Heading into Niantic’s Pokémon GO Fest — a gathering of roughly 20,000 Pokémon GO players in Chicago’s Grant Park — everyone seemed to have the same concern: the weather reports said a thunderstorm was coming.
The weather turned out fine. Most other things, unfortunately, did not.
As a result, Niantic has just announced they’ll be refunding attendees their admission cost, in addition to crediting them $100 of in-game currency (or Pokécoins). Estimates from Niantic leading into the event pinned the crowd at around 15-20,000 attendees.
(Update: It’s currently unclear if Niantic will be automatically refunding attendees, or just those who ask. Niantic says they will send an email with details to attendees.)
First and most notably: The game simply didn’t work. Within minutes of the first attendees filing into Grant Park, the cell networks got shaky. Within 20 minutes of the doors officially opening, every network was down. I’ve done my fair share of live blogs over the past decade, so I’m used to getting around network congestion and finding some semblance of signal. There was nothing.
If you could get online, Pokémon GO itself was having issues. Tapping a monster to catch it would result in nothing but an error screen — a particular punch in the gut to many a player who traveled far in hopes of completing their Pokedex, as the park was set to spawn some of the game’s rarest monsters. You’d tap an Unown or a Heracross (usually only available in very specific regions, and certainly not in the middle of Chicago), and the game would crash.
Meanwhile, real-world logistical issues were abundant. Hours before the event started, the lines stretched around the block. Three hours later, much of the line remained outside. Massive displays meant to show which teams were ruling the in-park gyms were instead simply turned off.
When Niantic’s John Hanke took the stage, he was greeted by an audience a few thousand deep, many of them chanting “FIX YOUR GAME” or “WE CAN’T PLAY!” Some more aggressive attendees approached the stage to personally share (read: shout) their discontent.
As of 2pm Central Time, Niantic plans to continue with the event’s agenda in hopes they can get things working.