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Pokémon Go Fest 2018: The ultimate guide to this year’s live gaming event

Pokémon GO trainers gather in Grant Park for Pokémon GO Fest on July 22, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Pokémon Go Fest 2018 returns to Chicago on July 14 and 15. It’s the second annual gathering for fans of the popular app-based augmented reality game, based this year in Lincoln Park. Last year’s inaugural Pokémon Go Fest, which took place in Grant Park, was by many accounts “disastrous” — riddled with logistical issues and technical glitches which ultimately resulted in a class-action lawsuit brought by festival attendees.

This year, the app’s developer, Niantic, has promised a smooth and stress-free event. This year’s Pokémon Go Fest is a two-day affair that will expand gameplay across Lincoln Park, reinforced by temporary cell towers deployed by Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

Planning to catch ’em all this weekend? Here’s everything you need to know to make the most of the 2018 Pokémon Go Fest:

💡 Heads up

The Taste of Chicago starts Wednesday, July 11 and ends Sunday, July 15, in Grant Park (Pokémon Go Fest’s former home). Expect the Loop and surrounding neighborhoods (Lincoln Park included) to see extra congestion.

Niantic and festival organizers have been tight-lipped about the actual gameplay experience for festival participants, but we’ve made some inferences in this guide to help shape your experience. Let us know how our predictions fared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — we’ll be following the hashtag #PokemonGoFest2018.

Pokemon Go Players in Grant Park in Summer 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Pokémon Go Players in Grant Park in Summer 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

🗒 Information for everyone

Game developer Niantic Inc. expects this year’s Pokémon Go Fest go off without a hitch. The structure of this year’s Fest — spreading players out across Lincoln Park and extending programming across two days this weekend — is expected to make things run more smoothly, Niantic representative Yafine Lee told the Sun-Times in an email.

An important note: players will only be able to activate their in-game ticket on one of the two days this weekend. This means that if you go to Lincoln Park on Saturday, you won’t be able to play at the Fest on Sunday — even if you purchase a second, Sunday ticket.

In addition to activities in Lincoln Park, Niantic has planned in-game activities throughout the city to encourage players to explore Chicago. If you’re attending the fest, expect to to enjoy a fun tour around town. If you aren’t, prepare to encounter more pedestrians staring down at their phones than usual.

Tyler Vaughan celebrates after catching a “mystical Unown” alongside his mother, Helen Vaughan, at Pokémon GO Fest in Grant Park on July 22, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

🏘 Information for residents

“Residents can expect lots of people around the park and extra Pokémon GO activity around the city for the weekend,” Niantic representative Yafine Lee said as a head’s up to non-players who will be out and about this weekend.

We got a sneak peek at the gameplay map, however, and it looks like spillover into residential streets will be minimal; most hotspots are concentrated around Chicago’s usual cultural and tourist attractions.

It’s unclear whether the gameplay area in Lincoln Park will be closed off for the Fest, but even if it isn’t, we’re recommend avoiding the area if you’re not there to play. (If you want a festival experience without a virtual reality component, consider going to Taste of Chicago. Le Butcherettes and the Flaming Lips are sharing the stage on Saturday.)

The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo. | Photo provided by Todd Rosenberg Photography

☀ Weather

The National Weather Service is currently predicting “seasonably warm” temperatures with “somewhat elevated” humidity levels, although a weak front is making it difficult to predict day-to-day conditions. The Fest will continue regardless of weather conditions, according to the event’s website.

Keep checking the weather forecasts for more information, pack an umbrella if rain looks increasingly likely, and make a game plan to protect your phone from water damage (whether that means buying a fancy waterproof case or going low-tech with a Ziploc bag).

📱 Cell service

We spoke with Chicago’s four largest cellular network providers about their plans for maintaining reception across Lincoln Park this weekend. Here’s what each had to say:

  • Verizon: “The Verizon network has been enhanced and optimized in preparation for the upcoming Pokémon festival. To support the expected crowds we have deployed two cell on light trucks (COLTs) which will add additional capacity to our existing network infrastructure around Lincoln Park.”
  • AT&T: “To support customers at this year’s Pokémon Go Fest, we are deploying two Cell on Wheels, or COWs. These portable cell sites will boost capacity by 452%, providing a more reliable connection.”
  • Sprint: “This year, we will be deploying a COW again to provide additional network coverage for Pokémon Go Fest.”
  • T-Mobile: “We’re deploying four additional temporary cell sites in the Lincoln Park area to support the expected capacity this weekend.”

🗺 Getting to Pokémon Go Fest

A CTA train passes over Wabash Avenue in Chicago on July 2, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

A CTA train passes over Wabash Avenue in Chicago on July 2, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times


The Chicago Transit Authority is adding extra rail and bus services for the Taste of Chicago, which will also come in handy for the Fest. Additional services will be running on the Red Line and Brown Line L services, which run close to Lincoln Park.

  • If you’re entering at the North Entrance, the closest CTA L station is Wellington (Brown Line, 18 minute walk), and bus 77 Belmont stops right outside at Diversey/Lake Shore.
  • If you’re entering at the South Entrance, the closest CTA L station is Sedgewick (Brown Line, 12 minute walk), and buses 22 Clark, 36 Broadway, 73 Armitage stop a few steps away at Clark & LaSalle.

The CTA Trip Planner is a useful tool for planning your transit journey, particularly if you need an accessible or step-free trip.

The CTA recommends purchasing fares ahead of time to avoid long lines at train stations. Exact change is needed on buses if paying with cash; contactless bankcards and mobile wallets can also be used for bus fare. Visit the CTA’s website to learn more about ticketing, and check the website for service alerts and disruption announcements.

If you’re expecting to spend the whole day in Chicago, the CTA unlimited-rides pass (1-day, $10; 3-day, $20; 7-day, $28) loaded onto a Ventra Card can be a bargain, but you’ll have to buy a hard plastic Ventra card for $5 to load with credits. (The $5 will be reimbursed as a credit if you register your card online.)

The CTA also sells disposable 1-day paper Ventra Tickets ($10) at all Ventra vending machines, and 3-day Ventra Tickets ($20) at O’Hare and Midway vending machines, so pick one up on your way into town if you’re visiting for the weekend.

🚃 Metra

Metra will be adding extra service for the Taste of Chicago on the BNSF, the Union Pacific Northwest and the Union Pacific North lines. The Metra will not permit alcohol on board after 7 p.m. Friday, July 13, and throughout the weekend.

The $10 Metra weekend pass offers unlimited travel on all Metra lines Saturday and Sunday except the South Shore Line. Metra recommends buying your ticket ahead of time through the Ventra app or at the station if a ticket agent or machine is available; the $5 on-board surchage continues to apply for tickets bought onboard.

Like last year, players from across the country are expected at Pokemon Go Fest. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Like last year, players from across the country are expected at Pokémon Go Fest. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

🚲 Divvy

The city’s bike ride-share program, Divvy, is an excellent way to get around Chicago without having to walk or look after your own bike.

There are Divvy stations throughout the city, including two within a few blocks of both the North Entrance and South Entrance to the Fest, although we recommend using the app to check dock availability before taking a Divvy bike there. If the docking station is full, you’ll have to pedal to another location to re-rack your rental bike, and could risk incurring late fees.

A single ride for up to 30 minutes costs $3, but you can dock and re-rent your bike in a minute by stopping by stations along the way. The 24-hour Explorer Pass offers three-hour rides for $15. Rides and passes can be purchased through the Divvy app or from kiosks at each Divvy station. Check stations and bike availability on the Divvy website.

🚦 Driving

Based on the combined traffic expected between the Taste of Chicago and Pokémon Go Fest turnout, we strongly recommend visitors find alternatives to driving. Parking in Chicago is usually difficult on weekends, and if your Pokémon hunting brings you to multiple locations across Chicago, you’ll likely spend more time looking for parking than playing the game.


More Sun-Times Guides

Taste of Chicago is happening this weekend. Want to sample the city’s best bites on your off-day? Check out the Chicago Sun-Times Guide to Taste of Chicago 2018.

There are more than two fests happening this weekend: the Chicago Sun-Times Guide to Summer tracks every summer shindig, from the big names to the hidden gems.

Avoid the indoors while you can and hit up a neighborhood farmers market this summer. Check out our guide to find one near you: Chicago Sun-Times 2018 Farmers Market Guide.