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Glitches mar Chicago Pokemon Go Fest at Grant Park, CEO apologizes

Brandon Anderson, of Frankfort, raises his phone trying to get service to scan his badge code to start playing at the glitch-marred 2017 Pokémon Go Fest at Grant Park.

Niantic Inc. and the major cellular companies say they are prepared for this year's Pokémon Go Fest in Chicago's Lincoln Park. | Sun-Times file photo

Grant Park was overrun Saturday with thousands of people who came out for Chicago’s Pokemon Go Fest, but technical glitches marred the proceedings, held to celebrate the popular game’s one-year anniversary.

“I know that some of you guys have had trouble getting logged on this morning, and I wanted to let you know that we’re working with the cell companies — AT&T, Sprint, Verizon — trying to get that worked out,” John Hanke, the chief executive officer of Niantic, Inc., which released Pokemon Go in July 2016, told the crowd at the lakefront park.

“And we’re working on the game server to get that worked out,” Hanke said. “Please be patient with us.”

Hanke’s comments were greeted by boos.

“I didn’t expect it to go well,” said one man attending the festival, who said he was surprised anyway that the company hadn’t brought in more equipment to beef up cell coverage at the park.

A Niantic representative said the company would be giving people $100 in Pokecoins — the online currency that can be spent in the game and refunding the $20 admission fees. That announcement was greeted by cheers.

“This is obviously not the way we had the day planned,” the company representative said.

But some were sure to be out of luck getting back what they paid. After tickets for the event sold out within minutes of their June release, some people were offering theirs on eBay for as much as $400.

Most days, Joe Torres is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, studying computer science. On Saturday, he was Charmander Lives in Westchester, seen here holding War Turtle. Torres says he showed up without a ticket and that someone spotted how he was dressed and gave him a wristband. | John O’Neill/Sun-Times

Hanke promised that the company was “going to get things going with the servers and the networks.”

After he spoke, there was supposed to be a livestream of the event on Twitch or YouTube. — but technical difficulties derailed that, too.

“I wanna talk to some of you out there who might not have been able to connect,” a Niantic spokeswoman told the crowd. “We hear you. Don’t worry. We’re working on it.”

Pokémon Go players in line for trainer-level badges. | Max Herman/Sun-Times

About an hour later, Mike Quigley, Niantic’s chief marketing officer, offered an update, saying a service provider was trying to “pump in some more bandwidth” and that the company was trying to fix problems with crashing and authentication.

“We’re working on it,” Quigley said.

But problems with the livestream continued.


At one point, Quigley told AT&T customers to move closer to a cell tower near the northeast end of Grant Park and suggested everyone try using Wi-Fi.

“I don’t know if it’ll work for everybody, but we are seeing some success with that,” he said.

Stephen Whatley and his son Jack from Rogers, Arkansas, at the Pokémon Go Fest. | Max Herman/Sun-Times

The Pokemon Go Fest was the first official live event held by the creators of the popular augmented reality game Pokemon Go, offering the promise that “Legendary Pokemon” monsters that are “extremely rare and very powerful” would be unleashed.

Making a Pikachu sighting at Grant Park. | John O’Neill/Sun-Times

Because of the problems, organizers allowed players to leave the park and still be able to find the rare Pokemon creatures that were supposed to be available only there. The boundaries were expanded to a two-mile radius that’s now supposed to be in effect through Monday morning.

After that announcement, some left the park and could be seen wandering around the South Loop, gazing at their phones as they played the game.

Pokemon Go is hugely popular. According to Niantic, the game has been downloaded more than 750 million times. And reports of problems at the Chicago Pokemon Go Fest helped make #PokemonGoFest among the top-trending hashtags on Twitter on Saturday.

After the problems, people were allowed to leave Grant Park and keep playing outside the park.| John O’Neill/Sun-Times

Before the glitches, people entering Grant Park for the Pokémon Go Fest. | Max Herman/Sun-Times