Just hours before the first-ever Harry Potter Wizard’s Unite Fan Festival was to begin it was as if some of the Dark Lord’s servants had arrived to thwart the weekend’s fun with some wicked weather charms. With thousands of eager wizards and witches preparing to descend upon White River State Park in Indianapolis, Indiana over Labor Day Weekend, dark clouds and rain entered the area on Saturday morning. I am sure many began casting Meteolojinx Recanto spells and the rain was short-lived.
The rain stopped right at the 9 am early access start time but Niantic didn’t open up the festival until the thunderstorms completely cleared the area (better safe than sorry). Summers in the Midwest can get very hot and sticky even this late into the season, so a positive side effect of the wet start was the lingering clouds that kept temperatures at a much more tolerable level.
Many of the event-goers used the delay to get a decent spot in the ever-growing merch line. There was the occasional grumble about how early access attendees paid an extra $10 for the two-hour head start but overall the mood remained very positive. Most of the people around me passed the downtime talking about HPWU and their experiences from Pokemon Go! Fests, the most recent of which was back in June. You could hear the excitement in their voices and all the chatter fueled the anticipation of the event starting.
That same camaraderie echoed throughout the entire 10 hour day. It was a very diverse crowd and it was great to see so many people from different backgrounds and walks of life all united in their love for HPWU. I met people from all over the country with both coasts and all points in between represented. It was truly an international crowd as languages from across the globe could be heard from groups of people as they walked by.
One of my favorite parts of the day was all of the wizards and witches that came out representing their favorite house. Even Slytherin had a strong showing and it was good to see the classes mingling together. Some attendees chose to cosplay their favorite HP characters. All of the costumed fans were very patient with the rest of us constantly interrupting their day to snap a photo. You can check out all the pics I took at the end of this article.
Dragons On The Loose
Niantic had set out a full day’s worth of activities for the witches and wizards in attendance. The festival was centered around the Calamity unleashing dragons from around the world on White River State Park. As members of the SOS, it was our task to help Dragonologist Charlie Weasley round them up. This being the first time SOS agents would be confronting dragons we had to prove our abilities to Charlie first and foremost.
Our first assignment had us completing a few simple tasks such as gathering dragon egg fragments to show we had the most rudimentary wizarding skills. From there the following assignments were much larger in scope. We were asked to prove our battle readiness by completing a laundry list of tasks in our second assignment. After showing our capabilities in spell casting and returning more common foundables found throughout the park we were finally allowed to begin our primary assignment of collecting the four dragon types in the area so they could be returned to their native regions.
And collect dragons we did. Long before the first day of the festival was finished over 150,000 dragons were collected. This feat, which unlocked the Day Of The Dragons special event on Sept. 7, was a mere token of what was accomplished during the two-day event. All said and done, over 500,000 dragons were collected at the park, myself contributing a mere 50 of them.
The full list of tasks in the special event took hours to complete. While some of the more hardy witches and wizards were able to complete their assignments in just a few hours it took the more casual of us most of the day. Everyone spent their remaining time prestiging their Registry, battling through Fortresses, and generally taking advantage of the never-ending Dark Detectors and maximum spell energy gain from Inns. The success of the event could be noted by the large number of attendees that stuck around the full 10 hours of the event with the park still full of wizards and witches as the first-day wound to a close at 8 pm.
Niantic treated attendees to an unforgettable experience at the first Harry Potter Wizards Unite Fan Festival but they didn’t forget the millions of players unable to attend. Throughout the weekend anyone outside of White River State Park could participate in the Fan Festival Global Challenge. Four special Portkey Portmanteaus could be found that contained dragon eggs to collect. After collecting 1,000,000 eggs of a particular color a special bonus was added to the game September 2 through September 9. Just like the attendees in Indianapolis, players around the globe were up to the task and all four bonuses were unlocked.
Beyond The Spells
Although this was the first fan event for Harry Potter Wizards Unite it was obvious Niantic has learned from their other fan festivals. With three fan fests under their belt, I didn’t experience any of the issues their first PoGo! event had back in 2017. Connection issues were non-existent, not a minor feat in and of itself considering someone even mentioning they had seen a dragon meant everyone in the immediate area would converge on a single spot. And for anyone who didn’t prepare for the toll playing an AR game would have on their phone’s battery there were battery pack stations where you could rent an extra pack to get you back into the action.
Knowing that phones weren’t the only thing that would be drained by the day’s events, Niantic encouraged attendees to bring reusable containers to use at the hydration stations placed around the park. Not only did these stations mean you could grab a drink without dropping the usual $4-5 on a single bottle of water it also helped keep down on the amount of trash generated over the two-day event.
Each zone also had its own themed lounging area, giving weary wizards and witches a place to rest their feet (I walked nearly 15 miles) and re-energize before heading back out to collect more foundables. The lounges also had trivia challenges all day long, giving Professors (Aurors and Magizoologists could play too) a chance to use their HPWU knowledge to nab a free festival t-shirt.
The merch line may have been long all day but anyone with a little grumble in their belly had quick and easy access to food. A courtyard right in the middle of the park had tables set up with an open area right next to it where you could throw down a blanket and have a picnic. There were food tents set up offering typical festival food like burgers, hot dogs, and chicken fingers but it didn’t stop there. Many of the food trucks that call downtown Indianapolis home were on hand to feed hungry adventurers with great BBQ, Asian cuisine, chicken jerk tacos, and more.
The Land Where Magic Happens
The Midwest is often overlooked as a destination for gaming conventions and fan festivals, but Niantic has held the Pokemon Go! Fan Festivals at Grant’s Park in Chicago, Illinois the last three years. They once again chose a Midwest destination, making the White River State Park in Indianapolis, Indiana home to the HPWU Fan Festival this year. The 250-acre park campus is naturally broken up into several areas by the other attractions that share the area. The four zones of the HPWUFF fit perfectly within these boundaries. The event area wasn’t closed off and, although they weren’t able to participate in the activities, muggles were free to wander the area unaware of the dangers around them.
Just like PoGo! Fests, the single-day tickets help to keep the daily crowd at a manageable for everyone attending. It also means festival goers can spend the rest of the weekend taking in the sights of the park and other nearby attractions. The Indianapolis Cultural Trail runs through the park and the Indiana State Museum, NCAA Hall of Champions, Watanabe Garden, and Eiteljorg Museum all call the park home.
Indiana isn’t a newcomer to the gaming scene. Just across the street from the White River State Park is the Indiana Convention Center, home of tabletop convention Gen Con since 2003. The convention center was also hosting the Indiana Comic Con over Labor Day Weekend weekend making for a great tie-in for anyone interested in that scene. For anyone of age, there were also a couple of retro arcade bars in the area pairing together two of my favorite activities.
Overall, it is hard to deny the first Harry Potter Wizards Unite Fan Festival was a resounding success. The White River State Park was an excellent location for the event and Indianapolis served as a great host city. HPWU has only been out for a few months but it already has a loyal community willing to dedicate a weekend trip to the event, some traveling thousands of miles to attend. To everyone I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to throughout the day, thank you for a great experience.
Full Disclosure: Travel, accommodations, and event ticket were provided by Niantic and Warner Brothers.