No matter how hard ambitious Pokémon trainers try, they're never going to be as successful as Lord_Cloudy. The sandy-haired streamer broadcasts from a dark room, fidgeting in his chair and vaping as he plays Pokémon Go, the game that's supposed to require players to walk around the real world. But Lord_Cloudy achieves the physically impossible. His avatar marches right through buildings and across busy thoroughfares.
Lord_Cloudy is a cheater. And he's only one of many who are using GPS software to trick the game and then broadcast their exploits for the world to see on Twitch.
That breaks the guidelines established by Niantic, the developers of Pokémon Go, while simultaneously violating Twitch’s terms of service. It's a bannable offense, both in-game and on Twitch. Yet many of the streamers racking up thousands of viewers and hundreds of subscribers remain unpunished, despite publicly admitting to and even advertising the act.
Pokémon Go is an international gaming and cultural phenomenon. It’s hardly a surprise that it’s become one of the most popular titles on Twitch, the biggest game-streaming platform in the world.
The logistics of streaming Pokémon Go, a game that requires players to walk through the real world, are certainly non trivial. You need some kind of mobile camera and a strong enough connection to beam your stream to a rig that can put it on Twitch while you’re out and about.
That hasn’t stopped many streamers from developing creative solutions. Byron “Reckful” Bernstein took to the streets of Austin with a camera strapped to his head, sometimes showing his phone but often the faces of other would-be trainers. Another popular streamer, Jaryd “summit1g” Lazar, strapped a laptop to his back and taped a mouse to his shoulder so he could get a better signal as he moved from Pokémon to Pokémon. Others use a dual setup with one streamer playing the game on the go and another sitting at home interacting with Twitch chat.
Many streamers spend lots of money buying specialized equipment to stream the action from their phone or a mobile camera like a GoPro. Others go a cheaper route, instead spending on in-game currency to buy Incense, which spawns Pokémon around them from the comfort of their own home.
But many more are cheating. Instead of going outside and hoofing it from Pokéstop to Gym to Pokémon, like the tens of millions playing the game worldwide, they're resorting to tricking the game by using GPS spoofing software, which makes the game think the player is at a location of their choosing, to move their character from the comfort of their own homes.
It’s pretty clear that GPS spoofing gives players an unfair advantage. They’re able to teleport to anywhere in the world, reaching prime farming locations instantly, jumping to rare nests of Pokémon in a flash. Twitch partner arulive even advertises farming locations scattered across the globe, like a Dratini nest and hotspots in Sydney, Australia and Düsseldorf, Germany. Cheaters can hatch eggs faster using their keyboard than a human running on their legs or even driving a car.
Twitch has banned some of the more obvious offenders, like a user called “superpokecheat” who blatantly advertised the service, but many others, including a number of Twitch partners, who can earn money streaming through advertising and subscribers, remain unpunished.
There's Lord_Cloudy of course, who even puts this disclaimer on his stream: “WARNING This is NOT my MAIN ACCOUNT and also on this account I DO NOT BATTLE at GYMS as it would ruin others game and I would have an unfair advantage.” While it’s true that, if he avoids gyms, his experience will have no effect on other players, he’s still violating the game’s guidelines, a bannable offense, and doing it publicly on Twitch.
Another streamer, Jagrawr, a Twitch partner (which means users can pay to subscribe to his channel), even advertises a link to a video guide on how to play on your PC and spoof your location using an Android emulator called Nox. The program lets you set a GPS location anywhere in the world and then allows you to move your character using the keyboard. Jagrawr even recommends signing into a “dummy account or your real account.”
“There’s a lot of reasons to do this,” he told his viewers during a broadcast from home a few days ago. “Maybe you’re handicapped. You’re sick. It’s raining. I don’t know. There’s a lot of reasons. Like I said, I’m still going to go and play on my actual phone.”
Those may be some at least understandable reasons to try and experience the revolution that is Pokémon Go from home. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a violation of both Twitch and Pokémon Go’s rules.
Twitch is certainly aware of the issue. Twitch staffer Steve Lin tweeted about Jagrawr’s stream on July 18:
Lin probably thought his Tweet was innocuous, and there is some grey area where playing from home on a PC might not break any rules, like using incense while in your living room. But Lin quickly became aware of the problem when his feed filled with people begging him to take action against the spoofing streamers. That led him to delete the tweet.
While online Pokémon Go communities like r/pokemongo continue to call for action from Twitch, dozens of spoofers are still streaming live today. Jagrawr at least pulled out his phone and left the house. But many others still happily spoofed away, trotting the globe and using keyboards instead of their legs to catch those rare Pokémon.
When asked to comment on the issue, Twitch deferred to Niantic, stating that the company has not yet sent any take down notices to Twitch. Yet Twitch has already banned some of the more egregious users and Twitch’s Rules of Conduct clearly state that any cheating or tampering which “gives the account owner an unfair advantage in a online multiplayer game” is prohibited.
In the grand scheme, that may not be too big a deal. It's not a competitive game. There is no worldwide ranking of top Pokémon Go players. But for all those trainers who spend hours marching around the real world, or the streamers putting in herculean efforts to produce a Pokémon Go product, it’s surely galling that Twitch has so far turned a blind eye.