The Twitch Renaissance
By Isabelle Lee and Emma Foster
In the world of livestream gaming, there’s one platform that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Forget your Facebook Gaming, Caffeine or Owncast. Twitch is where it’s at. After initially gaining popularity with video game livestreamers, today it’s so much more — a place for painting tutorials, political sofa chats and even a space where preservers of at-risk languages get together by the millions.
Amid all this, Twitch is facing massive challenges: Cryptocurrency gambling is threatening to upend the platform, with “crypto casinos” paying the platform’s most popular users millions of dollars to livestream their slot playing antics. The undertones of toxic masculinity and chauvinism that have dominated the gaming world for decades still linger. Then there’s the controversy around bans by — and of — a range of actors.
With viewership skyrocketing over the past year and future growth expected to maintain a similar trajectory, today’s Daily Dose takes you on a journey through the weird and wonderful world of Twitch — who to watch, what to look for, and what to expect.
Twitch has gained an unfortunate reputation as a breeding ground for people perpetuating misogynistic or racist comments. But streamers such as Xocheergurlox, a New York City-based Call of Duty fan (who asked not to be identified by her real name), are actively fighting back against the toxicity. “I’ve curated my space to be safe for me and my community,” she tells OZY, “and that’s honestly one of my greatest accomplishments.” Thanks to her community, Cheer says she’s no longer worried about losing a chunk of her audience when she “raises money for bail funds, yells at people with a MAGA clan tag, or just ha[s] casual political conversations with chat.”
Last month, Twitch temporarily banned two top streamers for posting “sexually suggestive” content. Streamers Amouranth and Indiefoxx were censored for creating ASMR content from their beds, which the platform deemed as having broken its rules. Twitch is also having to contend with increasingly popular “hot tub streams” taking place under the platform’s Just Chatting category. It responded to the burgeoning trend by creating a standalone Pools, Hot Tubs, and Beaches category. But not everyone is convinced. “The way that women are viewed now on Twitch is sexual . . . it is what it is,” streamer Anderson tells OZY. “The trends that are going on like the hot tub stuff . . . I could care less. At the end of the day, it’s not my body, but I do know some people view that as detrimental.”
Alexis Anderson, a 24-year-old out and proud Black woman who goes by the username AlexisAyeee, says the hurtful commenters can be subdued. “We actually have people who are trolls and end up viewers or essentially learn the error in thinking the way they think,” the variety streamer tells OZY. Black women are severely underrepresented in the gaming and streaming communities. “[It’s] another reason why I started streaming,” Robin Meadows of North Carolina, a horror game streamer who goes by the name Ohitsrobinm, tells OZY. “I noticed all of them were mainly white women, [and] white men so [I decided] instead of complaining about it, I’ll just join.” Today, Meadows boasts over 12,000 followers and has built a surprisingly positive community within the horror gaming niche.
twitch around the world
Know When to Fold ’em
This is the story of how one streamer got Twitch banned — from an entire country. Partaking in online gambling through a foreign casino company is illegal in Slovakia, a central European country of 5.5 million people. So, when the Slovakia-based user behind the dDandis account began streaming poker games to his 35,000 Twitch followers last month, trouble with the authorities soon ensued. His actions resulted in all Slovak Twitch users losing access to the site. But the affair speaks to a bigger problem for the platform: About two-thirds of Twitch viewers are outside the U.S. and the company regularly finds itself at odds with its global audience due to what some streamers say are poorly defined rules and regulations.
Czech Me Out
As alluded to earlier, Twitch isn’t only for gamers. In 2018, it added a host of new categories, including one for artists. For streamers such as the Czech Republic-based Petra Zemánková that’s been a game-changer. “I’d seen a couple of artists from [other countries] start streaming and (I) have been really inspired to do the same,” she tells OZY. “So, one day I just decided to turn on the stream.” Today, thousands of viewers tune in to watch the 22-year-old draw.
New Zealand-based streamer Broxh uses Twitch as a vehicle to keep Maori traditions alive. Over 1.3 million people follow him, joining in to watch as he carves wood and plays video games. Such is the interest in his channel that Broxh makes a living from the platform — even after disabling an option to donate through his channel. His followers and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern alike see him as a role model for showing youth how to make a living while helping to preserve Maori culture. His videos have even earned him a comparison to Bob Ross.
It might seem counterintuitive that a video game platform has become an important pillar in efforts to safeguard disappearing languages, but it’s one of the many applications of Twitch. In 2019, an online petition linked to the hashtag #CatalanLoveTwitch, signed by both streamers and viewers, resulted in Catalan being added to the hundreds of languages already available on the platform. Other petitions are currently circulating in a bid to add Basque and Galician to the platform, regional languages that are particular to Spain.
The New Campaign Trail
By the time the 2028 presidential election swings around, millennials and Gen Zers are projected to be the most pivotal of all the electorate voting blocs. They also make up a majority of Twitch’s user demographic, and that’s why left-leaning politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang have been quick to itch the Twitch. Has it worked? “I would say that authenticity . . . and sincerity, are actually really valued in our politicians, even though this is kind of an irony-poisoned generation,” Pennsylvania-based streamer and activist Michael Breyer, known on Twitch as Central_Committee, tells OZY. “Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib, who are . . . all in, fighting their guts out and [are] not media polished, not mediated through five different focus groups. They’re coming out there and reacting and being accessible.”
To the Left or to the Right?
But Twitch wasn’t always a lefty bastion. In the past, it’s been used by right-wing extremists to stream deadly attacks. The Republican Party has lagged in attempts to connect with young voters on Twitch, but Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a Republican from North Carolina, has been vocal about harnessing its potential power. Meanwhile, some extremists have been drawn to the platform due to its reputation as a money-making machine and as an alternative to apps such as Parler. The leader of far-right group Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, is believed to have operated a stream on Twitch that was quickly shut down after a newspaper drew attention to the account.
Long before established politicians took to Twitch, a cadre of political influencers found stardom there, inhabiting the liminal space between punditry and reality TV stardom. Hasan Piker, one such commentator, has a global audience of over a million users. How’d he do it? In large part by live streaming his own coverage of the 2020 presidential election. Political influencers are drawn to Twitch so they can exist in the “gray area between journalism, and . . . an old op-ed,” says political influencer Breyer.
Twitch’s interactive chat feature is key to helping streamers connect with their audiences — and to keeping political influencers honest. “[We have] a lot of people in a community together, which allows you to get to more consensus positions and objective truths,” political and news streamer Brad Wydra, who goes by TouringNews, tells OZY. “If I’m being fact-checked in real time, it’s going to be a lot harder to misreport and get incorrect information out.”
the future of twitch
Art in Real Time
The boundless possibilities Twitch serves up has streamer and artist ProperArtist, aka Collin Reynolds of Nashville, Tennessee, very excited indeed. “Do you have any idea how cool that is for a young up-and-coming artist to be able to watch someone they look up to craft a work of art in real time and ask questions/get feedback?” he tells OZY. “The support among artists is unlike anywhere I’ve seen before.”
Missed playing the slot machines in your local casino? You could always turn to Twitch (just not in Slovakia). Be careful, however, of getting sucked in: Streamer xQc quit gambling on Twitch after admitting he had become “slightly, if not moderately” addicted. He was equally alarmed when learning that nearly 2,000 people who had watched his exploits then used a promo code from his channel to sign up for online gambling sites. Many viewers also used promo codes gleaned through big name Twitch streamer Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo, who is paid to stream his gambling. These deals often target the young and vulnerable who, unlike Rinaudo, don’t have millions of dollars to burn through.
Money, Money, Money
When the gig economy went kaput last year thanks to COVID-19, many talented gamers and others turned to platforms like Twitch to shore up their income. Twitch claims 91% of the video game streaming market and hosts about 2 million viewers per day, with serious streamers making about $10 per viewer. That means the elite often net up to $30,000 per month. Top streamers such as Ninja, who has an army of 16.8 million followers, make up to $20 million a month. Not bad for a side hustle. However, it’s not necessarily easy money. To profit big from Twitch, one needs affiliate status. “As a smaller streamer, you can’t survive,” says Wydra, who reports that Twitch takes about 50% of a streamer’s subscription proceeds. To earn more, he said he accepts donations through Paypal and Venmo.
With more than 1 billion people predicted to be participating in online gaming and esports by 2025, Twitch’s clout is set to explode. New categories ranging from art, food and drink to science and technology, sports and fitness, talk shows and podcasting, show that the platform has big plans. “I feel like we’re kind of already seeing it,” streamer Anderson tells OZY. “The future of Twitch isn’t going to be just gaming anymore.”