About a week into the Pokémon Go craze, Peregrine Teneo, 27, was trying to take over the Pokémon Go gym near the National Zoo in Washington, and he was getting frustrated. He spotted a woman at the bus stop across the street, "finger-smashing" away, as he calls that signature Pokémon Go swipe, and realized that she was his problem.
"I'm trying to take this gym!" Teneo yelled across the street. "Stop making it hard for me."
The gym was held by Team Mystic, you see. She appeared to be driving up the gym's points, making it harder for someone on a different team, such as Teneo of Team Instinct, to capture it and install his mightiest Pokémon.
"Buy me a drink," he recalls her yelling back at him, "and I'll give you the gym."
Later that night Teneo did meet his Pokémon rival for a drink; afterward they hunted for Pokémon. That she was a member of Team Mystic wasn't a deal-breaker for Teneo, he said; they could bond over hunting for fictional creatures regardless of team alliances. But back in the real world, actual creatures that breathe, shed and lick got in the way. "She ended up being allergic to dogs, and I've got two huskies," Teneo said. "I knew at that point it wasn't going to work."
Pokémon Go has more daily active users than the dating app Tinder; so it was only a matter of time until it became the new way to find dates. There are a few ways these connections can go: Players might meet in real life (like Teneo and his date); help each other catch that Charizard or Jigglypuff lingering nearby; and then eventually go out. Singles are also connecting through dating apps such as Tinder or Bumble, dropping Pokémon mentions into their profiles, and then meeting up to hunt for Pokémon together. And then there's the more direct play for a Pokémon paramour: Last week at least three dating sites and appslaunched to help Pokémon Go fanatics find each other.
Teneo, who's bisexual, isn't so interested in logging into a Pokémon dating app; that "would sort of take away the spontaneity," he said. "I definitely like the fact that it's an accessory to the act of dating rather than its own construct to dating."
But he did meet a guy on Scruff, a gay dating app, whose profile noted he was into video games. They got to bantering about Pokémon Go, of course, and then met up to catch Pokémon on Washington's Southwest waterfront last week.
"We're still talking," Teneo said, adding that his Pokémon meetups have been a good break from his first-date routine. "Normally when I go on a date with someone, it's very formulaic," Teneo said. "I get all dressed up; I put on my good cologne. I pick out a spot that's quiet, that's cheap but not too cheap. And then you kind of have to play the conversation dance," he added, such as "how was the weather today?" and other awkward conversation topics. "I'm not a shy person," he said, "but it's definitely not easy for me to talk to people I don't know very well."
On Pokémon dates, however, the conversation flows a bit easier -- and the get-togethers are more casual. "The expectations are a lot lower because you're both geeking out over this silly, nostalgic thing," Teneo said, versus "being stuck inside where you're having a meal."
But actually logging on to an app designed to connect Pokémon Go players? That seems to sap the serendipity faster than the game can drain a smartphone battery. "It turns the pressure on all of a sudden," Teneo says.
Still, dating sites are banking on this summer's Pokémon Go enthusiasm. For example, Project Fixup, a dating site that arranges dates for users for a $20 fee per date -- generally things like whiskey or coffee tastings -- last week launched PokéDates. If players can't find their own Pokémon date in person or via existing dating apps, Project Fixup will make all the arrangements: from matching its users to deciding a time and place to meet up.
On Wednesday, the first day the service went live, Daniel Korenevsky, the company's chief fixup officer, said the immediate interest was overwhelming. An email blast went out to users that night saying: "We weren't expecting PokéDates [to be] this popular -- we thought it was an awesome idea but did not think the universe would necessarily agree -- and are now scrambling a bit."
Meeting through video games is not a new concept. Couples have met while playing the fantasy game World of Warcraft, the military science fiction game Halo, or through the "random opponent" feature on Words With Friends. But Korenevsky sees something different about connecting via Pokémon Go: There's more potential for collaboration, he says. For example, two players standing side by side can catch the same Pokémon rather than be forced to compete for it. "They're both looking at same screen," he said, "not screaming at each other with headphones."
Korenevsky says he hopes that after an icebreaker of catching Pokémon, daters will put their phones away "and get to know each other even better."
Which is essentially how Pokémon enthusiast Jeffrey Zhang became a Pokémon dating app developer. Zhang, who describes himself as shy, said in an email that he often doesn't know how to talk to women. However, "if I am playing the same game with a girl, I will know how to talk with her because we already have something in common."
While hunting for Pokémon at a square near the University of Tampa, where he's studying for an MBA, he was trying to find a Dratini or an evolved Eevee, he said. "Everyone started shouting and running to a Pokestop," he wrote, "so I was following the crowd and ran without looking at people around me. All of a sudden, someone crashed into me."
At first he was angry, but less so once he realized the person he'd collided with was an attractive woman. "She took me to the hospital and accompanied me the whole night," he wrote. "We talked a lot . . . that night and luckily most of my injuries were superficial and I'm merely walking with a little limp now. . . . We have been dating since then, and I'm proud and feel lucky to call her my girlfriend."
Since that encounter, Zhang and a fellow developer launched the Pok, a Tinder-style app for Pokémon Go players. Meanwhile, in San Francisco a trio of developers stayed up around the clock to create a similar app last week, called PokeMatch, with a somewhat self-serving goal. As one of them posted on Reddit: "My friend needed a date and wanted to go Pokémon hunting, so we made this."