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Thousands try to catch ’em all at ‘100 percent’ improved Pokémon Go Fest

Mavrick Kubat of Hayfield, MN, center, enjoys the Glacier Habitat. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Mavrick Kubat of Hayfield, Minnesota, (center) enjoys the Glacier Habitat. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Phil Orr, a level-40 Valor, plays Pokémon Go every single day.

So does his group of friends from New Albany, Ohio, who claim to be the most active “discord” — a community of Pokémon Go players — in the area.

“We have no life anymore. This is it,” one member said.

The group, donning Pokémon Go T-shirts bearing the name of their hometown, was among tens of thousands of players driving and flying into Chicago for the second annual Pokémon Go Fest this weekend. Some roamed the 1.8-mile course in Lincoln Park with friends they had just met at the festival’s Saturday kick-off.

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Pokémon Go was developed by Niantic, Inc. in collaboration with The Pokémon Company and celebrated its one-year anniversary at last year’s festival, a gathering marred by technical glitches that cut the fun short — and sparked a class-action lawsuit from disappointed fans. But this year’s fest, which continued Sunday, has gone off without a hitch.

Mike Quigley, the software company’s CMO, said a main goal of this year’s “a walk in the park” theme was to highlight “more of the real-world social” aspects of the game.

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“It helps us encourage the trainers, which are the players in Pokémon Go, to . . . get out and enjoy a fun time with friends and family,” Quigley said. “Not just friends and family that they came with, but also meeting other trainers from around the world.”

New to this year’s festival were four themed “habitats,” including a jungle and volcanic habitat, which house specific types of Pokémon. Quigley — who said he personally was looking out for more ice Pokémon — said the habitats are useful for players to plan out their day and “catch ’em all.”

Gamers also took advantage of new features that allow players — who range from levels 1 to 40 and belong to Team Valor, Instinct or Mystic — to add friends and trade with nearby trainers.

“It’s cool because since we came from Ohio and people came from Canada, people came from California — if they have stuff from California, now we can trade directly,” Orr said.

Taylor Feldman, a level-37 Mystic from Iowa, attended for the first time and was greeted by a friendly community of players — or, as she put it, “a bunch of nerds just meeting in one group.”

Despite some spotty connection issues and light afternoon rain, second-time participants noted drastic improvements in this year’s festival. Last year, Niantic refunded players in both dollars and digital Pokécoins after cell service glitches caused chaos at the festival.

“Connectivity has been a hell of a lot better,” said Ryan Witt, a level-38 Valor. “Last year it was terrible. Nobody could get on, so I can definitely say they’ve improved it.”

Witt added that lines to enter the park, which he said took hours and wrapped around Grant Park last year, were practically eliminated. People scanned QR codes on their wristbands at any Pokéstop — designated locations where trainers can obtain game items — to start playing.

Bob Reilly, a level-40 Mystic, also said it was “100 percent better than what it was last year.”

Reilly was particularly excited about the raids, which involve fellow trainers cooperating to defeat a powerful Pokémon. Quigley encouraged all players, even those without tickets, to take advantage of special spawns and raid battles occurring throughout Chicago.

Reilly attended with friends he had met through the game, including Zac Gingrich, another level-40 Mystic.

“A lot of people from back home were saying ‘Oh, you guys are still playing Pokémon Go. I thought that was dead,’ ” Gingrich said. “Well, I can send them a picture here. A lot of people are still playing.”