The start of the week was just like any other. By the end of it, thousands of people in Sydney alone were sitting on the steps of the Opera House, walking through the Botanical Gardens and around Sydney's CBD all for a video game.
Pokemon GO is an incredible thing.
By Friday evening, the first major organised walk for Pokemon GO in Sydney had grown from a handful of people to thousands. Over 5000 people "confirmed" they were attending, while approximately 11,000 registered their interest. And that's not to include the hundreds and thousands in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, as well those wandering around New Zealand looking for their own Pokemon.
The walk started outside the Botanic Gardens, after the organisers were told they didn't have the approval to have a gathering within the gardens. Myself and a few colleagues all attended the walk on the weekend, but we took very different paths — and had completely different experiences as a result.
Here's what we saw.
Alex Walker, Kotaku journalist
We're fortunate at Kotaku. Our office is directly across from Circular Quay, which is chockers with Pokestops. You'll walk past eight or nine in the space of a few hundred metres. And somebody is always dropping a lure, which means you'll never have to spend a cent hanging around for Pokemon. It's the actual best.
Knowing this ahead of time, my partner and I opted to join the Poke Walk by meeting up with everyone by walking around the Quay to the Opera House. We figured most people would be coming through, or around the gardens, to the front of the Opera House, and we'd catch up with them then. It was classic min-maxing. We both popped a lucky egg to double our XP, walked through several Poke Stops, and then by the time everyone else arrived we'd be able to get a second spin from the same Poke Stops.
Well, that was the idea.
What's surprising about a Poke Walk with thousands of people is just how little walking you actually end up doing. The Opera House is a great example: there's a few stops situated so close to each other that you can stand in one spot and enjoy the benefit of all three.
So instead of walking, hundreds of people simply picked a spot and tossed Poke Balls for hours. Or they sat down, like this group:
I ended up holding my Canon 7D for an hour because every time I wanted to go somewhere to take a photo, another Pokemon would pop up. There were Psyducks everywhere. More Weedles than you could poke a stick at. Pidgey Central. There were Zubats for days — which was actually useful, since the double XP from evolving them into a Goldbat was really handy.
By the end of the day — which saw me drain my phone battery twice, after draining it three times on Saturday — I'd gone from level 11 to 17, and hatched a Porygon. It's a bit crap, but do you have a Porygon? You probably don't. And on top of that, I picked up a ~1400 rated Exeggcute, which smashes the snot out of just about everything at the gyms where I live.
It was the perfect day — except for the bloody app, which barely works properly.
The excess of Pokemon to catch helped people overlook the frustration of just how utterly broken gyms are right now. Pokemon GO seems completely incapable of handling more than one person fighting in a gym at once, and even then you're liable to be kicked out or have the result nullified altogether.
There was plenty of login issues too. My partner and I intermittently kept dropping out en route to the Opera House, and when we got there occasionally we'd have to force close the app because the game would freeze upon catching a Pokemon. My game frustratingly froze seconds after catching my Exeggcute, but fortunately it was sitting in my inventory when the app relaunched. I think I would have screamed if it wasn't there.
It's funny because if this was any other game, people would just refuse to play out of frustration. But because it's Pokemon, people are happy to work through the issues — enjoying awkward laughs with rival teams, meeting new people, and just going for a walk with thousands of Pokemon fans.
Jess Hodgson, organiser of the first Pokemon GO Sydney Walk
— Jiggsy (@jiggsy) July 10, 2016
We'd been wanting to go out on a decent length walk and do something active for a while, and after two nights of exploring the park nearby in the hopes of catching Pokémon, that we may as well invite some friends along and make a day of it.
At first we laughed at how quickly it was growing, though there were some nervous moments when representatives of the Botanic Gardens got in contact to say that there may be fees and permits required.
I think the most surreal part was calling up the NSW Police Sydney LAC and asking what we needed to do to have 5000 people hunt Pokémon in the City. They were surprisingly cool with it!
We couldn't have been luckier with the weather on the day, with the sun out as we headed to the Opera House entrance of the Botanic Gardens, noticing the clusters of Pokémon GO players at each Poké-stop along the way, and the trail of lures that had been dropped.
I was honestly surprised at the turnout once we arrived at the gates. There were a few hundred people, phones out, team colours visible, and scanning the area for familiar faces and Pokémon.
What I wasn't prepared for though, was just how many people joined as we started. At one point, I turned to see a stream of people, almost like a medieval march, following the path around the water, taking almost five minutes to fully pass. Shortly afterward, the group splintered off to discover different Pokemon in the park, battle at the various gyms, or just for a coffee at the food stop.
Campbell Simpson, Gizmodo Editor
I got to Circular Quay around 9:30, when it was just starting to get busy. I took a coffee to the top of the Opera House steps and watched people — that obviously weren't tourists — turn up, in ones and twos and groups of four or more. It's actually surprisingly easy to spot a Pokemon Go player — I think they hold their phones differently to someone texting or checking Facebook or Twitter. By about midday, I'd say that anywhere between a third and a half of the thousand-plus people I saw were playing Pokemon.
I spent an hour or so in the morning buffing the Opera House gym — which was yellow for the first time since the game's launch — but also took the opportunity to talk to half a dozen different people who were there for the walk. It was a super-casual affair, obviously, people just turned up when they wanted, but everyone was enjoying themselves. Everyone I talked to — as a participant, not a journalist — was absolutely friendly and open and happy to talk, and we were all comparing our top Pokemon.
There wasn't a hugely formal direction for the walk — it was more just a location for people to be, not a set path — and so I spent about four hours just ambling around the Opera House and Circular Quay and The Rocks, catching Pokemon. It's a bit pointless trying to attack any gyms when they're controlled by players more than a couple of levels higher than you — there's no way to take them down easily — so it was more fun just talking to people and stocking up on items and walking to evolve eggs.
Did you attend a Pokemon GO walk on the weekend? Tell us what it was like in the comments!