Pokémon Go revolutionised the mobile gaming space. Its massive success saw people of all ages and backgrounds running around trying to catch the lovable creatures. More importantly, it still does. You will undoubtedly see a grown adult swipe at their phone randomly at work or walking home. Parents are more willing to play video games with their kids. Furthermore, kids are more willing than ever to play outdoors with their parents! Niantic improves the game on a semi-regular basis and the has had several updates now. However, the latest Pokemon Go gym update is possibly of the greatest significance. The new update revamps the gym mechanic and fundamentally changes the way the game is played. For the better, no less.
The Pokemon Go Gym Problem
I know you’ve seen it: a gym with eight Gyaradoses and two Dragonites in it. Time and time and time again. Pokémon Go’s battling was broken and boring. I spent a good portion of my time hunting Eevees to breed Jolteons just for all those pesky 3000CP+ Gyaradoses out there hogging all that gym space like a meathead. And then Snorlax and Blissey happened. Blissey could not be beaten by anything other than a fighting type of similar CP. Pokémon Go gave us a 90 second limit and utterly broken controls to fight a goddamn wall. I mean, come on!
The gyms simply didn’t work. There was no turnover. No challenge. Absolutely no fun. You could occasionally come across a level 7 gym with beatable defenders that would take 15-20 minutes and 36 max revives to beat and claim for your team. Other times, you were faced with level 10 strongholds of 3000CP Tyranitars, Blisseys, Gyaradaoses, Dragonites, Snorlaxes and Rhydons. Beatable but so, so, so time-consuming.
With no turnover, lower level players lost interest in gyms. But more importantly, higher level players continued to get ahead. Every Pokémon a player had left at a gym was worth 10 Poké coins every 21 hours. Poké coins are Pokémon Go’s premium currency that lets you buy special items and storage upgrades. And thus the strong got stronger and the rich got richer. But no more! Niantic have realised the error of their ways!
The Solution: Gym Update
People began falling out of love with Pokémon Go and the Gen2 update didn’t do enough to help. Niantic ran semi-regular events but that wasn’t enough either. And so came the announcement: gyms would be closing for a short period of time and see themselves restyled. And so came the restyling: every gym is now a slick hang out for trainers. Every single gym is now a Pokéstop and some Pokéstops are now gyms. Gyms now give out badges that you can level up. However, the most important feature is the battling itself.
Niantic addressed every issue with the former system. There are now only six slots at any gym, meaning that challengers face a fair six-on-six fight. Previously, players could battle friendly gyms and level them up as highly as 10, providing ten Pokémon slots. Four of my local five gyms were level 10 with all ten Pokémon 3000CP+ for twelve weeks prior to this update. Since the update, however, each gym has changed ownership at least three times. This is because it’s not enough to just leave a powerful Pokémon at the gym anymore. Nowadays, you have to visit the gym and feed your beast. If they’re not fed, the monsters slowly lose motivation and with it their CP.
The battling system is greatly improved. The Pokémon respond quicker, there are fewer (though not none) latency issues with health calculation, and you can see the opposing team and use items while you prepare to face a gym. The new gym system has done to Pokémon Go what Jesus did to Lazarus.
The Gym Community
The main point of the update, it seems to me, is gym turnover. Players earn Poké coins when their monsters return, with a maximum of 50 a day. This means you want your beast to hold a gym, but not forever. The game was too stagnant and Niantic wanted to inject some life into it. And life we have indeed. I am seeing the highest numbers of people playing, and especially playing together, since the game’s first month out. I can claim a gym or two on my way to work and lose it by lunchtime. To date, I have seen a Pinsir, an Aipom, a Kabutops, a Jynx, a Crobat and a Golduck holding a spot at a gym. Variety is the spice of life after all, and Go is getting some new life.
The other new feature are raids. Every once in a while, a gym will be host to a raid boss. These are powered up versions of Pokémon which are meant to be taken on by several players together. Only higher end players (level 31+) have access to these, however, and the lower tiers are easy enough to tackle solo. The raids come in 4 tiers and whereas you might be able to tackle tiers 1 and 2 on your own, tier 4 definitely requires a little help. Players receive a few special items (powered up berries, rare candy etc) and a chance to catch a regular version of the defeated Pokémon.
How Shiny a Badge Does Niantic Deserve?
The problem with raids, however, is that they favour paying players. Players use raid passes to participate. All the while, raid passes cost 100 Pokécoins a pop. You can get one free pass a day but you can also only hold one. It’s understandable that Niantic would want to favour their paying customers in some way, but this seems a little extreme. Thanks to this set up, raids almost feel like DLC or ‘freemium’ content. Of course, you’re able to gain coins without spending real-world money, but those who have are more likely to earn more.
Overall, I think the new update was much needed and will do the game fantastic favours. However, it remains to be seen as to how dedicated players remain to going out and battling their local gyms day in and day out. I will be visiting a gym or two on my way to work. Others might yet go on gym crawls. Only time will tell where Pokémon Go is truly headed.