Friday, June 22, 2018
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PokéDate? University of Tampa student develops app to lure players looking for love

Jeffery Zhang wasn't having much luck on the dating scene.

The 30-year-old MBA student at the University of Tampa said he had been lonely since journeying to Florida from China's Sichuan province eight months earlier.

He tried the dating app Tinder, because that's what everyone uses at UT, he said. He hung out with a few women, made a few platonic friends, but mostly he says he felt out of sync with Americans — and even Chinese women who'd been living in the U.S.

Plus, he's not a big fan of American food. That can complicate dating.

Then Pokémon Go arrived. Zhang, like millions of others, was hooked almost immediately. He was hunting Pokémon at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park one evening when a rare one, either an Eevee or a Dratini as he recalls it, began to spawn.

"There was a crowd of people and everyone started running toward it and yelling," Zhang said through Skype, describing the type of Pokémon Go stampede that has been well documented around the world via YouTube.

Then, bang. Zhang ended up at an emergency room with a sprained ankle. The woman who'd run smack into him at the park was there, too — with him. Her name was Miki. She was a big fan of Pikachu and a UT student from Japan. They've been dating since that night.

Zhang, who had experience working on marketing for various dating apps, was inspired by his experience to develop Pok, a dating app targeted at Pokémon Go players. It's now available in the Apple and Android app stores.

Pok

The logo for the dating app Pok combines a heart and a Poké Ball.

He said it already has about 30,000 registered users, and he's only just started to market it.

He's not the first to make a connection between the game, which forces people to go outside to places they'll likely encounter other Pokémon trainers, and the world of online dating.

PokeMatch, an app similar to Pok, landed in app stores about two weeks after Pokémon Go did, aimed at matching singles who play Pokémon Go.

Not long after that, matchmaking service Project Fixup started offering PokéDates for people interested in going on dates centered around playing Pokémon Go. Dine, an app startup focused on dinner dates, added a "let's play Pokémon" feature to let users mark their profiles with a Poké Ball that notifies potential mates that they're into the game.

People who are already in relationships say they're using the game for dates, too. Land O' Lakes resident Scott Beaver and his wife have been married for 10 years. Their 8- and 13-year-old boys have already tired of the game, he said, but they haven't.

"We're having fun, walking around, getting competitive like 'I got this one and you didn't,' " Beaver said. "It's fun, unlike sitting in a theater not doing anything. We're talking and getting exercise."

Lawrence Kai, 18, of Wesley Chapel, said he has a date this week with his girlfriend — a trip to Ballast Point Park in Tampa to hunt Pokémon on their 5-month anniversary. Typically, on dates, he'll drive, while she navigates them to PokeStops.

Emily Rence, 28, of Riverview, said most of her dates lately with her girlfriend start out as more traditional outings, such as going out to dinner, but end with "swinging by our favorite hunting spot."

Zhang's Pok app has been in app stores about two weeks. Right now, it's essentially a Tinder clone, offering the benefit of knowing that you're swiping through people who share at least one common interest, though Zhang said he could add more features later.

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