The Daily Gamecock

'Pokemon Go' players storm Statehouse

The Statehouse grounds, which have recently been the site of rallies and protests, saw a very different type of event on Saturday — the Columbia Pokemon Go Walk. From 3 to 9 p.m., clusters of friends and strangers lapped the Statehouse and ventured down Main Street to maximize their monster-catching in the nostalgic augmented reality game "Pokemon Go."

The walk attracted almost 800 people and was held by Salt Gaming, an e-sports team based in Columbia. In the event’s official Facebook page, the gaming group posted, “Gather around the state house and catch some rare Pokemon!”

While the Statehouse is already a hotspot for "Pokemon Go" players, the walk attracted both locals and out-of-towners, some in costume, some in team colors and some wearing Pikachu hats. Circles of friends populated the Statehouse steps, and one group played the game’s music through speakers. Anytime a rare Pokemon was found, some lucky player would alert everyone nearby, summoning a sure crowd of all ages, races and ethnicities.

Manny Bernal, who recently moved to the Richland area from Texas, contributed to the friendly atmosphere by handing out free snacks to the walk’s attendees. In addition to his charity, others handed out water to their Pokemon-playing kin to help counter Columbia’s famous heat.

When it started to rain about two hours into the event, some faithful fans waited it out, crowding for cover at the top of the Statehouse steps. After the rain ended, attendees reconvened until late into the night, some even going to a "Pokemon Go" bar crawl afterward.

Jessica Davis and Virgil Patrick arrived at the "Pokemon Go" walk just after the rain stopped. The couple, who came from Lexington, has been playing Pokemon since they were kids. Davis and Patrick agreed that the wildly popular app has enabled them to explore local landmarks and parks they never would have noticed before. “It’s forced me to get out, see my city,” Patrick said.

Second-year graduate student Yanan Zhang agreed with that sentiment. “It [encourages] me to go out for a walk, or I would close the door in my room.”

Getting up and going, like Zhang, Patrick and Davis talked about, seems to be the driving force behind the game. In order to do much of anything in the game, one must go to particular destinations, whether to stock up on supplies, battle other Pokemon trainers or find rare Pokemon. Players can hatch Pokemon by walking 2 km, 5 km or 10 km. One attendee posted in the event’s Facebook page that he had hatched seven eggs that day.

Rain or shine, "Pokemon Go" brings all kinds of people, and of course their smartphones, together. When it comes to the welcoming spirit of the event, Bernal said it all: “It’s just a Saturday, any other Saturday, but, you know, bring around some chips and some friends and it’s better.”