On March 9, 2020, Niantic alerted Pokémon Go players that the St. Louis Safari Zone would be canceled. The Covid-19 pandemic was starting to look a lot more serious than many had first thought and in-person gatherings were becoming a huge safety risk. As the situation worsened over the following weeks, Pokémon Go’s Liverpool (UK) and Philadelphia (US) live events were canceled too.
I was one of the many trainers looking forward to those events, having picked up a ticket to attend the Liverpool Safari Zone in April 2020 as a birthday treat for myself. I held onto that ticket in the hope I would eventually get to my first Pokémon Go live event, and in October 2021 I finally got the chance.
The rescheduled Liverpool Safari Zone is the first major live event Pokémon Go has had since November 2019 – and the first of the three Safari Zones to take place this year. But after a nearly two-year break, how well did Niantic return to the live event game, and should you try heading to one of these Safari Zones for yourself?
What is a Pokémon Go Safari Zone?
For the uninitiated, a Safari Zone is a special Pokémon Go event set in a specific real-world location. The city plays host to Pokémon that normally wouldn’t spawn there, giving players a chance to catch exclusive ‘mons and complete special in-game quests for rewards.
The Liverpool Safari Zone saw an abundance of water-type Pokémon flood Sefton Park including the New Zealand-exclusive critter Relicantch washing up in the city for the first time ever. Lucky players also had a chance to catch Unknown that spell out Liverpool, or Pikachu wearing a cattleman hat.
This year Niantic has turned its Safari Zone events into hybrid experiences allowing players with event tickets to catch the specially selected Pokémon either in the cities themselves or from the comfort of their own home.
I had the chance to try both the at-home and in-person experience across Friday and Saturday; while playing locally is no doubt much more convenient, there’s a secret sauce with live events that you just can’t replace.
What made the Safari Zone more than just playing Pokémon Go in any other park was the sense of community. Thousands of people hadn’t just gathered to play Pokémon Go but to play Pokémon Go together.
People had come from all over the world to meet up with friends, compete against others in tense Pokémon battles, and help strangers complete their Pokédex. Some even got in on the spirit of things by coming in cosplay (shout out the Glaceon and PokéStop pair – you guys looked great).
The event staff were just as kind; they were always on hand to help point you in the right direction whenever you needed and to hand out a treasure trove of goodies from exclusive Pokémon cards to badges, hats, and posters.
Even my partner, who was only level nine when we showed up at 11am, found herself enamored by the community feel and was sucked back into Pokémon Go. She managed to reach level 20 by the time we left at 6pm and hasn’t put her phone down since – the Safari Zone has firmly reignited her passion to become the best there ever was.
Going in-person also gave me the chance to pick up the exclusive 2021 Safari Zone T-shirt from the merch store and (more importantly) the opportunity to have my picture taken with Pikachu and Eevee.
As you’d expect there are queues for these activities, but I was at the front before I realized. This wasn’t just because lines moved quickly but because these areas also had a huge congregation of PokéStops and Gyms – in-game markers where Pokémon and items can be collected.
This meant that even if I was waiting around physically – my virtual world fun never had to stop. This attitude of ensuring trainers could play for as long as possible was felt throughout everything else at the event too.
Free event WiFi worked incredibly well even with 1000s of people in attendance, and ensured that I didn’t have to worry about my data allowance; meanwhile, easy to spot public charging stations fashioned as PokéStops gave me the chance to recharge long before my battery died.
Oh no! It broke free!
Everything was running so smoothly that I kept worrying it would eventually all go wrong. I was convinced that my phone signal would vanish or that the event would get canceled for some reason but none of that happened; Niantic’s preparation held strong.
Over the seven hours I spent wandering Sefton Park, my only major gripe was that Special Trades were still limited to just one per day. Usually, these kinds of in-person get-togethers take away (or at least lessen) trading restrictions to encourage trainers to interact more and to swap region-locked Pokémon and other rare critters.
To help you find other trainers you’re even given a little sign to say what ‘mons you’re looking for and willing to trade. Thanks to the Pokémon Go community, I only had to stand around for a minute or so before some kind player came up and offered to trade me the Carnivine I was so desperate for.
However later in the day when I paused to seek out another trade – this time after a Tropius – I was disappointed to find out my Special Trade allowance had been spent.
Overall though this was hardly a catastrophic disaster, I still came away with a slightly more filled-up Pokédex, a bag full of trinkets and plenty of great memories. If you have your Safari zone ticket, and feel comfortable attending in-person events again I’d strongly recommend you go along.