For many of Twitch’s biggest streamers, jumping on trends is key to their success. We’ve seen it already in 2020 around a number of areas and games, whether it be this summer’s boom around chess or every streamer’s obsession with Fall Guys.
Now though, it’s the turn of a nostalgic trend that lends itself to the exchange of big money: Pokémon cards. In the past month or so, Pokémon TCG-mania has swept across Twitch, to the extent that popular streamer Ludwig ‘Ludwig’ Ahgren will be hosting his own Pokémon Week next week. This will see some of the platform’s top streamers cracking open booster boxes, most of which contain some extremely desirable and rare cards.
But with most of these streamers coming back to Pokémon card collecting years, maybe decades on from the last time they opened a pack, where are they getting these iconic sealed booster boxes from? And how do they know which ones contain the cards that will not only be great for content, but could turn into a savvy investment in the future?
Step forward ‘IslandGrown’. The Tempo Storm streamer, who has been an avid collector for years, has become the go-to man when it comes to all things Pokémon cards. So much so, that he’s now the expert advisor and supplier to many of Twitch’s biggest streamers.
First featuring in a November livestream with Matthew ‘Mizkif’ Rinaudo and Tyler ‘Trainwrecks’ Niknam, in which they opened up a First Edition Team Rocket booster box, IslandGrown’s popularity and viewership has grown considerably in recent weeks.
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Capitalising on the interest around the TCG, the streamer is now helping many of the big names appearing in Pokémon Week, such as Felix ‘xQc’ Lengyel and Imane ‘Pokimane’ Anys, get their hands on some of the most iconic boxes of yesteryear. The Pokémon craze has also allowed the former accountant to bring his hobby and passion to his own community on Twitch.
“I’ve always had a passion for Pokémon,” IslandGrown tells The Loadout. “I started collecting a long time ago. I used to play Pokémon, competitive Yu-Gi-Oh, and used to collect Magic the Gathering, so TCGs have always been a part of my life.
“In the last two to three years I’ve been collecting a lot more, and brought some pack openings to my channel just to show my enjoyment of it. But it never really caught on. People knew about Pokémon, it was kinda cool, but it didn’t have the boom it has now. Being able to now stream Pokémon, open up packs with people, and join this Pokémon hype to help some of the top streamers get these vintage boxes for openings has been absolutely amazing. It’s the best of both worlds for me as it merges streaming, which is my career, and Pokémon, which is my hobby.”
IslandGrown not only sources packs and boxes for other streamers, but also long-time viewers of his channel. The process is simple: check what he has in stock, request what you’d like to purchase, and IslandGrown will open up your pack on stream and mail you the contents.
To some, paying for a pack only for someone else to open it may seem strange. But as has become apparent from the growth of IslandGrown’s channel, it’s actually a positive experience.
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“I think people enjoy being able to be with a community while getting these cards,” he says. “Anyone can go out and buy Pokémon cards, sit at home and open them, but being able to open them with your friends and other people, that adds to the enjoyment. When we do openings, where I sell packs or boxes to open, know that I’m not in it for the money. I’m not a store, I’m an entertainer – a streamer. So everything we get, we use it for supplies, for more packs, and for giveaways, because what matters most to me is being able to build my community, not profit. That’s my enjoyment. That’s my biggest gain.”
But where did all of this Pokémon TCG hype on Twitch come from? YouTuber Logan Paul’s high-profile dip into the Pokémon card market certainly opened some eyes, but IslandGrown believes this was a long time coming.
“He wasn’t the only reason,” the streamer explains. “Pokémon was already starting to ramp up, but he was like one of the biggest catalysts that accelerated it. Once Twitch streamers thought to do something similar, they were able to jump on it because their viewers already knew about Pokémon.
“Like, everyone knows about Pokémon. Grandmas, grandpas, moms, dads, they all know what it is, and it hits everybody in a soft spot. You can see the success from streamers doing openings, and the joy and nostalgia they feel from opening the packs.”
That nostalgia a streamer feels when they open an old school set for the first time is key to the TCG’s popularity, and it’s resulted in some heartwarming moments. One of IslandGrown’s favourites was Trainwrecks finding one of the most legendary cards of all time – a First Edition, holographic Dark Charizard – live on stream.
“For the most part, everybody’s real. However, there’s always a bit of a personality or persona that comes on when you stream,” IslandGrown says. “You’re entertaining people, you’re trying to make everyone happy and excited. But for one moment, you will literally see just pure joy.
“If you take the clip of Mizkif and Trainwrecks, it’s like one hundred percent raw joy and nostalgia for both of them. They don’t even really think about their stream, just about the experience, the nostalgia, and that they just hit that crazy card. I think that’s really beautiful. It might be cheesy, it might be sappy, but I’m keeping it real and saying that that’s hard to see and get all the time [on Twitch].”
While the excitement and joy is evident, the recent Pokémon card hype and the vast amount of vintage boxes being cracked open has alarmed some. With printing of these sets being halted close to two decades ago, supplies of sealed booster boxes are not replenishable.
As the stock shrinks with every box opened, the price, as you’d expect, rises for the next one. While he says finding these boxes is currently not too difficult, IslandGrown believes that the popularity is here to stay – as are the high prices.
“Honestly, just because Pokémon’s been so hype, people are calling this a bubble that’s going to burst. But Pokémon is here to stay. It’s been here for 20 years, and if you follow the trends, the prices of things have always gone up. There are people that religiously believe – and this is certainly not my financial advice – that investing in Pokémon is great. It’s never fallen in 20 years, and even though there is a big boom right now, I don’t see the hype dying down any time soon.”
Regardless of whether the Pokémon card craze will come and go like so many other trends before it on Twitch, it has certainly accelerated the rate at which the prices of vintage cards, packs, and boxes have risen. Good news, then, if you have an old binder up in the attic.
But what it’s also done is allow a group of streamers, including IslandGrown, to grow their channels and indulge in a lifelong hobby in front of their communities.
Pokémon is a cultural phenomenon, but how long the TCG trend will last before it’s cast aside for the next big thing could hinge not only on the attention spans of streamers and their audiences, but the availability and price of these increasingly scarce artifacts.