The inescapable Pokémon Go craze is catching on in South Florida, with fans of the new viral mobile game exploring real-life parks, restaurants and beaches to hunt for the elusive Pokémon creatures.
Since the game was released Wednesday on Apple and Android devices, Marc Sylvain, 25, has gone on a Pokémon blitz, pulling out his smartphone at Heritage Park in Plantation, Beach Place in Fort Lauderdale and a hookah bar in Sunrise.
"We were at this shopping center parking lot on the corner of Sunrise [Boulevard] and University [Drive], and there were 10 Pokémon right there next to the hookah place. Crazy place. Totally random," recalls Sylvain, an assistant manager for a car rental company. "So we went for Pokémon and the hookah. Why not?"
Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game, is powered by your smartphone's GPS, pulling in real-world geography as the game board for locating, capturing, training and powering up some 150 Pokémon creatures. When gamers pinpoint a Pokémon on the app, the game toggles on the smartphone's camera, which shows Pokémon in the environment. Players then flick a Poké Ball toward the creature to capture it.
The app has surged in popularity. Since Saturday, about 5.6 percent of all Android users have downloaded the app, according to a Forbes article. The same story said Pokémon Go users on Android are poised to surpass the daily active users on Twitter.
Sylvain was an early adapter. He co-created a Facebook meetup group on Wednesday called HHG Pokemon Go SoFL, which is hosting a Pokémon hunt on Saturday, July 16, at Heritage Park in Plantation. The group has gained 749 members as of Monday afternoon.
Sylvain, who has played various incarnations of Pokemon since 1997, says the meetup group is a way of rallying like-minded Pok?mon fans for fun and camaraderie.
"It's important to go as a group, for safety," says Sylvain, who has caught 95 Pokémon. "People shouldn't be scared to play a game in the world they live in. The only difference now is that Pokémon are in our world. The last thing I want to see is someone to go to a bad neighborhood because the game is telling you to go."
The pocket creatures can be found just about anywhere in South Florida: Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach. Markham Park in Sunrise. Rice and Dough, a Japanese-Italian restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale, is home to a Pokémon Go gym, where players can level up and battle other collectors. South Florida-based users on the social website Reddit have even built Google Maps for Miami and Boca Raton, pointing to locations of Pokestops – spots where players can buy more Poké Balls.
Pokémon hunting has even taken Erica Rodriguez to Beth David Memorial Gardens, a cemetery in Hollywood. The 25-year-old Hollywood resident called it a "very creepy experience and a place I wouldn't have visited otherwise."
"Oddly enough, it had Pokémon, Pokéstops and a gym. Needless to say, I was in and out of that place fast," Rodriguez says with a laugh.
Rodriguez is hosting another Pokémon Go meetup at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Markham Park in Sunrise. She expects more than 100 avid gamers to show up, smartphones in hand.
"The best part is we can break out into teams to cover more area," Rodriguez says. "It's going to be a great opportunity to meet new people that share the same interest."
Following are free Pokémon Go meetups in South Florida:
11 a.m. Tuesday, July 12, at Markham Park, 16001 W. State Road 84, Sunrise. Facebook link.
9 p.m. Friday, Friday, July 15, at Karu Multiplex Nightclub, 1000 W. State Road 84, Fort Lauderdale. Facebook link.
11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, July 16, at Heritage Park, 1100 S. Fig Tree Lane, Plantation. Facebook link.