Pokémon Go captures Orlando’s heart and makes a brutal summer a little sweeter

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Pokémon Go captures Orlando’s heart and makes a brutal summer a little sweeter

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click to enlarge Players wait for a rare Pokémon to respawn in Lake Eola Park..
Players wait for a rare Pokémon to respawn in Lake Eola Park..

Go developer Niantic sought to push people off their duffs and into their surroundings, and spots like Lake Eola Park are their masterstrokes. Fourteen Pokéstops (landmarks and businesses where players collect free in-game items) and three Pokémon Gyms (where players pit their strongest Pokémon against opponents') surround the lake. The Lake Eola fountain itself is a Pokémon Gym, accessible only by rental swan boat. Hundreds of trainers circle that confounding, lovably teal-tinted lake every night, and they're finding that Go entices more than Ivysaurs and Snorlaxes out of hiding.

"It's getting people out of their shells," Rebecca Austin says. "As dumb as it sounds, it's bringing people together."

Austin is a server at World of Beer's downtown location, where I've finally sought refuge from the rain. WOB neighbors a Pokéstop maybe 50 feet from Austin's bar. A passing trainer had deployed a "lure," attracting wild Pokémon to this location (and Austin's thirsty trainers) for 30 minutes. Austin jokes that Go's the best thing to happen to bars and restaurants since team sports. She doesn't play, but she, like much of my generation, has fond memories of battling and trading the original 150 on her Game Boy Color.

"Whether people are playing or not, it gives people something nice and fun to talk about these days," Austin says. "You have people our age who grew up with the game, teens who never played the originals, and people in their 40s and 50s who are playing a Pokémon game for the first time. Everyone has something to say about it."

General manager Andrew Dawson confirms that he's seen an uptick in business since Go launched.

"I don't know what's next for this or whether its popularity will hold up," Dawson says, "but if it continues to drive traffic, I'm all for it."

More than a few faces at WOB's horseshoe bar bask in a blue-green glow – the telltale sign of Pokémon trainers on the hunt.

"What team are you?" a young guy by the bar asks. He's referencing the three virtual guilds trainers can join once they reach Level Five.

"Team Instinct," I answer. "And you?"

"Team Valor," he responds. "My friend," he says, nudging the man to his right, "is Team Mystic." The young man smiles. "So the whole gang's here," he says.

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