I’m a serious Pokémon GO player. If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know this. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably think it’s all I play because I rarely post pictures of anything else. To be fair, that’s only because you can only post pictures to Instagram from mobile so posting console screenshots takes more effort than it’s worth. I consider myself a hardcore player . . . for an American. I’m a level 36. I’ve walked 2,121 km. I’ve caught 18,704 Pokémon. My Pokédex is at 342 (149 Kanto/96 Johto/97Hoenn) of 384 currently available spots. Though I wouldn’t give a single red cent to a company as shady and predatory as Niantic, I have definitely spent money to play this game. I’ve purchased multiple phone holders to play while biking. It took three tries before I finally found one that was perfect for playing while riding. I’m on my second charge bank because my first one died. I’ve purchased data in multiple countries so I could play while on vacation. Literally this week I spent $60 for a roundtrip train ticket so I could participate in the Chiayi Lantern Festival Safari Zone event just so I can finally catch a Mr. Mime. I am a serious Pokémon GO player . . . for an American. But I don’t live in America. I live in Taiwan.
Taiwan is like the eSports league of Pokémon GO. And that’s speaking as someone who has played in multiple countries such as the United States, Hong Kong, and Thailand. I have witnessed things in this country pertaining to GO that most people will not believe because the stories sound too ridiculous to be true. If you’ve ever seen one of those ridiculous anime about a sport or game like Prince of Tennis or Hikaru no Go where everyone in the show seems to take something way unimportant way too seriously, that’s Pokémon GO in Taiwan. I genuinely believe the rules of the current game are not suitable or fair for play in Taiwan and that Niantic should change the way the game works in this country just to make it fair for the majority of players. I have played every single day without fail since the day the game became available in Taiwan. Since they changed the gym system I have amassed a measly 500 coins. This is unfair. It should not be this hard for someone who plays as much as I do with Pokémon as strong as I have to get coins. But it is because the level of play here is so competitive that unless you live on a gym, it’s nearly impossible to amass coins at a practical rate of return. I wish we could go back to the days of getting 10 coins a day for getting onto a gym. That’s hard enough in this country. To have to hold it for several hours to get a decent amount of coins is ridiculously hard. Not impossible, but way too hard for every free player to get a fair amount of coins. And the cash players are definitely holding gyms much of the time.
The things I have seen are preposterous. I’ve seen a literal syndicate of players controlling a mile long stretch of gyms that isn’t in a residential area at past 1 AM. I’ve seen a biker gang of players roving the streets looking for new catches. I’ve seen elderly couples raid like it’s their job. It is normal behavior here to have multiple accounts and multiple phones to play them on. And it’s no particular age group in Taiwan. Players come in all ages in both genders and play all hours of the day. I once snuck into a school yard at 11 PM to catch a Gen 3 basic only to find 20 other people already inside the school yard to catch the same thing. I’ve seen traffic stopped because a Lapras appeared. I’ve seen a crowd of over 100 people stampede for a single Dratini. There have even been stories on the news in the US about people playing GO in Taiwan because the player base is that hardcore here that it’s newsworthy. Playing seriously in Taiwan is like constantly playing Smash Bros. at EVO level. So let me tell about my most recent crazy Pokémon GO experience.
Mewtwo is currently the hardest Pokémon in the game to acquire. I won’t say he’s one of the hardest to catch, because he actually has a very fair throw distance, a very readable attack animation, and he’s not too much harder than any other Legendary raid Pokémon to battle. I do think he’s a little harder battle wise, but he can be brought down with a party of 10. The reason he’s so hard to acquire is that you can only get him from an EX Raid. An EX Raid is like any other raid except you need a special EX Raid Pass to participate. This pass is given several days in advance at “random” and requires you to attend a specific raid at a specific gym at a specific time. This is non-negotiable. Meaning in my case that I had to take time off work to attend this EX Raid because for some reason Niantic decided that it’s ok to do that at 11 AM on a Monday morning. This was my first EX Pass. I honestly didn’t even think they had them in Taiwan because I’d never seen one and I’d never seen a Mewtwo raid before. Niantic has shown regional biases time and time again, so it made perfect sense to me to assume there were no EX Raids in Taiwan. I was proven wrong in this belief when I finally did attend this first EX Raid because multiple people there already had multiple Mewtwos, which I consider highly unfair considering how hard it is to get an EX Pass and how many people actually do play the game seriously here that may never get one. But in any case, I finally had an EX Pass and I was determined to finally catch a Mewtwo.
I showed up at the gym an hour early hoping to take the gym for my team (GO Team Mystic!) so that I could get extra balls to capture Mewtwo with. I was not the only one who had this idea, but not enough of us were present this early to be able to take this gym from what I can only assume were some very dedicated cash players because we couldn’t knock off a single Pokémon. We spent 30 straight minutes and they just kept healing everything on the gym with gold berries. I had believed there was a finite number of berries a Pokémon could be given based on my own past experiences but if this is true it didn’t apply here because they healed their first defender well over 10 times before I finally gave up. And other people kept playing for the rest of the hour unable to make a dent.
By the 30 minute mark, there were at least 40 people there waiting for that Mewtwo raid. By the time it started, there were easily more than 50. Again, this was a Monday morning at 11 AM. Just about everyone there was a middle aged working class person. This raid was in my neighborhood, which is almost entirely low or working middle class. But we do have homeless people as well and yes a number of them also play Pokémon GO. Once this crowd arrived, they began coordinating like I’ve only ever dreamed. They weren’t there to compete. They were there to catch Mewtwo and ideally everyone present was going to catch a Mewtwo. They were splitting up into color based teams and taking counts to make sure every group had enough to beat the raid. It was immaculate. It was what I’ve always dreamed of not just in Pokémon GO but in gaming in general. Whether mobile, console, or PC I have never seen this level of fast paced coordination for a game between complete strangers before. And that’s the important part. These were all random people who didn’t really know each other save for the fact that they all live and catch Pokémon in this same neighborhood. I’ve played The Division, Destiny, Assassin’s Creed multiplayer, Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda, and many other online multiplayer titles. I run a league in Injustice 2 Mobile. I have never seen a group of completely random players in any game on any platform coordinate this seriously, this successfully, and this well so quickly ever before in my more than 20 years of gaming. The only other time I can remember a group getting close was in Ayakashi Ghost Guild, an older mobile game, when I was running a guild and this was not random. It took several weeks to get this group of 20 people playing well together and in time with each other.
Now all of this was taking place in Mandarin, because I’m in Taiwan. I don’t speak Mandarin. So I wasn’t part of this whole team up scenario. I was just going to join a random group and hope for the best. A random person walked up to me, speaking almost no English, but was able to ask me what color my team was. Upon hearing that I didn’t have a team, without being asked he took it upon himself to find me a “blue” team. I was placed with nine other players who were all Team Mystic. A few of them spoke some English. The first question they asked me was how many accounts I had and upon hearing only one were almost shocked.
Now I’m an American. That means I’m very selfish and even more impatient. This group of 10, including myself, coordinated a private lobby once the raid started. The problem was one of the players got an error but for some reason seemed to either not know that when you error out of a raid you can rejoin the same group even if the battle has already started. He was acting as the leader so he made us all leave the raid and make a new lobby. This irritated me, but I did it. Then it happened two more times and I started to get really frustrated because this was my first and possibly only chance ever to get a Mewtwo. EX Raids only last about 45 minutes and as people complete them you lose potential help. So it’s imperative that you finish the battle as soon as possible. By the third time this happened, I voiced my concern that nine of us were losing out on our chance to catch Mewtwo because this one guy’s phone wasn’t working. I even tried to explain that he could just rejoin the battle without us ending the fight and starting over (also wasting more healing items) but he claimed this wasn’t the case. I reluctantly exited the battle again. Then my phone errored out and everyone quit again, which I was thankful for but as an American still found completely ridiculous. Now it’s one thing if you already have a Mewtwo because if things don’t work out you’re not affected that badly by it. But if you don’t have one, the prospect of not getting one because you couldn’t even get through the battle because of other people sounds insane, because it is. But finally we all got into the fight, no one errored, and we beat Mewtwo. By this time basically everyone not on our team was already gone, probably to work.
I had looked up videos for catching Mewtwo online, but you never really know what to expect till you’ve experienced it firsthand. We got 10 premier balls, which I consider the shitty jungle balls of Pokémon GO, to catch Mewtwo. I had plenty of gold berries so that wasn’t an issue. I threw six beautiful throws and landed all of them with a good or better. No catches. With only four throws left and many past experiences of raids screwing me over unrightfully, I was really stressed out about not catching Mewtwo. My hands were literally shaking. This guy, who was on the team, walked up to me and asked if I had caught it yet. I told him no. Upon seeing I had four throws left, he asked if he could give it a throw. Since he had literally just caught two Mewtwos with his accounts, I said sure take a throw. He waited about two minutes and then with his thumb, which I find crazy, he did a perfect curve ball in the dead center of Mewtwo’s catch window while it was at its literal smallest point and caught the Mewtwo first try. And he didn’t have to look. As soon as the ball landed on Mewtwo he handed me my phone and said there you go congrats on your first Mewtwo. It was the most epic, surreal mobile gaming experience I’ve ever had.
Every one checked to make sure everyone else had caught Mewtwo, compared CP levels, thanked each other, and went on their way. This was not competition. It was collectivism. It was not a group of selfish individuals taking advantage of each other for the same goal. It was a team working together for a common goal. Everyone wins or nobody does. It was serious. It was noble. It was impressive. It was professional caliber play. It was Pokemon GO in Taiwan.