Hundreds of KC Pokémon Go players to make Poke-pilgrimage to global fest in Chicago

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A year after the Pokémon Go mobile app broke records on its debut, millions still play. Hundreds of Kansas City players will be going to Chicago for a global Pokémon Go Fest on July 22.

Jim Zimmerman was all set to plunk down $20 for this weekend’s worldwide anniversary celebration of Pokémon Go.

But then tickets sold out in less than an hour.

“I was pissed,” said Zimmerman, 46, of Overland Park. So he found another source. “I paid more than 200 bucks for my ticket, but I wasn’t going to miss it.”

Zimmerman is one of hundreds of players locally and thousands from around the world heading to the sold-out Pokémon Go Fest on Saturday in Chicago’s Grant Park.

The all-day event offers special rewards and challenges and hang-out areas to meet teammates from around the world.

“We are all operating on faith, honestly,” said Julius Wells, 29, of Overland Park. “When you buy the tickets you don’t really know anything about the event other than it’s on a Saturday in Chicago. Details have leaked out slowly, but still nothing is concrete, but people are still willing to pay for it.”

A year after the mobile app broke records on its debut, its creator, Niantic, still boasts 65 million active players in a month (though Forbes points out they’re not playing every day as they once were). Still, the game seems to be thriving around the world and in Kansas City.

More than 15,000 fans belong to the Facebook page “Pokemon Go KC.” And Wells estimates a couple of hundred Kansas City players will make the seven-hour, 500-plus-mile pilgrimage to the Pokémon Go promised land.

On this day, a heat index warning doesn’t stop KC’s most intense players. Eight friends stand near a bubbling fountain on the Country Club Plaza — eyes fixed on their phones, fingers quickly tapping.

A white SUV pulls up, and a man leans out. “Did I miss it?”

“Yeah, sorry, we just started,” one of the guys responds. “But there’s another not too far. We can meet you over there.”

They’re taking advantage of a new game feature unveiled for the anniversary: a raid, where up to 20 players can join forces to take down a powerful Pokémon at a certain location — in this case a red clay fountain. The raids bring people together and force collaboration.

“People ask all the time, ‘You still play this?’ ” said Shane Reynolds, 35. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, there are hundreds of us.’ 

Reynolds, a Lenexa resident and avid player from the beginning, has rented a car to make the drive with six other players (for you Pokémon Go players, they’re all Team Valor).

Jeremy Crewe, 31, will be packing his own car full of other friends to head to Chicago. He moved to Lenexa from “redneck hickville” North Carolina a few months before the app launched.

“I used it to explore the city and meet people, people I would never have met outside this game, people that come over to my house for barbecue,” Crewe said.

He’s excited to do more of the same in Chicago and to meet people from around the world.

He said that because fewer people are playing the game the early server issues have been fixed and the community has grown stronger. Some of the most active players use the app more than five hours a day.

Wells said players span every age group, race, religion and sexual orientation. It’s more than a game to him, and to the players willing to drive to Chicago.

“Pokémon Go literally permeates every diverse group you could possibly imagine,” Wells said. “It’s a thriving community, and KC is going to show up and represent in Chicago.”

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