Go inside Pokémon GO Fest 2018 in Chicago, Illinois, as we take a walk in Lincoln Park with The Silph Road. A grassroots network of Pokémon GO trainers, The Silph Road brings research, tools, and community to Pokémon GO players around the world. At Pokémon GO Fest 2018, The Silph Road returned to Chicago to trade Pokémon, connect with fellow trainers, and completed important research tasks as they discovered the Mythical Pokémon Celebi.

Gotta catch ’em all with Pokémon GO, the Pokémon Company and Niantic’s innovative AR mobile game. On July 14th and 15th, over 21,000 Trainers attended Niantic’s 2nd Pokémon GO Fest in Chicago’s beautiful Lincoln Park on the shore of Lake Michigan, while 180,000 mobile gamers participated in the surrounding Chicago area, and tens of millions of Trainers all over the world took part in Pokémon GO’s global challenge.

Pokémon GO Trainers enjoyed a 1.8-mile curated walking path in Lincoln Park, featuring four dynamic habitats filled with more than 50 species of Pokémon. In addition to Plusle and Minun appearing throughout the event, Trainers encountered digital Pokémon such as Ludicolo, Torkoal, and Metagross. Event attendees walked an average of more than 6 kilometers, completed an average of 36 research tasks and caught an average of 350 Pokémon at the 2018 GO Fest. Mixing Advanced Augmented Reality (AR), the event’s habitats, trading and catching, and connecting with fellow Trainers, the world of Pokémon truly came alive in Chicago.

“What AR really means is connecting digital information, objects and experiences with the physical world in situ as you experience them. It’s the part about connecting information to the world that’s important. In Chicago, we created a really fun, interesting environment for people to move through, and to really experience the full breadth of the park,” said John Hanke, the founder and CEO of Niantic, a software development company spun out of Google that designed Ingress, Pokémon GO and the upcoming Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.

At Pokémon GO Fest 2018, we took a walk in the park with the co-founders of The Silph Road. Referred to by the handles of Dronpes and Ceppi, the Trainers behind The Silph Road discussed Pokémon GO Fest 2018, creating the world’s largest geolocation gaming community, recent news, and the latest features from The Pokémon Company and Niantic’s groundbreaking mobile game.

Our exclusive interview with Dronpes and Ceppi, the co-founders of The Silph Road, begins now…

Christopher Parr: Dronpes, you’re on Team Instinct. Your favorite Pokémon is Arcanine. What’s your favorite Pokémon game and why?

Dronpes: Favorite Pokémon game was the first I played: Red. As a kid, I’d sit in the backseat on car trips and play for hours while the family drove across the country. I never wanted to stop playing.

Ceppi: I’m on Team Valor. Favorite Pokémon would probably be Gengar if I really thought about, surprisingly so few have ever asked me. Favorite Pokémon game, other than Pokémon GO, would be Yellow. It kept me engaged as it was one of the first games I played on Gameboy Color, with Pikachu following you, and being able to keep trades up with my Blue cartridge.

CP: What year was The Silph Road founded and how many members are in the network?

Dronpes: The Silph Road was founded about 6 months before the game launched: in January 2016. We’ve swollen in size since our early days to include hundreds of volunteer leadership around the world. Our community has continued to grow week after week since launch, and today our forum has more than 300,000 members. Our website has millions of visitors each month accessing our resources and news.

CP: What was your overall impression of the Chicago 2018 GO Fest?

Ceppi: 2018 GO Fest has left me beaming. The fest really felt like an event, it wasn’t anything like 2017, network interruptions aside. I felt like I was playing with a purpose, the walking loop was just the right size, and it felt immersive. Truly from start to finish, Niantic has really put thought into how these events should feel and play through. I look forward to future events!

CP: How was the 2018 event an improvement over the glitchy debut in 2017?

Dronpes: Obviously great care was taken to utilize the cell network infrastructure to its fullest. A 1.8 mile loop was planned in place of a crowded field. COWs, COLTs, and Super COWS were deployed in force. State-of-the-art wi-fi was even rolled out as a back-up. But beyond the infrastructure itself, the event’s in-game incentives were designed to draw folks away from the crowded entrances where cell towers historically get overloaded. The new ‘Research’ feature was used brilliantly to give attendees a to-do list in the park, a sense of purpose and progression, and lucrative rewards worth pursuing. This was, in my opinion, a great improvement over last year’s event where folks generally wandered un-incentivized through the small area and waited to be entertained.

CP: What was your favorite moment at the Chicago 2018 Event?

Ceppi: I had a lot of fun bumping into players I’ve interacted with online but never met. Plus, getting to trade with others. One of my favorite trades was a Tropius I caught in Malta for a Hypno that was caught 2 years to the day, the player’s first Hypno. It was cool to help complete someone’s Pokedex and get such a treasured Pokémon in return.

Dronpes: Our community members wore a ton of Silph Road shirts, pins, hats, and other gear. Nearly everywhere I looked I saw The Silph Road being repped in the park. This was an amazing thing to see all weekend.

CP: How has the Pokémon GO app and communications from Niantic improved in 2018?

Ceppi: Leaps and bounds. Since December of 2017, Niantic has really found its stride. Communications has been a big part of that. Adding announcements in-game means more users are able to consume the world they’re playing in and it gives us a great opportunity to provide additional context and discovery about these new mechanics.

CP: What’s the best new feature of the Pokémon GO mobile game? What’s missing?

Dronpes: Niantic has increased its pace in game updates, in-game events, and communications with the community. It’s difficult to pick a favorite new feature from the recent additions, as they have all added meaningful dimensions to playing Pokémon GO. The introduction of in-game weather effects added a bit more depth to combat and spawns, the new Friendship mechanic has already been a boon to casual and rural players, and trading has helped friends and loved ones fill each others’ Pokedexes as so many have waited for. Morale in the community is at an all-time high.

Ceppi: I know a lot of us are eagerly awaiting PVP. With Niantic’s recent stride: friendship, trading, raids, and community days – it feels more and more like the game is maturing and PVP is one of the final features we’re all waiting for. Beyond that, I want Niantic to keep surprising us. There are a lot of clever people at Niantic and I’m happy with the majority of what they’ve brought us so far.

CP: At the core, what’s the mission of The Silph Road?

Dronpes: The Silph Road has 3 aims: helping players learn and improve, researching and discovering game mechanics, and building an in-person player network. We never dreamed our community would become as large as it has – but we’ve worked very hard at every step to keep the quality of the forum high while curbing the elitism that can plague gaming forums.

Ceppi: We’ve had a lot of unique challenges around our own infrastructure, but I think my favorite experience has been traveling to other communities in the Silph League and seeing what Pokémon GO is like in different states and countries. So far, I’ve raided with folks in Las Vegas, enjoyed community days in Vancouver, Washington DC, Malta, and Copenhagen, and enjoyed myself wandering Westfalenpark and Dortmund. I look forward to these impromptu visits to connect with local Silph Road leadership and their communities.

CP: Where do you want to travel next with Pokémon GO?

Dronpes: Japan! I’ve never been, and would love to experience Pokémon in its birthplace.

Ceppi: I haven’t been back to Japan since the game started. If I can land the Yokosuka lottery, I think it’d be a great chance to finally visit again with the game in tow.

CP: What’s next for The Silph Road?

Dronpes: The Silph Road’s focus is turning to our fledgling native app. For so long we’ve had great information, breaking news, and in-person player networking all conducted through forums or browsers. But this is a mobile game community! And native mobile apps provide overwhelming advantages for use while out and about. The Silph Road’s native app has a great team working on it, and features and resources are coming fast and often. Our public beta has already begun on Android, and iOS will follow soon.

CP: What’s does Pokémon GO mean to you?

Dronpes: It’s difficult to pick only one thing that Pokémon GO means after the crazy adventure we’ve been on with The Silph Road, but for me personally, a major driver is: Nostalgia. Pokémon GO is a perfect application of AR and geolocation gaming – and the ability to have a hobby living the nostalgic dreams of childhood me is something I treasure.

Ceppi: Pokémon GO is community.

Thanks for traveling on The Silph Road with Dronpes and Ceppi. And remember, we all live in a Pokémon World!