1. Florida

Yes, there are still people playing Pokémon Go. But who are they?

A few years after the popular augmented reality game first hit, Pokémon Go’s core audience is still here.
Joseph Couturier (left), Michelle Brown and Cory Collins walk down 2nd Ave S playing Pokemon Go during the May Community Day, featuring the Pokemon Torchic, on Sunday, May 19, 2019 in St. Petersburg. Brown and Collins, husband and wife, typically spend Community Days in downtown St. Petersburg, John Chesnut Sr. Park or Ybor City. ALLIE GOULDING | Times
Published May 20
Updated May 20

If you drove by the 300 block of 2nd Avenue S in St. Petersburg Sunday afternoon, you would have seen four adults furiously tapping on their phone screens.

They were not texting a relative or searching Google for the nearest coffee shop. Instead, each was engaging in a digital fight with a Pokémon, challenging their enemy in a battle-like environment until they either emerged victorious or the timer ran out.

Pokemon Go players tap at their phone screens during a raid on Sunday afternoon. TIMES I Elizabeth Djinis

Sunday recalled the glory days of Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game in which players use the real world around them as a place to catch Pokémon. The game debuted in July 2016 and took the world by storm shortly thereafter. It was not uncommon to see groups of people traipsing through a park or a downtown area, searching for Pokémon. If someone were to make a documentary about the summer of 2016, Pokémon Go would surely make the cut.

But the phenomenon dropped off almost as quickly as it had begun. A look at Google Trends shows that it skyrocketed to peak popularity as a search term around mid July 2016, when the game premiered, but had already plummeted by mid-August. Since that time, the game has had brief blips of public interest, but has never regained its former success.

Still, for more serious gamers, there has been a sort of pick-up in the last few months, if only based on anecdotal evidence from a walk around downtown St. Petersburg Sunday. A Facebook group for Pokémon Go Tampa Bay has almost 11,000 members. A subreddit for Tampa Bay-based Pokémon Go trainers contains almost 2,200 people. Tourism agency Visit Tampa Bay even compiled a list of the eight best Pokémon Go gyms in Tampa, including Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Hyde Park Village.

A group of people walk down Central Avenue playing Pokemon Go during the May Community Day on Sunday, May 19, 2019, in St. Petersburg. On the monthly Community Day, Central Ave "lights up" with lures players put on Pokestops at local businesses and murals. ALLIE GOULDING | Times

On Sunday, a Pokémon Go community day, groups of people walked down Central Avenue looking for Pokémon. They were almost indistinguishable from other walkers whose faces were buried in their phones, except for one telltale sign: a sort of pointed look that showed they were looking for something specific, a gym or a raid, and not meandering.

Cory Collins, 35, first got into the game in earnest about two months ago when he temporarily left the house after an argument with his wife.

He started playing Pokémon Go with a friend and was immediately hooked. He and his wife eventually made up, but Collins couldn’t let go of his new hobby. So he included her as well. Now, he and his wife go out in downtown St. Petersburg and drive up and down Central Avenue looking for good spots to find Pokémon.

Collins has incorporated the game into his daily lifestyle. At work, he uses his lunch break to walk around and play. He averages about 15.5 miles a week playing the game, he said. Since 2016, that has been one of the game’s long-touted best features — its ability to get people outside of their house and be physically active.

Josh Smolko, 27, from Lakewood Ranch and Noah Diaz, 31, from St. Petersburg, play Pokemon Go while walking down Central Avenue on Sunday, May 19, 2019 in St. Petersburg. Diaz's bag clearly showed he was on team Valor. It had a symbol of the team, as well as pins for the different types of Pokemon. ALLIE GOULDING | Times

For others, the game offers a wholesome social outlet as an alternative to drinking at a bar or going out to a club. Joseph Couturier, 30, who is dating Collins’ sister, began playing the game with friends after he quit drinking.

“It’s a handful of nerds walking down the street on their phones versus a handful of guys sitting in a bar getting into trouble,” he said.

Others use the game as a way to connect with family or meet new friends. Isaiah Wolfe, 18, plays with his 9-year-old brother, Micah, who has been playing since he was 6. Rane Kien, 28, dragged his two cousins along with him Sunday to the community day, though they both admitted they were not avid Pokémon Go players.

Kien finds his interactions with new friends in public parks or downtown streets often begin the same way. ‘Hey, have you caught the shiny?' someone might ask. A shiny is a popular type of Pokémon that players strive to catch on community days. ‘How many have you caught today?' they’ll follow up. The game creates intuitive ways to find connections with strangers and actually interact with others in public.

So is there any secret to knowing who’s playing the game rather than just perusing their phone?

Jonah Hoppe, 20, referred to the game’s frequent location in parks as an indicator of Pokémon Go players: “If they’re hanging out by a tree.”

That prompted a retort from 20-year-old Rachel Wolfe: “In certain areas, you just know.”


  1. Former Tarpon Springs police Officer Steven Bergren, seen in this 2012 picture with his K-9 partner Dobies Jr. Bergren resigned before he could be fired by the Tarpon Springs Police Department for threatening a mass shooting. Bergren said he was joking. Tampa Bay Times
    The detective said he was joking. The Tarpon Springs Police Department said it would have fired him had he not resigned.
  2. A student holds a sign while participating in a "Global Climate Strike" at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Across the globe, hundreds of thousands of young people took the streets Friday to demand that leaders tackle climate change in the run-up to a U.N. summit. KHADEJEH NIKOUYEH/NEWS & RECORD  |  AP
    With a coastline stretching 1,350 miles, Florida faces some of the gravest risks from rising ocean levels.
  3. Nurse Jeanine Huici carries a sign during a one-day strike outside of Palmetto General Hospital, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Hialeah, Fla. Registered nurses staged a one-day strike against Tenet Health hospitals in Florida, California and Arizona on Friday, demanding higher wages and better working conditions. LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP
    About 30 nurses picketed outside Palmetto General Hospital in Hialeah, Florida, during intermittent rain Friday.
  4. Lifeguards rescue children from a minivan that their mother drove into the Atlantic on Tuesday in Daytona Beach. Ebony Wilkerson, 31, inset, a pregnant South Carolina woman who drove a minivan carrying her three young children into the ocean surf off Florida had talked about demons before leaving the house, according to a sister who worriedly called police, officials said during a news conference Wednesday.
    Volusia County Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano on Thursday allowed 38-year-old Ebony Wilkerson to leave Daytona Beach.
  5. Commander John Christensen of the cutter Seneca says the “downrange counter-drug operations are a vital component to the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security’s mission and our national security.” Photo from video/WPLG Local 10
    The crews patrolling in the Eastern Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Mexico and Central and South American made dozens of interdictions.
  6. An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft approaches Miami International Airport for landing in March. Bloomberg
    The 60-year-old veteran airline employee told investigators he was upset that union contract negotiations had stalled.
  7. The view of downtown St. Petersburg from the balcony of 180 Beach Drive, unit 1602. Tony Sica
    It’s the second home on Mandalay Point to sell in two months.
  8. Maria Otilia Rivera faces up to 35 years in prison when she's sentenced Oct. 16. Hendry County Sheriff's Office
    An investigation that began in 2017 found that Rivera sold drugs to two girls, ages 12 and 14.
  9. Police investigators say they believe the man has a history of mental of illness. Photo from video/10News WTSP
    Firefighters initially tried to climb after him, but the man just climbed higher.
  10. Statements made online that threaten physical harm, whether seriously intended or not, can have devastating consequences. The “It’s No Joke” awareness campaign seeks to educate youth and parents that even threats made online. Florida Department of Juvenile Justice/Facebook
    The arrests came after other students told deputies they’d been told they were on a “safe” list.