ROCKINGHAM — When Niantic’s Pokémon GO arrived in the Google Play and Apple App Stores in July, bringing Pokémon’s most beloved pocket monsters into augmented reality, people of all ages came out to play.
But as summer waned and schools re-opened, the herd of regular Pokémon trainers that once gathered around the county’s PokéStops started to thin — and soon, even a lone player became a rare sighting.
That all started to change five days ago when the game received its first appreciable update in seven months.
“One of the biggest things with it was the fact that it got so played-out,” said 26-year-old Glenn Poston, an avid player from Rockingham. “Niantic wasn’t really doing the updates it said it was going to do. Trading still isn’t integrated into the game, which was advertised at the launch of the game. They got rid of the tracking system, and now they’ve reintegrated it, but they took so long to do any of these things, and it’s been almost a year.”
Poston said waiting a year to release the second generation of the game was probably the main cause of people losing interest.
“It killed off a lot of players,” he explained. “A lot of people got tired of just catching the same old Pokémon over and over: you see your Pidgeys, you see your Weedles, you see them all so many times, over and over. It made no sense. People got burned out on it. The whole generation did.”
During the height of Pokémon GO fever, Poston said there were a number of forums for public and team groups on Facebook.
“People just stopped,” he said. “We stopped gathering around, we stopped coming out here because they took so long for the updates. Team Instinct was the underdog whenever it was real popular. It was Mystic and Valor that were the two out here battling it out. I’ve seen a few people from Valor come out here. I’ve seen a few of the old players. I hope people will start coming out. I’ve been telling people I’m coming back out.”
Downtown Rockingham is where most of the county’s PokéStops are, Poston said.
“Hamlet’s got a little bit,” he explained. “Ellerbe has, like, three places. There’s a few gyms here. But it’s not like at the beach when I’d go down and visit. There’s so many places. It’s like Niantic didn’t care about little towns.”
Pokémon GO remains so popular despite its lack of timely updates, Poston said, that one person on YouTube is earning lots of money “just doing Pokémon GO videos.”
“But he’s playing in huge cities,” Poston said. “He’s not coming to any small towns. He’s playing in these big cities that have all these stops. And that’s the biggest thing where we suffer, because we don’t have that. In this area, we’ve got ten spawns — versus when I go to the beach, we have ten spawns every 300 feet of walking. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You walk around here, and you walk 1.5 kilometers. Maybe 1.2 to 1.5, something like that. I know it doesn’t take two full trips to hatch a 2k egg.”
Poston believes Richmond County has a lot more locations where Niantic could make PokéStops.
“They try to use historical landmarks,” he said. “Places that have been routed, or new, upcoming places are what they try and target. I live in a crowded suburb. Tons of kids. Tons of people. Pokémon spawn around my area, but I never see them. They show up on my radar, but they’re never there. I go out to my girlfriend’s house, who lives out in the middle of nowhere, and I pull up my game and I’ve got at least six Pokémon right there on top of her house. I don’t understand the logic behind that.”
He said that in the first few weeks of the game’s release, it was possible for players to go in and request certain places be designated as PokéStops.
“You could go in, give ‘em the address and say, ‘Hey, it’d be nice to make this a Pokémon stop,’” Poston recalled. “But we never really got anything. We have three gyms around here. It gets really annoying. They made the gym system a little bit better. They made it harder for people to snipe your gyms — you take out a gym, and you’d have people that were sitting there waiting to throw in anything from the other team and it was really frustrating, because you just wasted your resources that you put time into walking to go in and get this stuff.”
Despite the lingering drawbacks, however, Poston remains optimistic about future updates and the renewed interest from the version two release.
“They added new candies,” he said. “They made it because they made some Pokémon just jump around way too much. You’d waste Pokéballs, Greatballs, and even Ultraballs trying to throw and never hit them. They made finger swipe a little bit better, because it used to be anytime you threw it, it went off the to the side if you didn’t have anything but in the middle. They’ve done a lot of improvements — but there’s still a lot they can do.”
Hopefull, Poston said, more people will return to downtown to catch all the new Pokémon from the update and reignite the fire for the game.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673.