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Massive Pokémon Crawl Not Super Different From Every Other Night in San Francisco

After an initial big bang, it was hard to tell the nerds from everyone else with a phone.

SLIDESHOW

Pancham sighting at the Dolores Park starting line. 

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This particular Pancham has a side business called Party Beef, specializing in cow costumes. 

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A huddle on Market Street.

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Vikram Mantange, Ashley Paramore, and (seated) Brian Short, the most photographed Pikachu of the night.

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Last night, thousands of Pokémon Go players gathered in Dolores Park and on the Embarcadero, phones aglow with Zubats and a bottomless desire to fill out their Pokédexes (Pokédices?). It was almost time for the massive Pokémon Go Crawl, aka a collective pursuit of the virtual Pokémon characters hiding all over the city, beckoning players—sometimes at their peril—into traffic or over the side of cliffs. The route, primarily along Market Street, was part bar crawl, part costume party, and total nerdfest. By the event’s start, about 9,000 people had RSVPed on Facebook, and 29,000 had declared their interest.

In Dolores Park, anticipation was, to put it mildly, high. On the 49 bus over to Dolores, an oldish bearded man muttered about how Pokémon Go is being used to “track people.” “Conspiracy!” he said, startling a group of junior-high kids. As the 6:30 start time came in the park, we were too deep in the crowd to hear the “go” signal, but there must have been one, because all of a sudden everyone started saying "go" and chanting and moving in one big blobby line. At our first Pokéstop, Bar San Pancho, players gunning to catch 'em all—and maybe fuel up with a glass of Pika Pika Punch—sidled up to the doors. At first, the crowd hesitated—the doors were shut—but as they made their way in, it became clear that there was no way everyone would fit. People began crowding around the windows, zombie style, putting their hands on the glass. Still more hovered awkwardly nearby, idling on their phones like airline passengers waiting for their zone to be called. 

Over on the Embarcadero, Pokémon seekers were spilling off the sidewalk and into the street, walking into people who had the misfortune to need to go in the opposite direction. Waves of players spilled onto Market Street, picking up a stream of late arrivals from the BART station. But by about 7, the initial crush had thinned out and melted into the regular pedestrian hubub of the FiDi after work. Soon, we we had to eyeball people’s phones to see if they were playing or just looking at Google Maps. Occasionally, someone in a Pikachu hat ambled by. 

Mostly, people kept to groups of two or three or four or five, carried small Pikachu backpacks, and formed huddles on the sidewalk. In line at Super Duper, people had their Pokémon apps on, checking their progress or maybe dropping a lure (a function in the game that boosts the likelihood that a character will appear). Near Old Navy, two big groups about 20 strong streamed by, whooping and high-fiving. Other than the kickoff at the two starting points, the crawl didn’t reach the fever pitch of a citywide takeover so much as the occasional rowdiness of a passing bachelorette party.

Around 9 p.m., back in Dolores Park, small groups of players milled around on the hill overlooking the city. One trio—two in full-body Pikachu costumes—had already posed for several photos for reporters, including the New York Times, the AP, and SFist, which maybe put them in the running for the most photographed Pikachus of the night. We snapped the obligatory photo. “It’s been way more crawl than pub,” mused Brian Short, who wasn’t in full regalia but did sport an Ash Ketchum hat. “It’s way more sober than Santa Con,” agreed Ashley Paramore. “Turns out nerds don’t drink that much.” The two, along with Vikram Mantange, were colleagues at the video platform Twitch. Paramore had ordered her Pikachu suit from Amazon, but Mantange had the real deal. “I bought it in Japan like eight years ago,” he said. 

Short was happy with his progress for the night. “I hatched maybe six eggs, which is a lot for a day,” he said. And a lot of walking—they’d started at the Embarcadero BART station. Two of the three had fitness trackers, but, said Mantange, tonight’s activity level wasn’t unusual. “I usually do 20,000 steps a day, and I’m at 15,000 now,” he said. “I usually leave the gym and go Pokémon hunting for an hour.”    

 

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