It was 10 AM on a Wednesday morning. For most people, it was a typical mid-week morning, fully immersed in work or studies for the week and anticipating the coming weekend. For Pokemon GO trainer Lostwynaut, however, it was a different matter. Highly strung and tense in the bus, she regarded every bit of traffic as a mortal enemy.
Finally getting to her destination, she was met with 19 other people in a similar state of nervous excitement, and about 15 others peering over their shoulders. The sense of community and commitment warmed Lostwynaut’s heart. Ten minutes later they were all staring at their phones and waiting.
This was none other than Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo, and these were Colombo’s intrepid Pokemon GO Trainers. They were gearing up for Sri Lanka’s first Mewtwo Pokemon GO raid. Being a little over a year old, Sri Lanka’s Pokemon GO gaming community was not always like this. In fact, it has seen a surprising amount of change and development since the beginning in July 2016.
Initially, the game’s system of team play gave birth to intense team rivalry. For one in the know, there were secret Facebook groups, messenger chats, WhatsApp groups and more to coordinate taking the other team down and becoming the very best. It was on rare occasions that a trainer would even know or be friends with someone outside their own team. But then it all changed.
Rise (and Fall?) of the Spoofers
As many people are aware, Niantic decided to implement a geoblock two months after the game’s official release which affected our country and most of Asia as well. This gave rise to a method of cheating called GPS spoofing. The result? Suddenly trainers of all teams who were frustrated and annoyed at getting cheated out of their gyms found something in common.
Forming tentative friendships and truces, they started banding together to eliminate the cheaters from the game, a challenge that seemed harder every day. As more and more of the player base simply gave up and left, the dedicated trainers kept on fighting to be the very best. Until unexpectedly, Niantic made it easier. Or so it seemed.
The revamped gym system and the raids
A few months ago, Niantic, sensing the rapidly decreasing player base for the game, decided to make some drastic changes to the game and the gym system. Among other developments was the fact that a single trainer could only hold 20 gyms maximum at a given time. For us, this meant that the spoofers who held 500 gyms worldwide before could no longer do so.
Niantic also introduced raids, where a team of skilled trainers had to defeat a powerful Pokemon together to get the chance at capturing it. These raids included ordinary rare Pokemon as well as legendary Pokemon. Since trainer groups did not need to be a single team, the entire community merged together, putting team rivalry on the back seat to accomplish a bigger goal. Spoofers still existed, but with the legitimate player base united, they seemed less of a problem to most.
However, the flip side to this meant that solo players in rural areas could no longer keep up with the urban players. Tired and annoyed at watching legendary Pokemon such as Lugia, Entei, and other raids come and go, the rural base either resorted to cheating or quit. Pokemon GO trainers thinuraw, paradox2405, ladysnatcher99, and techmorphras were all among the latter.
How is the current player base faring?
Despite all odds, the current community is a very dedicated and passionate group who aim to provide everyone with the thrill of playing as a team day in and day out. It boasts over ten players who have achieved the highest level in the game, level 40. Raid coordination happened until recently in quite a few WhatsApp groups, including those for Fort, Nugegoda, Galle road, and Viharamahadevi park area. The past week a discord server has also gone live, which seems to be shaping up quite nicely.
All a player has to do if they want to raid is post on a group and ask for assistance. Trainers nearby will immediately respond whether they can make it, while others who are aware of a trainer nearby will tag him/her, urging them to join the raid. The enthusiasm for the raids is such that you will find people mysteriously excusing themselves from meetings or having extremely odd lunch hours, particularly in the Fort area.
Trainer VRYVINOTH, for example, plays Pokemon GO on the way to and from work and joins up with trainers in his office area to hit raids around whenever he’s free. His lunch hour every day is spent taking over gyms with his partner. Fellow trainers in his region collaborate and organize during work to maximize raid efficiency, with those who are busy sending their phones with the trainers able to make it.
The University of Colombo also finds a few students, and a few lecturers too, running outside in a seemingly random direction for no particular reason. Trainer dinukdeshan, a student at Colombo University, says that while he doesn’t like to miss lectures because of raids, he runs to join any in the evening or morning. Coming from a rural area, he finds himself taking over gyms in railway stations, and using any and all free time to walk to the Pokemon hotspots around the University.
Galle road pedestrians are regularly confused by a bunch of random people in the evening standing in a circle with their phones out. Meanwhile, every weekend the Burger King at arcade generates a steady stream of raiders coming in for breakfast, lunch, a random drink and so on.
The weekend rush would be hectic, with around 40 people gathering up, sorting themselves into vehicles (sometimes going up to 8 people in a car), and hitting any and all raids that dare to pop up. It’s a fast-paced ride through Colombo catching legendaries and occasionally breaking speed limits for rare Pokemon spawns. All seemed good, and the Pokemon trainer life seemed perfect.\
All that glitters is not gold
A few months after the community was built, they noticed something new. And it was not something good. Niantic had made the decision to release Mewtwo as an exclusive raid, available to selected players in selected gyms. These selected players could then be a part of the raid by obtaining an item called an EX raid pass, which has become invaluable. But although trainers waited for months and months, not a single one appeared in Sri Lanka.
Refusing to be disheartened, the community started going all out, raiding in massive parties up to 80 people and storming social media requesting Niantic to give them their EX raid passes. Research teams coordinated with trainers in other countries, gathering information and analyzing how to trigger an EX raid.
Like the legendary Pokemon commanding this raid, not much is known about the process to obtain it either. It is kept secret and guarded fiercely by the teams that research it. This process is guarded so fiercely that few even know the identities of the people in the research teams.
According to trainer TwitchReflex, the process was a complicated one involving narrowing down the list of eligible gyms, raiding at that gym and considering individual player stats such as their gym badge, amongst many other factors. Weeks of research passed this way, with trainers comparing and cross-referencing data and going to great lengths to get the pass for their friends if not them.
With enough effort, however, you can strike gold
Their efforts paid off, however, when finally, an exclusive raid pass appeared in several trainers accounts one late night. The community was euphoric, everyone celebrating efforts that paid off well. On January 24th, people gathered in the gym for a moment that would go down in Lankan Pokemon GO history.
My colleague Mahesh decided to poke his head in out of curiosity and found himself in the middle of roughly 30 trainers, including the trainers gearing up to battle Mewtwo and the ones there to support and witness this moment. Having planned well ahead, he noticed that the gym in question belonged to team instinct, in a bid to get the lone instinct raider a chance at more premier balls to catch Mewtwo. This is the level of support in the game. Experienced trainers like Navin23 and Shaik001 were there to encourage and help trainers, with other trainers like Shaheddd playing for those trainers who were unable to make it.
Orderly chaos and repressed panic ensued, with a number of hair-raising moments, such as the Mystic team lobby getting issues and being delayed, trainer MrChiraGaming almost losing his Mewtwo while Navin23 got one, and Saajidpatel shaking so badly those around him actually held onto him lest he passes out or drops the phone in excitement.
Finally, however, 18 Mewtwo out of 19 were caught, with Desh11 of the mystics laying claim to a 96% IV, the most powerful one in Sri Lanka so far. For one trainer, try as he might he just could not catch Mewtwo. The crowd gathered around him, showing sympathy and offering condolences. Clearly, these people took Pokemon GO very seriously.
Is this the end? Not even close!
The excitement did not even get a chance to die down since once again efforts paid off and yet another gym was triggered by the next wave. AzarothTheZlayr, an active member of the Nugegoda group where the second gym was triggered, had to say the following;
“Words can’t explain how I felt when I noticed that we had succeeded when I logged into my sisters’ account and saw the EX raid pass in her item list.”
Azaroth describes the measures they went through to trigger the gym as grueling, with many hours of battling, raiding and even simply watching. He concludes, however, that it was all worth it in the bid to pocket the most powerful Pokemon ever created.
What’s next for the Pokemon GO community?
The Pokemon GO community has come far in a little time. It has gone through a lot, from fierce arguments to a massive shrinkage in the player base. However, those who remain are, in their own way, the very best of them all. Getting a Mewtwo was simply a testament to that. As more and more trainers become stronger each day, and fast approach level 40, the Pokemon GO is carving out its own niche as a tight-knit family of gamers.