The Pokémon franchise holds a special place in the lives of many of its players, whether they started playing the games on the original Game Boy console or watched Ash Ketchum on his journey through the Kanto region. Pokémon GO has more than 75 million active players years after its release, and trainers from all over the world attended the in-person New York City Pokémon GO Fest in August 2023.
Not only was the in-person GO Fest a chance for trainers to catch some exclusive Pokémon and trade with others in-person, but for one couple, it also marked a big step in their relationship. In between the exclusive photo opportunities set up by the Pokémon Company and other exciting exhibits, Brad got down on one knee and proposed to Kelsi.
"I thought [GO Fest] would be a really fun place to do it," Brad said on a call with Distractify. "I was super nervous, but it was cool and everybody cheered."
His decision to propose in front of the Poison Swamp area photo op was just one of the many moments in the pair's relationship cemented together by their love of Pokémon.
Pokémon has been with Brad and Kelsi through much of their relationship — even when they were just friends.
Brad and Kelsi have known each other since 2009 when they met on the bus ride to school. And long before Kelsi considered a relationship with Brad, they were good friends.
"We've been best friends since the day we met," Kelsi said. "Even after high school, he would come to my house at least three to four times a week just to hang out with me and our best friends."
Pokémon has been a constant in the pair's relationship since the beginning. Brad grew up playing all of the video games starting with Red and Blue, while Kelsi was a fan of the anime and began collecting plushies from a young age (though her collection has grown since she and Brad started dating, she said). Brad admitted he'd been crushing on Kelsi long before they made their relationship official, but their friendship didn't begin to morph into something more until Pokémon GO launched in 2016.
"Pokémon GO was like the best date idea, you know?" Brad said.
After the game was released, the pair spent just about every day together, they recounted, hunting for Pokémon and competing in raids.
"For the full year leading up to [us dating], while Pokémon GO was out, we were going to local hotspots ... back when Gyrados was the big thing to get. So we would go drive about 25 minutes away and walk around this water boardwalk to catch Magikarps when we were just friends. We did a million raids when we were just friends," Kelsi said.
"There was always something different, like 'Oh my gosh, Mewtwo just came out! Oh my gosh, he can be Shiny! Oh my gosh, pull over, there's a Tyrannitar right here!' It was just silly. We would get really excited as things were coming out," she continued. "One of my friends noticed [my feelings] before I did — they were like 'You keep flirting with Brad, do you like him?'"
Brad officially asked Kelsi to be his girlfriend while they were in the middle of an Entei raid on Oct. 1 2017 — and after she said yes, he named the Entei he caught during the raid "Anniversary."
"It's the best way to remember," Brad joked, showing off the Pokémon still in his collection on the app.
The couple had already planned on attending GO Fest in New York, being only a short drive away in Maryland, and in between the four-hour ticketed sessions, Brad popped the question while exploring the setup at Randall's Island.
"I hired a photographer from New York because it just makes more sense. I had him waiting at [Randall's] Island," Brad said. "We walked around we were playing for a little bit. We tried to find all the best photo ops because the Pokémon Company sets up so many and they're all beautiful."
Though there are no solid plans for the wedding just yet, Pokémon will likely be a part of their big day
"We would love to include Pokémon [in the wedding]," Brad said. "We love everything that's Pokémon, but we'll see how that ends up fleshing out."