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2021:Pokemon Go Year in Review

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Article by Manaholix Brian Tien
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2021 Review

When looking forward to the future, it's always important to remember how you've gotten where you are today.

2021 has been an eventful year in Pokemon Go... pun intended. We've had a lot go on, and it's been such a storm of note-worthy points that it can all really get lost in the fog of the year's end. Ah, but we're here to remind you a bit about just what happened along the way! This is not a complete list of 2021's happenings, and early warning; we do poke fun at Niantic's expense along the way, but it's all intended in good fun. So let's wrap this up and take a look at what 2021 had to offer!

Setting the Stage

Before we begin the list, it's important to note just where we were as we entered the year. The Go Beyond update had just dropped about a month before, and even before that we were given access to our first Mega Evolutions. There had been... problems... with both of these additions to the game, but we Niantic had already largely fixed the Mega Evolution issues, and would soon be working on the problems entailed within Go Beyond.

January

While the Season of Celebration didn't start in 2021, the majority of it spilled over. The Season of Celebration was an interesting time, as it dropped at the start of the Go Beyond update, at a time when we still weren't quite sure how the future of Pokemon Go would shape up. 

Part of the Season of Celebration, Go Tour: Kanto was revealed in January. The scope was outlined, but it wasn't yet clear just how much of a big deal it would become. We now know that the intent was to set this event up as a second major yearly celebration in a manner similar to Go Fest, which is now set to continue into Go Tour: Johto in 2022. When this event was announced, we reported that several recently discontinued Community Day moves would be available during the proceedings, which was information that was available to us through official channels. However, the official news post made by Niantic did not highlight this fact initially, which led to a bit of confusion.

On January 11, Niantic made a small mistake and gave the move Weather Ball: Water to Primeape, a move that it can’t learn in the main series. Considering just how powerful this move was at the time, this was a huge boon that excited a great many players, although many more realized that it wouldn’t stick around for long. Primepe was banned from the GBL and Pokemon HOME, and lost its ability to learn the move shortly after the error was discovered, but anyone that TMed for it still had the move at the time. This was later patched out, and players were awarded a 50,000 Stardust compensation for the mistake. 

Ho-oh was given access to Earthquake, which made it much, much better in the Master League! In fact, it was literally the top-ranked Master League Pokemon on PvPoke for a while, though this came with a word of caution from the site owner as it was a bit more situational than it seemed. The rainbow chicken is still pretty high on the list to this day, though!

February

Remember when we had to transfer Legendary/Mythical Pokemon one at a time? Hard to imagine that changed not too long ago, in early February 2021. This was a pretty important quality of life improvement that made Pokemon storage management friendlier towards players than it had ever been in the past.

Giovanni took a bit of a break from Pokemon Go once Covid hit, but he eventually made his return with a re-run of the three legendary birds of Kanto.

It’s always nice when an event rolls around that enables former exclusive moves for a period of time. And while Gardevoir is a very strong and popular Pokemon in the PvE meta, its event move Synchronoise is literally quite the opposite. Awkward.

Jokes aside, this event was actually quite a significant one, due to the very rare and difficult opportunities of legitimately obtaining a shiny Mew from any Pokemon title throughout all of history. The extra shinies were also quite nice, with hyped new shinies like Snorlax and the Hitmons added.

March

The Season of Legends promised new Legendary Pokemon, and the entire community returned one singular response in unison: “Lando T or GTHO”.

After the very-specific-type-of-storm that was the release of XL candy the year before, Niantic took a step back and said “what if we make this system just a bit less anti-player?”. The result was many more ways to nab XL candy from normal play, such as buddy walking!

Willow got tired of Niantic’s crap and figured that he’d go and visit the Pokemon Company to see if he could play somewhere else because the real world is objectively the worst region in the greater Pokemon canon. After he couldn’t get a passport to Pasio, Creatures Inc. slapped his face on a card and told him to go home.

Niantic doesn’t always make mistakes, but when they do, they don’t always compromise for them either. In this case, there was an issue with players who didn’t purchase the Kanto Tour ticket but had access to ticket perks. Since this would be seemingly unfair to those who bought a ticket, an extra month to claim some goodies was added.

This was a rather important day for most players who didn’t have a team (or two, or three) of Metagross with its signature Meteor Mash. Players who had banked Shadow Beldum and TM'd away Frustration from previous events got the perfect moment to evolve for Meteor Mash, saving some Elite TMs.

Rayquaza, the great dragon of the sky, descends to us once again! With the might of its Dragon Type moveset well known, it was at last time to reveal the sheer power of its Flying Type moveset with its signature move, Dragon Ascen-....HURRICANE? THE HECK?!

Leaf Storm and Payback dropped on numerous Pokemon causing a small meta-shift as a result. Not a whole lot to say here, honestly, as the change wasn’t exactly massive.

Players were given the ability to officially invite others to play, creating a symbiotic relationship between the two accounts that led to both being tube-fed special little bonuses along the way. Because you know what they say; misery loves company!

April

This was an interesting event that answered the question many battlers had pondered on for years: What if the switch timer was shorter? While the event didn’t last very long, it did give some insight into the balance and mechanics of the game.

Hats are not a new aspect of the Pokemon Go experience, and the Flower Crown in particular had been used before for Eevee and its line. The reason that this makes it onto our list is the fact that it was the entire line that could have hats: Happiny, Chansey, and Blissey. By that point, it was becoming more and more common for new hats to only be available to one member of a given evolutionary line, so seeing a return to form was nice.

Misery must really love company, because apparently 200 wasn’t enough? 400 should do, right…? All kidding aside, this was actually an issue when the PvP system first launched at the end of 2018 due to the requirement of being Ultra Friends with other players in order to battle them remotely. Since it takes time to progress through the Friendship system, having more friends was a good thing.

Team Rocket encountered a few issues and were disabled for a while. Rumor has it Giovanni had a midlife crisis when he started looking around the real world and discovered that nothing he could ever do would be as evil as Niantic’s business model.

All kidding aside; Go Fest is the most exciting point in the year for Pokemon Go, generally speaking. While the announcement was a bit late this year, it was still a very welcome sight!

May

This… still hurts a bit. Xerneas was simultaneously one of the most hyped and dreaded Legendary Pokemon in the game for a very long time. We wanted it to put Fairy Types on the map, we wanted it to dominate the Master League… but no, our poor light-bright deer just couldn’t get any good fast moves. It’s not really Niantic’s fault, as its move pool really didn’t translate well into Pokemon Go, but it still burns a bit!

Don’t have an Azumarill for GL? Then here’s your chance to nab one… that could have been ideal before the release of the XL system?

Xerneas was hyped and dreaded, and Yveltal was… welcomed. We knew that the bacon-bird of death was going to be pretty good, and it ended up being pretty good.

Sylveon was the last of the “Eeveelutions” to drop, and it turned out to have a fairly steep evolution requirement at 70 hearts earned. While this wasn’t terribly difficult to do, Niantic was nice enough to give us a window of time where a mere 7 hearts would suffice.

June

Hey guys, guess what? I’ve discovered the most forgettable season to date!

Someone forgot to hit the “make the pony shiny” button, so Niantic had to give us a makeup for the problem. I can officially report that I, for one, did not get a shiny Galarian Ponyta out of this despite the trouble of not actually being affected by the initial problem in any way whatsoever, so I’m currently demanding that the money that I didn’t actually spend on a free event be returned to me. Niantic Support still has no idea how to respond to my demands.

Guess what guys? Live events are coming back! Huh? What’s that? What’s a “Covid”?

It had been a while since we’d been given a new Shadow Legendary, and Ho-oh hit the field as... Pretty decent, actually. It wasn’t a huge meta-shift, but this glorious bird definitely had its utility.

As this great blue and green planet made its rotation around the great orb of plasma that sustains it, the tilt of its axis eventually positioned it in such a way that its northern hemisphere could enjoy more of the thermal energy from the sun than it had for the previous half of its orbit. Oh, and a bunch of Pokemon jumped on a plane and booked a hotel room for a 6-month vacation on the opposite side of the globe.

This was… the big one. Probably the defining issue of the year, Niantic announced that they would be rolling back Covid bonuses despite the recent peak in Covid cases. The reduction of Pokestop/Gym range in particular sparked a huge backlash from the community, and Niantic did... basically nothing for a long time. They were horribly slow with any meaningful response, which only threw salt into these wounds. The issue was eventually resolved, but…. Well, you can read more about this in the August section. Yeah.

June changed the way that we look at raids… literally. Gyms were given a shiny new coat of paint, and we were given accolades for our performance…. some of the times. This change was largely cosmetic, but it was still a nice change of pace.

July

Bidoof bidoof? Bidoof bidoof bidoof bidoof bidoof. Bidoof bidoof bidoof. Bidoof bidoof bidoof? Bidoof! Bidoof bidoof bidoof. Bidoof.

Happy 5th anniversary, Pokemon Go! Niantic gave us a quick run-down of the game’s top accomplishments to date, and gave us a nice little event including a 5-balloon Pikachu that no one has ever seriously used.

Here we go, Go Fest is here! An absolute glut of important Pokemon were available in raids in particular, and were were finally given access to the Mythical Pokemon Meloet-what? What’s that ring in the sky? HOLY CRAP THAT HAS TO BE HOOPA! WE’RE GETTING HOOPA ALREADY? HOW DO WE GET HOOPA NOW THAT - …huh? What? …the heck is a “meloetta”?

Time and Space themselves broke, as the Ultra Unlock gave way to Dialga and Palkia’s triumphant shiny return. We had a lot going on here, and apparently the 3rd part would snub poor Giratina and move on to Galar? Huh, that’s a bit unexpected!

August

We expected a lot for the Ultra Unlock, but this was not on our radar. The sudden skip to Galar was pretty unique, and giving us the main duo of the region so early was a bit of a shock. This sent a number of shockwaves through the community, but the biggest was the fact that Zacian: Hero of Many Battles forme took the Master League by storm. Fun fact: we admittedly underestimated its impact on the meta on release, but oh boy we were fast to correct that mistake!

Remember in the June section where the Covid fiasco hit? It took this long for meaningful action. Niantic announced that they planned to start a task force consisting of their people and prominent members of the PoGo community. They also set the old Covid-distance for Pokestops and Gyms as the new standard, and announced that we could look forward to official letters outlining their plans. At the end of August and also on the first day of September, the content of their letters was released, and the actual value of these letters has been… debatable.

September

The 4th season in all of Pokemon Go; the Season of Mischief capitalized on the very unexpected appearance of Hoopa during Go Fest, and actually set up a fairly fun story that would start with the introduction of Hoopa: Confined, and lead to us unlocking Hoopa: Unbound. And this change was brought to us by….

Easily one of the biggest potential shake-ups in game history came from… a poodle. While the event itself was nothing grand, the ability to change formes had (and still has) very far-reaching implications. Of course, we’re still waiting for Niantic to really make use of this function in the plethora of Pokemon that can use it in the main series.

October

Less out-of-the-blue than Zacian and Zamazenta, the introduction of Zarude as a movie tie-in was still a bit surprising. What’s more it actually turned out to be pretty good overall, holding a solid rank in raids and the Master League. Here’s hoping we get more chances to nab this monkey in the future!

Niantic continues to attempt to turn Pokemon Go into an e-sport with the announcement of the Pokemon Go Championship Series, to be hosted in 2022! Should be fun to see how this turns out.

Halloween featured some interesting new additions to the game. Phantump’s evolution Trevenant proved to be a strong contender in the PvP scene, while the Pumpkaboo family introduced a new size mechanic that could see more use in the future. Players also had an opportunity to obtain Darkrai with Sludge Bomb, though it’s arguable that the Candy XL was more useful. On that note, the event guaranteeing Candy XL from walking with Buddy Pokemon was a nice touch. The GBL Halloween Cup and in-game Lavender Town music were also back this year. 

November

Well, Ho-oh hit earlier in the year, so now it’s Lugia’s turn! The community had long been very excited for this one, as Shadow Lugia’s presence in Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness had long been anticipate-...what? It’s just a normal Lugia with red eyes and a shadow aura?

HOARDERS REJOICE! Niantic actually increased the Pokemon storage cap just before Shinx Community Day. A rare 2-for-1 bundle was also very appreciated.

Diamond and Pearl were titles that many enjoyed, with much hype surrounding the mascots of Gen 4: Dialga and Palkia and…..nevermind. A regional Pokemon released globally in the form of Mime Jr. will suffice instead.

December

Year 1 of seasons is done, so on to year 2! The Season of Heritage is still too early to call, but why the heck can’t I just use my Rampardos to break down that door, Professor Willow?!

This cemented regional tours as what is probably our second big yearly event, right after Go Fest. Should be fun to see what this event will have in store!

As a new push to continue the work on their “metaverse”, Niantic gave players the ability to power-up Pokestops and Gyms so that players could obtain superior rewards from them. And also receive free labor for their AR project.

Special delivery! You can now save postcards from friends across the globe! What good do they do, you ask? They add one more thing to collect in a game whose entire identity is collection, but this collection has no tangible benefit on gameplay!

Closing

All joking aside; thank you Niantic for what you've done in 2021. Your work has brought a lot of people together, and given us what is a beloved pass-time for many. It's hard to say where 2022 will take us, but on behalf of the Gamepress Pokemon Go staff and to every one of our readers:

Thank you for joining us during 2021! Happy New Year, stay safe, and we look forward to seeing you again in 2022!

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About the Author(s)

Writer for GamePress with a focus on raid and PvP content. Retired from competitive play, former GBL Rank 10/Legend and Silph Arena Elite. Also a fan of Digimon. 

Gamepress writer with a focus on theorycrafting and gameplay optimization with a background in business management and freelance writing.  A bit of a hermit, but also an outdoors enthusiast who loves cycling and hiking. Long-time Gamepress fan who is very proud to be a part of the team.

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