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The Journey To 'Be The Very Best' Pokémon Go Trainer In Kansas City

Anna Leach
Fans gather to play Pokémon Go Sunday night at the corner of J.C. Nichols Parkway and Broadway. Around 200 players walked the Plaza after 11 p.m. Sunday as a part of a meet-up organized through Facebook. "

Around 11:15 p.m. Sunday night, a police car drove by a crowd of around 60 people gathered near J.C. Nichols Fountain.

A shout rang out, and others quickly chimed in, the calls of what seemed like the entire group filling the warm night air.

The yelling, though, quickly morphed into laughter.

“‘I wanna be the very best,’” Rafeael Arevael sang, echoing the song that continued to blast out of the passing car.

“I mean, the police are in on it, too, that’s pretty big,” Derek Hutchens, who came with Arevael and other colleagues from work at the Plaza Bo Lings, chuckled. “Pokémon fans are everywhere.”

Over the next few hours, about 200 of the Kansas City area’s thousands of players walked the Plaza, playing Pokémon Go.

Credit Anna Leach / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
KCUR intern Anna Leach "finds" a Bulbasaur Pokémon in the KCUR newsroom Friday and views the Plaza through the Pokémon Go map interface Sunday.

Pokémon Go, which allows users to “catch” virtual Pokémon on their phone by traveling to certain locations in real-life, was released in the United States on Wednesday. Within its first 24 hours, the game became the number one “Top Grossing” app in both the Apple and Android stores.

  In the Kansas City area, players have traveled to Pokéspots and “gyms” in locations such as Church Archer Chapel & Funeral Home in Liberty, Missouri and Kansas City Hall in Kansas City, Missouri to increase their Pokémon collections or battle against other users. 

Arturo Sanchez-Vera, who was spending Sunday morning playing in Antioch Park, said he thinks he’d put in “at least” 48 hours of total gameplay over the course of the past three days.

“It’s like Pokémon Go is the new drug for people,” Sanchez-Vera said.

It’s a “healthy one” though, Sanchez-Vera added, because it helps get people out of the house and walking around. Having just moved to the area, he said the time he’s spent playing has also helped him learn more about his new home.

“I think it’s done a lot of good, this game, for a lot of people like myself,” Sanchez-Vera said. “My favorite part is just going outdoors and actually exploring the neighborhood… [but] I’m not a crazy person that goes out at three o’clock in the morning still playing.”

Credit Anna Leach / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Rachel Pritchett (left), Ali Ethridge, Paul Boothe and Calvin Royal swap Pokémon Go tips and tricks Sunday night on the Plaza. Boothe said it's not uncommon for players who don't know each other to stop and make conversation.

For friends Paul Boothe and Calvin Royal, who were Pokémon hunting on the Plaza Sunday night, the latest hours have been the most convenient time; Royal gets off work late, and they usually just go out after that.

It’s around 11:30 p.m. that Boothe and Royal come across Ali Ethridge and Rachel Pritchett, who are also playing Pokémon Go. After noticing each other, both pairs stopped to chat about the game.

Boothe said it isn’t uncommon for players to stop each other on the street and strike up a conversation.

“During the day, during the evening, it doesn’t matter,” Boothe said. “They see you looking at your phone, and they’re like ‘What level are you on?’”

Ethridge believes this increased friendliness among people has come from the fact the game is new in terms of launch date and in technology.

“No one has it perfect yet, so we’re all still learning and figuring it out,” Ethridge said.

Jenni Fenice, who has a background in nonprofit organizations and protest coordination, saw how large the community was starting to in person and online grow and started organizing meetups by posting Facebook events on different Pokémon Go Facebook groups.

“My Facebook feed is filled with Pokémon,” Fenice said. “The only ones who don’t play Pokémon are complaining about Pokémon.”

Although not all of the players Sunday night were initially aware of a formal event, many came as a result of her planning.

“I wanted to try to get more people together to make them, I guess, [make] more friends and community, instead of just like normal games where no one actually knows each other, and they’re all separate,” Fenice said.

Fenice said she hopes to create additional resources like chat forums, giveaways, capture location lists and more through a website exclusively for Kansas City area Pokémon Go participants. Other cities like Gardner have also reached out to her for help organizing meetups.

“I’m trying to get other people involved with the website and the groups and everything, so that if I can’t run it — I have a job and everything — they can manage it, too,” Fenice said. “I’ve had like three or four people contact me already.”

Local organizations have also taken to Twitter to show Pokémon in their locations.  

Although she predicts the game's popularity will continue to grow for a few more weeks, Fenice said she believes the hype will eventually die down in about a month, as “not dedicated” users drop off and “hardcore” users’ average playtime per day levels off.

“There'll be a point where we’ve caught all the pokémon or they’ll have to release more features pokémon to keep us in the game,” Fenice said. “Without certain features, the game will only last so long anyways.”

Hutchens said he believes the game will have some staying power, though, because it’s riding on players’ emotional investment. For many players, Pokémon Go is a way to make childhood dreams a reality.   

“If you’re long-time fans like we are, there are certain Pokémon that you want, and we know that we have to keep playing to get them,” Hutchens said. “It makes us feel like the Pokémon trainers we’ve always wanted to be.”

Anna Leach is an intern for KCUR 89.3.

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