With over 750 million downloads ever since it debuted on July 6 2016, Pokémon Go is one of the most popular mobile games of all time. Through the use of augmented reality (AR), people’s childhood dreams of catching Pokémon in the real world have come true. It has broken at five records according to Guinness. Unfortunately, the next record it breaks might be for the most disastrous AR mobile gaming event.

For the app’s one year anniversary, its developer, Niantic Labs, held the Pokémon Go Fest on July 22, 2017 at Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois. It was a grand vision. Players from all over the world could go to this one special place where they can meet, play, and compete with their fellow Pokémon trainers then finally cooperate to capture the rarest Pokémon of them all: the Legendaries.

Legendary Pokémon: Lugia, Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres make their first appearance for the first Pokémon Go anniversary event

However, Murphy’s Law arrived in full force. An event that should have buoyed the playerbase instead shone a spotlight on the weaknesses of Niantic Labs which was only obvious to diehard players. 

But from this disaster, event organizers can glean important lessons for the future. Events that use augmented reality can only become more popular and it’s crucial to avoid the mistakes of this one. 


Remember Physical Limitations

Trouble began before the event started. The lines just to enter Grant Park were huge! Reportedly, people waited in line for six hours and the majority haven’t gotten inside by the time Pokémon Go Fest was supposed start at 10am. The bottleneck? The entrance had approximately a dozen turnstiles with respective bag checks for 20 thousand attendees. It was simply too few. For a large event like this, the number of turnstiles to admit all the participants within a reasonable timeframe should have been calculated from the start.

Pokémon Go Mobile

Prepare Hardware for the Worst

Once people managed to enter, they were met by overwhelming technical difficulties. Players couldn’t log into their accounts, the app crashed, and QR codes, which marked a person as a participant in the game, couldn’t be registered. The culprit was the sheer overload on existing cell towers. Except for event sponsor, Sprint, a major telecom, no other network provider sent mobile towers to help handle the expected load. They declared that the event was well within their capabilities and, unfortunately, the organizers believed them. A plan B was not made just in case the telecoms were wrong. Initial attempts to rectify the situation were unhelpful, such as the recommendation for the people to move to the north side of Grant Park because it’s nearer to a cell tower. For an event critically dependent on having a stable mobile internet connection, making no contingencies for failure was unbelievable. 

When the Pokémon Go server crashes

Appease the Crowd Quickly

With a long line to enter a gaming event where participants can’t play, the crowds’ feelings went south quickly. There were boos and chants of ‘We can’t play’. Expletives were hurled at Niantic CEO John Hanke while bottles were thrown at the stage. With physical and technical issues dominating everybody’s experience of the event, it was critical for the organizers to realistically assess the situation as early as possible and implement drastic measures to get the crowd on the organizer’s side. Unfortunately, the event initially tried to shrug away the difficulties and then it began to drastically lower the standards for the competition that everyone came for. It was only by 3pm that Niantic admitted surrender. The developer gave the participants $100 worth of in-game money and simply gave away all the event rewards that were to be decided by the competition including two of the Legendary Pokémon: Lugia and Articuno. Admittedly, there wasn’t much the event organizers could do at this point but giving up quicker would actually lead to the best solution to the congestion problem.

Pokémon Go - Pikachu

When Organizing Mobile Internet-dependent Events, Think Bigger

As the crowds dispersed from Grant Park at the end of a disappointing day, people were able to finally do what they came for: play. Niantic’s apology extended the Safari Zone, a special area where every Pokémon could spawn including those that are region-specific, across Chicago and enabled Legendaries to become raid bosses around the world. With new different Pokémon sprouting everywhere and exciting new raid battles, the participants scattered across the city to find and fight rare Pokémon without long lines and overwhelmed cell networks. For massive mobile games like Pokémon Go, making an entire city be the event instead might be the best option.


With Pokémon Go Fests planned in other cities across the world and augmented reality events becoming more popular, learning the lessons here is crucial when staging a similar event.  Technology is increasingly being wedded to events and complications due to tech limitations can only increase. Fortunately, foresight and preparation will still create a meaningful experience for your followers and your brand.

Visit M2Live.net for more advice on staging different types of events!