At a briefing led by Niantic CEO John Hanke and live game director Michael Steranka this evening (June 22), three brand new Ultra Beasts have been announced, with each one exclusively available at a corresponding in-person event this summer for Pokémon Go Fest.
Pokémon Go launched back in 2016 and saw huge crowds of people flooding to their local parks and streets around the world. People came together in a unified way to do something frivolous and fun, making it a meaningful way to spend time with friends and family.
This summer, Niantic aims to bring people together again to have the same mass in-person enjoyment of the game. Its first go at this kind of undertaking was back in 2017. A big event was planned in Chicago, which was three times bigger than any event Niantic had done with any of its games before. The people on-site for Niantic experienced trouble keeping the networks up, CEO John Hanke described, which was a tough learning experience for Niantic, and tough for the fans who had flocked to the city to be a part of the event. The game ended up working later in the day and shifted the mood for everybody, providing “a magical closure to that challenging day,” Hanke explained.
In 2018 and 2019 Niantic returned with a greater understanding. Its events have been done all around the world, covering three continents in the form of Asia, Europe and North America. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Pokémon Go tried to adapt to the unprecedented and constantly changing environment, providing a host of ways in which players could still interact with and experience the full extent of Pokémon Go from their homes. Niantic created and provided a free printable Pokémon Go Fest pack, which saw players creating potions, gifts and banners for their homes. Hanke explains that he and the team were attempting to “do our part to inject some fun, distraction and engagement into the summer.” By no means was it the same as any prior Pokémon Go Fest event, but this was how Niantic saw best to provide for its players in a confusing and tumultuous time.
Last year, in 2021, Niantic “took baby steps back into the real world” with some pop-up events in multiple cities around the globe. People were taking tentative steps back into the real world and learning how to safely be around other people and rediscover things, so a full-scale event would have been both “unethical” and actually illegal in many parts of the world.
A global, remote Pokémon Go Fest event then took place a few weeks ago (June 4-5) and will be accompanied by three in-person events, before concluding the season with another global Go Fest finale on August 27 to cap everything off. No details have been shared regarding this finale event, but anybody who purchased a ticket to the global experience at the start of June will experience the bonus event at the end of the season. It’s promised to be “a way to cap off the entire season of Go, wrap up the Ultra Beasts story and springboard into the next season,” promises Steranka.
Throughout the opening global Pokémon Go Fest weekend of June 4-5, trainers around the world came together to catch over 1billion Pokémon in just two days, spinning 750million Pokéstops and exploring over 100million kilometres. Steranka explained: “We want people to go outside and explore cities around them, parks, play with friends and family and really just sort of soak up the sun in the northern hemisphere’s summer.” A return to large-scale live events has been a long time coming, but as Steranka continues to explain, it has not been done lightly. “It’s nerve-wracking. We’re dusting off a lot of old habits that we had as a regular course of business for us and figuring out how to adapt that in this day and age and in this post-pandemic world.”
The three events will take place in Berlin (July 1-3), Seattle (July 22-24) and Sapporo (August 5-7). Prior events have driven a huge economical impact towards the cities they’re hosted in. Events across Chicago, Montreal and Dortmund in 2019 saw a massive £204million ($249million) in worth, whilst a post-pandemic brand new Pokémon Go Safari Zone in Liverpool in 2021 saw £13.2million ($16.2million). Another new Safari Zone in Seville, Spain attracted £18.3million ($22.4million). Continuing his explanation of the arrival of this summer’s events, Steranka said: “We see that as a true signal that players are itching to get back to these real-world events again, and we’re expecting that to have an even larger impact [this summer].”
Pokémon Go live events are intended to reiterate three core values which Niantic set out to achieve; explore, exercise and interact. “These events are essentially our mission on steroids,” Steranka explained. Trainers can go to a beautiful park in a new city, walk around and explore together for hours, whilst working up a sweat. Exercise is not just for the body, but for the mind too, and “talking to people, exploring new cultures and expanding horizons through Pokémon Go,” is Niantic’s aim for all of their in-person events. Tens of thousands of Pokémon fans from all over the world attend these events providing an opportunity to make new friends. Players have expressed meaningful sentiments attached to the game and to these events, with people meeting soulmates or even proposing. “They’re the most celebratory moment all year round for Pokémon Go” he concluded.
For this year’s events, Steranka and the Niantic team wanted to inform us of three important factors. These are the most ambitious Pokémon Go Fests and the largest events Niantic has ever curated. “We really wanted to make sure that we are honouring this global experience that players have relied on the last two years,” he said, with the aim of “creating this truly immersive live event in a way that only Pokémon Go can do.”
Berlin, Seattle and Sapporo have never had a Pokémon Go Fest before, with Steranka going on to say, “We’re so excited to finally take this experience to new locations and get it to players who may never have attended a live Pokémon Go Fest before.”
In a brand new way of incorporating the cities, their inhabitants, and the Pokémon Go trainers that will flock to these areas, Niantic has merged the Pokémon Go Fest with its surroundings in a more interactive and immersive way than ever before. In Seattle and Sapporo, players will spend half of their time in the centre and then move for the afternoon to a more tranquil park nearby. Trainers will be given incentives to explore local hotspots such as coffee shops, museums and works of art. As Steranka explained, the team “want trainers to take in everything Seattle and Sapporo have going for them”. Whilst there was no official word on how this will look at the Berlin event, as it’s the first on the list, taking place July 1-3, this will no doubt soon be made clear to trainers planning to travel to the event and local residents wanting to get involved.
Niantic works “very closely” with its city counterparts to maximise the potential for these in-person events, which is critical because they know the ins and outs of the city. This year Niantic is partnering with the CVB (Convention and Visitors Bureau) to ensure they’re following all local guidelines but also maximising knowledge about public transportation, safe locations to play and making best use of the centre itself. “There are hidden nooks and crannies…so we want to make sure we’re highlighting that and doing it justice,” Steranka explained.
As if that wasn’t enough to encourage players of the game to make the journey and get involved, Steranka dropped another exciting bombshell: “We’re going to have over 200 unique Pokémon featured across all of the Go Fests this summer.” This is the most they’ve ever featured over an event series and will see 80 unique Pokémon per location. Whilst there isn’t an exhaustive list of these as yet, it’s unlikely we’ll see one at all until the event itself. As Steranka explained: “We try to announce at least a small handful and sample of the Pokémon that will be appearing at the events but leave some room for surprise and delight for players to discover things when they get there on site.”
Another exciting addition to these Go Fests is the arrival of three Ultra Beasts, which made their debut with Nihilego at the opening Pokémon Go Fest weekend for global players. Joining this exciting new beast is Peromosa in Berlin, Buzzwole in Seattle and Xurkitree in Sapporo. Trainers can obtain them through special research at ‘IRL’ events. As well as these special research tasks, in combination with the in-person events there will be global challenges for players unable to attend Pokémon Go Fest in any of the three cities, as well as a series of live opportunities that players can enjoy globally. Steranka described these as “really incredible experiences” adding that he “can’t share the exact details … but I think people are going to be pretty happy once they hear about it.”
As well as all of this, trainers attending in Berlin and Seattle can meet content creators and community leaders including Newtiteuf, Kushi, Couple of Gaming and many more for meet and greets, photographs and autographs. It’s a fantastic new way to engage with a diverse group of creators, and play together for the first time ever for some trainers.
Niantic also teased a social app in the form of Campfire, which will be live during Go Fest this summer to coordinate activity in Pokémon Go. Using the in-game embedded version of Campfire in Pokémon Go at these events will enable trainers to coordinate raid battles and meetups and expand their experience throughout the city as a whole, rather than just staying put in one park. Players of the Ingress game have already had a beta test of the Campfire app and integration over the last few months. There’ll be more details released on specific functionality and combination with Pokémon Go shortly.
In terms of future events for Pokémon Go, it seems Niantic has not been short of ideas or possibilities. With its 6th anniversary coming up, and the game always running an anniversary event on each birthday, it’s clear there will be something in the works although no further details are available at present. “It is the 6th anniversary, so take that as a hint,” Steranka said. The planning process for these massive in-person events is not a short one, with lots of nuances that other event organisers may not need to think about, including connectivity in remote outdoor places that don’t usually require that. Steranka stated, “We’re already in full motion planning for experiences beyond Pokémon Go Fest in 2023 and beyond,” allowing trainers to be excited for a full and exciting future for Pokémon Go.
Steranka concluded with the bold statement, “This is the most ambitious Go Fest summer that we’ve ever put together for Pokémon Go. Trainers are ready to get out again and play in-person together this year.”
Tickets to this summer’s events in Berlin, Seattle and Sapporo are available now and can be bought here.