Pokémon Go had a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad weekend in Chicago

Last summer, Pokémon Go exploded onto the scene, hypnotizing millions of Americans to go outside and catch fictional creatures on their smartphones. On the game’s one-year anniversary, the creators of Pokémon Go sought to re-capture that magic through a big festival in Chicago over the weekend.

But rather than catching magic (or Pokémon), they got caught in a public relations maelstrom.

By all accounts by those who attended the event in Grant Park, the inaugural Pokémon Go festival was an unmitigated disaster. Massive bugs in the mobile game and server issues made Pokémon Go virtually unplayable.

Angry Pokémon Go fans loudly booed John Hanke, the CEO of Niantic, on stage. Attendees chanted “we can’t play” and “fix the game” to voice their frustrations at the San Francisco-based game developing company.

Niantic apologized and issued full refunds to those who were wearing the $20 admission wristbands and PokéCoins — the currency used in the game — worth $100, among other compensation.

“From everyone at Niantic, we apologize to all of the Trainers who came out to Pokémon GO Fest today,” wrote Niantic in a press release. “Although we were able to solve many of the technical issues, we were not able to offer every attendee a great experience.”

Many attendees traveled from far and wide and paid hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to be in Chicago.  Tickets were resold on eBay and other third-party sites at more than tenfold the original $20 price after it was sold out in minutes. People from Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Canada and Japan reportedly attended the event.

Before the Pokémon Go festival, this news organization interviewed Phil Keslin, Niantic’s chief technology officer, for a Q&A, which was published Monday. When asked about the then-upcoming festival, Keslin shared Niantic had experience running such events in the past and no reservations about any possible concerns.

(The festival) grew out of Ingress (Niantic’s earlier augmented reality mobile game), and Ingress has a long history of these kinds of events that have grown steadily over time. At first, we had tens of people show up at the Cahokia Mounds just outside St. Louis. In a matter of years, it turned to thousands of people. Ingress is a significantly smaller game than Pokémon Go, so we knew (Pokémon Go Festival) would probably be big. The hardest part of planning that kind of a party was planning the logistics so we found a place where we can hold as many people as we could.

In some good news for Niantic, the Chicago event was not the only Pokémon Go event held this weekend to commemorate its one-year anniversary. A fan-run meetup festival in Chester, England this weekend reportedly was a success, with one Pokémon Go blog calling it a “massive success” and “a spectacle of (Chester’s) history and Pokémon Go alike.”

Photo: A Pokémon Go player battles the serpent-like creature, Arbok, while walking past the Quetzalcoatl statue in Plaza de Cesar Chavez in San Jose on July 11, 2016. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

 

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