It’s about 8 am and there is already a crowd huddled outside a temple – they’ve parked their bikes around or are seated on them and looking into their phones with an excitement that’s almost child-like.
Their expressions often become static, transfixed on something that causes their eyes to glimmer, even if for a short instant. Parks, temples, storefronts and more are all proving grounds for trainers in Pokémon Go, one of the most revolutionary games employing augmented reality which officially released in July last year and received an India launch on December 13, 2016.
A year on, the game’s volume of players may not match up to the 750 million downloads it has garnered – but reports say there are at least 60 million active players worldwide. Closer home in Bengaluru, it is not so much about the numbers as it is about the intent to catch, evolve and battle Pokémon to an obsessive degree.
By July this year, developers Niantic introduced another level of cooperative gameplay – raid battles, where trainers would have to group together (from three to six to 10 and even 20, depending on the strength of the Pokémon they find at nearby Gyms) and collectively take on a rare and powerful beast, standing a chance to catch it.
Around then, 23-year- old data analyst and engineer Adil Kumar began putting together a group on WhatsApp, seeking players to raid with in Banashankari. Although there are hundreds of players part of the Bangalore city group for the game, the Banashankari Stage II raid squad has gone from five players to 90, with at least 50 active members chiming in to participate in raid battles and other features to enable catching Pokémon in and around South Bangalore.
Adil, a level 39 trainer in the game, says, “I never knew I would find these many people playing just in my area.” Coming in from Singapore, where Pokémon Go still retains huge popularity, Abhishek Premnath (32) saw that it was viable to play the game in Bangalore as well in August last year. Also a level 39 trainer (the highest being level 40), Abhishek talks about the adrenaline rush the game’s blend of reality and fantasy gives him and indulges his childhood fascination with dragons, of which there are plenty and powerful in Pokémon Go. Currently, he loves that raid battles brings people together.
“Group gameplay is one of the most fascinating part of the game. It enables us to get in touch with people who come from different walks of life. I am a people person and love to interact and socialize with different people,” Abhishek says. Twenty-one- year-old business student Meghana Sharan and her parents are probably among them. The trio started in January this year, encouraged by Meghana’s interest in the game from her days watching the TV show and noticing how Pokemon Go was popular among her friends. Playing collectively as a family to scale new levels is a major priority for the Sharans, who take the time out from their jobs in the IT sector over the weekends. Meghana adds, “Our extended family are sometimes worried about us playing and going to so many unknown places for certain raids. They like the fact that we walk in Lalbagh for hours together while catching Pokémon.”
With many seasonal game updates and player incentives, the game has now introduced the third generation of Pokémon to catch, out of a total of five generations, which is an indication of the game-makers’ long-term goals. While the maximum level 40 is a goal for some, Adil and Abhishek firmly believe they’ll keep playing and waiting on more imminent game features such as trading, player vs player battling and quests.
While Abhishek hopes that Niantic adds India-specific real-world events like they hosted in Chicago, Yokohoma and Barcelona, he adds, “This game still keeps me interested as just when game becomes stagnant, Niantic pulls something out of the bag time and again.”