Niantic founder John Hanke was originally scheduled to appear at Comic-Con in Room 25ABC–which holds 480 people–on Thursday afternoon. But after Pokemon Go took the country by storm, it was clear that wouldn’t be enough. So the event moved to the hangar-sized Hall H, which holds between six and seven thousand people, as the last major event of the entire weekend.
Rumors swirled about what the panel would entail. Niantic’s previous game, Ingress, is built around big reveals at special events in a certain location. So understandably, there was a ton of speculation over whether Hanke would reveal a legendary Pokemon for players to catch in that specific location. That anticipation packed the room to capacity, and left still more stranded outside.
A little birdie told me if you want the first spawn of a legendary bird in #PokemonGo you should be at Hall H tomorrow at 2-3pm… #sdcc
— Phil DeFranco (@PhillyD) July 24, 2016
But Niantic is mostly concerned with keeping its servers running so that people can continue playing uninterrupted without worrying about outages. Hanke said that on the day of last week’s unofficial meet-up event in downtown San Francisco, when servers were down most of the afternoon, his team was “working intensely right up until a half hour before the event to get them back online.” So everyone’s hope that a legendary Pokemon would get released was dashed. When people in the crowd starting shouting out “Mewtwo!” and “Show us the Moltres,” Hanke finally just said it: “We’re going to get there, but there’s no new Pokemon today.” It’s another moment where Hanke and Niantic have been caught off guard by the popularity of the game and the weight of expectation placed on them because of it.
#PokemonGO Team Leaders revealed! Team Valor: Candela. Team Mystic: Blanche. Team Instinct: Spark. pic.twitter.com/j05H5K0tfY
— Pokemon GO (@PokemonGoApp) July 24, 2016
However, he did bring one small new thing to share: the identities to go with the names of the leaders of in-game teams Mystic, Instinct and Valor. When players reach level 5 they pick a team, but only see the leaders in silhouette (Hanke joked that was because they hadn’t finished every aspect of the game by launch day). Blanche, an icy blonde, leads Team Mystic. Spark, with light brown hair, an orange hoodie, and a blazer with gold trimming, leads Team Instinct. And Candela, with brown skin and a styling white jacket with red accents, leads Team Valor. Plus, Hanke did answer one young kid’s question about the relation between the teams and the legendary birds (Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres) they represent– so there’s definitely something being planned around that.
Nerdist head honcho Chris Hardwick served as moderator because he tweeted at Hanke after the panel got moved–and proceeded to geek out intensely about Pokemon the entire time. Hanke said that when they first met to rehearse the panel, Hardwick took the first 10 minutes to catch a Pikachu in the room. The loudest cheers and groans of the afternoon came at the beginning of the panel, when Hardwick yelled his allegiance for Team Mystic, and at the beginning of audience questions, when somebody screamed for Team Valor.
A number of people walked out disappointed–more than a few loudly complained they waited at Hall H for the entire day expecting some kind of rare Pokemon, which had never been confirmed by anyone. And when Hanke raised the idea of Easter eggs–like one rumor, which he confirmed, about naming an Eevee “properly” in order to influence its evolution–audience members shouted out in frustration for him to reveal even more. Niantic knows there are growing pains, and they’re working hard to get through them. But Hanke’s vision of a game where players get outside, see their city, and interact with each other while getting some exercise is coming true. A packed Hall H mere weeks after the game launched is proof positive of that.