How to Be the Very Best at 'Pokémon GO'

To train them is your cause, but here's how to catch them first.


Nintendo and Niantic’s augmented-reality app Pokémon GO has become an overnight sensation, bringing Pokémon fans out into the world to find, catch, and train virtual Pokémon roaming around parks, bus stops, cafes – and everywhere else. When you see a horde of twenty-somethings screaming about catching a Growlithe near Starbucks, that’s Pokémon GO.

Because you’re reading this, chances are you’re already on your way to catching ‘em all. But no thanks to a distinct absence of a comprehensive tutorial, you’re probably confused by a thing or two. Fret not; here’s everything you need to know to how to use Pokémon GO correctly.

How Pokémon GO even works

In many ways, Pokémon GO is like the old Pokémon Red and Blue games you spent playing on your old GameBoy. But in many important ways, it isn’t.

Like the old games, your mission is to find and catch as many Pokémon as you can and go to Gyms to compete. Unlike the old games, you can’t fight wild Pokémon to catch them, nor are there set Gyms like there were in Viridian City. In their place, Gyms are now real places in your neighborhood — churches, train stations, maybe even your office or real gym you have a membership to but haven’t gone since New Year’s. You know, real life.

Turn on Battery Saver.

In order to do anything in Pokémon GO, the app needs to be on while exploring and it’s a killer on phone batteries. This may be fixed in a future update, but for now, Pokémon GO can only be used when the app is active. You can’t let it “sleep” and expect to still find and catch Pokémon, or hatch Pokémon eggs in incubators which require players to walk a certain distance. Thankfully, there’s a Battery Saver option, which will turn the screen black if your phone is left idle.

To access it, press the Pokball on the bottom of the screen, then “Settings” at the top right. You’ll then see “Battery Saver” as a selectable option.

How to find “Nearby Pokémon”

If you’ve fiddled with the app enough you may have noticed “Nearby Pokémon,” which shows a grid of Pokémon lurking the area. Here’s how to read it:

The Pokémon on the top left is the Pokémon closest to you (in this case, Bulbasaur). The Pokémon on the bottom right are the ones furthest away (in this case, Doduo). Select any one of these Pokémon from the grid and that Pokémon will be placed on your lower right screen. When you’re in the vicinity of that Pokémon, this little display will begin to ping.

You’ll also see footsteps next to your selected Pokémon. That simply means you still have some walking to do before the Pokémon appears. Keep walking and the footsteps will disappear until the Pokémon shows up.

Don’t buy Pokéballs

This might be tough if you’re in rural areas, but you can obtain Pokéballs at any and all PokéStops. So don’t bother buying them at the digital store.

When you select a PokéStop, swipe the flat circle and it will spin out with items like Pokéballs, Potion sprays (to heal Pokémon in battles), Pokémon eggs, and other stuff. When these items come out, tap them and they’re yours.

Immediately after collecting from the PokéStop, they become unavailable for another half hour or so. But if you frequent these places enough or stay near one for a long time, you’ll never run out of Pokéballs, ever.

Incense vs. Lures

You may have noticed two items the game wants you to collect which you can find randomly generated at PokéStops or purchase directly from the store: Incense, and Lure Modules. There are slight differences.

Incense is a personal spray you use on your avatar. The scent attracts wild Pokémon to you. This is helpful for when you’re expecting to do a lot of walking.

Lure Modules are area sprays that you use at nearby PokéStops. This is helpful if you’re stuck in one place for a long time, like your job, and can’t explore. The module unleashes flower petals around the PokéStop, attracting wild Pokémon. Be wary: Unlike the sprays, Lure Modules are public, so even though you dropped a Lure Module, someone else can claim that Scyther you were hoping to catch.

Walk, don’t take public transportation

Being on the east coast, I regularly commute via NJTransit and have used Pokémon GO while on my way to work. While you can still catch Pokémon (who hilariously appear on my lap or on the person sitting next to me), it’s not advisable to take public transport to quickly get around.

Besides the fact that the distance doesn’t count if you’ve got a Pokémon egg on an Incubator, the real fun of Pokémon GO is rediscovering the places around you and exploring places you’ve never been before. Don’t spoil it by hunting for a Cubone on an Uber.

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