Twitch is reeling from a series of events that have shaken many within its community: from its most influential streamers to the broader base that helped to consume 5 billion hours of content in the second quarter of this year.
First, a new wave of #metoo stories emerged within the gaming industry, stretching from AAA studios to indie game developers and peppering everything in between. Within this deluge of powerful new narratives, there were dozens of accounts that came out around how Partners and other highly influential Twitch streamers manipulated, groomed, harassed and sexually assaulted women at meetups and conventions.
This behavior was not limited to streamers either, as at least one high-level staffer, Hassan Bokhari, has been implicated in using his position to solicit favors and establish inappropriate relationships with up-and-coming female streamers.
In the immediate aftermath, though not seeming to be directly related (at this time), DrDisrespect, a massively popular streamer with nearly 4.4 million followers, was summarily banned, and all of his subscribers issued refunds. DrDisrespect, in an homage to his moniker, earned disdain for streaming from a bathroom at E3 last year – and was even temporarily banned as a result. This time, however, he appears to have been properly purged from Twitch, and his displaced fanbase now disrupts any attempts to discuss Twitch with the question: “Why was DrDisrespect banned?” or “Where is DrDisrespect?”
Then, just a few days ago, notable Canadian Overwatch player xQc ruffled some feathers when a clip of his was posted, cautioning his viewers from donating to charity streams since streamers are getting paid to do it. DrLupo, a current pillar of the Twitch streaming community, chimed in to share that he’s never been paid to conduct a charity stream. xQc clarified that the context was lost and that he knows that good streamers with proper connections to charities don’t need to do that.
And so the two went on their merry way, misunderstanding cleared, and all was well with the world…
Oh. Right. Jessica Blevens, Ninja’s wife/manager, took a shot at xQc following the exchange, and what followed was a heated escalation between the two – and yes, Ninja does step in as well.
Ninja offered the following response:
You have 0 clue the amount of work Jess does for our family and our business, and when she wants to buy a Gucci bag she fucking can because she worked for it. We have donated millions to charity, and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Stop being a piece of shit.
You can find more info on the confrontation that followed – but the long and short of it is that some of the biggest names in Twitch streaming got into a knock-down, drag-out verbal slugfest – including Alinity.
If you’re in the Twitch space, you’ve likely heard the phrase “Ban Alinity” repeated like some odd Gregorian chant. After a clip of her throwing her cat off of her keyboard went viral, the calls for her ban/removal have been unceasing. As the xQc/Ninja drama was unfolding, Alinity offered a quip that Team Ninja would lose in a matchup against Team xQc. His response?
Don’t you have another cat to abuse?
Alinity then referred to him as the “Most toxic person in gaming.”
Shattering this ugly conflict and simmering anger was the tragic news of Byron “Reckful” Bernstein’s death yesterday. Longtime World of Warcraft fans likely recognize the name, as Byron sat atop the global PvP rankings for years, and won the Major League Gaming World of Warcraft title in 2010. Byron also had a profound presence in the streaming space – considered a “godfather” of the platform, and had offered a helping hand to many looking to grow their channel and their brand.
Byron was upfront about the loss of his older brother to suicide, how that impacted him personally, as well as his constant struggle with depression. Hearing that he had reportedly taken his own life, friends, acquaintances, and thousands upon thousands of World of Warcraft players paid tribute to him.
Some streamers have since begun sharing their struggles with mental health more openly – including medications they’re taking – in an effort to normalize the dialogue and help people feel like they’re not alone. Returning to the earlier conflict, Alinity offered a tearful video where she admitted contemplating suicide on numerous occasions. Ninja, to his credit, apologized to Alinity for the comment that he made and deleted the tweet. Others have stepped up to do the same in an effort to dial back the toxic culture within the broader Twitch community.
In short, to say it’s been a tumultuous month for the Twitch community would be exceedingly generous.
Yet, despite the positive intent that I’m sure so many streamers have – one has to wonder if this road to Damascus moment may be coming too late.
When streamers put themselves out on Twitch, they are actively looking to build a community. You don’t stream full time without it being a viable source of income (at least, I hope not…) and in order for it to attain that status, you need to appeal to a broad base, loop people in with conversation and connection, and repeat that process thousands and thousands of times.
In time, as any major Twitch streamer will tell you, your community begins to bring you more and more joy. More excitement to wake up every day and say hello to the small hamlet of the internet that you have created and look after.
However, it just takes one toxic visitor to sow seeds of doubt and anger within the community. A mistake is revisited again and again. Demands for you to play a new game grow louder. Despite your mods best efforts to keep the chat “positive”, when the offending messages are silenced or deleted, you’re left with a quiet chat room, dwindling subscribers, and growing doubt that you can continue doing what you used to love.
For those who make the argument that cyberbullying isn’t a real threat because it’s so easy to “walk away” – Twitch streamers certainly cannot afford to do that. The community gives them things to talk about. They want to engage with their fans and connect and talk to people…and they certainly don’t want to spend every day trudging through the same negative memories or having to justify themselves to strangers that swung by to lob some insults and leave – protected by anonymity and emboldened by the abysmal behavior of their peers…and heroes.
I mean, we can’t get around the fact that some streamers build a following and reputation for providing a safe haven for the most callous, vile, toxic gamers on the internet. Even if they wanted to take Byron’s tragic death as an excuse to do an about-face and try to rebrand…their audience has now gotten away from them.
Take DrDisrespect’s ban for example. I would argue that no small part of the persisting negativity and trolling that’s going on in the broader Twitch space is the result of DrDisrespect’s displaced fans – his “champions”. If Twitch continues to purge these streamers without implementing systemic changes to address toxic behavior, it’s only going to get worse for small-medium streamers wanting to build their communities.
And for the streamers? They need to start walking the walk as well. I can appreciate that in the age of the internet they’re not allowed to have a different opinion from one year to the next, or even one decade to the next. Attempts to foster a more positive and inclusive community will likely yield a new string of accusations of hypocrisy and virtue signaling…but without proper commitment to elevating the community, and specifically what their community can be, the negativity and toxic culture will continue to grow.
Time will tell if the changes that Twitch and its partners are making will affect long-term change…but in the meantime, at least they don’t have to worry about losing people to Mixer anymore.