SINGAPORE: Thousands of people armed with Pokeballs flooded Sentosa for Southeast Asia's first Pokemon Go Safari Zone event, which started on Thursday (Apr 18).
The event is set to draw more than 100,000 participants over five days, with many coming from overseas to take part.
Safari Zone events have been held in various countries and regions worldwide, and was most recently in Brazil from Jan 25 to Jan 27.
These events allow participants to obtain region-specific Pokemon that cannot be caught in the host countries, with increased spawn rates of rare creatures and event-exclusive gameplay features throughout a designated area.
Attractions across the 5km-long trail in Sentosa include the world’s first 6m-tall Lapras inflatable, Pokemon photo points, daily meet-and-greet sessions with Pikachu and a Pokemon pop-up store.
Themed rest areas based on the three teams in Pokemon Go - Mystic, Valor and Instinct - are also available, where players can mingle and cool off, as well as seek shelter in the event of wet weather.
Pikachu visors were also given away at random intervals throughout the event to shield participants from the sun.
TIME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
"I was very excited when I saw that my relatives and I all qualified to play on the inaugural day of the event in Singapore," said 38-year-old retail manager Clifford Loi, who took a day off to explore Sentosa on Thursday with his family.
“My boss plays too," he chuckled.
A total of 125,000 tickets to the event were allocated to participants who balloted online in early March, with about 80 per cent handed to locals and 20 per cent to tourists.
A 42-year-old educator, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tang, said the best part of Pokemon Go is "the time spent as a family".
"We will probably stay three to six hours at Sentosa. Hopefully we will get to all the checkpoints, and haul a few Tropius. It's a public holiday anyway, a perfect time to spend outdoors with the family," said Mr Tang, who will be attending the event on Friday with his wife and children.
COMING FROM AFAR
Freelance tutor Plyor Wongsuchat, 31, and her friend Rungnapa Damrongvatanapokin, 30, flew down from Thailand for a weekend trip to Singapore. They made arrangements after their applications for tickets were approved.
"I was happy that one of my closest friends got tickets for the same day," said Ms Plyor, an avid player and Pokemon fan.
"After being confirmed, I hesitated to come," conceded Ms Rungnapa, who does not know if the experience will be worth it. The trip cost the duo about THB29,000 (S$1,230), but their trip is not all about Pokemon.
"It's also a trip to see some of my friends here anyway that I've made through my bunny’s Instagram account," said Ms Plyor, who is looking forward to the food in Singapore.
The McGuire family, who have played Pokemon Go since its launch, flew down from Portland, Oregon, and planned a holiday around the Safari Zone event.
They previously attended the Go Fest event in Chicago and Safari Zone events in Taiwan.
"I like how the game is constantly evolving. There's PVP (player versus player) and new content, keeping it fresh. In Portland, Oregon there are PVP tournaments and meetups, where I've made lots of friends," said Corinna, 51, a medical technician.
"I've always enjoyed the light heartedness of the game," said 20-year-old student Anne.
"It has to be a place which we want to visit, and we wanted to visit Singapore," said Corrine.
"Singapore has a reputation of being a really fun place to travel. It's clean and tourist friendly, we like Pokemon and travel so why not do both?"
YouTube personalities Nicholas Oyzon, from Los Angeles, and Julian Sherrod, from Philadelphia, also made an appearance at the event.
Mr Oyzon’s Pokemon Go-focused YouTube channel, Trainer Tips, which chronicles his journeys as a Pokemon Trainer, boasts more than 851,000 subscribers. Mr Sherrod, who runs DX1, a similar channel, has more than 13,000 subscribers.
The duo attended the event with several friends, including Brandon Tan, 28, from Singapore.
"Honestly it's just being able to hang out with all my friends from around the world, getting to see people that I know here, people that come from other countries that I've met before," said Mr Oyzon.
"I am actually quite into PVP," added Mr Tan, who is self-employed. He regularly organises community events and meetups locally.
Mr Sherrod said his highlight of the event so far was catching a shiny Lapras just moments before, while fans looked on.
Inclusivity was also the name of the game in Sentosa. Andy Lee, who was in a wheelchair, had little trouble navigating the beaches of Sentosa.
"I’m very happy and excited, it’s the first time I’m attending this kind of event," said the 26-year-old Mr Lee, who works as a call centre agent. Aside from the odd staircase, he said that his Pokemon journey has been smooth, as Singapore is wheelchair user-friendly.
Mr Lee attended the event with his friend, 22-year-old Calvin Voo, who is currently serving National Service. Both men took a day off from their respective commitments.
An in-game highlight of the Safari Zone event is the appearance of Tropius, a species of Pokemon resembling a dinosaur with large, wing-like leaves, normally obtainable only in Africa, South Spain and Crete.
Lapras, an otherwise rare Pokemon species, is also more commonly encountered during the event. The aquatic Pokemon has been featured prominently in local Pokemon-related collaterals, due to its popularity and association with water, a "fitting image for Singapore", according to chief business officer of The Pokemon Company Ito Kenjiro.
Also featured is Unown, an elusive entity shaped like symbols and letters, a long-necked tropical variant of Exeggutor, which resemble palm trees, Shuckle, a shy bug Pokemon species, and Dratini, a fan favourite with a dragon-based evolutionary line. The Unown variants that can be caught in this event spell Sentosa.
Guests attending the Safari Zone event without tickets will still be able to experience normal gameplay, and can participate in the various activities and attractions that will be taking place during the event.
"While we expect higher visitorship during the event period, it will be business as usual at Sentosa's various unique leisure offerings, and the island will continue to welcome all locals and tourists," said Lynette Ang, chief marketing officer of Sentosa.
SINGAPORE THE "TOP CHOICE" IN SOUTHEAST ASIA
Hikaru Ray Adachi, Niantic’s senior director of product marketing (APAC), said that Singapore was the top choice to host Southeast Asia’s first Safari Zone event, as player experience is a top priority.
“Niantic is aware of the large Pokémon GO player base we have in Singapore and in the surrounding regions, and this also played a large part in our decision," Mr Adachi told members of the media in an interview.
"Some of the other deciding factors were Singapore’s geographic location, its friendly and welcoming policies coupled with great support from local officials, as well as the nation’s reputation as a regional tourist hub."
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Mr Adachi added that Sentosa was chosen because it was "uniquely suited" for the event due to its various attractions and family-friendly position.
"We want our player base to get out there and explore the real world while they play our games. Sentosa is very much aligned with this theme and as well as with our three pronged mission of encouraging discovery, exercise, and real-world socialising," he said.
“As such, the Pokemon Go Safari is not just a chance to meet your favourite rare Pokemon, but also an opportunity to rediscover local attractions, cities, interact with people, and build lasting friendships throughout the journey."
Players will have to keep guessing on future plans for Pokemon Go, and Mr Adachi’s lips were tightly sealed about future plans for the game, as well as details on as-yet unavailable Pokemon.
The Safari Zone event is not the first time the beaches of Sentosa have been invaded by Pokemon. Over six days in December last year, a Pikachu Night Parade saw nine Pikachu dressed in LED lights marching and dancing along a 100m route as part of Sentosa's Island Lights party. Singapore’s first Pikachu Parade was held in Changi Airport's Terminal 3.
Other Pokemon-related events have also been held in Singapore. There were two iterations of a Pokemon-themed fun run, with the first drawing a crowd of almost 6,000 people, and also the first Pokemon Research Exhibition outside Japan, held at the Resorts World Sentosa's S.E.A. Aquarium in October 2016. A Pokemon pop-up cafe also saw hundreds of visitors over its two runs in 2016.
On Wednesday, the Pokemon Center Singapore at Jewel Changi Airport officially opened its doors. The outlet - the first official merchandise store outside of Japan - stocks limited edition items exclusive to Singapore.