One of the world’s most notorious Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds streamers screams up a hill in an open-air buggy, charting a collision course with one of the game’s infamous loot drops.
Here on the death island that Brian "Mr. Grimmmz" Rincon visits for eight to 10 hours a day, crimson smoke means luxurious loot, and luxurious loot makes good bait for his victims. Within sight of the crate, he jumps out of the buggy and flays a would-be camper with automatic fire against a nearby rock. A motorcycle catapults into view; Grimmmz lays its driver low with a few well-placed bursts. A car cuts into view, veering through a nearby forest, and Grimmmz peppers it with fire until it explodes; yet another comes, and he repeats the routine, expending an entire clip to finally eliminate its fleeing pilot.
As he finally opens the crate, Grimmmz sighs and wonders: "What the fuck is going on?"
While this menagerie of melted metal and charred corpses — clipped as a gameplay highlight on Rincon’s Twitch channel, with around 50,000 views and more than 400 upvotes on the game’s bustling subreddit — might seem like total carnage to you or I, for Rincon, it’s the summation of his philosophy towards PUBG, and towards gaming in general. "I don’t want to hide in a bathroom, waiting for somebody to come my way," he says, reached over his own Discord server. "I like to drop down, grab an AR and start blasting. I like to start completely crazy on stream, and get even crazier."
The all-out aggression that defines Grimmmz might seem antithetical to the ethos of Battlegrounds, the early frontrunner in the burgeoning "battle royale" genre, where one hundred wailing ninnies dive onto a wrecked slab of pseudo-Soviet drudgery in the middle of a sea, procure high-powered rifles from abandoned homes and take turns blasting each other until only one team remains, forever pursued by the mysterious blue line that etches out the zone of battle. If you find yourself outside that vital boundary, tiny electric shocks will zap your character, slowly draining your health — and, eventually, not-so-slowly.
Compared to the usual crop of twitch shooters, Battlegrounds rewards pinpoint positioning and sound tactics over an unshakeable hand and a steadfast double-tap, especially if you’re going for the win by any means necessary.
But for the young streamer, victory isn’t always the thing. After all, he’s a full-time entertainer, and even a rough game of PUBG can be riveting — provided he’s always pushing forward and hunting his prey down, rather than staring at the inside of a bathroom door for 10 minutes at a time.
Despite his impressive gunplay, Grimmmz didn’t start out as a maven of the M16. Like a lot of streamers, he started out playing a variety of games, looking for something that would stick. Initially, that game proved to be 2013's Killer Instinct, which garnered a small but enthusiastic following. Rincon competed in tournaments, taking several regional titles and earning a reputation as a formidable Jago.
"I never had any expectation of playing it competitively until I realized that I take what I was doing online to a tournament setting," Grimmmz says. "My local community basically didn’t exist."
After the KI community crumbled a year or two after launch, he moved onto H1Z1, one of the first titles in the "battle royale" tradition, but it was a rocky relationship from the start. "With H1Z1, I initially thought it was going to be exactly what I was looking for," he says. "But it never quite got as tactical as I wanted. I just got bored of it and moved onto Arma. I heard about Battlegrounds from there, and I haven’t looked back."
With PUBG, Grimmmz finally feels that he’s found a shooter that can hold his interest, at least for now. "I really have no desire to be the guy who plays the same game for his whole life," he says. "Like, how boring is that? But, for me, Battlegrounds nails everything. The skill gap, the gun-feel, the way encounters play out, the tactics. No matter what, I don’t get bored of it.
"It really has that variety. Most shooters just feel brain-dead to me — you spawn, you fight, you die, and you do it all over again. But in PUBG, you never really know what’s going to happen to you. There’s a slightly different story every game. Will I get a sniper rifle? Maybe I’ll try out the crossbow. Just small stuff like that goes a really long way."
The design traits that keep Grimmmz coming back for game after game — the capricious loot table, the endless buffet of houses to plunder, the desperate scramble for a rifle as you first touch down — are the very same that make PUBG such a compulsively streamable game. More than any multiplayer shooter on the market, Battlegrounds manages to sculpt amusing anecdotes at a rapid rate, and ravenous viewers then post them to Reddit for everyone to see. And while some of these reflect the game’s rather ubiquitous technical failings — for example, Grimmmz mysteriously falling through the ground, only to find a patch of inescapable water beneath — the majority are the raft of amusing goofs, skillful plays and masterful marksmanship that make up the backbone of a lively community.
It's also how a lot of fans discovered Grimmmz. Highlights like the aforementioned quadruple play at the loot crate-turned-mousetrap have dominated the top of the PUBG subreddit for days at a time, including one where he managed to win a match with nothing but a crossbow and a pistol. It's gotten to the point where commenters have complained about his devoted fanbase posting the same clips over and over. An indicative comment in one of those threads: "I don’t follow streamers, but I just have to say, this sub sure has a hard-on for this guy." And, to be sure, his meteoric rise in popularity is almost staggering to consider, with a twenty-fold increase in monthly viewers to his stream since early April. (In financial terms, he’s likely well past the six-figure mark for 2017, even with a sizable chunk of the year yet to come.)
After the explosion
Despite his ever-emerging fame, Grimmmz asserts that, in his daily life, he’s still just the same Brian Rincon. "The amount of support and how big the stream has gotten is a huge positive change in my life, of course," he says. "But my outlook hasn’t changed. I try not to let it change the way I am, or the way I am on stream. I still play with my dog; I hang out with my lady. I’m still playing eight to 10 hours of video games a day. The only difference is that it’s a lot more viable now."
Over the course of our interview, Grimmmz seems to see himself more as a beacon of positivity for the masses than an ace competitive player, which one could argue chafes somewhat with his bellicose, take-no-prisoners playstyle. To hear him tell it, the main source of stress in his new life is the rapid influx of new players to his channel, who routinely fail to comprehend his basic rules like no goading of fellow streamers.
"At a certain point, it just becomes exhausting," he says. "We haven’t really caught up with the tide, I guess."
That’s not to say that Grimmmz has nothing but glowing things to say about the game that built his career. Far from it. Though he clearly adores Battlegrounds, with a couple thousand matches under his belt, he thinks the game could be augmented to reward the aggressor. And even watching just one session of his stream makes it apparent just how many armchair game designers are willing to throw three to five bucks his way in order to get his thoughts on their pet tweak for the PUBG metagame.
"I would change the way the death circle works," says Grimmmz. "If they changed the progression of it to be a lot slower, but more immediately lethal — you die in three seconds, for example — I think that would be a lot better for almost every playstyle. It would give players more of a chance to get within the circle, even if they have a really unlucky spawn.
"There are two things that can happen. You spend too much time running for the circle, which is boring, or you end up fighting someone while you’re running for it, and you both end up screwed. Neither is a great option. The only people who benefit are the people camping in the middle of the circle. I guess I’m a little biased, but I think things need to be tuned more toward forced combat, and away from bathroom-friendly strategies."
Beyond this criticism, Grimmmz radiates his trademark positivity for the future of the game, especially its planned mod support, which he hopes will add more varied modes and maps to the rotation. When asked about the competitive future of the game, he hedges: 'Really, it all depends on how great the game is at release. If it manages to catch on, I’ll definitely be a part of it."
In his estimation, though, the base “battle royale” mode that the game stakes its reputation on might make for great viewing, but the oversized impact of the dread random number generator might make things a bit too unpredictable for truly competitive play. "Personally, I’d like to see a mode with static spawns and smaller squad combat," he says. "But, then again, you could argue that that takes the uniqueness away from the game. So, really, I think it’s up to them to solve that problem."
The inevitable controversy
As Twitch fans will attest, streamers vary wildly in temperament, with some even playing "characters," similar to actors or comedians. Grimmmz tends away from this: he’s a "no-frills" streamer, luring in viewers with his lead-slinging skills and sunny disposition alone. This is in clear contrast to one of Grimmmz’s occasional teammates, DrDisRespect, who dons polarized Oakleys and a wig, hits catchphrases about the firmness of handshakes, and speaks in a "manly" pastiche somewhere between an '80s pro wrestler and a pornstar masquerading as a lumberjack. With that established, however, some have accused Grimmmz of robbing his own stream of positivity at times, especially after a tough loss.
For example, in one game where he found himself the victim of a "camper" shooting him in the back as he walked up stairs, Grimmmz stopped the stream to chide a viewer who claimed that he should have checked every room before proceeding to the next floor. To Grimmmz, this point was moot, as the camper still would have enjoyed the element of surprise, even if Grimmmz had managed to root him out in his hiding place. Some viewers have also accused Rincon of streaming in "sub-only mode" too often for their liking, a feature that prevents non-subscribed viewers from contributing to the chat, usually utilized on those special occasions when the chat just exudes that infamous Twitch toxicity. Still, few of Grimmmz’s devoted fans find serious fault with this behavior — his occasional post-game grumblings lay, for the most part, within the realm of other Twitch stars.
Recently, however, the PUBG subreddit has found itself especially riven with controversy, this time over the contentious practice of stream-sniping — using a Twitch personality’s live broadcast to figure out where they are on the map in order to take them out, essentially a slightly more sophisticated form of the "screen-cheating" that fans of Goldeneye 007 decried 20 years ago.
While some commentators like TotalBiscuit have called for the influencers to simply put their output on a slight delay, streamers have mostly ignored those calls. The most high-profile case of alleged stream-sniping involved a streamer named Shroud and a player named Lotoe, and resulted in a ping-pong match of competing stories, Twitch clips and Reddit threads, with both sides claiming the other to be mistaken.
Eventually, Grimmmz weighed in on his own channel: "I’ve gotten a lot of stream snipers banned, because I was able to provide clips, times, names, data. All those stream snipers said the same thing. They said they’re doing nothing wrong."
While it’s impossible to verify how many of these apparent troublemakers actually did the deed, one of the top comments on a Reddit thread called Grimmmz "deluded" for claiming to encounter 10 to 15 stream snipers per game. Since this dust-up, the term has entered the final state of the internet discourse: memeification, with every one of Grimmmz’s deaths now being accompanied by a cacophonous chorus of "stream snipers" from his rowdy chat.
To Grimmmz, it doesn’t matter that much, however. All these transient controversies are just that — temporary. At the end of the day, he’s managed to achieve what he wanted, and really, that’s all that really matters, stream snipers be damned. "Streaming is my job, but it doesn’t feel like my job," he says. "Playing games for a living has never felt this awesome. As long as you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t have to be a job.
"Before streaming, I was basically a wreck. It helped me with my mentality, helped me reach out and meet more people. It helped me put myself out there more. It gave me a drive to encourage others to do the same. Streaming is an escape for some people. That makes it meaningful for me, and it makes me want to keep going, so I can help people. People need escapes these days, and I don’t mind providing it. It’s more about having a good time, to me. If I win, OK. If I lose, well, hey. I had a good time."