A year of Pokemon Go

This weekend marks a pretty weird anniversary in the world of gaming. At this time last year, Niantic was breaking an absolutely ridiculous number of records for game downloads and active players. Millions and millions of gamers picked the game up for a dose of Pokemon nostalgia and the promises made by this absolutely ridiculous trailer.

But a lot of people quickly got bored by what little gameplay there was at the time and many people stopped playing. Moving at a GLACIAL pace, Niantic has slowly been working on building out and improving upon the original design, but is it enough to lure people back? Or has the damage been done? 

I've been playing since launch (today marks exactly 1 year since the game was available in the app store for me and I downloaded it while in the IKEA parking lot in Atlanta and played for the first time inside of IKEA), and I can definitely see more appeal to the game today than there originally was when it launched. For me the game fills a weird role. Part of it is the completionist and collecting aspect of wanting to "Finish the Pokedex." But a lot of it is just it serves as a companion app for the things I like to do around here anyway.

I try to take my daughter out to some of the local parks here and go hiking, to get her out in nature and do a bit of walking. Pop some incubators onto eggs and work on hatching new pokemon. One of the big weaknesses still present in the game is made evident on a lot of these walks, it really is balanced toward players in big cities. Stuff spawns at low rates out in nature (where historical cell phone usage is pretty low, what spawns are based on), so the opportunity to catch some of the harder to find pokemon just never happens for me.

In a year, I have still never seen a Porygon, Snorlax, Gyarados, Dragonite, or Lapras in the wild. In fact, last week was the first time I'd ever seen a Dratini (evolves into Dragonite) in the wild. Which is insane. But thankfully, since they added the Buddy system a few months ago, it made filling out the Pokedex a little easier. If I have a Dratini, I can set it as my buddy and walk with it. Every once in a while (based on distance) you will get another candy for that pokemon. It can take a LONG TIME, but you can grind out the evolutions once you have the base pokemon.

And then there were the gyms. They were incredibly hard to deal with unless you had a group of friends you were playing with *AND* exactly the right pokemon at the right power levels to maximize the reputation grind at the gyms to take out pokemon at the most efficient rates possible. It was tedious and boring. Enough so that it wasn't really worth bothering.

Well, back in June Niantic rolled out a massive rework of the entire gym system. You can get badges in game for the individual gyms. It's easier for gyms to turn over. It's easier to make coin in the game from the new gym system (even if it's capped at 50 gold per day), making it easier to actually play the game for free. They also added a new Raid battling system, that only has a select few pokemon in it, but can definitely help with those people needing Snorlax and Lapras, since you get a chance to catch the raid pokemon after your group beats it. And you will need a group to beat a lot of the raids. It's pretty easy to solo level 1 raids. Level 2 raids are tough, but can be beaten solo if you have the right pokemon. Level 3 and 4 are an entirely different story, and again shows where the game is entirely different for people playing in a big city versus more rural players like myself.

But, let's look at some of the things from that original trailer, and see what the game still lacks. Right off the bat, you might notice all the weird signs saying "wild pokemon X meters" with arrows pointing to where they are. That definitely doesn't exist and likely never will. The game launched with an awesome footsteps system where you could literally stalk down a wild pokemon in the wild... but it caused some massive bugs and broke... and they replaced the system. Now it will show you what Pokestop the pokemon are close to, helping you track them down that way. It would be great if a system like that would come back to the game, but I don't think it's even remotely something they're trying to do any more, simply based on the fact that they never even bothered to try and fix the one that broke in the first place.

Trading. Still no trading in the game. Most people think it's because they're trying to figure out a way to make it safe and prevent people from getting ripped off (there are kids who play the game, after all). There is also a popular opinion that Niantic missed the boat to start dabbling in trading in the game when they introduced evolution items with the Generation 2 pokemon. Start with simple trading of evolution items to iron out the kinks in the trading system before flipping the "trade pokemon" switch.

PVP Battles. Also still don't exist in the game. Gym battles are still the only way to fight someone else's pokemon in the game. Niantic has actually stated that this is something they're working on though, so hopefully it will come sometime in the next year of development. But there is definitely nothing like the crazy battle royale they show in the trailer (might be trying to represent a gym battle), or the 3v3 battle they seem to be showing at one point too.

Raid Battle vs MewTwo. This is the most promising thing here. Like I said earlier, they just put Raid Battles into the game. And there is a level of Raid that hasn't been seen in the game yet (level 5), which many people think is reserved for legendary pokemon like MewTwo. Niantic has also said that "This summer will be Legendary." Hinting that we will see the Level 5 Raids this summer. Many people think the first will be at the big Pokemon Go event Niantic is throwing in Chicago. But the framework is in place, we will have to see when they pull the trigger on this.

So based on the trailer I've seen, I'd give Pokemon Go's first year a solid C+. The game is fun for what it is. They are making improvements to the game, even if they are on a similar scale to tectonic plate movement. The new gym system and raids have been incredibly refreshing to the game, and should remain fun for a while (as long as you can find people for the higher end raids). And with the addition of Generation 2, if you stopped toward the end of last summer, there's a ton more pokemon to catch now. Niantic has promised a "major update" every Quarter to the game, so big things every 3-4 months. Let's see how they live up to that promise.

So I encourage you to check it out again, pick it up and try it for a couple weeks. Get out and walk in the park. Try to play and have fun. It may surprise you how far the game has come in a year. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the game and if you still play, or what it would take for you to consider jumping back in. 

** CHOP'S eSPORTS GAME OF THE WEEK **

This weekend is a cool one for League of Legends. It's the first "Rift Rivals" event. It pits the top 3 teams from the Spring Split from North America and Europe against each other. It started on Wednesday, but there should be some great games today and through the weekend. Seriously, hard to go wrong with any of these games. Right now they're playing all the teams from the other region to see who's the best team this weekend. After today, the NA team with the best record will face off against the EU team with the best record in a best of 5 to see which region is the best right now! 

If you want to catch the end of the group play-ins, they start at 11am eastern Friday and run until probably 5pmish.

But the big series to watch will be tomorrow's finals. Where the best of these 6 teams square off to represent North America vs Europe for all the bragging rights.

It starts at noon eastern on Saturday and will be a pretty intense best of 5. And you can catch it all on the LoLesports website.