Press Play to Start: Twitch drama shows value of effective communication

Oh God, midterms are coming soon.

Thinking about it, I don’t feel ready to tackle them. Maybe all the time I spent playing video games instead of studying during the heatwave is finally coming back to bite me in the butt. Oh well, since I still have a week until my first scheduled test, I’ll just let future me worry about it. Certainly a foolproof plan with no chance of backfiring. 

So, while we’re still technically in the “beginning” of the semester, I’ve been taking things slow, paying attention to what has been going on in the esports scene. And I am happy to say that everything is… completely crazy. I feel like this past week has been the most drama-filled in esports since I started writing this column. 

Of course, this isn’t a drama or gossip column. As much as I’d like to talk about top Twitch streamer xQc revealing his breakup with his girlfriend over a livestream in front of thousands of people (yes, really), it doesn’t factor into the topic of this column. Still, there are a couple of things that happened that have wider implications for the industry. And it all has to do with Twitch.

For those of you who don’t know, while Twitch is the main platform where gaming live streams occur, it also houses “Just Chatting” streams that have nothing to do with games. And, while the website continues to be a mainstay in gaming culture, these other streams are the driving force behind the website nowadays, so much so that gaming streamers and even esports athletes usually also do “Just Chatting” content to increase their affinity with viewers. An unexpected consequence of this, however, is that wider decisions on the website end up affecting the gaming community as well, making those athletes’ lives harder. 

This ended up being the consequence of the recent “ItsSliker” drama. A famous United Kingdom streamer, Sliker played various games on stream, but mostly did variety content. None of this matters, however. The reason why we’re talking about Sliker is that he recently admitted to swindling thousands of dollars out of different streamers and fans to fuel his gambling addiction. And while none of that gambling occurred live on Twitch, the fact that his addiction made him go to such lengths struck a chord with various creators, who demanded that Twitch ban gambling on its platform.

That may not sound controversial, but you have to understand that many big streamers showcase a lot of gambling content on their channels, with some even having them as a centerpiece of their content. This means thousands of viewers are exposed to this activity, creating a dangerous slippery slope into addiction. Streamers realize this, but keep this content going because they gain so many subscriptions (read: money) during the streams. And, whenever someone subs, Twitch gets a cut. You can start to see why this is a complex issue. Still, Twitch decided to listen and effectively banned gambling on the platform.

The reason why this is important to talk about is that it highlights one of the core tenants of any successful industry that often gets overlooked: communication. For the first time in what seems like forever, Twitch finally listened to its audience and adapted its policies based on popular demand instead of through internal discussions. Even more important is the fact that this bites into Twitch’s revenue, which suggests that the company is truly hoping to foster a better environment on its platform. So while the gambling ban may not be an indication of drastic change for all creators, this decision represents the interests of small and big streamers alike, as they finally may have their wishes and desires heard.

That is if Twitch hadn’t screwed things up the very next day. And here we reach the second point of “drama” presented this week: Twitch’s reevaluation of its sub-share. After riding the good comments and positive PR for one night, Twitch posted a message on Twitter announcing that, unlike the 70/30 system that was previously in place for big creators, all subscriptions regardless of channel size will now be split 50/50. Very briefly, for every subscription a channel gets (which costs about $5 on the platform), creators will now get half of the money and Twitch will get the other half. In their message, Twitch cited operating costs as a leading factor behind this decision. Still, many were quick to point out that their message may not contain the entire truth, and even then, shrinking some of their departments might have been a better move — especially considering the heavy push its competitor YouTube is having on live streams. 

So, while I originally designed this column as a sort of twist, where all the drama makes you not expect the nice result, Twitch just had to ruin it. Instead of representing the best in communication, Twitch once again proved to be extremely inept in understanding its audience. It’s worth mentioning again that, aside from the disregard that Twitch has shown its community, small streamers also looked at the 70/30 split as an ideal ratio they would one day have. Of course, this makes the decision even more of a spit in the face, as their hopes just got crushed in front of them. 

For Twitch, this doesn’t bode well, as more and more streamers are considering making the switch over to YouTube, especially now that these splits have been revisited. Still, it definitely is not the end of the company, as they still have a good number of advantages over their competitor. That, however, isn’t a permanent thing, and if Twitch continues to exhibit this current attitude, constantly compromising its streamers instead of fostering bonds with its community, we might see a different number sooner than expected.

Guilherme Guerreiro is a senior writing about esports. His column “Press Play to Start” runs every other Monday. 

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that xQc broke up with his girlfriend on a livestream instead of revealing that they had already broken up. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.