The Charizard Chase: As Good As Pokemon Go Gets

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It was a few minutes after 5pm on Sunday the 17th of July 2016, and the sun had just set on the Sydney Opera House. That wasn’t about to deter the hundreds (thousands?) of nerds who had settled themselves in for the long haul, as the high pokestop concentration around a city transportation hub made the boulevard parallel to Macquarie Street prime Pokemon hunting territory. What made the location even more ideal was the high number of Squirtles I found in the area on Friday, culminating in a Blastoise encounter at around 9pm that night which left the guy next to me destitute and devastated as he burned every last pokeball on a tortoise-tank way beyond his ability to capture. Several of the people I spoke to tonight had either been there or heard about it, and had come in on the weekend in the hopes that lightning might strike twice.

Boy, were they in for a treat.

I arrived with friends, ready for a long evening grinding for experience and candy. Several others were clearly prepared for the same, going so far as to bring fold-out chairs and food with them (note to self: Buy a fold-out chair and thermos flask). What struck me as odd from the first was the distinct lack of Squirtle and the presence of Charmander instead, who hadn’t shown up at all two nights before. Thinking nothing of it, we played as normal, ignoring most of the Pokemon that appeared on the tracker because a bug in the current build prevents it from telling you when you’re closing in.

Until we saw this:

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“Oh. Oh, no.”

Now I want to be clear, Blastoise caused a buzz when he dropped in, but he landed right in the middle of the crowd. People immediately saw him and took their best swing at him, but he was THERE. As soon as Charizard popped up on the tracker, you felt a ripple go through the crowd as people started to whisper urgently: The tracker was bugged and we had NO IDEA whether he was a kilometre away or close enough to reach out and touch. I don’t know how the crowd decided which way to move, though my guess is that those further to the south didn’t have him on their tracker when they heard the buzz, so everyone made the deduction that north was the way to go.

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Now for those of you who aren’t familiar, there’s not a lot of ground to cover around the Opera House. It’s surrounded by water on the north, east, and western sides, so given though we started at the Macquarie Street roundabout, we really didn’t have a huge area to search. The major problem was that we had nothing but water to the west and the locked gates into the Royal Botanical Gardens to the east. It didn’t take long for people to conclude that the plaza at the foot of the Opera House wasn’t the place to be, and the unified mob quickly dispersed into a chaos of random movement as people moved out around the seaward circumference of the venue or back the way they had come.

And then we all heard it. Several voices raised in simultaneous triumph and panic echoing across the harbour. A smaller group had taken the strairway up the cliffs to the Tarpeian Precinct, which despite appearances was not a part of the Royal Botanical Gardens and therefore still open to the public. The crowd was slow to respond. Some villainous jerkface had already cried wolf (or lizard, I guess) soon after the search had started and several false positives had everyone frustrated and demoralised. I didn’t have any doubts – it was the very last place he could possibly be, and as I pushed my way through the shuffling crowd, a few Pokemon trainers (that’s how I’m going to refer to them and you can’t stop me) ran towards us, waving their phones and shouting.

“He’s here! HE’S HEEERE!”

The front ranks broke into a run, with the sense of urgency slowly infecting people further back in the procession. By the time I reached the top of the stairs, there were easily a hundred people already there before me, either shouting out in triumph, despair, or frustration. I’m well aware that Charizard is far from the best Pokemon, either competitively or culturally, but as the final form of the most popular starter (don’t quote me on that) and the only one of Ash’s starter trio to reach his final evolutionary form, Charizard is a bit of a big deal. So, I don’t find it unreasonable in the slightest that people were wigging out over their success or failure to capture one of Pokemon’s most iconic faces.

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My Charizard was a monster.

When I encountered Blastoise two days ago, he weighed in at CP32 and while the fully evolved starters – to complement their rarity – are made especially tough to capture, I managed to grab him without too much effort. I’m currently level 23, and 1480 is a big number, especially for a Pokemon I’m trying to catch wild. I had five ultra balls and twenty great balls to my name and every expectation that they wouldn’t be enough. Even the people around me who were fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to get Charizard with lower numbers were struggling, and every failed capture attempt was accompanied by the intense fear that my one might decide it could find a better trainer somewhere else and leave.

Well, it didn’t! After two failed attempts I curved that throw like a champ and caught myself a flying fire lizard! The next ten minutes were spent waiting for my friends to catch up and take their best swing at it (one succeeded, two did not) and doing a victory lap while other trainers celebrated their latest acquisition, bemoaned their failure, or screamed in frustration at their phones.

Moments like these are as good as Pokemon Go gets – I’m fairly certain of that. I’m sure people are eagerly anticipating the promo events that will allow trainers to catch the legendaries, but as organised events they can never give people the same sudden surprise or controlled panic that comes with a hunt like the one we had tonight. HUNDREDS of people mobilised to find that airborne hellfire skink – you could see the boulevard just drain itself of people like a sink as trainers followed the trail – and as a prize that everyone could take a shot at individually, finding it was a team effort.

Anyway, I’m super happy with how the evening went. Adventure and excitement and a Charizard I’m more than happy to call my own.  Look at how small she is! I’m going to name her Cinderella, because she’s my little princess and can vaporise steel at a range of ten metres.

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