Forget beach volleyball, soccer or tennis, not to mention the steeplechase or discus. Pokémon Go is challenging the Olympics for most popular game among some young Brazilians.
Hundreds of them turned out in a Rio de Janeiro park 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 Pokémon 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 Pokémon.
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 Pokémon Go was launched in the country. He ran up almost $5,000 in international phone charges.