Lessons learned from Pokémon Go Fest in Chicago

Over two million people viewed at least part of our Pokémon Go event streamed live on Twitch.com from Grant Park in Chicago Saturday.. This was an event for which the event itself sold out in five minutes with virtually nobody knowing what the event would be. With great anticipation, we slowly learned what the event was supposed to be, followed by what it would not be.

Grant Park has seen many events over the decades. Lollapalooza started here and is now its regular home. The park served as the staging area for the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. There was rioting here in 1968 during the Democratic National Convention. Pope John Paul celebrated a mass here once. And this was the celebration epicenter for Barack Obama, and the Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks, and 2016 Cubs.

Pokémon Go Fest was just the latest event here. According to one article it was the most disastrous event in the history of gaming. Being a glass half full kinda guy, I look immediately to the upside. There’s always an upside. Right?

My role in this event was to help display the graphics for the event itself and for the live stream. These Pokmon images continue to be captivating, as evidenced by the rather large audience that has viewed at least part of the almost seven-hour event on Twitch. Of course, many in this audience grew up with these characters.

Coming from a long history of computer graphics for live television events and more recently also helping to build and manage a CCTV digital signage network for a major energy corporation, I was at once impressed and intimidated by how ambitious this event was.

In addition to our live stream to Twitch.com we were feeding a large screen on the main stage and multiple vertical screens around the park that were set up to display phone outputs and otherwise beautify and entertain.

On the plus side for Niantic, the tickets sold out immediately and there was a huge turnout in addition to a presidentially yuge viewing audience worldwide. Even hours into the event, scalpers were still selling tickets outside at five times face value.

I’ll leave it to the experts to figure out the obvious mistakes that were made. Niantic identified three main areas of concern they were working on for the full day, to no avail. Beyond the network provider issue of not enough bandwidth, Mike from Niantic took ownership of an “iPhone crash bug” and “an authentication issue,” neither of which were resolved that day.

Re-learned was to hire professionals and be sure to allow the time that is needed for planning, setup, and testing. Lines are way past blurred between broadcast television and online “streaming”. In fact, it’s all streaming. How amazing you can organize an event with virtually no description and attract over two million people to watch it.

After all of the hard work to attract two million people to watch an event, make sure the event comes off as you plan it. But backing up a step, make sure you plan it!

Ultimately, brand will take you a long way, but content is still king.