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Pokémon Go’s least popular team is no longer the game’s punching bag

Team Instinct has risen up the ranks, and they’re no joke anymore

A wallpaper of Spark of Pokémon Go’s Team Instinct. Niantic/The Pokémon Company

When Pokémon Go first launched, players quickly found their in-game punching bag. Leader Spark of yellow-colored Team Instinct, one of three teams that players must pledge allegiance to, was seen as the dopey kid brother to Team Mystic and Team Valor’s strong, intimidating heads. What started as teasing of Team Instinct became bullying, as players who identified with Spark’s group often got shut out of gym battles and other features.

Two years later, that no longer seems to be the case — at least, based on what I saw at this year’s Pokémon Go Fest. The event brought back last year’s team-themed lounges as part of its decor, each one bearing the color and insignia of the game’s squads. You could go hang in any lounge you wanted, but why would you do that when you can hang out with your own crew?

In 2017, the blue Team Mystic’s tent was overcrowded with loyal members and lots of blue shirts hogging outlets. This year, not so much.

A photo of Team Mystic’s tent at Pokémon Go Fest 2018.
Team Mystic’s tent seemed quiet throughout the day, compared to last year’s proud bunch.
Blaire Deziel

And there was plenty of reason for every tent to be filled up: On Saturday, the weather was a painful mixture of hot, humid and rainy. I took cover in my own Team Valor’s tent for a while, but it was hard to find a seat there for the majority of the afternoon — Team Valor is hopping these days, far more than Mystic. The Pokémon-catching leaderboards from the Sunday of the event suggests that too.

But there were plenty of happy people at Team Instinct’s tent. I saw players proudly wearing yellow shirts, and several others said they now found the group endearing.

The numbers that Niantic posted on Twitter over the weekend seem to reflect this; Team Instinct’s members completed more than nine million research quest tasks during the event, the biggest accomplishment from any team that the developer shared with fans.

The co-creator of Pokémon Go’s biggest fan group in Lincoln, Nebraska, told me that he was one Team Instinct member who’s experienced a change among former Spark haters. Team bias stopped him from playing the game for a while, despite how active he was at first. Eventually, he said, he stopped caring about whether the community was bashing his desire to stick with Team Instinct.

“‘Do I have valor?’” he asked himself when first choosing a team. “‘No. Am I mystical?’ No. But ‘instinct,’ I get, so I picked that.”

Makes enough sense to me. And at this point in the game’s lifespan, when the point seems more about building camaraderie than it is about tearing each other down, maybe something as low-key as “instinct” is more attractive than boasting about strength or magical insight.

“It’s definitely community first,” said Jeff about Pokémon Go, year two. He then went on to catch up with his friends — including a proud, yellow shirt-wearing Team Instinct member.