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Pokémon Go Fest isn’t just happening at Pokémon Go Fest

You can get nearly as good of an experience without a wristband

A photo of people are playing Pokémon Go all over Chicago, not just inside of Pokémon Go Fest.
People are playing Pokémon Go all over Chicago, not just inside of Pokémon Go Fest.
Blaire Deziel

It took us a long, long time to get to Chicago’s Lincoln Park, where Pokémon Go Fest 2018 is happening. Part of that is because it’s a long park, with entrances at both the northern and southern ends. The other part of that is because we got very lost.

But walking to Pokémon Go Fest is nearly as fulfilling as being within the confines of the event itself. Instead of cramming everyone into a congested, self-contained parkground this year, Niantic went the opposite direction with the event. The theme this year is “A Walk in the Park,” yet it really should be “A Walk through Chicago;” there’s almost as many worthwhile finds right outside of Lincoln Park as within it.

During my (seemingly endless) walk with my friend and enlisted photographer toward Pokémon Go Fest, we ran into nearly every advertised special Pokémon. We found a shiny Plusle, one of the most plentiful Pokémon within the event itself; we passed a Raid Battle against the legendary Lugia; we caught Aerodactyl, and Snorunt, and other Pokémon we hadn’t captured or seen before. All of this happened before we caught any glimpse of Pokémon Go Fest and, in some cases, not far from our hotels back in the city’s main Loop.

We encountered so many pre-Fest Pokémon — and wristband-less players — that we started thinking that maybe we’d be just as well playing throughout Chicago.

A screenshot of what the map looks like once you activate your Pokémon Go wristband.
This is what the map looks like once you activate your Pokémon Go wristband.
Niantic/The Pokémon Company via Polygon

“The city is full of extra spawn points,” Edmund, also known as Redditor Revision12 from The Silph Road community, told us right outside of Lincoln Park. “You could enjoy right now the increased spawns throughout the city” without a Saturday wristband.

Edmund and his son, Peter, only had passes for Sunday, but they’d already caught plenty of shiny Pokémon and other rarities. We ran into several others like them on the way to Lincoln Park and within Chicago, people who were only ticketed for one of the two days or maybe hadn’t bought wristbands at all.

That included Anthony and Lindsay, who drove eight hours from Pittsburgh and spent hours walking through the city on Saturday, despite not having wristbands for that day.

“Is it really worth it for a new Pokédex entry? No,” Anthony said. Lindsay and he had even met two ticketed players who had left the park due to connection issues. (That was a rare occurrence this year, thankfully.)

There are obvious benefits to heading into Lincoln Park with a paid band of course. Once you get inside the park itself, you have to scan a unique QR at one of the few visible PokéStops in order to activate all the rest. None of those cool Pokémon you saw out in the city will appear without activating the band either.

“The park is just an empty space except for the few check-in points,” Edmund explained.

“It’s open — there’s nothing gated, there’s no security. It does feel like you’re missing out if you don’t have access to the tickets.”

So you could totally go hang out in Lincoln Park with all the trainers and show off that you, too, have some shiny rare Pokémon. But you’re not going to be able to get that Celebi or the other Pokémon popping up during the event.

At the same time: This is the first time I’ve felt really inspired to have Pokémon Go open the entire time I’m walking through a city, thanks to all of those special finds Niantic’s planted in the city. Just remember to look up when you’re in Chicago and playing; it’s got the prettiest skyline in the country.

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