CLEVELAND — There is a fiery creature with a swirly shock of blond hair on its head lurking behind the podium on the floor of the Republican National Convention.
In the world of “Pokémon Go,” the mobile gaming craze that has been sweeping the U.S. since its release, the stage where Donald Trump is set to formally accept the Republican nomination on July 21 is a Pokémon gym.
The convention is set to take place at the Quicken Loans Arena starting on July 18. “Pokémon Go” is an augmented-reality experience in which real-world locations are populated by digital creatures that players must capture and battle. And one of the places where these epic fights are taking place is right on the convention’s main stage.
On Friday afternoon, the Cleveland Cavaliers arena turned Pokémon gym on the convention floor was controlled by a level 9 trainer using the alias ImpairedVision and playing for Team Valor. One of the Pokémon defending the convention floor gym was the aforementioned Flareon, with its tuft of flaming hair.
I am a level 18 trainer named OsirusSirus in the free gaming app. I was able to easily defeat ImpairedVision, but like so many people before me, I found that taking control of the convention floor was harder than it seemed.
Though I managed to sneak onstage and get behind the podium to win several battles with “supereffective” attacks from my trusty Hypno, a crew member who was preparing the stage asked me to leave before I was able to score enough victories to take control of the gym.
“You can’t be here,” he said. “Get off the stage.”
“Pokémon Go” was released in the U.S. on July 6 and rocketed to the top of the iPhone sales charts in about 13 hours. The app is an unprecedented phenomenon that has raked in over $70 million and is being used daily on more than 10 percent of Android phones in the country.
After I was kicked off the stage, I wandered around the arena. “Pokémon Go” players who are headed to the convention and want to catch them all will be happy to know the arena is within range of several PokéStops, where they can score in-game goodies. It’s also fertile ground for finding Pokémon. I captured Drowzee, Pidgey, Weedle, Spearow and Gastly while walking around the arena and convention floor. Sadly, a rarer Abra escaped my clutches.
I didn’t spot any other “Pokémon Go” players in the arena on Friday afternoon, but the game seems to be as popular in Cleveland as it is everywhere else. An Uber driver named Alexander told me he has seen “tons of people” playing the game on his rides around the city. According to the driver, who does not play the game himself, Cleveland Public Square, the shores of Lake Erie by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the bars on West 25th Street are all Pokémon hot spots.
“There’s probably hundreds of people walking around playing this game right now,” Alexander said.
Indeed, almost immediately after walking out of the arena on Friday, I spotted a pair of “Pokémon Go” players. Rich and his son, Alex, were slowly biking around the area to catch Pokémon and hatch eggs that are activated by moving. Both men said the convention site is a great place to play the app.
“My wife has found quite a few of them, and so I think that it’s apparently an area where people are trekking down just for that,” Rich said.
“There’s a lot of PokéStops and quite a few Pokémon,” said Alex, who goes by Galaxy216 in the game.
While Rich is new to the game, Alex said he is a level 8 trainer. Neither one wanted to weigh in when I asked which Pokémon best represented Trump and the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t know, I’m not big on all of that,” Alex said.
“I’m going to stay out of that one,” said Rich.