Experienced GeoGuessr players know that Google Maps instantly detects

An unremarkable stretch of highway and trees appeared on the screen, as seen in Google Maps Street View. It could be anywhere from Tasmania to Texas.

“It will be the southern Philippines, somewhere along this road,” Trevor Reinbolt instantly said, clicking on a place on the world map that was less than 11 miles from this place.

The next road was winding through the forest. Lake Tahoe? Siberia? “Looks like we’re going to be here in Switzerland, unless we’re in Japan. Yes, here we should be in Japan,” Rainbolt said, correctly identifying the country.

mr. Reinbolt has become the face of a rapidly growing community of geography fanatics who play a game called GeoGuessr. The premise is simple: if you look at a computer or phone, you are somewhere in the world in Google Street View and must guess exactly where you are as quickly as possible. You can click to navigate roads and cities by scanning for distinguishable landmarks or language. The closer you guess, the more points you get.

To some, Mr. Reinbolt’s quick responses seem like magic. To him, they are simply the result of countless hours of practice and an insatiable thirst for geographical knowledge.

“I don’t think I’m any kind of genius,” said Mr. Rainbolt, a 23-year-old online video producer from Los Angeles. “It’s like a magician. For a magician, the trick is simple, but for everyone else it is much more difficult.

For the average gamer, traveling through still images of winding pastoral roads, Mediterranean foothills, and tuk-tuk-filled streets can be relaxing, especially without a time limit. But for artists like Mr. Rainbolt, the pace is frantic and positioning can take just a few seconds or even less.

mr. Rainbolt is not the best GeoGuessr player in the world. It is often believed that this award belongs to a Dutch teenager who passes by GeoStick, or the French player known as Blinky. But since around the start of this year, Mr. Reinbolt has been GeoGuessr’s flag bearer thanks to his captivating social media posts he shared with his 820,000 followers on TikTok as well as other social platforms.

Appearing in a hoodie and occasionally wearing headphones as dramatic classical music plays in the background, Mr. Rainbolt identifies countries by what appears to be a simple look at the sky or a patch of trees.

In some videos, he guesses the correct location by viewing an image in Street View in just a tenth of a second, either black and white, or pixelated, or all of the above. Other times, he is blindfolded and guesses (correctly) the description someone else gives him.

The videos that caused the most shock are those in which Mr. Rainbolt, using his topographical research, pinpoints exactly where the music videos were filmed. In one viral video, he found the exact street in Nevada from the video of a man riding with a capybara. “If I ever go missing, hopefully someone hires this guy on my behalf,” one Twitter user commented.

GeoGuessr was created in 2013 by Swedish software engineer Anton Wallen, who came up with the idea while traveling in the United States. Early influencers such as GeoWizard, british youtuber, helped promote the game. It also gained popularity during the pandemic when it introduced a multiplayer mode called Battle Royale.

mr. Reinbolt’s social media posts spurred him on further. Last month, during a publicity stunt, Mr. Rainbolt aired live from Ludwig Agrenformer Twitch personality who now streams to three million subscribers on YouTube.

The GeoGuessr site now has 40 million accounts, said Philip Antell, who is in charge of content for GeoGuessr, a 25-person company in Stockholm. Some of these people are subscribers who give up $2 a month to play unlimited games. Revenue, d. According to Antell, the company pays developers and Google, which charges GeoGuessr for using its software.

Despite his global knowledge, Mr. Raised in Arkansas, Rainbolt never left North America. But there are many places on his wish list, including Laos and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. People tell Mr. Rainbolt that his passion is somewhat insane. The most common question his friends ask him is: “Is this real?”

He says yes and promises he never faked the video. Sometimes he misunderstands countries. Mistaking the United States for Canada or the Czech Republic for Slovakia are two common mistakes even for the greatest players. And he admitted that he basically only posted his highlights on social media, not random romp.

So how does he do it?

The main thing, of course, is practice. mr. Reinbolt fell down the GeoGuessr rabbit hole during the pandemic, watching others stream their game live and carefully studying tutorials collected by geography enthusiasts. He said he spent four to five hours every day studying: playing GeoGuessr several times in certain countries to get a feel for the terrain, and memorizing how landmarks like road signs and telephone poles differ by country.

“Honestly, I haven’t had any social life in the last year,” he said. “But it’s worth it because it’s so much fun and I love learning.”

Some of the main features that Mr. Rainbolt uses, he says, poles used as roadside barriers to distinguish one country from another; telephone poles; number plates; on which side of the road cars are driving; and soil color.

There are other clues if you know where to look. Image quality matters—Google has captured different countries with different generations of cameras—as does the color of the car used to record the area. For example, catching a glimpse of a white car in South America means you are in Peru, Bolivia, or Chile. Reinbolt said.

GeoGuessr has many game modes. One of the most popular formats is the duel, where players or teams start with 6000 points and take “damage” based on how accurate their opponent’s guesses are until they drop to zero. Some games allow you to click to move around the map, while other games don’t. After one player has guessed correctly, the other has 15 seconds to fix the prediction.

Pro players at GeoGuessr, so named because they are the best in the world and not because they make a living from it, say the competitive scene is still in its infancy but growing fast.

Leon Kornale, a 21-year-old professional player known as Kodiak, from Ratingen, Germany, described the competitive GeoGuessr as “fragmented and divided”. For example, a group of players in France have created their own community and run tournaments, while other players have formed groups through Reddit. But GeoGuessr’s recent popularity on social media has sparked interest in broader competitions.

The best players, who are often only 15 years old, fight for world records and started participating in tournaments organized by Mr. Rainbolt and streamed live on Twitch. There isn’t much money here, but star players earn admiration from the thousands of regular GeoGuessr players who gather on the Discord server to exchange tips and share results.

Lucas Zircher, a 24-year-old resident of Innsbruck, Austria, became obsessed with GeoGuessr when he stumbled upon one of Mr. Reinbolt’s Instagram posts. mr. Zircher decided that he also wanted to become one of the greatest players.

“It’s hard to be good, really good,” said Mr. Zircher, whose free time is now devoted to studying bollards and memorizing the colors of South African soil. “I can recognize all African countries from a few photos, but I’m still far from being good – I miss all the Eastern European countries.”

Sid Mills, a 22-year-old freelance illustrator from New Jersey, was delighted to see Mr. Rainbolt content. She used to play GeoGuessr but was surprised at how quickly she improved her skills after watching his country identification tips videos.

“This time, instead of passively wandering around and desperately looking for a language clue or a flag, I would stumble upon things like guardrails, road markings, bollards,” Ms said. Mills said.

Sometimes she experiences moments that she thinks are like Mr. White’s reverence. Rainbolt inspires. One day when she was playing GeoGuessr with her father, she immediately identified the image as being in Uruguay because of the lines on the road.

According to her, his reaction was: “How the hell do you know that?”