Pokemon craze challenges Rio Games for popularity

Sun Aug 14, 2016 1:20am EDT
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By Anthony Boadle

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Forget beach volleyball, soccer or tennis, not to mention the steeplechase or discus. Pokemon Go is challenging the Olympics for most popular game among some young Brazilians.

Hundreds of them turned out in a Rio de Janeiro park on Saturday holding their mobile phones to hunt for virtual creatures in the hyper-reality game app that has become a craze in Brazil since its release two days before the Games.

"I went to a football game to see Brazil play Sweden, but after Pokemon Go started I lost interest," said student Lourdes Drummond at the Quinta da Boa Vista park, once the gardens of the Brazilian royal family.

The blockbuster game developed by Niantic, in which Japan's Nintendo Co has a large stake, uses augmented reality and GPS mapping to make animated characters appear in the real world. Players see creatures overlaid on the nearby landscape that they see through a mobile phone camera.

Brazil's third largest mobile phone company Claro estimates that close to 2 million of its users have downloaded the game just in the Rio area since it was released on Aug. 3. An executive of the company owned by Carlos Slim's America Movil said more than half of those users had been inside or near Olympic venues hunting for Pokemon.

Even athletes have been addicted to the game. Japanese gymnast Kohei Uchimura downloaded the app when he got to Brazil for pre-Games training before Pokemon Go was launched in the country. He ran up almost $5,000 in international phone charges.

That did not stop him winning two gold medals and becoming the first man to claim back-to-back all around titles in over 40 years, and only the fourth in history.

As Rio residents rode paddle boats on the lake of the Boa Vista park, youths explored the grounds seeking Dragonite and other prized Pokemon to add to their collection. They huddled in the shade of the 19th Century royal palace to swap tips.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Pokemon - Quinta da Boa Vista - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 13/08/2016. A boy plays Pokemon Go in an urban park in Rio de Janeiro. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes