By Laura Lorek
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
“I just wanted to try to get everyone together. With all of the events happening in our world right now, it seemed like a good way to get people outside, have some fun and meet some new people,” said Tommy Arredondo, the Hunt’s organizer and founder of the Pokemon Go: SA Facebook Group with more than 3,200 members.
At the Alamo, about 600 Pokemon players gathered which belonged to Team Mystic, the blue team. Several hundred more players gathered at two other spots. Team Valor, the red team, met at the Tobin Center and Team Instinct, the yellow team, met at Travis Park. Once a Pokemon player reaches Level 5 they can join one of the three teams.
“A lot of people have grown up with Pokemon and it doesn’t matter if you’re older or you’re a kid it appeals to
everyone,” Arredondo said. The first Pokemon games launched in 1996 for Nintendo’s Gameboy. The Pokemon franchise has since spawned several more games, TV shows and movies. It is Nintendo’s most popular game series behind the Mario franchise.
All of the groups hiked around downtown for a few miles before meeting up at Hemisfair Park at the end of the hunt. It was the largest gathering of Pokemon players in downtown San Antonio since the game launched on July 6th. Pokemon Go, which is a mobile phone app for iOS and Android smartphones, hit the market in the U.S. last week. Niantic, based in San Francisco, created the game in cooperation with Nintendo and the Pokemon Company. The game involves players walking to find Pokemon creatures. They then must use Poke balls to toss at the Pokemon to catch them. Once they catch a certain number they level up. And along the way, they gather potions, incense, incubators, eggs and other items that help them hatch higher level Pokemon and successfully do battle in virtual gyms. The game is free to download and play. Players can buy coins to purchase items within the game.
The Pokemon Go game is the biggest mobile game in U.S. history with an estimated 21 million players in the U.S., according to Survey Monkey.
San Antonio has a great community of Pokemon players, said Cody Sanders, one of the local leaders of Team Mystic and founder of Team Mystic SA Facebook Group. He also helped to organize Saturday’s event.
Pokemon Go has so many benefits and the game spans several generations and appeals to a wide range of people, Sanders said. It’s really all inclusive, he said.
“I’ve gotten so many miles of exercise that I wouldn’t have gotten before,” Sanders said. “And people are getting out of the house and meeting people that they wouldn’t have met otherwise. That’s one of the greatest benefits.”
And people did meet new people along the walk. They chatted about the different Pokemon they caught and where. They also battled for control of the gyms around downtown. Team Mystic, the blue team, initially took control of the Alamo, but later Team Valor, the red team, captured it.
People had a great time visiting Pokestops along the way like the Buckhorn Saloon, the Houston Street marker, the Gunter Hotel, Riverwalk clock, Hemisfair Tower and so many more Pokestops. They captured a variety of Pokemon including Geodude, Meowith, Sandshrew, Paras, Rhyhorn and Abra. And several people gathered eggs, which they hatch with incubators. If a player walks a 5K, they hatch their egg into a higher level Pokemon.
Probably the biggest challenge was getting several hundred people, hunched over looking at their phones, safely across the streets and down the sidewalks.Tonya Harrell, a member of Team Mystic who wore a bright blue shirt emblazoned with NERD across the front, actually leveled up during the game to level 11. She has caught more than 75 unique Pokemon.
She started playing Pokemon Go from the day it came out but she’s been playing Pokemon since the very first Gameboy games.
“I like a lot of the different Pokemon because of how cute they are and the storyline behind it is really good,” Harrell said. “It’s very inclusive too because when I was younger I had females to look up to in Pokemon. Not all of the best trainers were boys. Misty was a bad ass trainer and she was a girl.”
Harrell attended the Pokemon Go Hunt to socialize and find new Pokemon.
“I’m usually a recluse and I’m trying to be active and go out and do things,” Harrell said. “I’m finally starting to meet some new people.”
Her favorite Pokemon that she has caught so far is Volpix, a fire-type Pokemon, which she plans to evolve into a Ninetales, the prettiest Pokemon there is, Harrell said.
Another popular spot for Pokemon players to gather in San Antonio is by the Alamo Cement sign and tractor in front of the entrance to the Alamo Quarry.
Earlier in the day, about a dozen people stood in front of the signs playing the game. The crowd included a mom and her two young daughters. The rest were all adults.
“It kind of takes you back to your childhood,” said Mark Antu, who started playing Pokemon Go on July 7th and he’s now at level 16 and has 72 Pokemon. He controls the gym in front of the Whole Earth Store in Quarry for Team Valor with a Vaporeon Pokemon.
The Pokemon Go craze has also spawned cottage industries. T-shirt sellers did brisk business selling team T-shirts at the hunt. People also sold stickers and bracelets. Stores and restaurants have also set so called lures to bring people into their establishments. In San Antonio, Uber drivers have offered to drive people around in search of Pokemon for $20 an hour.
“Random strangers, we become friends for something we have mutually in common,” said Antonio Torres, a friend of Antu who was also playing the game.
At midnight, about 20 cars were still parked in front of the sign at the Quarry with people standing beside them playing the game on their phones.