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Everything you need to know about Pokémon Go Fest 2019

The third annual gathering for fans of the popular app-based augmented reality game spans four days in Grant Park.

The 2019 Pokémon Go Fest kicked off Thursday in  Grant Park.
The 2019 Pokémon Go Fest kicked off Thursday in Grant Park.
James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Pokémon Go Fest returned Thursday for a third year of bringing fans of the popular app-based augmented reality game to Chicago. The four-day fest runs through 7 p.m. Sunday.

The festival had a rocky start in Grant Park in 2017, marred by weak cell reception that prevented many ticket-holders from “catching ‘em all,” resulting in a $1.6 million class action lawsuit settlement for game developer Niantic Inc.

Griffin Kilstrom, 21, a first-time attendee from Arizona who was at Grant Park Thursday morning, said he traveled to Chicago optimistic that technical issues had been resolved.

“Since it was such a massive failure the last two years, I expected they would clean it up,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here.”

Kilstrom did not attend prior events but said he follows the Pokemon community closely on social media.

A Niantic spokesperson, however, noted that many attendees said the second-year event was much improved over the first, both in terms of cell service and attendance.

This year’s sold-out festival will have attendees hunting for virtual Pokémon in Grant Park, mingling with non-participating park-goers, since festival events are all accessed digitally and the access to the playing area isn’t restricted. The first two years, the event lasted two days and players needed tickets to get in.

The format change was good news for the Suller family: Jim Suller, 49, and his two daughters Kaitlyn and Hailey, both 15, flew in from Connecticut for the second year in a row. They’ve been avid fans of the game since July 2016.

“We couldn’t get all the passes on the same day,” Suller said. Tickets were released in batches, and sales were controlled spread players out more evenly over the four days of events. He nabbed one ticket Thursday and two for Saturday.

The open format of this year’s festival will allow the trio to stick together while one or two of them play. But it also means they’ll have to dodge park visitors as they hunt for virtual creatures.

“You have to remember to look up sometimes,” Kaitlyn said, pointing to the droves of people around her looking down at their cellphones.

Mike Quigley, chief marketing officer for Niantic, said the company “learned a lot in 2017. ... Three of the five carriers were not at where they needed to be.”

Several cellular towers of various sizes were visible around Grant Park on Thursday, including some on wheels.

Last year, the festival was moved to Lincoln Park to a longer, thinner course that players needed tickets to enter. They’re back in Grant Park, Quigley said, because they like to experiment with locations.

He wouldn’t give a total for ticket sales, but said there would be “tens of thousands” attending over the four days.

Planning to catch ’em all this weekend? Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of the 2019 Pokémon Go Fest:

How to get there

Nearest CTA train stations: Jackson stop on the Blue Line; the Harold Washington Library stop on the Brown, Orange and Pink Lines; and the Roosevelt Station on the Red, Green and Orange Lines; the Harrison stop on the Red Line; and the Adams/Wabash stop on the Green, Orange, Pink, Brown and Purple lines.

Street closures

East Jackson between South Columbus and Lakeshore Drive and East Balbo between South Columbus and Lake Shore Drive will be closed.

Weather

Thursday: High of 68 degrees with a low of 52 degrees. Slight chance of rain.

Friday: High of 77 degrees, low of 62. Sunny with a chance of showers at night.

Saturday: High of 77 degrees , low of 60. Thunderstorms likely.

Sunday: High of 73 degrees, low of 55. Chance of thunderstorms.

Food and water

Attendees are permitted to bring in prepackaged food and bottled water. The festival will have food trucks and concession stands for those who want to buy food.

The food trucks will be stationed at East Jackson between South Columbus and Lake Shore Drive and East Balbo Drive between South Columbus Drive and Lake Shore Drive.

Concessions will be available at tents in both Butler and Hutchinson Field.

If you need to fill up a water bottle, you can do that in Butler Filed, Buckingham and Hutchinson Field.

Prohibited items

  • Large Backpacks (no frames or camping gear)
  • Cigarettes, E-Cigs or Vaping devices
  • Aerosol containers (including sunscreen and personal beauty products)
  • Any and all professional audio recording equipment
  • Any and all professional video equipment
  • Camera accessories, such as selfie sticks, tripods, monopods, go pro mounts and attachments, or other commercial equipment
  • Drones or any other remote flying device
  • Totems, Flags, Banners
  • Coolers of any kind (exceptions may be made for medical use)
  • Framed backpacks
  • Hammocks
  • Glass Containers
  • Weapons or explosives of any kind (including firearms, pocket knives, pepper spray, fireworks, etc.)
  • Illegal and Illicit substances of any kind
  • Drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • Alcohol of any kind
  • Professional-grade radios or walkie-talkies
  • Pets (except for service animals)
  • Skateboards, scooters, bicycles, wagons, carts (including red wagons) or any personal motorized vehicles
  • Tents, canopies, or shade structures of any kind
  • Preparation or cooking of food onsite
  • Please do not affix anything to the trees or shrubs
  • Unauthorized/unlicensed vendors are not allowed. No unauthorized solicitation and materials including handbills, flyers, stickers, beach balls, give-aways, samples, etc.
  • No chairs of any kind