sdcc 2016

Pokémon Go Was A Force At San Diego Comic-Con 2016

by Brian Shea on Jul 24, 2016 at 05:25 PM

This week's San Diego Comic-Con is behind us, and while we received a ton of trailers, teasers, and even some cool announcements, the one inescapable element of San Diego Comic-Con 2016 was Pokémon Go. No matter where I went or what I was doing, the Pocket Monster app was somewhere close by.

Aside from the obvious fact that the app has far transcended the typical Pokémon audience and the fact that I was going to one of the largest nerd culture gatherings in the world, the first indication that Pokémon Go was going to be the biggest thing at Comic-Con was the abundance of lures placed on the Wednesday night before SDCC opened its doors. The Gaslamp Quarter around the San Diego Convention Center is full of PokéStops, and the SDCC attendees took full advantage of that fact. That's when I knew that devoted trainers would not be shirking their duties in the name of SDCC.

All throughout the week, you couldn't walk any distance without hearing someone talking about Pokémon Go. People stopped in the middle of the show floor to catch monsters, attendees sought out WiFi and areas with strong reception to try and pick up a GPS signal to play, and one of the most common conversations on the floor revolved around how poor the cell service was and how disappointed they were that they couldn't catch Pokémon between their other SDCC activities. In my final moments on the show floor I heard a vendor sadly tell another that because the service was so bad on the show floor, he missed out on a Dratini and a Magneton. Again, these instances weren't me walking up to people and asking them about Pokémon Go; this was just what you heard as you walked from booth to booth.

The lure scene on any given night in downtown San Diego during SDCC

I also noticed an increased interest in all things Pokémon at the show. Collectibles related to the franchise seemed to sell out faster than other adjacent products, while some booths took advantage of the new interest and charged a premium on some Pokémon merchandise. On multiple occasions during parties, I heard people cry out that a coveted Pokémon was present. Of course, that led to the majority of party-goers to whip out their phones to catch the nearby Squirtle or Pikachu.

By now, we've all seen businesses cater towards Pokémon Go players, but it was even more intense in San Diego this past week. Restaurants had Pokémon Go-themed food specials, promises of lures being thrown down with every purchase, and even discounts for those who show the waitstaff their Pokédex. Of course this is nothing new, but the number of participating restaurants and bars participating in such specials skyrocketed during this time. We've been saying that this is a smart business move since the app first appeared, and with so many people who are predisposed to love Pokémon Go in San Diego for the convention, it only made sense that a ton of restaurants would take advantage of that to help them stick out from the crowd.

But I get it: SDCC is a huge convention focused on nerd culture. This is all to be expected. But what about the fact that nearly every interview or panel that I attended had some discussion about the app? In addition, it actually caught me off-guard when I took an Uber and the driver didn't make a remark like "Did you catch anything good?" The answer was almost always "yes," seeing as how lures were everywhere. I remember arriving at a bar looking distraught. When my friend asked me what was wrong, I angrily said, "The Kadabra got away because the stupid app froze." 

When I spoke with Gears of War 4 lead voice actor Liam McIntyre, we spent five minutes discussing how to be more effective at collecting creatures and the ins and outs of gym battles. Before he jumped on the Gears of War 4 panel, Gears of War co-creator Rod Fergusson made a quick remark that McIntyre was playing Pokémon Go backstage, to which McIntyre joked, "I don't mean to alarm anyone, but there are several Doduos in this room." 

During the South Park panel, a question was asked during the Q&A session about whether we'd be seeing a Chinpokomon Go episode of South Park. Series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone laughed and said that they actually felt they already did given that the premise of the Chinpokomon episode was that the Chinpokomon brainwash children to travel around and catch all of the creatures while Japan collected data on us.

I spoke with voice actors Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke (SpongeBob and Patrick on SpongeBob Squarepants) and we spent their first five minutes with me talking about the app. Kenny joked that we could talk about Pokémon Go all night instead of the interview.

My favorite moment on this topic came when I encountered a small group of cosplayers who were dressed as PokéStops. Even before I ran into them, I had heard about them from three or four different people on the show floor. Anything that was Pokémon Go-related seemed to get amazing traction at the show as the app and franchise sit comfortably in the front of everyone's mind.

The craze surrounding Pokémon Go at SDCC 2016 was most evident during the final day when the panel was so in-demand that hundreds of people were unable to enter before the talk concluded. This was already after Comic-Con International bumped up the room size for the panel to its biggest area: the massive Hall H. Prior to the panel kicking off, rumors swirled about what would be announced at the talk. Speculation and rumors that the first Legendary creature was going to be revealed were so prevalent, many thought them to be fact. Some even asserted that not only would the first Legendary monster be revealed at the panel, but everyone in attendance would be given the opportunity to catch it. It was amazing how many times I heard these rumors.

Of course, those rumors never amounted to anything, but it was amazing to watch it all unfold. It was fun to be a part of the experience, just as it was fun to witness how this cultural phenomenon reached its fever pitch during the enormous celebration of nerd culture that is San Diego Comic-Con.