By Matt Villano, on August 10, 2016

The Pokémon Go master

Almost one month ago, American Nick Johnson was living in Brooklyn, working in Manhattan, and hanging out with his girlfriend. Boy, has that changed.

Since then, Nick has spent the past few weeks on a whirlwind, worldwide adventure playing Pokémon Go. Since being one of the very first people to “catch ‘em all” (all 142 Pokémon types in America), he’s become an overnight gaming sensation. With the help of Expedia he’s travelled from Brooklyn to Paris, Hong Kong, and Sydney to complete his Pokémon collection. His next stop: Tokyo.

Our colleagues in the Australia office had a chat to Nick to talk about how he did it, his top Pokémon hunting hacks, and what’s next. Here are excerpts from that chat. (Also, be sure to watch the embedded video!)

How did you manage to catch all 142 American Pokémon in just two weeks?

I work from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., so I’d get up, catch a few on the way to work, grab dinner with my girlfriend and then we’d head out hunting until around midnight. Toward the end, when I realised I was close to catching all of the U.S. ones, I stayed out until 4 or 5 a.m. for a couple of nights.

What are your top tips for Pokémon Go players?

My number one tip is to keep your head up! I say that to my girlfriend all the time when she’s looking at her phone and walking. Keep your head up and stay aware of your surroundings. There’s a big warning message about that when you open the game, so take it very literally. For safety and for optimum Pokémon catching, go to populated areas; the more people who are catching in one spot, the rarer Pokémon tend to spawn, I think they’ve built that into the game. And the other bonus is people set up lures there so you don’t even have to spend your money to get things to show up. Finally, always ignore zubats. They’re everywhere, annoying, and they’re not very good.

Where’s the busiest place you’ve caught a Pokémon?

Definitely the Grand Army Plaza in the southeast corner of Central Park. Even Justin Bieber turned up! If it’s good enough for the Biebs, it’s good enough for me!

Justin Bieber usually attracts the crowds! What did people do when he turned up?

I was about 200 feet away so I didn’t see him, but I talked to people later who did see him, and apparently just one person yelled out to him but people shouted back, “Dude, leave him alone, he’s playing Pokémon!” I mean, come on, respect the guy, he’s just trying to catch ‘em all too!

How many Pokémon have you caught in total?

To date [as of August 9], I’m up to 5,202 Pokémon.

What’s your favorite?

Eevee. We named our dog after Eevee, three years ago, before the game came out.

And your favorite evolution of Eevee?

I have to prefer the unevolved state because of my dog!


Why do you think Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm?

I think the idea of Pokémon and “catching ‘em all” has been with people since childhood, like it is for me, and I think one of the cool things about the game is that it brings people together and creates a community. You have it here in Sydney, and in New York, where there often are hundreds of people gathered in one location.

What do you think is the best thing about the game?

You get to explore places you’ve never gone before. I’ve been in New York for five or six years and have now been to parts of the city I never have visited before and never would have visited otherwise. I’ve made some friends and met people I never would have had the chance to meet without the game. Also, it’s good exercise; I’ve lost 8-10 pounds in two weeks doing this!

What did your parents say when you told them they were heading off to catch Pokémon around the world?

They loved it! And my girlfriend was excited as well. I’m lucky she likes playing, too.

Would you say you are addicted to the game?

I don’t think so! It’s a fun game to play, but if my girlfriend didn’t play it, I wouldn’t play it that much, and there’d be a bit of frustration there. I have a lot of co-workers that have that issue.

What will you do when you’ve finally caught ‘em all?

I’m not sure yet! Life goals? I want to catch Pokémon with the Biebs! Other than that, I’ll probably just enjoy playing the game with my friends. They’re going to release more legendary, rare Pokémon, which should be nuts. I bet they’ll need a permit for a public event in New York!

Have you had any big phone bills?

I set up international data before I left!

Are people chatting to you on social media asking for tips?

Yes hundreds of people have reached out to me on Snapchat every day, I use Reddit, Twitter and Facebook, and people are messaging me all the time; that’s how I heard about Kangaskhan hanging around the Opera House this morning. I’ve had received hundreds and hundreds of messages of support from people, it’s been cool, I always try to respond to everyone.

What did you think when Expedia offered to send you around the world?

It’s kind of surreal. I wasn’t expecting it to go anywhere, I originally put it up on Reddit thinking no one’s done this, it got a little bit of traction, but then I went to sleep and I had thousands of comments and media requests in my inbox. I had to fly to a wedding the next day in California so it was a busy weekend!

Would you have come out if Expedia didn’t host you?

Probably not, given work and costs, it probably wouldn’t have been something I’ve done!

What’s the most useful thing to purchase?

Depends on what you want to do, if you’re trying to level-up, go for lucky eggs.

Have you been in touch with the game makers?

I emailed them but haven’t heard back, they’re busy keeping the game functional!

What’s been the best part of the whirlwind trip?

Every city has been unique. In Paris, it was a struggle as I landed I found out they’d updated the game, so everywhere where rare Pokémon used to spawn changed, but people messaged me on Reddit with tips on how to find Mr. Mine. I was in an Uber and someone messaged me the location, it was five minutes away so I told my Uber driver to change the destination. I got there in time, it was midnight, I was flying out at noon the next day so I was lucky, and then I caught another one five mins later so that worked out. It was a stressful day but definitely fun; I got to explore the Eiffel Tower (a big Pokémon hotspot), the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees. I didn’t sleep in Hong Kong, but the guys at Expedia drove me around until I found Farfetch’d. And Kangaskhan in Sydney! I’d never been to Sydney before, so a highlight was seeing the Opera House.

Have you seen other tourists playing the game?

Yes, hundreds! The lawn at the base of the Eiffel Tower was full of hundreds of people playing Pokémon. I haven’t met anyone specifically travelling to catch Pokémon but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were.

Where are some of your favorite places to “catch ’em all?”