Almost a week after Pokemon Go locations vanished from the South Carolina State House, the disappearance is being blamed for the low turnout at a state-sponsored promotional event built around the virtual reality game.
On the same day the online game unexpectedly removed several pokestops from the State House grounds Friday, the state Department of Agriculture held a promotional event for S.C. farmers specifically geared toward Pokemon players at the state Capitol.
The department’s Certified SC Grown program set up camp at the one remaining State House pokestop — near the Women of the Confederacy monument on the southside of the grounds — handing out S.C. peaches and drinks to promote its “Fresh on the Menu” program for locally sourced restaurants.
But many players did not show up for the noon event, having already discovered pokestops and a Pokemon virtual gym had been removed from the State House grounds.
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Organizers of the SC Grown event were disappointed with the resulting turnout.
“With the removal of the pokestops across the State House grounds, we certainly saw a decrease in foot traffic,” said Ansley Turnblad, Certified SC Grown’s branding coordinator.
Adrianne Buckley, a public relations specialist with Chernoff Newman who handled the promotion, said crew discovered the pokestops were gone when they showed up Friday morning at the State House.
“We scoured the grounds looking for pokestops,” Buckley said. “When we found one, we started tweeting and posting to Facebook that we were there.”
It’s still unclear why the pokestops disappeared last week.
While some prominent locations, including the U.S. Holocaust Museum, have protested Pokemon Go players on their grounds, multiple state agencies have denied they requested the removed of the State House pokestops.
A spokesman for the game’s developer, Niantic Labs, could not say why the State House pokestops had been removed.
Gov. Nikki Haley even tweeted her support for Pokemon Go returning to the State House. Haley previously tweeted a photo showing her catching a Pokemon in her State House office.
Without the ability to set lures and collect game items at State House pokestops, Columbia players are taking their smartphones elsewhere.
Players say the Main Street area still is full of pokestops, as well as the Congaree Riverwalk, purported to be a hot spot for “water type” Pokemon.
Player Sean McGuinness recently traveled to Chicago and says downtown Columbia “has a higher number of Pokemon per block.”
“It’s not even close, it’s chock full of them,” McGuinness said. “Even now, I see people go hunting for Pokemon at the State House.”
Despite the loss of foot traffic at Certified SC Grown’s Friday promotion, the event gave away 400 peaches to State House visitors. It also directed “Pokemon Go players to nearby restaurants like Hunter-Gatherer and Cantina 76 that are close to pokestops,” Turnblad said.
“We had cards with a list of restaurants that are near pokestops and gyms that also have 25-percent locally sourced food,” Buckley said. “So I see it as a positive thing. ... That we were able to give out that card to people to continue their Pokemon hunting.”
Certified SC Grown promoters are planning another Pokemon-themed event for Columbia in the near future. By then, the developer may have returned its stops to the State House.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Buckley said.