Augmented reality gaming
After establishing a game account, players create and customize their own avatars. Once created, an avatar is displayed on a map based on the player's geographical location. Features on the map include 'PokéStops' and 'Pokémon Gyms'. These PokéStops can be equipped with items called 'Lure Modules', which attract additional wild, and occasionally rare, Pokémon. Gyms serve as battle locations for team-based king of the hill matches. PokéStops and Gyms are typically located at places of interest. These locations were initially re-purposed portals from Ingress, Niantic's previous augmented reality (AR) game. This has led to PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms being placed at dangerous or inconvenient locations, such as a now-deleted Gym at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Since 2019, these locations also include submissions from Go players, which are largely reviewed by other players.
Unlike other installments in the Pokémon series, players in Pokémon Go do not battle wild Pokémon to catch them. During an encounter with a wild Pokémon, a player may throw a Poké Ball at it by flicking it from the bottom of the screen up toward the Pokémon. If the Pokémon is successfully caught, it will come under the ownership of the player. Factors in the success rate of catching a Pokémon include the Pokémon's catch rate, the timing, the type of Poké Ball used, etc. After catching a wild Pokémon, the player is awarded two types of in-game currencies: Candies and Stardust. The Candies awarded by a successful catch depend on what evolutionary chain a Pokémon belongs to. A player can use Stardust and Candies to raise a Pokémon's level and hence "Combat Power" (CP). However, only Candies are needed to evolve a Pokémon, except for certain pokemon that might need special items. Each Pokémon evolution tree has its own type of Candy, which can only be used to evolve or level up. The maximum level a player can achieve is originally level 40 but expanded to 50 as of November 30, 2020. The player can also transfer the Pokémon back to the Pokémon Professor Willow to earn more Candies and create room for more Pokémon. Shiny Pokémon are available in multiple ways, mostly by chance. One popular goal of the game is to complete the entries in the Pokédex, a comprehensive Pokémon logbook, by catching and evolving them to collect everyone in it.
Gyms and Raids
Players earn experience points for various in-game activities. Players rise in level as they earn experience points (XP), with various features being progressively unlocked. Most notably, at level five, the player can battle at a Pokémon Gym and join one of three color-coded teams (red for Team Valor, blue for Team Mystic, or yellow for Team Instinct), which act as factions battling for control of Gyms within the Pokémon Go world.
Main article: Pokémon GO Battle League
In December 2018, Niantic added player vs player Trainer Battles. In January 2020, Niantic rolled out an online battle format Go Battle League which allows players to fight other players worldwide. Unlike the Trainer Battles format introduced in 2018, Go Battle League does not require physical proximity, scanning QR codes on each other's phone, knowing each other's friend code, or any other real-world interactions between players. Instead, participating players are automatically paired by the game server via some variant of the Elo rating system.