Pokemon GO player Rickey Yaneza stood in New York's High Line park, built on what was once a stretch of elevated train tracks, waiting for Mewtwo. It was an EX Raid, an invitation-only in-game event where teams of 20 players can fight to take down the game's strongest Pokemon and, if they win, add it to their rosters. He was surrounded by ghosts.
Image: Pokemon GO
To participate in the EX Raid, players had to receive an invitation. Those invitations are coveted and, apparently, awarded to players who are the most dedicated raiders. Yaneza, who received an invitation, showed up to the High Line flush with excitement to catch Mewtwo, expecting dozens of his fellow New York City Pokemon trainers to show up at the park.
But when he arrived, only two other players were there. He was nervous that such a small group would fail. He fired up the Pokemon GO app. It said that 40 people were standing right next to him.
"There were 40 people raiding at the moment when it started. Where are they?" Yaneza said. "They're not in the park. It's all construction around it."
Those players weren't hiding in the bushes of the park. Instead, Yaneza believes, they were "spoofing" — tricking Pokemon Go into thinking you're in one location when you're in another. That way, you can participate in activities across the globe from the safety of your bed. Since specific Pokemon are tied to specific locations, spoofers can also fill out their Pokedexes with less effort than their non-cheating counterparts.
Spoofing undermines the game's basic premise of going outside, meeting people, and working together. And it made Yaneza's EX Raid a lot less fun.
"When attending an EX Raid in a high-traffic or high-population area, or even just any high-level raid in general, spoofers are incredibly common," said Seattle player Rachel Joy. At the last Mewtwo raid she attended, Joy counted eleven players attending in person. The game counted dozens more.
"The lobbies are completely full of spoofers," said another player, who goes by Charliepuplaw. "The gyms are constantly filled with fake accounts." She thinks it's reducing legitimate players' changes of getting the opportunity to catch Mewtwo. (Pokemon Go developer Niantic was not able to provide comment as of press time, but we will update this story if they are able to respond.)
While Rachel Joy said that she's seen spoofing happening ever since Pokemon Go launched in July 2016, players I've spoken to say that the addition of EX Raids has made them even worse. The raids are already controversial, since they happen randomly and with little notice, and since the invitation process is so opaque. Players believe that to get an invite, they have to complete lots of raids, which means buying lots of raid passes and travelling all over their towns or cities to attend them.
Meanwhile, spoofers have it easier. They don't have to go anywhere, so they can get to raids more easily and more often, thus (as far as anyone outside Niantic knows) increasing their chances of getting invited to an EX Raid.
"I love this game," said Charliepuplaw, "but spoofers are making it hard to even want to try."