Remember the summer of 2016? Not only was it a world completely free of a global pandemic, but it was also a world completely obsessed with Pokémon Go.
For many, that summer was the first time they had been interested in Pokémon in years. For a good number of those that picked the game up at launch, however, it was little more than a passing fad; they were done playing it by January. The game left the news zeitgeist and most assumed it has quietly died.
Surprisingly, it only kept growing.
Each day, millions of people around the world log in to Pokémon Go. According to Business of Apps, Pokémon Go surpassed 1 billion downloads back in 2019 and made over $1 billion in the first ten months of 2020 alone. Though it did see an initial dip from 2016 to 2017, it has only grown exponentially since.
Knoxville is no exception to the Pokémon Go craze. Scruffy City is home to a sizeable and incredibly active Pokémon Go community, with ages of players ranging from 5 to 85. For instance, the “Knoxville Pokémon GO!” Facebook group has over 10,000 members, with many of them posting every day.
Many, such as Andrew Gray, an online small business owner, have been playing since 2016.
“My girlfriend and I play close to everyday, even if it’s just for a few minutes,” Gray said. “I love the community here in Knoxville. “Everyone is super friendly and it’s pretty cool to be able to get help with so many raids and such.”
Some, such as Destiny Wilborn, a home care aide, have used Pokémon Go to become closer to their families.
“Me, my husband and my two kids all play. Me and the kids do daily,” Wilborn said. “My mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law do too.”
Wilborn noted that Pokémon Go had brought their whole family closer together, giving them something mutual to bond over.
Others, such as Jillian James, have even used Pokémon Go to connect with their grandchildren. The game not only brings their family together, but also gives them a respite from the stresses of living in a global pandemic.
“I have three 10-year-old grandsons that have been isolated from anywhere public since the start of the pandemic,” James said. “We try to take them out for a mental health Pokémon drive at least once a month on community day. As long as there are no people at the locations we go to, the boys can get out and stretch their legs and catch their Pokémon.”
The Knoxville Pokémon Go community does more than just play smartphone games, however. The community has come together on multiple occasions to fundraise for charity or other good causes.
Carma Wassman, a local financial advisor, has led a number of fundraising events in the community over the years. The community has run food drives for The Giving Box, held a movie night with proceeds going to Toys for Tots and raised donations for a local player that was attacked while playing Pokémon Go.
The events are usually held during in-game “community days” that feature certain Pokemon being spawned at a higher than usual rate, experience bonuses and other player perks.
“There was an incredible turn out to these events,” Wassman said. “The idea of Pokémon Go community day is for people to gather in parks and play the game together… to meet new people, explore and make the world a better place.”
Of course, Pokémon Go has had to make some changes since a certain virus started making the rounds last March. With most governments worldwide telling people to stay inside rather than go outside, the main way Pokémon Go was played, the game’s developers had to make certain changes that made playing the game remotely easier.
The main change has been remote raids. Raids are large in-game battle that players used to have to be physically present for in order to participate. Since March, the developers have added remote raid passes, an item that allows players to do raids safely from just about anywhere.
The developers also increased the effectiveness of incense, an item that draws Pokémon to the player, allowing players to continue catching Pokémon from the safety of their couch.
Though the state of the game has been drastically altered due to the pandemic, the Knoxville community has been more active than ever. Many have connected through the game’s in-person and online events, making lasting personal relationships.
“I have met some wonderful people playing this game,” Wassman said. “Some are lifelong friends.”
With Pokémon Go’s developers continually adding new content and events to the game, the player count still rising and revenue still flooding in, chances are Pokémon Go will be around for a long time. As long as it is, the strong community present in Knoxville will be there trying to catch em’ all.