Jesus Areyano loves Pokemon and wouldn’t mind being in better shape.
So, with four of his friends, they created a Facebook page where they could share weigh-ins and the miles they walked.
They left the privacy settings of the group set to public.
By Sunday, 2,400 people had liked their page, and 2,200 people had RSVP’d as “going” to the group’s first Facebook event, a Pokemon Go hike through Point Defiance Park. An additional 7,700 Facebook users RSVP’d as “interested.”
“We woke up one morning and 1,000 people were going,” Areyano said. “Literally overnight. I got a text from one of the guys like, ‘Did you see this?’ ”
Areyano said they never thought it would expand beyond the five friends.
Luckily, the five men are entrepreneurs with the skill set to deal with the surprise interest. Areyano said they went to work creating an event to accommodate the 2,200 people, even if he guessed only about a third of those people would actually come out to play.
Sunday, Areyano was proved right — by his estimate, about 700 people attended the event.
What Areyano could not preditct was Pokemon Go servers going down for two hours not only in Point Defiance, but across the board. It was a minor blip to an otherwise lively party.
While most of the players looked to be in their 20s, millennials were far from the only ones who came out. Families with children of all ages could be seen, many wearing their Pokemon T-shirts or clutching stuffed Pokemons. Many people brought dogs and nearly everyone talked enthusiastically among themselves with their phones in front of them.
Garyth Stricklen, dressed in a homemade pokeball costume, joined the party with his toddler daughter, Adalyn, who was dressed as a tiny Pikachu — her favorite Pokemon.
Stricklen said he recalls loving Pokemon as a child, and Adalyn has discovered the same joy. Even before Pokemon Go came out, he said, he used to take her out in her Pikachu outfit to places like museums.
When Stricklen heard of the Pokemon Go event at Point Defiance Park, he said he knew Adalyn would love hunting for Pokemon with other kids her age.
“That’s honestly why we’re here,” he said as Adalyn chased a child behind him, grinning from ear to ear.
It was exactly what Areyano hoped for.
“There’s so much negativity in the world right now and this is just a kind of glowing hope off to the side,” said Areyano, who flew to Tacoma for the day from Los Angeles just for the event. “People are out high-fiving each other, bumping into each other, sometimes literally. Everyone is laughing. It’s a really positive thing.”
Areyano didn’t mind putting up $6,000 of his own money to put on this Pokemon party.
An hour before the start of the event, players formed a line that ran around the corner of the parking lot outside Geek Girls Collectibles, where everyone was asked to meet.
For many players, the event was an excuse to go all-out, putting their love of the 20-year-old franchise on display. Players sported everything from Pokeball beanies and Squirtle Squad jean jackets to Pikachu and Charmander onesies and Team Rocket T-shirts.
Paul Elliot, owner of Geek Girls Collectibles, said Areyano approached him about helping with the event. Areyano needed a parking lot and Elliot had plenty of Pokemon merchandise to sell.
The people who came into Geek Girls early Sunday were mostly interested in buying the stuffed Pokemon. He said his store had sold out of the classic starting Pokemon — Charmander, Squirtle, Pikachu and Bulbasaur.
“We want to be involved in the community,” Elliot said. “Our passion is making a place for the nerd and geek community.”
Pokemon Go players were shuttled in buses to and from Point Defiance Park all day. Areyano said they hired security guards to patrol the Geek Girls Collectibles parking lot and inside the park.
They charged those who used the shuttle $3. Although the money raised by the fee was hardly enough to cover the cost of the buses, Areyano said, it helped pay for prizes handed out to players.
Areyano said he’s fine with that. They never intended to make money off the meetups, shutting the door to lawsuits from game developers Nintendo and Niantic, he said.
“It’s not a bad way to spend a weekend,” Areyano said.