobile games in existence, if not the most popular game. Then there was the fact that the tickets for the event sold out within a few minutes. Niantic had contacted the various cellular providers to ensure that the networks would be able to handle the load of 20,000 players congregating in the same place. The final piece of the puzzle was the added excitement of the legendary Lugia showing up to be captured by players. However, as dawn rose on the day of the Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago, the wheels came falling off.

The first problem is that many attendees spent hours waiting in line to get into the grounds of the Pokemon Go Fest at Grant Park. Apparently, there was one single access point where people were checked in and allowed through to the grounds. As any convention veteran would tell you, having a single checkpoint for an entire event is a recipe for disaster. There were 20,000 people looking to get into the Pokemon Go Fest. That's about as many attend a popular concert at an auditorium or a game at a ballpark, but there are always multiple checkpoints for people to enter such a concert or ball game. Few things kill the joy meter faster than standing in the hot sun for hours.

However, the long wait line to get into the Pokemon Go Fest was just an appetizer for the real snafu. Most players were unable to play the game at all due to the various networks getting overwhelmed. Connections were constantly dropped, and many players were unable to even log into the game. Naturally, this led to a great deal of frustration that boiled over. We have to realize that many players spent a great deal of money to attend the Pokemon Go Fest. While the tickets sold for $20 initially, many players had to purchase them online from scalpers for up to several hundred dollars. Then when you factor in travel and lodging costs, the total payout for some players could reach several thousand dollars. This was especially true for those attendees who came in from overseas to get into the action and have some fun. Nothing like dropping a grand or two and not being able to play the game at all with close to 20,000 new friends. The crowd voiced their displeasure by booing John Hanke, the CEO of Niantic, and by also chanting "we can't play!" during some of the presentations.

Pokemon Go Fest attendees

After Pokemon Go Fest ended, Niantic offered up an apology that read, "Today at Pokémon GO Fest in Chicago, technical issues created problems for a large number of players attending the event. From everyone at Niantic, we apologize to all of the Trainers who came out to Pokémon GO Fest today. Although we were able to solve many of the technical issues, we were not able to offer every attendee a great experience." They offered to refund the $20 ticket price, but this is only good for those who bought their tickets at the gate. Every attendee will get $100 in PokeCoins added to their in-game account, and the best apology gift was that every registered player who was there at Pokemon Go Fest received the legendary Lugia for free.

The perks above are small comfort to those that spent a great deal of money attending the Pokemon Go Fest, but I do commend Niantic for at least addressing the issue. For starters, the fact that the event only had a single entrance point was insane. The main issue was the lack of connectivity to allow players to log into the mobile game. Niantic did contract out to a vendor to oversee everything, and all of the cellular providers were contacted to ensure that there would be no issues. However, it did behoove the vendor and Niantic to make sure that the cellular providers actually put in technology to allow for a huge surge of 20,000 players logging in all at once and for an entire day. The cellular providers obviously did very little to make sure everything went smoothly, so they are at fault. But Niantic and their vendor also should shoulder the blame as well by not having a contingency plan in place in case something went wrong. Gamers found themselves with nothing to do throughout the day as they couldn't log in and play the game.

In the future, Niantic has to make sure that the massive problems that blew up during the Pokemon Go Fest in Chicago are not repeated in the future. It's obvious that the event vendor they hired was not up to the task, so they should do a higher level of due diligence and find a group that specializes in conventions and large crowd events like music festivals. It's not that difficult to put multiple check-in points that use computerized data to allow for a quick entry to the event (by comparison, Dragon Con has about 75,000 attendees and most people are only in line for about 20 minutes before they pick up their badge), as well as parking a fleet of vans with portable cellular towers to ensure full connectivity. Plus, more activities should have been planned to allow those at the event to have something more to do than just play the game or listen to a presentation. Spreading people out across multiple activities is an event no-brainer. Let's hope that any future Pokemon Go Fest events will go a lot smoother.


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