Posted by Michael Mitchell @MitchFizzl
Gamer, writer, occasional pedant. Mitch lives up to all these adjectives and more by writing for Now Loading and Blizzard Watch. @Fizzl_CTR.
Michael Mitchell

So you've just downloaded Pokemon GO and you've done a little background research into the overview of the game — but now what do you do? What exactly do these leaf piles and footprints mean? How do you level up?

You're in luck, because we're here to go answer just exactly what to do after you've downloaded Pokemon GO! This is intended as an in-depth breakdown of Pokemon GO for beginners, but if you're interested in an experts guide to the game, we have that too!

How do I catch Pokemon?

Simple! Open the app and start walking around (in real life)! Your character will radiate a circle and any Pokemon lurking within its radius will pop up. Clicking on the Pokemon will start a battle.

Once you've engaged the Pokemon in battle, you need to click and hold the Poke Ball and then flick it forward to throw it at the Pokemon. We have a slightly more detailed breakdown in our overview, but on a basic level, that's it! Keep in mind, hitting a Pokemon with a Poke Ball isn't a guaranteed capture so you may need to use a couple Poke Balls to actually catch the one you're after.

What do the footprints mean?

Okay, obviously you need to find Pokemon before you can catch them so, naturally, you click on the pictures of Pokemon and are greeted with a "Nearby" tab and...footprints? These footprints actually indicate how close a Pokemon is to you which, maybe you figured that out, but there's a little more to it.

For starters — and this is still not 100% confirmed — the different footstep numbers appear to mean approximately the following:

  • Three footprints likely means the Pokemon is no more than 1 kilometer away.
  • Two footprints means the Pokemon is within 100 meters.
  • One footprint means your target is within 20 meters.
  • No footprints means you should stay still and wait for the Pokemon to appear.

With that in mind, let's go back to the Nearby tab for a moment. The top-left Pokemon on the list is the one that is closest to you, but if you want to track a particular Pokemon in the list, you just need to click on it and the list at the bottom right will change to show only how close you are to that particular Pokemon. Start walking and see if the number of footprints increases or decreases! Again, this is unconfirmed, but it's also rumored that if you rotate your avatar 360 degrees, the box around your selected Pokemon will flash when you're aimed in the right direction. Personally, I've found this particular tip to be hit or miss — sometimes rotating the avatar doesn't produce the green flash at all, other times it does.

What do leaf piles mean?

You may have noticed that leaf piles will occasionally pop up on your map as you walk around trying to catch Pokemon. Surely these mean something? Your instincts were right, brave adventurer! Leaf piles mean there is a chance a Pokemon is hiding nearby. Note, it is not a guaranteed Pokemon find — but they're worth checking out for the higher chance at finding something to catch.

Especially if you're after a Pokemon within two steps or fewer, it's worth heading to the leaves just to be sure of what's hiding.

Okay, so how do I catch more Pokemon?

If you're having trouble finding Pokemon, the game provides you with a small amount of an item called Incense that will attract Pokemon to you. If you notice a Pokemon spawns with a pink cloud circling around it, this means it's the result of your Incense! If you're catching Pokemon with friends, they won't be able to see this Pokemon and you have full bragging rights to your new catch.

The other way to encounter more Pokemon is by visiting a PokeStop that has a lure module attached t–

Wait, what is a PokeStop?

Oh! Right! If you haven't seen them yet, PokeStops are the blue squares on your map. We have a handy guide on some nice places to find them, but the short version is that when you walk near them, they open up and you can click on them for rewards. To actually get the rewards, you need to spin the icon in the center of the screen. PokeStops reset every five minutes, so if you find a couple near each other, find a good loop to walk in and hit them up as many times as you can stand!

So what exactly were those lure modules I mentioned earlier? Well, they are items that any player can attach to a PokeStop and everyone within range of that PokeStop will effectively have the effect of an Incense. While it's always important to be cautious about just when and where you visit lure-ified PokeStops, attaching a lure can be a great way to attract other Pokemon GO players with whom you can chat and enjoy the game together — you know, just as long as their not part of a rival team.

I'm out of items and there are no PokeStops nearby... How do I get more Poke Balls and other items in 'Pokemon GO'?

PokeStops and leveling are the game's only free ways of earning items, but if you're okay dropping some money on the game, the in-game shop offers Poke Balls, Incense, Lucky Eggs (which increase XP), Lure Modules, upgrades to both bag and Pokemon storage capacities, and Egg Incubators.

That last item is used to help you hatch Eggs (which you can only obtain from PokeStops). Eggs contain various Pokemon and can be hatched by walking either 2, 5, or 10 km after being placed in an incubator.

One last thing, how do I earn XP in 'Pokemon GO'?

We'll have a more detailed breakdown of how to maximize XP gain in our experts article, but the beginner version is that you get XP for doing, well, pretty much anything. Evolving Pokemon and catching a new Pokemon are going to be the biggest sources of XP, but you also get XP for catching Pokemon, hatching Pokemon, visiting a PokeStop, and doing battle at a Gym.

That should cover most of what you need to know on a basic level for Pokemon GO! If you feel confident in your Pokebilities, feel free to check out our advanced article which covers all the nitty-gritty details that will help you make the most of your adventures.

For more detail about gaining XP as fast as possible, check out our Pokemon GO leveling tips guide.

Any questions or comments about this article? Let me know below!