Pokémon fans were recently treated to a 24-hour livestream on the official Pokémon Twitch channel. The stream, a promotion for the upcoming “Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield” games, had a lot riding on it: The Pokémon Company and Game Freak, the developers of the Pokémon franchise, have come under fire recently for an alleged lack of effort on their part in the upcoming games. The reveal that the games would not contain every Pokémon ever created inspired boycotts and petitions. Fans expressed concerns over low-quality graphics, although these concerns appear to have been addressed, while the Dynamax gimmick in “Sword” and “Shield” that allows Pokémon to become enormous in size has drawn criticism for being “uninspired” and “lacking creativity,” as ScreenRant describes it, compared to previous battle gimmicks in the series. These issues have shaken the faith of fans, including die-hard ones, so the trailers and reveals need to be impressive to regain confidence.
At 9 a.m. EST on Oct. 4, Pokémon’s official Twitch channel started the broadcast. The screen imitated a camera resting on the floor of the Glimwood Tangle, one of the many places that players of “Sword” and “Shield” will explore in the Galar region, and remained motionless throughout the stream. A clearing of bright grass, fringed by enormous trees, leafy bushes and glowing mushrooms took up the entire screen, leaving a wide area for Pokémon to scamper through. Within four minutes, a Pikachu ran into the frame and cautiously checked out the “camera” before something frightened it and it ran off into the bushes once more. All told, the Pikachu was around for nine seconds.
That encounter set the tone for the entire livestream: a serene, motionless forest background with occasional visits from Pokémon. The lo-fi soundtrack to the stream was a 20 second loop of bells chiming, which provided a calm atmosphere for viewers, but the repetition of the music combined with the still setting made for a slightly mind-numbing experience. Overall, not much happened; the most exciting part of the Pokémon livestream came at the very end, with the full reveal of the cotton candy-like Galarian Ponyta. The newly-discovered Pokémon walked slowly across the screen from left to right, shaking its mane several times before vanishing. Four minutes before the end of the Pokémon livestream, two members of the species trotted in from between the trees and danced around each other. The new form of the Fire Horse Pokémon had never been seen prior to the event and fans went wild. With a new form comes new moves, new abilities, new typings and a lot of excitement from players of the franchise.
Unfortunately, the reveal came three hours before the end of a 24-hour livestream.
Hints of the Pokémon had been peppered throughout the livestream starting three hours in, such as the flash of a tail or the sound of galloping hooves, but these small teasers were all fans had to hold on to for 21 hours. Other Pokémon made appearances as well, such as the Stump Pokémon Phantump and the recently revealed Impidimp, but these appearances were brief and often consisted of little more than a walk across the screen or a peek out of a bush; oftentimes, leaves would shake and nothing would come out of it. Large gaps of time passed between each appearance. Twenty or 30 minutes would go by at certain points with nothing happening whatsoever.
🚨 Galar Research Update 🚨
Show of hands, Trainers: who’s ready for more information on #PokemonSwordShield?
📅 October 16, 2019
⏰ 6:00 AM PDT
— Ghost-type Pokémon (@Pokemon) October 15, 2019
Expectations for the stream were high, but were those expectations justified? It is hard to say. A ScreenRant article about the stream granted that “The Pokémon Company … never set sky-high expectations for the event,” which is true; the most that the Pokémon Company indicated was that viewers would see “things that surprise them.” While the reveal of Galarian Ponyta was a surprise, the announcement of a new species wasn’t unexpected, considering the Pokémon Sirfetch’d was revealed a week prior. Regardless of any expectations that viewers had, the end result of the livestream was underwhelming considering the amount of time fans spent watching it.
After the Pokémon livestream, Kotaku released an article about how the Ponyta reveal along with memes from fans saved the stream from being “an own goal,” but fan reactions were “pretty mixed.” The memes were also discussed in articles from Polygon, Dot Esports and NintendoSoup, almost to the exclusion of the contents of the stream itself. The mere existence of a Pokémon livestream overshadowed the reveals in the stream, at least until Galarian Ponyta was finally revealed.
The two Ponyta that were shown dancing around each other at the very end of the livestream had one important distinction: One had a fluffy, flowing tail, and the other did not. It’s not unheard of for Pokémon of the same species to have differences; female Pikachu have heart-shaped tails, while male Pikachu have flat ends to their tails, and an Oricorio can appear in four different colors that correlate to four different types. It is possible that the lack of a tail is a gender difference or other variation within the species, but nobody can know for sure until “Sword” and “Shield” come out. However, it is not impossible that the missing tail is a glitch on the Ponyta’s model, especially considering the fact that the official reveal trailer for Galarian Ponyta showed off 11 Ponyta, all of which had a tail. If the one major talking point in the livestream was affected by a major developmental oversight, that is worrying.
There are ways that The Pokémon Company could have made the stream more engaging and exciting; for example, there are still some uncertainties as to which Pokémon will be returning from previous games. If Pokémon from previous iterations made appearances crawling along the ground or munching on leaves, it would be eye candy for the fans, especially when many are upset about the exclusion of some Pokémon from “Sword” and “Shield.” Showing a few fan-favorite Pokémon relaxing in the background would grab more attention than a motionless canvas.
Of course, Game Freak might be holding back on some info to save it as a surprise. As Derrick Bitner from GameXplain mentioned in a podcast after the Pokémon livestream, The Pokémon Company revealed almost everything about their games prior to release for the past seven years. This could be exhausting or frustrating, depending on how much a player wanted to avoid spoilers. Bitner described the marketing for “Sword” and “Shield” as being “a little bit more cheeky” in the amount of information that is being divulged; perhaps The Pokémon Company has taken note of past responses to its information dumps and is trying to keep some details of the game quiet.
“Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield” will come out on Nov. 15, so there is still time for The Pokémon Company to recover some steam prior to the games’ release, but it will be an uphill battle. Fans will be watching updates closely to see if their faith in the company will shake further, or if it will be restored.