Polygon is kicking off its best of entertainment series, which will run through the end of December and beginning of January, coming to a close just before the 2017 Golden Globes. These personal essays will examine the best, most important and weirdest moments that occurred in television, film, streaming and YouTube/Twitch in 2017. Each will examine why the author believes that moment to be one of 2017’s most extraordinary. The series will end with Polygon’s Best of TV and Best of Movies pieces.
Twitch has always been a market of personality, where people in front of the camera were often more intriguing than the game they were playing.
That’s not to imply that Twitch’s success was driven by personality alone. Video games, the rise of esports and marathon sessions are crucial to Twitch’s core identity. Something changed in 2017, however, and the Twitch audience noticed. Viewers remarked upon it, top personalities ranted about it, and newcomers to the site profited off of it. Much like the “Vine invasion” on YouTube, which seemed to divide just about every creator on the platform, Twitch was facing its own internal struggle to figure out its identity.
2017 saw the rise of Twitch’s contentious IRL section — and the community erupted into chaos.
Where it all began
On Dec. 15, 2016, Twitch introduced the IRL section, giving creators the ability to share their “everyday lives, thoughts and opinions with their communities,” Twitch CEO Emmett Shear said in a statement at the time. Think vlogging, but instead of a manicured video that underwent a proper editing process and is then uploaded to YouTube, it was streamed live. People could talk to their fans and conduct Q&As, or talk about what’s happening in their personal lives or relationships.
For a generation of viewers developing intense, intimate parasocial relationships (a term used to describe the one-sided relationship between a viewer and character or person they watch on a regular basis) with the streamers they watch, the IRL section promised a new wave of entertainment.
IRL followed Twitch’s former forays into real-life streaming. Just months prior, Twitch introduced a social eating category, in which people could stream themselves eating food. As of 2015, Twitch also had a dedicated creative streaming section, which allowed artists and musicians to cast themselves in the middle of painting or playing a song. Both sections became increasingly popular, but never reached the status on Twitch that gaming had.
Ironically, Twitch’s new IRL section felt like a throwback to the days of Justin.tv, which eventually gave way to Twitch becoming a juggernaut live video platform. At launch, Twitch’s IRL section didn’t look too different from its standard gaming section — the only thing missing were the secondary streams broadcasting a live game.
That all changed, however, as Twitch’s IRL section ushered in bad actors from across the globe. “Life streamers” like Ice_Poseidon caused ruckuses that eventually led to a ban on the platform in April; casters like Trainwrecks was called out for his misogynistic rant against a group of female IRL streamers; and, yes, debate over how some women used Twitch’s IRL section to chat with subscribers seemed to erupt on a regular basis.
Like a large part of the YouTube community discovered in 2017, Twitch’s community realized that sensationalized drama and intimate relationships with their subscribers attracts viewers. The conversation around Twitch started to move away from games, with the exception of the esports community, and into exploration of how the IRL section should be governed.
To say it was a controversial year barely begins to cover the maelstrom Twitch faced, but it all starts with “life streamers.”
Ice, Ice Baby
It’s impossible to talk about Twitch and IRL without bringing up Ice_Poseidon. The streamer, whose real name is Paul Denino, became the prime example of problems the IRL community was facing. Denino learned from his days of playing Pokémon Go that his audience was interested in seeing where he lived, the people he interacted with and how he behaved when he wasn’t sitting in a chair and playing Runescape.
The IRL section allowed Ice_Poseidon to take what made him so popular with viewers in the first place — his “edgy” comedy and combination of improv comedy and reality television — and build upon it. During one notorious incident, Ice and his friends appeared on the UCLA campus and tried to get students to speed date in the courtyard, using the premise of free candy to lure young 20-year-olds in; all done in the name of content. They were eventually kicked off the premises by campus police, but Ice generated thousands, if not millions of views in his time there.
Twitch never said anything about the incident, and Ice learned that his distasteful behavior would be rewarded with views, attention and monetization.
Things for Ice kept getting worse, but his presence on the platform and the internet at large continued to grow. Ice didn’t keep many things hidden from his subscribers and fans. He spoke about financial issues, relationship problems, rent concerns, living in Los Angeles and, more often than not, disclosed where he was streaming from.
As Ice gained notoriety, it became increasingly more dangerous for him to disclose his location ... but that didn’t stop him. Police would show up to where he was streaming asking to talk to him. Although some of it was harmless, it was evident that his growing popularity and lack of privacy was putting himself and other people in potentially dangerous situations. This is often referred to as “stream sniping,” and viewers will use disclosed locations to instigate a prank or other shenanigans that vary in severity.
Everything came to a head on April 28, 2017, when someone swatted Ice while he was on a plane at Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport in Arizona. It marked the second time that Ice had been swatted. Twitch had to do something about its most popular IRL streamer, and on April 30, Ice confirmed via YouTube that Twitch banned him from using the platform. So he made the move to YouTube.
Twitch’s banning of Ice wasn’t without controversy in the community. While some members demanded that Twitch undo the ban, others pointed to him being removed from the platform as a positive step for IRL.
Ice’s ban sparked one of the biggest complaints Twitch members in and outside of the IRL community have sent to the company since the section was launched: The rules aren’t clear enough. In Ice’s followup video, the streamer noted that Twitch doesn’t outline what’s really against its terms of service, arguing that the rules are too vague for specific cases, like swatting.
“When you look at the [terms of service], there was no rules saying that you shouldn’t leak your location,” Ice said, adding that he felt like a guinea pig for the IRL category. “After three months of doing IRL — getting calls everywhere I go ... just inevitable stuff that happens in the section of IRL, a section that nobody understands yet —not even Twitch staff — I was one of the people innovating the section.”
According to Twitch’s FAQ about IRL, streamers are only barred from doing a couple of things. For example, casters are not allowed to broadcast “content featuring other people in private spaces or private content from others’ social media profiles, without their consent.” This includes “unattended content like sleeping on stream, 24/7 city/house cams, baby or pet cams.”
Technically, Ice isn’t breaking any of those rules, but Twitch decided to ban him anyway. Those unspecified violations would become a source of pain for many streamers — especially in the wake of a new category of broadcasters finding a home on Twitch’s IRL section.
Rise of the new streamers
With a set of lax rules around the IRL section and increasing attention on the casters who live there, a group of female streamers seemed to be popping up in droves as they chatted with fans from their bedrooms.
These broadcasters, often referred to as “bikini streamers” (women whose popularity is based around their often revealing apparel), led to infighting among traditional gaming personalities, other IRL casters and longtime Twitch viewers. Many casters, who are predominantly male, began calling out certain women for invading their platform, upset with the direction Twitch was headed.
Although Twitch’s issue was a gendered one, with men sending misogynistic messages to women, the frustration felt by many more traditional casters toward those invading the site with a focus on IRL was akin to older YouTube creators trying to deal with manufactured drama that accompanied the “Vine invasion.”
Toward the end of 2017, the divide between a group of female streamers and male casters came to a head. Trainwrecks, a popular gaming streamer, received a five-day ban on Twitch after a video made the rounds of him referring to “bikini streamers” as sluts, amid other misogynistic language. After the video hit Twitter, many women streamers began expressing their own tales of discomfort, harassment and fear that they suffered on the platform. Trainwrecks apologized for the video on Twitter, but followed it up a few days later with an additional tweet that supported what he said in the original clip.
While much of the messaging targeting women is derogatory in nature, there is a problem facing the Twitch IRL community — and one that Twitch is aware of. Twitch has issued multiple bans against streamers who were caught performing sexually explicit acts on camera. The company’s terms of service states that “Nudity and other forms of sexually explicit material is prohibited,” adding that “Violations of these types can end in indefinite suspension.” The company’s rules state this applies to behavior — a joke among the community calls out casters who “squat for subs,” a common practice that encourages women to perform a set of squats for additional subscriptions — and apparel worn while streaming.
Around the same time that Trainwrecks received his five-day suspension, Nyakkj, a steamer known for her sexual conversations on Twitch, was caught streaming sexually explicit content and received a 24-hour suspension. Although they were banned for separate reasons, the dichotomy between the two cases was a prime example of the attitude and behavior dividing both the IRL and general Twitch community.
When Polygon reached out to Twitch for comment on both of the suspensions, and further information about the IRL section and its rules, a representative confirmed that changes were being made, but there was no estimation as to when they would be updated. Twitch also declined to comment on the specifics around certain bans — like the controversial ban of Tip Donaldson, who used to go by AbusivePillow on Twitch in late 2017.
That’s the heart of the issue for many streamers on Twitch. A common question presented by many Twitch streamers is how can they abide by the rules if they don’t know what those exact rules are?
It’s about transparency
Since Twitch doesn’t comment on individual suspensions or bans, Twitch’s terms of service page has to suffice for many of its users. Here’s what it says about that exact topic:
Most typical violations will lead to a first or second suspension that lasts 24 hours, and a third suspension enacts an indefinite suspension on the account. After the 24-hour period is complete, you will be able to access our site. Some severe violations may result in an indefinite suspension, regardless of a lack of previous suspensions.
There are quite a few open-ended questions that streamers may have after reading that, and if they do cross the line, they’re never quite sure just how long they’ll be banned for.
As Twitch’s year came to a close in 2017, this was the number one concern that I saw among streamers and viewers on Reddit and Twitter. The fortress around Twitch prevented clear communication and, as tensions rose, any attempt at a civil conversation depleted into a full on yelling match.
Twitch is planning on looking into its IRL section and addressing the concerns of its community, but like Twitter and other social networks, it needs to be transparent with how its users are allowed to use the service. Double standards can’t exist and broadcasters deserve to understand how they can use their channels — especially those who rely on it full time.
Twitch, like YouTube, is at an interesting juncture with its IRL section. It could become the best part of the site, or devolve into unorganized chaos that’s unwelcoming and unsafe. 2018 needs to be the year that Twitch locks down stricter rules and keep a better eye on how people are using — and abusing — IRL.
Without those stricter rules and guidelines, Twitch may be lost to chaos forever.