In case you were on the Moon last week and missed it—Pokémon is back. The recently launched Pokémon Go, a GPS-based mobile app released by The Pokémon Company and Niantic on July 6 (in the US), has swept the nation with tens of millions of downloads and, with upcoming launches throughout Europe and Asia, it is set to become a global phenomenon.
One MIT cohort has been particularly excited to see the Pokémon characters hiding all around campus: the MIT Pokémon League. In spring 2014, the club was started by Lucy Yang ’17, an avid Pokémon fan who got hooked after playing Pokémon Ruby as a child. When Yang arrived at MIT, she quickly found other Pokémon fans and, since there was no existing club, decided to start one.
“It’s a really rewarding game,” says Yang. “I like animals and I’m studying bioengineering now so I feel like it was also part of my academic interest as well.”
Pokémon, which first started in 1996, has seven generations of video games, an animated TV series, and a trading card game. The MIT Pokémon League is pretty niche as it is made up of followers both of the video game and the trading card game. Their meetings usually involve trading cards, participating in or watching others free-play, or playing games on their Pokémon Showdown server, an online battle simulator.
Yang describes the concept of the original game as a separate universe where you work alongside the Pokémon. “The animal-like creatures, called Pokémon, have special abilities and amazing powers…you’re supposed to befriend them, train with them, battle with them, trade them. In contrast, Pokémon Go is focused mainly on capturing Pokémon and then capturing locations, called Gyms, so there isn’t a personal connection to your Pokémon.”
Although some avid Pokémon devotees are mixed on the new version of the game, Yang is a big fan. “I’m enjoying it particularly ’cause everyone is playing Pokémon again,” says Yang. “Even if it’s not the original Pokémon game, everyone is enjoying the characters, which is pretty nice.”
Those hundreds of characters, says Yang, have made it such a huge success. “If you did this with a game like Mario, it just wouldn’t be a hit because there wouldn’t be enough characters.”
Yang is not just the club president of the MIT Pokémon League, she is an official Pokémon professor and league leader, a position that involved annual exams and required tournament staffing. It also gets her and the club the benefit of Pokémon prizes, promotional cards found only at Pokémon League events, and other paraphernalia.
The MIT Pokémon League meets every Thursday, 7:00-10:00 p.m., in MIT’s Student Center W20 in rooms 301 and 302, and the gatherings are open to the public. Alumni are encouraged to attend.