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Pokémon GO is the latest mobile game by Niantic, Inc. Players walk around the real world staring at their phones waiting for Pokémon to pop up on a map. Once they find one, their phone’s camera turns on and the Pokémon in question is superimposed over the camera video in an Augmented Reality experience. It’s proven quite popular so far!

If you want to be the very best (like no one ever was), this is the guide that will help you get started. It’s by no means comprehensive, but this should cover all the basics of getting started in Pokémon GO.

One might ask “How complex can Pokémon GO be?” There is a decent level of depth in it from what I can tell when you start to talk about Combat Rating, when to evolve, etc. This will help you scratch the surface and get started—if you really get into the metagame, you’ll be doing a lot of reading. The game’s only been live a few days (after a short beta with limited features) and a lot of complexities of the game’s deeper mechanics are still being figured out.

I did a good bit of research and testing. There’s a lot of misinformation or downright incorrect information out there about Pokémon GO. I’ve done my best to avoid mistakes, but if I messed up somewhere, please let us know in the comments so we can get it fixed. Let’s get moving!

Setting Up Your Character

One of the first things you’ll be doing is setting up your account. You can use one from the Pokémon Trainer Club or a Google Account. Functionally they’re identical, although I’ve seen a greater degree of issues reported with Trainer Club accounts as opposed to Google accounts myself.

Your avatar is shown on the game map and at Pokémon Gyms. Make sure you like what you pick because you can't change it later!

Your avatar is shown on the game map and at Pokémon Gyms. Make sure you like what you pick because you can’t change it later!

You have some cosmetic options for your avatar. You’ll be able to change your skin tone, hair color, and the color of your clothes as well as choose between the two sexes. This is purely cosmetic. Your avatar will be shown on the map walking around as well as standing next to your Pokémon you have stationed in Gyms (more on that later).

There’s also an optional tutorial that will tell you all of the basics. I won’t go over it here as I’m covering most of the stuff in it anyway. It doesn’t take terribly long and it can’t hurt to give it a spin.

You will also pick a name for your character. This name will be shown next to your Pokémon stationed at gyms.

After your account and character are set up, you’ll get to pick your starter Pokémon.

The App Must Be Running to Work

One of the most important tips is that Pokémon GO has to actually be active for it to count your progress. New Pokémon won’t spawn unless your screen is on. (There is a Battery Saver mode in the Settings, but its usefulness is debatable.)

There’s also the “Egg Hatching” mechanic that tracks the distance you’ve traveled. This won’t be counted unless the app is active and your phone screen is on, either.

Many mobile games can run “in the background” and Pokémon GO is not one of them.

How to Remedy Crashes & Bugs

There’s currently four issues that can sour your Pokémon GO gameplay experience. They are:

  1. The “Spinning Pokéball” loading icon never goes away and the game doesn’t update.
  2. The game completely locks up in a menu.
  3. A gym opponent is stuck at 1HP and you can’t win the battle.
  4. The Servers are down

In all four situations the only way to fix it is to force quit the app. When the servers are down, however, you’ll just have to wait it out until they come back up. Force quit the game, wait a few minutes, and try to get back in. Repeat as necessary and consider calling it a day if it’s taking too long.

Pokémon GO Kills Batteries Quick – But You Might Be Able To Do Something About It

Pokémon GO is a battery hungry app. There’s a “Battery Saver” mode in the Settings, but its effectiveness is questionable. However, there is one tip that’s been reported as saving a good bit of your battery.

Pokémon GO makes use of the Google Maps API. When you’re running the app it’s streaming data on your location. If you’re staying in the same area, you can manually download the map for an area. Search for an area in the Google Maps app. Click on the name at the bottom of the screen, select Download, and you’re sorted. If you have a “Home” area set, you can just download that area by going into Settings and tapping on “Offline areas.”

Choosing Your Starter Pokémon

Once you get plopped down into the game world, you’ll be able to choose from one of the three traditional starting Pokémon: Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. In a nod to the animated series, you can also grab a Pikachu by walking away from the first three starters. Just move towards the edge of the detection circle in any direction and Pikachu should pop up!

Do note some important caveats: you only get to pick one of the four starters. However, you’ll still be able to encounter the starters in the wild (albeit as a rare encounter).

Using the Tracker to Find Pokémon

You have your character all set up and your starter Pokémon. Now it’s time to go out and catch some more! Pokémon GO is a much simpler affair than the handheld games. You walk around for a bit until a Pokémon pops up on the map. You tap on it and enter into an encounter to capture it.

Tapping on the Tracker will show you all of the Pokémon nearby. You can also focus on one particular Pokémon.

Tapping on the Tracker will show you all of the Pokémon nearby. You can also focus on one particular Pokémon.

If you look at the bottom right of the map, there is a white bar that probably shows a few different Pokémon on it. Tapping on it opens up a menu that will show up to nine different Pokémon encounters that are near you. Each encounter has a number of footprints below it that indicate the range. There’s been varying accounts of the distance equivalent of each step, but in my observation it equates to roughly the size of the detection ring.

You can choose to “focus” on one of the encounters by tapping on it. The white bar will show the Pokémon as a shaded silhouette. (Pokémon you’ve previously captured will appear in full detail.) Walk roughly the distance of the detection circle. If the number of footprints doesn’t go down, turn around and walk in the other direction. If it wasn’t North or South, return to your starting point and walk East or West until you track it down.

Bear in mind that you won’t always have to do this. You’ll find plenty of Pokémon wandering around wherever you go. That said, this knowledge is useful if you’re really after a certain type of Pokémon.

Water, Grassy Areas, and Moving Leaves

Terrain matters! Travel to grassy and water areas to find new Pokémon types if you're feeling adventurous.

Terrain matters! Travel to grassy and water areas to find new Pokémon types if you’re feeling adventurous.

Parks & Bodies of water can factor into what Pokémon will pop up in an area. If you’re keen on finding some different Pokémon, head down to your local park or river! Just remember to be safe and not trespass on private property when doing so. And remember that a lot of parks and other public areas officially close at a certain time of night, even if they don’t necessarily have gates to close. Make sure to read any and all signage at park entrances and consult your local laws.

You may also notice leaves fluttering about on the map. These are usually an indicator that a Pokémon is at that particular spot. Head towards it and hope for the best of luck!

Catching Pokémon

Now that you know how to find Pokémon in Pokémon GO, it’s time to learn how to catch them. Once you tap on a spawned Pokémon on the map, you’ll enter into an encounter. You’ll see the Pokémon superimposed over your camera image (or a generic background if you’ve turned off Augmented Reality at the top right of the capture screen) and a Pokéball in front of you.

Capturing a Pokémon is as simple as swiping up on the Pokéball to throw it. If it hits the Pokémon properly, they’ll be caught in the ball. They’ll struggle for a bit, and if you’re lucky they’re captured!

That’s the basics of it. There are some slightly more complex elements to it that will emerge as you play.

Firstly, Pokéballs are consumable items. If you throw one and you miss, that Pokéball is gone. Pokémon can also escape from the ball if you’re unlucky.

Secondly, you’ll notice a white circle around the Pokémon with a moving colored circle inside of it. The white circle is the hitbox for your Pokéball throw. The color of the interior circle measures the difficulty of capturing the Pokémon on a gradient from Green (easy) to Yellow (medium) to Red (hard). Expect to use a lot of Pokéballs on the more difficult ones.

You get a 500 XP bonus for each new type of Pokémon you catch as well as bonuses for particularly accurate throws.

You get a 500 XP bonus for each new type of Pokémon you catch, as well as bonuses for particularly accurate throws.

Landing your Pokéball in the interior circle will get you bonus experience with greater bonuses for hitting a smaller interior circle (up to double at the tiniest size). You can also “spin” the Pokéball by shaking it around in a circle to throw a curveball. Curveballs give you an extra 10 XP (on top of 100 XP total) and might not be worth it if you’re low on Pokéballs. You also get a bonus for capturing new types of Pokémon!

Pokémon can dodge or bat away thrown Pokéballs. If the Pokémon you’re trying to catch knocks one of your Pokéballs off kilter, wait for them to be between attacks before attempting a throw.

Lastly, as you level up you’ll get better quality Pokéballs. Great Balls unlock at Level 12, Ultra Balls unlock at Level 20, and there may be more at higher levels. (There are dozens of different types of Pokéball across all of the games.)

Once you’ve captured a Pokémon, you’ll get three Candies for that type (used for evolving and powering up), some experience, and 100 Stardust.

Powering Up Your Pokémon

After you’ve netted a few Pokémon, you might want to power them up a bit. Every Pokémon in Pokémon GO has a Combat Power (CP) rating, which is sort of like its level. You’ll want higher CP Pokémon if you decide to start fighting at Gyms.

Powering up Pokémon costs a certain amount of Stardust, as well as at least 1 Candy for that type of Pokémon. As an individual Pokémon gets stronger, the costs will go up.

Don’t waste your Candy powering up all of your Pokémon. Power up a few of your best.

Transfer Away Extra Pokémon To Get More Candy

Every Pokémon you transfer to the Professor gets you 1 Candy.

Every Pokémon you transfer to the Professor gets you 1 Candy.

If you’re like me, you’ll probably be sitting on about 30 of the same Pokémon after a couple hours of walking around. (My area is particuarly full of Doduos.) There’s not really a reason to hold onto a lot of the same Pokémon, so it’s best to Transfer them to the Professor.

Transferring Pokémon will permanently remove the Pokémon from your inventory and give you one Candy for that type of Pokémon. I recommend holding onto no more than two of each type of Pokémon and transferring away the weakest ones you have.

Evolving Your Pokémon

Certain Pokémon can be evolved into different, stronger Pokémon. For example, the ubiquitous Rattata can be evolved into a Raticate.

Evolving doesn’t cost any Stardust, but it does cost an awful lot of Candy. The evolution cost is a bit different for each Pokémon, but it’s generally at least 25 Candy for a Pokémon with two successive evolutions and 50 Candy for a Pokémon with only one evolution. There are special cases as well—Magikarp costs 400 Magikarp Candy to evolve into the almighty Gyrados.

Why evolve your Pokémon? Well, aside from the fact that they get much stronger, you’ll get a 500 experience bonus for adding a new Pokémon type to your Pokédex. You will also get a separate 500 XP  bonus simply for evolving a Pokémon, even if you have it in your Pokédex. Evolving Pokémon at every opportunity is always a good idea for the experience bonus alone.

Incubate Eggs and Get More Pokémon By Walking

I hatched this Spearow from an Egg and got a hefty bonus of Stardust and Spearow Candy.

I hatched this Spearow from an Egg and got a hefty bonus of Stardust and Spearow Candy.

One of the items you can get from PokéStops is Pokémon Eggs. Pokémon Eggs are hatched by placing the Egg within an Incubator and walking either 2, 5, or 10 kilometers depending on the type of egg.

Everyone gets a free “infinite use” Incubator to place their Pokémon Eggs into. You’ll also get breakable Egg Incubators as a Level-Up Bonus, or you can purchase them from the shop. These “limited” incubators break after 3 uses.

Hatching a Pokémon from an Egg will get you a bonus of Stardust and Candy for that particular type of Pokémon. Make sure to put a new Egg in your Incubator after you’ve just hatched one—you wouldn’t want to let all of those footsteps go to waste!

Using Items

There are quite a few items in Pokémon Go. The vast majority of them are consumable. You’ll get items from the Shop, from PokéStops, and when you level up your Trainer. Leveling up your Trainer will also unlock new items at certain milestones; some of these items will begin to appear at PokéStops after they’ve been unlocked.

Here’s a short list of the important items. All credit to this list at as my source for double-checking these numbers.

Every Level will get you some free items. Leveling up also unlocks certain items which will begin to appear at PokéStops.

Every Level will get you some free items. Leveling up also unlocks certain items which will begin to appear at PokéStops.

Pokéball: Used to capture Pokémon you encounter in the wild.

Great Ball: Better chance of capturing Pokémon. Unlocks at Level 12.

Ultra Ball: Even better chance of capturing Pokémon. Unlocks at Level 20.

Revive: Revives fainted Pokémon and heals half of their HP. Unlocks at Level 5.

[Rumored] Max Revive: Revives fainted Pokémon and heals all of their HP. Reported by some other sites but no confirmed encounters yet. Likely unlocks at some point past Level 20.

Potion: Heals injured Pokémon for 20 HP. Unlocks at Level 5.

Super Potion: Heals injured Pokémon for 50 HP. Unlocks at Level 10.

Hyper Potion: Heals injured Pokémon for 200HP. Unlocks at Level 15.

Razz Berry: Makes your next capture attempt easier. Unlocks at Level 8.

Egg Incubator: Incubates a Pokémon Egg for you. Breaks after 3 uses. Gained as a Level-Up Bonus or purchased from the Shop.

Incense: Attracts more Pokémon to your area for 30 minutes. Gained as a Level-Up Bonus or purchased from the Shop.

Lure Module: Attracts more Pokémon to a PokéStop for 30 minutes. To use it, tap on the PokéStop, tap on the white capsule above the picture, and apply the module. Gained as a Level-Up Bonus or purchased from the Shop.

Refilling Your Items at PokéStops

PokéStops are the best way to refill your items for free in Pokémon GO.

PokéStops are the best way to refill your items for free in Pokémon GO.

As I said in the previous section, Pokéballs are consumable items. Pokémon GO is a free app and there’s a cash shop in it where you can buy the standard expected F2P trappings—experience boosters, encounter boosters, etc.

Some items can’t be purchased in the Shop, such as Potions and the higher qualities of Pokéball. Once you’ve unlocked an item by reaching the required Trainer Level, you will begin to find that particular item at PokéStops.

PokéStops are fixed locations in the real world represented as floating cubes on the map. When a PokéStop is within your detection ring, the symbol will change to a Pokéball. Tap on the stop, spin the picture, and you’ll get anywhere from three to six random items. PokéStops refresh every five minutes.

Items Available in the Shop and at PokéStops: Pokéballs, 

Items Only Available in the Shop or as a Level Up Bonus: Egg Incubator, Incense, Lure Module

Items Only Available at PokéStops: Great Balls, Ultra Balls, Razz Berries, Potions, Super Potions, Hyper Potions, Revives

Joining a Team

Once your Trainer has reached Level 5, you can pick between one of three teams: Team Valor (Red), Team Mystic (Blue), and Team Insight (Yellow). The choice you make is permanent, so choose wisely!

To join a Team, simply click on a Gym (regardless of whether or not you’re in range of it). You’ll get a short cutscene, and then you’ll be given the choice of the three teams.

Gyms and the Gym Defender Bonus

What are Gyms and what do they do? One of the three teams in Pokémon GO can control a gym, and up to six Trainers can station Pokémon at that Gym.

Aside from bragging rights, each Gym you have a Pokémon stationed in will net you a bonus of 10 PokéCoins (the cash shop currency) and 500 Stardust every day. You’ll net this bonus for every Gym you have a Pokémon stationed in at the end of the 21-hour cycle. You can get this bonus from a maximum of 10 Gyms (1 Pokémon at each) total. You can monitor how many Pokémon you have in gyms by going to the Shop and looking at the Shield icon at the top right. This is also where you collect the bonus.

Gym Battles

Dodging attacks is important in gym battles if you don't want to quickly run out of Revives and Potions.

Dodging attacks is important in gym battles if you don’t want to quickly run out of Revives and Potions.

You can Spar at friendly Gyms and attempt to take over enemy Gyms in Pokémon GO. To get started, you’ll have to be in range of a Gym. Once you are, you can tap on the Gym and tap the battle icon.

Battles are a fairly simple affair. You swipe left or right to dodge attacks, tap to attack your opponent, and hold to use a special move. Special moves use up a slice of the power bar, which is filled by making attacks.

In a Sparring match, you’ll pit one Pokémon against the entirety of the Gym. Each Pokémon you defeat will increase the Prestige of the friendly Gym by a bit over 150. Once your one and only Pokémon is defeated, you’ll “lose” and be booted out to the menu.

When you’re fighting at enemy Gyms, you’ll be able to select a team of up to six Pokémon. It defaults to your strongest, healthiest Pokémon, but you can change this before you enter. You can swap Pokémon mid-battle if you’d like to, and that might be a good idea.

Gym Prestige & Stationing Pokémon at Gyms

Winning Gym Battles will affect the Prestige of a Gym. Prestige is a measure of the Gym’s strength. The Prestige of a Gym determines how many Pokémon can be stationed there. The general rule is that every 2,000 Prestige allows for one Pokémon per trainer.

This gym can accommodate  three Pokémon. Once it drops below 4,000 Prestige one of the three Pokémon will be returned to their trainer.

This gym can accommodate three Pokémon. Once it drops below 4,000 Prestige one of the three Pokémon will be returned to their trainer.

If you reduce an enemy’s Gyms Prestige below one of the 2,000 point thresholds, the most recently placed Pokémon will be returned to its Trainer with no health remaining. If you increase the Prestige of your gym past one of the 2,000 point thresholds and there’s less than six Pokémon stationed there, you can place one of your own Pokémon in the Gym. You won’t get your Pokémon back until it gets knocked out.

You fight Pokémon at Gyms based on a “First In, Last Out” rule. The first Pokémon placed in the gym is always the last to be booted out, and the most recent Pokémon placed in will be booted out as soon as the Gym goes below one of the 2,000 point milestones. The most ideal position to have one of your own Pokémon is the first one for this reason. Bear in mind that Gym Battles will progress from the weakest to strongest Pokémon regardless of their placement order. The idea is that the strongest CP Pokémon should be the first one put in so you can provide the strongest resistance in fights.

Neutral Gyms

Some Gyms will be white with no Pokémon assigned. These are “Neutral Gyms” and are not owned by any team. Claiming them is as easy as getting in range and stationing one of your Pokémon there.

A Gym will become “Neutral” after a Gym’s Prestige has been reduced to zero. If you successfully defeat all of the Pokémon at a Gym, don’t forget to place one of yours inside the newly freed Gym! It’s also not a bad idea to spend a couple rounds sparring if you can spare the time. I can’t count how many times I’ve placed a Pokémon at a faraway Gym and woke up the next morning to find that an opposing team had taken it back.

Use the Ingress Intel Map to find Gyms & PokéStops

Ingress is another AR game released by Niantic a few years back. The data on the points of interest that serve as Gyms and PokéStops is there because a lot of Ingress players put it there.

Ingress has an Intel Map on the game’s official website that tells you the locations of “Portals” in the game. Portals serve as points of interest that players in Ingress fight for control over between the two teams in the game.

Here's a comparison shot of the same place in both Pokémon GO and Ingress. As you can see, the points of interest for both games are in the same places.

Here’s a comparison shot of the same place in both Pokémon GO and Ingress. As you can see, the points of interest for both games are in the same places.

The important bit relating to Pokémon GO is that the Ingress Portals are also the locations of PokéStops and Gyms. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell for certain whether an Ingress Portal is a PokéStop or Gym. However, if you’re looking for PokéStops and Gyms in your area, it can serve as a good guide for worthwhile places to travel to.

It’s reasonable to assume that Niantic will be rolling out a similarly functioning map for Pokémon GO in the future. There are also third-party solutions in the works, although every one of them that I’ve seen is struggling under the load of millions of people playing the game. None seem to be usable at the time of writing.

We’ll see a world map for Pokémon GO points of interest sometime soon whether it’s from Niantic or a third party. In the meantime, at least you can use the Ingress Intel Map to get an idea of your surroundings without having to travel around!

That’s it for now! This guide will be updated as new tips and new information come to light. Thanks for reading!

Have you been enjoying Pokémon GO? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? What is the Pokémon situation like in your neighborhood? Let us know in the comments below!


Robert N. Adams

Senior Writer

I've had a controller in my hand since I was 4 and I haven't stopped gaming since. CCGs, Tabletop Games, Pen & Paper RPGs - I've tried a whole bunch of stuff over the years and I'm always looking to try more!