Tag Archives: twitch

Twitch’s Latest Crackdowns On ‘Sexual’ Content Are Leaving Streamers Baffled

Image: Fareeha

Earlier this week, Twitch suspended a streamer named Quqco for wearing a cosplay of Street Fighter heroine Chun-Li on stream, deeming her outfit “sexually suggestive.” This took Quqco—and many others—by surprise, given that the outfit was not overtly risqué. But this was not an isolated incident. In the past few days, Twitch has been cracking down on so-called “sexually suggestive” content more aggressively than usual, and picking some questionable targets for its crusade.

In addition to Quqco, several other notable streamers have received suspensions or warnings from Twitch about sexually suggestive content in the past few days. Late last week, IRL streamer Bridgett Devoue was given a three-day suspension for “sharing or engaging in sexually suggestive content or activities,” but Twitch did not elaborate any further. Over the weekend, Overwatch streamer Fareeha got hit with a warning (and a 90-day probationary period) after wearing a sports bra and baggy shorts at the gym. Also over the weekend, art streamer Saruei found herself on the wrong side of a warning for drawing “nudes,” despite the fact that her characters—while hentai-inspired and scantily clad—are clothed. Today, Twitch suspended her for three days.

Lastly and most strangely, the weekend also saw Twitch take aim at Spongebob: Battle For Bikini Bottom streamer Shift’s emote of Spongebob ripping his pants, a reference to a classic episode of the long-running Nickelodeon series in which Spongebob gets a laugh by accidentally ripping his pants and then does it repeatedly until the joke loses its luster. This, too, was “sexual,” in Twitch’s eyes, and the emote was disallowed.

Image: Quqco

Nobody’s entirely sure what to make of the latest spate of suspensions. This is in part because, as ever, Twitch has failed to lay out a consistent roadmap of what streamers should do to stay on the right side of the rules. For example, Fareeha’s warning specifically accused her of wearing “underwear or lingerie,” when she was, in reality, wearing baggy gym clothes in a setting where you’d expect to see them. Twitch’s guidelines around what streamers can and cannot wear are vague and contextual; the sort of attire Fareeha was wearing might not have cut it if a streamer was broadcasting from their bedroom, but streamers regularly wear gym clothes in the gym. Some men even go shirtless. It’s not clear why Twitch singled out Fareeha.

Fareeha is as confused as anyone, and tired of the inconsistency. “I’m aware another streamer was just recently banned for a cosplay that showed a little bit of leg,” Fareeha told Kotaku in an email, referring to Quqco. “It baffles me that she and I are the people getting reprimanded for ‘not sticking to TOS’ while others who have honestly done way worse go under the radar.”

“How can they ban her for showing some thigh, and put me on probation for showing shoulders, when there are streamers who have shown way more private things?” Fareeha said. “All the power to the girls who can showcase their bodies with confidence; the successful ‘titty streamers’ that have gotten so much flak in the wake of the recent ban/warning waves are genuinely not the issue. The big problem here is the inconsistency with which Twitch approaches these bans.”

While Fareeha does not have concrete evidence of this, she suspects foul play. She said that she’s been harassed before by a YouTuber with a Discord dedicated to harassment of select streamers, and that there are other “troll Discords” that often target women and members of the LGBT+ community. One common tactic these groups share is mass usage of Twitch’s reporting tool. Earlier this year, Fareeha received a hate speech suspension that she now chalks up to mass reporting after a controversial moment in which she said that South American Overwatch players “are shit.” She apologized shortly afterward, but Twitch still suspended her for 30 days. Fareeha disputed the suspension and got it shortened. In the meantime, people flooded her Discord with harassing messages.

“The people responsible for it were saying disgusting, racist, sexist and homophobic things about me on all kinds of platforms, and when I needed Twitch for support and help, I was the one who got punished for it,” she said.

While Twitch’s process for meting out warnings and suspensions is purposefully opaque, Fareeha suspects that Twitch acts on reports that reach a certain critical mass more quickly than others.

“Mass reports seem automatically actioned sometimes, and it really offers the streamer no protection when real people aren’t the ones processing reports from potential trolls,” she said. “That being said, if my case was looked at by an actual person, there’s definitely something more to it. Whether it’s personal bias, some kind of sexism or whatever other ‘ism’ it could be, it’s clear that Twitch has let the [terms of service]-breaking actions of many others slide, while I get penalized for wearing long shorts and a sports bra so big it’s practically a crop top.”

Bridgett Devoue also thinks it’s possible that she was mass reported, but doesn’t believe that was necessarily the cause of her suspension. Her streams generally involve her sitting in a chair and talking to her chat while wearing a crop top, short shorts, and stockings. This has earned her the ire of groups like the popular subreddit and drama haven Livestreamfail, a place where users have sometimes been known to brag about reporting streamers who they perceive as violating Twitch’s terms of service. There, women are often derided as “titty streamers” or “Twitch thots.”

Devoue said she tends to avoid reading Livestreamfail because she has no desire to marinate in all the hate. Instead, she believes her suspension was the result of an “over-correction” on Twitch’s part, rooted in “backlash” stemming from other recent controversies.

“I’m an active user on Twitter, and I constantly see users frustrated at some streamers seemingly getting away with acts others would be banned for, and even comments of favoritism towards female streamers,” she told Kotaku in a Twitter DM. “I hope if anything, this recent wave of bans quiets those still saying women get special treatment on this platform, because sometimes it feels like the opposite.”

While Twitch has not specified which element of Devoue’s stream it found to be so sexual that it caused the rulebook to explode, Devoue believes it might have been her chat, which she says recently expanded from hundreds of concurrents to thousands thanks to increased exposure and a sudden popularity growth spurt. This made moderating chat a precariously tall order for her then-smaller moderation staff, and some potentially objectionable comments slipped through the cracks.

“I simply wasn’t prepared for situations that began arising due to increased chat participation,” she said. “To be clear, I always ban racism, slurs, homophobia, sexism, or violence. The grey area for me was comments of a sexual nature, as I’m an open person not afraid to talk about almost any topic, including sex. I believe we can always have mature dialogue about almost any topic, and maybe find the humor in otherwise serious things. I disdain censorship outside of violent hate speech, so it’s been hard for me to find that balance while growing as a streamer.”

Image: Bridgett

But again, Twitch didn’t actually tell her whether or not that’s why she got suspended. She’s since brought on more moderators and listened to advice from other streamers, but she remains in the dark, just like everybody else.

“I think what makes these bans difficult to define is Twitch caring about context more than anything,” Devoue said. “For example, you can stream in a bikini, but only if it’s for use by a pool, not just sitting in your apartment. Nudity in a video game is allowed, to an extent, but nudity elsewhere is not. Again, I just think warnings and specificities after the bans would help all of us streamers know exactly what Twitch wants, and how we can safely be within their boundaries and make their lives easier by not breaking [terms of service]. To be fair, I’m sure this is all a lot more complicated than simply explaining things more, and I commend Twitch’s efforts in this matter.”

Saruei, who was suspended for drawing “nude” characters, declined to speak to Kotaku out of concern that she could face further repercussions from Twitch. However, prior to her recent suspension, she spoke out against what she feels is “hypocrisy” on Twitch’s part. Suggestive poses apparently aren’t allowed in her drawings, she said, but it’s fine when some people do them IRL.

“These are suggestive poses, right?” she said of her own art while discussing her Twitch warning during a recent (now-unavailable) stream. “We agree with that, right? Why I can’t draw waifus like this when there is fucking Twitch girls that can do it?”

She went on to express frustration about the lack of clarity that she, like others, has had to deal with. “I hope it won’t happen again, because I asked them ‘What is the problem with these drawings?’” she said. “Is it the clothing or the pose? What is against Twitch guidelines? I need to know.”

Today, she did receive some clarity—and also a suspension. In an email she read on stream before the suspension went into effect, Twitch said that her characters’ poses and the “focus on the butt in particular” constituted a no-go zone. She was also told not to promote her stream with titles focusing on “lewd art.”

As for Shift, he was baffled when Twitch first placed a “RIP” tombstone atop his Spongebob-with-ripped-pants emote. “You’re joking, right?” he said on Twitter at the time, posting an image of his “sexual content” violation. “Honestly Twitch, get fucking real. When I go around and see horny boobie emotes everywhere on this site, but I can’t have the iconic Spongebob pants rip as an emote, that’s how you know we’ve got top-tier moderation and guidelines on this website.”

According to Twitch’s guidelines, streamers are not allowed to have custom emotes that depict “sexualized torsos or bodily fluids,” but Shift’s emote was laughably un-sexual in nature and, if we really want to dive into the weeds and/or kelp of this one, didn’t even include an actual butt—just a square backside and some torn pants. Fortunately, it seems like this story might have a happy ending. Yesterday, Shift said on Twitter that his Twitch partner representative is trying to defuse the situation, and another Twitch staffer told him that his emote’s exile should be short-lived. For now, however, the emote is still banned.

Kotaku reached out to Twitch for comment on all of these warnings and suspensions, but did not receive a reply as of this publishing.

Image: Shift

These recent occurrences have caught the eyes of other streamers, who’ve had to deal with Twitch’s inconsistency and relative silence for years. At this point, they’re pleading for change.

“Honestly, Twitch is just the most exhausting thing to try to understand,” Rainbow Six, Overwatch, and Minecraft streamer Annemunition said on Twitter. “You can’t draw 2D breasts on stream but you can literally get naked and put paint on your actual breasts and that’s fine. For the record, I don’t have a problem with either. But it just makes no sense. It just feels like you can get away with anything if you make Twitch enough money, and I hate it, even as someone who probably falls in that category. I don’t have a solution, I’m just annoyed with the way Twitch is handling everything the past few weeks.”

“It’s really disappointing after the whole ‘We’re taking [terms of service] seriously now’ thing last year,” said Just Dance streamer Littlesiha in response, referring to Twitch’s 2018 efforts to revamp its community guidelines and a now-notorious comment asking that streamers and viewers “hold us accountable.”

These incidents have caused others to make note of hypocrisy not just on Twitch’s part, but also within its community. “Twitch bans female streamer for wearing revealing clothing, and the [Livestreamfail] community rejoices,” said satirical streamer Kaceytron on Twitter. “Twitch bans hentai and the LSF community is outraged. Figures.”

Regardless of what they’re cheering for or against, however, pretty much everybody agrees that Twitch needs to give its approach to warnings, suspensions, dress codes, and other related subjects an overhaul. Maybe that means a series of set-in-stone specifics. Maybe that means a case law-like system where public precedents stemming from previous judgements inform future rulings. Whatever the case ends up being, the current system—overly vague and open to exploitation from bad actors—isn’t working.

“If people are getting banned for ‘sexual content’ with no further explanation, they could easily look at hundreds of other streamers doing so called ‘sexual content’ but not being banned, which might create resentment among their streamers and viewers, which I doubt is something Twitch is intending to do,” said Devoue.

As for Fareeha, she may not feel like her probationary period is warranted, but she’s at least trying to take it in stride.

“I’ve ordered several turtlenecks, ski masks and bodysuits,” she said. “I’ve pulled off some tech tricks, and for the rest of my 90 day probation, I will cover myself up a ridiculous amount. Partially in protest, but mostly in good humor. I’m going to make the most out of whatever they throw at me. They can’t ban me for showing my body if I’ve ascended and turned into a holographic AI head.”

Source: Kotaku.com

Monkey Pukes On Developer During Sea of Thieves Livestream

Today some Sea of Thieves developers did a livestream to discuss the game’s new store and purchasable pets. They were joined on stream by a monkey. The monkey threw up on a developer.

For most of the stream, Antonio the spider monkey seemed content to sit on people’s shoulders and eat mealworms thrown to him by his handler. He seemed like a chill monkey, and his handler said that he’s very relaxed around humans. He took a particular liking to developer Rare’s video manager Jon McFarlane, who was sitting on the far right.

As senior producer Joe Stevens joined the stream to go over the features that are being added to the game along with pets, Antonio the spider monkey hopped over to McFarlane’s shoulder and threw up on his face, chest and arm. He then jumped to McFarlane’s other shoulder to throw up some more. “A great choice to wear a grey t-shirt,” McFarlane said after he cleaned his now monkey puke-stained shirt with a napkin. Check it out in the video below at around 27:46.

You know when you see something and you think, “They must have prepared for a particular scenario that is very likely to happen,” and then they just haven’t, like that kid trying to cut open an apple with a samurai sword next to an inflatable pool? The people involved must have known something would go wrong, but no one stopping it makes it all the funnier. “That is what we expected to happen,” one of the developers even says as everyone smiles politely through the situation.

Wild animals do not give a shit about human decorum, and monkeys, who are especially smart, love to fuck with people. I love this clip and will cherish it forever. Hopefully Rare picks up McFarlane’s drycleaning bill.

Source: Kotaku.com

Ninja Understandably Upset That His Old Twitch Channel Was Promoting A Porn Stream [Update]

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who recently left his 14 million-follower Twitch account behind to go and stream on rival platform Mixer, has issued a statement labelled “disgusted and so sorry” today after that now-dormant account—which he no longer operates—was promoting streams from other users, including one broadcasting pornography.

Ninja obviously has no control over that Twitch landing page now, since he’s left the service for good, and is dismayed in this video below that the page is showcasing other streamer’s content.

While stating that his split from Twitch had to this point been handled professionally, he says the promotion of a porn stream to a still-sizeable audience—not everyone will have got the news that he’s moved platforms—is crossing “the line”, leading Ninja to begin attempts to get his entire page taken down, “or at least not promote other streamers and other channels”.

Here’s an example of how Twitch began handling Ninja’s departure last week, using a Mario joke to promote other Fortnite streamers active on the platform (presumably based on whichever streams were trending playing Fortnite):

Here, though, is how that same page looked earlier today, with the top-trending clip being some straight-up porn:

At time of posting the Mario joke has been removed and Ninja’s page is now only displaying old videos of his previous streams, with no promotion of any other channel’s work.

Update: 8/12/19, 10:30 a.m. ET: “I apologize want to apologize directly to @ninja that this happened,” Emmett Shear, Twitch’s CEO, said on Twitter last night. “It wasn’t our intent, but it should not have happened. No excuses.”

Shear said the company had been experimenting with how recommended content was displayed across Twitch when the pornographic stream appeared on Blevins’ page. Shear added that the account behind the stream has been permanently banned and that channel recommendations have been suspended “while we investigate how this content came to be promoted.” 

Source: Kotaku.com

What Mixer Has That Twitch Doesn’t (Besides Ninja)

Image: Ninja on Mixer

Microsoft recently put their streaming service Mixer back in the spotlight by securing exclusive rights to Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who had been one of the top streamers on Twitch. Exclusive streamers aside, there are several compelling reasons to stream and watch streams on Microsoft’s platform instead of Amazon-owned Twitch.

Mixer started life as Beam, an independent streaming service launched in January 2016. Microsoft purchased Beam in August of 2016 and announced integration with Windows 10 that October. By spring of 2017 the Beam service was integrated into both the Windows operating system and Xbox One. In May of 2017 the service was renamed Mixer due to the name Beam not being available for international use.

Mixer’s basic functionality is the same as Twitch. Players use the service to stream their gameplay over the internet, either directly from PC or Xbox One or from other consoles using capture hardware connected to a PC. Streamers on Mixer earn money by soliciting donations or subscriptions from viewers.

So what makes Mixer different?

Community Interaction

One of Mixer’s defining features is its focus on community interaction. The service boasts extremely low latency between streamers and viewers, allowing for timely interactive features. Instead of a 10-20 second delay between broadcast and viewing, Beam’s low latency protocol lowers the delay to under a second, making interaction between watchers and players more immediate.

These interactions generally manifest in the form of viewer-activated buttons. There can be voting buttons along the side of the stream, interactive commands overlapping the stream and easy access donation buttons. So many buttons.

In the image above, streamer Ship has set up a mini-game where viewers can predict events that occur during rounds of Fortnite. At the beginning of each round spectators receive 100 stars to wager, winning or losing stars based on the accuracy of their predictions. It’s a fun little activity that makes viewers feel more connected to what they’re watching.

I’m particularly fond of the silly beach ball interaction, which drops a ball on the screen and tracks how many users click on the hands at the bottom of the screen to keep it bouncing. It’s what Mixer calls a “rally,” a special skill viewers can activate that other viewers can participate in. These and other skills unlock as viewers experience levels increase. Which leads us to …

Experience Points And Sparks

As users watch Mixer streams, they gain experience points. Everyone loves gaining experience points. When enough experience points are gained, a user increases their experience level. This grants them access to more emotes and skills, used to express themselves as they watch their favorite streamers play. Mixer effectively turns watching other people play games into a game.

I am currently level 15, just from tuning into random streams sporadically since early 2018. I earn experience points automatically while watching. A little box in the top right of my screen keeps track of how much experience I am accumulating and how much I need to reach the next level. I’ve got a long way to go to level 40, when I unlock the “Piece of Me” effect.

Users also earn an in-app currency called Sparks as they watch or broadcast on Mixer. Sparks are what viewers use to activate skills, enable interactive features, and use community-created apps. Using Sparks during the streams of partnered Mixer streamers contributes to the financial rewards they receive from the service. Otherwise, Sparks are just a neat way to make some noise and express yourself while watching others play.

Co-Streaming

In March, Twitch launched a featured called Squad Streaming for partners. Mixer’s been doing it since 2017, allowing groups of up to four players to merge their streams into one. Watching co-op online games is much more satisfying when you can see the action from every player’s perspective.

It’s Not Twitch

Twitch has dominated game streaming for so long now, it’s nice to see someone playing a game surrounded by an interface that isn’t the same old white and purple, watching the same horrible emojis and comments speed by on the right side of the screen. Despite being around for years, Mixer feels fresh compared to Amazon’s streaming juggernaut.

Mixer is also more chill. Even when I watched watched the platform’s recently-acquired superstar alongside 35,000 other viewers, the chat rolled by at a manageable pace. It’s the most relaxed I’ve ever felt watching Ninja stream.

It’s Also Not Perfect

Even with Ninka, Mixer has a long way to go before it’s a serious threat to Twitch’s streaming dominance. It needs to be able to stream natively from platforms other than PC and Xbox One. It needs a lot more viewers. As I write this on a Tuesday afternoon, the most-viewed stream second to Ninja’s 30,000+ is Monstercat Radio with a measly 4,200. It’s not going to be the most popular streaming service anytime soon, but it’s already a damn good one.

Source: Kotaku.com

Twitch Uses Mario Reference To Let Viewers Know Ninja Left

Last Thursday, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins announced he was leaving Twitch to stream exclusively on Mixer. Twitch has subsequently added a tongue-in-cheek reference to the original Super Mario Bros. at the top of his channel to mark the popular streamer’s departure.

“The Ninja you’re looking for is in another castle,” a banner at the top of the page now reads. It then encourages viewers to “check out these popular live channels” instead, before listing a couple dozen channels for other Fortnite streamers. If any of the roughly 14 million users following the account pop over without having heard the latest news, at least they’ll know not to keep waiting.

While Twitch removed the purple “partner” check mark next to Blevins’ name as soon as he revealed he was moving to Microsoft’s platform, the rest of his video archive is still up on Twitch, at least for now. That’s just over 900 videos, each with thousands to millions of views.

While the emphasis is usually on the “live” part of live streaming, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to arguably one of the platform’s most notable and prized collections of gaming content. Twitch normally only saves the archived work of Twitch Turbo users for 60 days.

Thanks to a promotion where Microsoft is letting people subscribe to Blevins on Mixer for free for the next month, the streamer has reportedly picked up over 500,000 new subscribers on the platform, which is substantially higher than he had on Twitch according to Twitch Tracker.

Correction: 8/5/19, 9:39 a.m. ET: A previous version of this story stated that Ninja had 14 million subscribers to his channel at the time of publishing. That was actually the number of followers on his channel.

Source: Kotaku.com

Streamer Sparks Debate Over Whether Twitch Should Allow Breastfeeding

Kent and her 11-month-old baby, Margaux
Image: Heather Kent

When a Twitch streamer breastfed her baby on stream last week, clips of the moment ended up getting removed from Twitch, and it sparked a debate about whether or not the practice violates Twitch’s terms of service, with some arguing that breastfeeding constitutes “sexual” content.

Being a parent on Twitch isn’t easy. As independent contractors, parents have to deal with inconsistent work hours, unreliable pay, a lack of healthcare, and a general lack of safety nets should anything go wrong. Streamer, YouTuber, and model Heather “HeatheredEffect” Kent took three months off after her daughter Margaux was born last year. Twitch doesn’t offer any form of maternity leave, so she just had to take the hit to her bank account and audience. Now she’s run into another complication: During a stream last week, she decided to breastfeed Margaux while chatting with a friend.

On the same day as the stream in question, another clip in which Kent and her friend discussed a Sports Illustrated modeling audition got posted to the Twitch clip repository (and drama crockpot) Livestreamfail. In this clip, Kent was casually breastfeeding her baby, calling no attention to the act itself. The clip’s poster, a fellow parent and fitness streamer who goes by the handle TominationTime, had good intentions, titling his post “Normalizing Breastfeeding On Twitch.” 

It was not well-received by many of the posters on Livestreamfail, some of whom jumped to accuse breastfeeding streamers of “using their children as an excuse to flash tit” and “make money” from exposing their bodies.

Kent says that Twitch took the clip down that day. (Twitch has yet to respond to a request for comment.) Kent reposted the clip on Twitter and discussed its removal, writing that “we obviously have a long way to go in the fight to normalize breastfeeding” and noting that an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood once featured on Twitch’s front page focused on breastfeeding much more than her own stream. “Where was the outrage when Twitch streamed the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood episode about breastfeeding on the front page?” she asked.

Speaking to Kotaku on the phone late last week, Kent described herself as “not really a huge political movement type of a person.” Nor, she said, is she somebody who regularly feeds her daughter on stream, typically opting to instead stream at night, when Margaux is asleep. In light of all the furor, however, she feels like she can’t just stay quiet.

“I thought that I would get some creepy comments, because it’s Twitch,” she told Kotaku. “But I’ve honestly been shocked by the negative community reaction as a whole. It seems like there’s a lot less people coming to my defense in terms of breastfeeding, and it’s been a little shocking and a little demoralizing and kind of sad. It’s actually put me in a corner where I feel like I actually need to take a stand for this, because clearly there’s a lot of minds that need to be changed or enlightened when it comes to breastfeeding, I think there’s still a lot of things that are misunderstood.”

For example, breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states. It’s also allowed on other social media platforms like Instagram, whose rules state that “breastfeeding is natural and beautiful, and we understand that it’s important for mothers to be able to share their experiences” before concluding that “the vast majority of these kinds of posts are following our policies.”

On top of that, Twitch has not instituted any sort of blanket ban on revealing wardrobe choices. Instead, Twitch now decides whether or not people end up in shirtless stream jail based on context. “[We] will consider not just the attire itself, but also the contextual setting in which it is worn and the intent of the person wearing it, when moderating content,” read Twitch’s rules. This is why an IRL streamer can, say, be shirtless in a gym setting—something TominationTime, the male streamer who shared the initial clip of Kent breastfeeding on Livestreamfail, regularly does.

Despite this, commenters on Reddit and Twitter continue to insist that Kent should have expected an enraged mob and trigger-happy Twitch moderators. They’ve taken to comparing it to using the bathroom. Streamers can walk off-camera for a minute or two to do that, the reasoning goes, so why can’t Kent do the same for breastfeeding?

“People are like ‘Pooping or peeing or whatever, that’s a bodily function. You can handle it like you handle those,’” she said. “That’s not even the same thing. First of all, those are human waste products. They don’t do the same thing breast milk does, and also you can’t just pee in public or throw up in the public. You can get fined for doing that. You cannot get fined anywhere in America for breastfeeding your child.”

That argument also implies that breastfeeding is quick and easy—consistently doable in the span of time it takes somebody to get up and use the bathroom. That, said Kent, is not the case, and folks can watch her full stream archive if they want evidence.

“I want to go and add the minutes that she was on the boob awake,” she said. “It seemed like an hour and a half. A majority of the time she’s on and off the boob, because that’s what babies do. You can’t control that.”

A brief break is already guaranteed to lose a streamer at least a handful of viewers. An hour or more is untenable. Popular streamer mOE (and many others) have suggested nursing covers as a be-all, end-all solution to the nudity issue, but even that’s not a sure thing, said Kent. “As they get older, they rip the covers off,” she said.

What Kent takes the biggest issue with, though, is the sheer number of people suggesting that this was, intentionally, about sexualization, and that if breastfeeding on stream is allowed that Twitch will be soon be flooded with women using newborn infants as Trojan Horses to deliver the ultimate payload: the dreaded Exposed Female Nipple.

“They actually think that a woman will take medicine to lactate and then somehow find a child to breastfeed just to show their nipple,” she said. “Or… they want to show their nipples and evade terms of service so much that they’re willing to get pregnant, be pregnant for nine months, and have a child, just so they can breastfeed on Twitch to steal your views.”

“Do you really think that’s what women want to do?”

The Twitch community is more than 80 percent male, and many men tend to view women’s bodies as sexualized objects first and foremost.

“When a man, which is predominantly the Twitch platform, sees the nipple, they don’t know how to feel because all they think of a woman’s body is as this sexual thing,” Kent said. “They’re driving a lot of the Twitch culture. It’s like a woman’s body is sexual—it’s sexual, it’s sexual, it’s sexual.”

Kent feels like, ultimately, many Twitch viewers don’t like the idea of not being able to fit women into neat little boxes. They like seeing a baby on stream, but if there’s an element of that interaction that doesn’t fit their idealized perception of motherhood, it crosses too many wires. “It seems like you can’t win either way,” she said. “I’ve had people come into my chat knowing that I’m a mom and being like ‘Where are your kids?’ And then I have my baby on stream, and I breastfeed her, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, no, you’re using your boobs. You’re exploiting your baby for views.’”

Twitch, said Kent, stopped deleting clips of her breastfeeding her daughter after two days. She still hasn’t heard from any Twitch staff, though, and she thinks the company could do more to speak up in support of women in her position.

Photo: Twitch

“I think it would be very helpful if Twitch took a stand to support mothers,” she said. “I think they have an opportunity here where they can… support women on their platform and just say, ‘Hey, if a woman is actively breastfeeding on our platform, we are fine with that.’”

While Kent says she’s been called a “whore” and accused of setting women back decades, she’s also received sporadic support from fans and other smaller streamers. Still, she feels like bigger personalities have either been combative or stayed mum, and that bums her out.

“There are influential people on the platform that could take the side of choosing to support mothers,” she said. “It’s really hard just as one person with not a lot of support, just arguing with these people that have no idea about breastfeeding, or how it works, to educate an entire audience.”

She hopes, though, that it ends up being worth it—that maybe she can at least give a little encouragement to other moms on Twitch, if nothing else.

“Some woman that’s streaming right now might be pregnant, and it might be how she makes all of her money, and she’s really struggling with ‘What am I going to do once the baby is here?’” she said. “Maybe there’s a single mom, and she doesn’t have the ability just stream at night and totally mess up her sleep schedule. So if what I’m doing can somehow empower someone else or change the narrative or make Twitch take a stand, then I would be very happy that it happened as a result of this.”

Source: Kotaku.com

Twitch Streamers Plan ‘SlutStream’ To Raise Awareness Of Online Harassment

Tomorrow, a veteran Twitch streamer is organizing a day called “SlutStream” for women gaming online to band together and deflate the power of the word “slut.”

For over a decade, the word “slut” has been under siege. At annual SlutWalks, thousands march in “sexy” attire to protest the idea that women’s clothing or lifestyles could in any way invite sexual violence. In high schools, teenagers are battling the notion that young women who violate dress codes are distractions or unfit for education. Now, Twitch streamers are launching their own effort to highlight how the word “slut,” or slut-shaming generally, can make it hard to live and work online.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask, ‘Why call it SlutStream? That’s just offensive,’” said Kacey “Kaceytron” Kaviness, a longtime Twitch streamer with 500,000 followers. “The whole idea of calling it ‘SlutStream’ is taking the name back and giving less power to it.”

Kaviness, who has mockingly referred to herself as a “titty streamer,” made a name for herself on Twitch around 2013 trolling and mocking Twitch culture. “People who are upset about female streamers wearing low-cut tops will see [my stream] and say, ‘Oh, yeah, she’s making fun of female streamers acting like sluts for views,’” Kaviness told Kotaku for a 2018 profile. “The way I see it is, it’s making fun of the people who get upset about that.” Eliciting fury and vitriol from self-serious gamers, Kaviness has for years satirized the widespread stereotype that women on Twitch are leveraging their goods for clicks.

Tomorrow, Kaviness and fellow streamer Isabella “IzzyBear” O’Hammon are leading a cadre of Twitch streamers in talking about the word “slut” on the interactive gaming platform. Hosted the same day as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, #SlutStreamDay is raising money for Freedom 4/24, a nonprofit raising awareness of sex trafficking and exploitation.

“We want any and all streamers who stand against the constant harassment and slut shaming of women to stream dressed in ways that make them feel comfortable and raise awareness for a good cause, Kaviness and O’Hammon wrote on Twitter. Kaviness says harassment on Twitch happens no matter how women dress: “If you’re a female on this website, you’re going to be slutshamed by somebody.”

#SlutStreamDay will take place tomorrow. Over the phone, Kaviness and O’Hammon strategized on what to do if Twitch’s algorithms rain on their parade. Despite streamers’ efforts, it’s ultimately on the company to govern the harassment that takes place on it—an effort that’s can clearly be improved as harassers continually bypass whatever protections are currently in place. O’Hammon says she can’t write the word “slut” in a stream title; Kaviness, who is a Twitch partner, says she can. “Just put a dash where the U is,” O’Hammon suggests.

Source: Kotaku.com

Young Women Are Reclaiming The Slur ‘Egirl’

Ash “Aasshh.jpg” Eldridge
Image: Ash Eldridge (Instagram)

Jayden “YourPrincess” Diaz is haunted by the term “egirl.” A League of Legends streamer competing among the top two percent of players, Diaz hasn’t been able to escape it for years—every day in Twitch chat, in League of Legends games and across social media.

“I let it really hurt me,” Diaz, 20, told Kotaku of the word, which she defines as a woman who “exploits the fact that she’s a girl to get attention online.” Diaz, with curled lengths of brown hair and a polished fashion sense, says viewers have called her a glorified camgirl throughout her career as a professional gamer. “I let it control even the role I played in League,” she explained, adding, “I used to main support, but I stopped playing support because I hated being called a ‘boosted egirl,’” or a woman whose high League rank was earned by someone else.

Jayden “YourPrincess” Diaz at Riot Games’ Rumble on the Rift event at TwitchCon in 2018.
Photo: REL Hunt (Riot Games)

“Egirl” is a word that has followed female Twitch streamers and cosplayers around for years. Derogatory by nature, “egirl” is wielded by naysaying Twitch trolls to undermine a woman’s legitimacy as a true gamer and nerd based on her looks or internet popularity. In 2013, right before it hit the mainstream, one Urban Dictionary user’s early classification of egirls went, “Often seeking the attention of professional gamers. . . Live sightings of eGirls can be found at gaming LANs.” As gaming culture moved onto Twitch, and streamers garnered a modicum of micro-celebrity, public-facing girl gamers like Diaz began receiving the popular put-down and have been waging war on it ever since.

Yet over the last year, egirl has taken on another meaning. If you’re not a teenager on the short-form mobile video app TikTok, you might not have noticed. I asked Diaz to run a Google image search for “TikTok egirl,” which brought up hundreds of pictures of primly made-up teen girls sticking their tongues out in high-fashion streetwear. “What the fuck?” said Diaz, laughing in disbelief. “Dude, it’s a whole fashion trend now.”

In a recent article in the fashion and lifestyle magazine Dazed, a young girl with heavy, winged eyeliner and cropped, slime-green hair stares menacingly at the camera. Around her neck is a dog collar, and her lips and cheeks are dark red smudges. “E-girls and boys’ style is the antidote to the homogenised IG [Instagram] aesthetic,” the headline reads. The article goes on to detail how Gen-Z influencers who describe themselves as “egirls” are “mixing alternative aesthetics like thick chains, chokers, monochrome stripes, and dramatic eyeliner with softer, anime-inspired qualities like little hearts drawn on under their eyes, caked-on blush, and rainbow-coloured hair.” Leveraging beyond-their-years makeup skills and mouthing the lyrics to anime openings over short TikTok dance videos, the new generation of self-proclaimed egirls runs counter to the hardcore online gaming culture Diaz has been steeped in since 2014.

“I first heard the term ‘egirl’ on Tiktok!” said TikTok user and cosplayer Hailie Harding, who describes it as a sort of “manic pixie dream girl” aesthetic. Harding was the only TikTok star Kotaku could persuade to respond to our request for comment over e-mail, although a dozen were sent. (Most preferred to chat on Instagram). “Being an egirl is creating this perfect illusion of exactly what the internet today claims it wants: an anime loving, video game playing, sexy goth girlfriend.” She adds, “As a girl, I think it’s a fun way to express yourself.”

Gaming isn’t really necessary; and although liking anime adds some egirl cred, the new cadre of egirls is more identifiable by their edgy-kawaii look rather than their hobbies. The TikTok egirl aesthetic has become so codified that, months ago, its consistency spurred a meme recreated hundreds of thousands of times across the app: “egirl factory.” In the videos, a supposedly normal-looking girl is dragged off to an “egirl factory,” where someone outfits her in the trappings of modern egirl-ism: winged eyeliner, make-up hearts, pigtails. Then, she might do a bored, hip-swinging dance or ironically stick her tongue out like an ‘80s hair metal singer:

Female Twitch streamers who have been around the block know that Harding’s sexy, game-playing girl isn’t exactly what “the internet” has always wanted. It’s this tension that spawned the derogatory connotations of “egirl” in the first place. For more misogynistic Twitch viewers, there are arbitrary parameters for how a woman who games should behave on the internet, with the bar impossibly high for “acceptable” behavior. Trolls might argue that while grinding out levels on League of Legends and wearing thigh-high socks spells “girlfriend material,” doing that and earning money on Twitch makes someone a glorified camgirl. Self-appointed crews of vigilante boob police have spent hours on Twitch looking for female streamers to report for clothing violations. (Yet at the same time, Sarina “Novaruu” Powell has been dressing “like a boy” on stream for about a week, and still says she sees “egirl” pop up in chat about five times a day.)

“The idea was that women anywhere near professional male gaming was gonna turn the whole thing to shit,” entrepreneur and former Twitch streamer Zoie Burgher told Kotaku of the origins of “egirl.” Burgher earned her viral online fame from playing Call of Duty in a bikini and twerking at the camera after earning a kill streak. “People were uncomfortable with the girls showing up so they had to come up with a derogatory term.”

Since the word “egirl” has been leveraged to condescend to women gaming online, women gaming online have been leveraging it for their own purposes. Burgher was one of the first Twitch streamers to turn the “egirl” into her own self-aware, money-making brand. Permanently banned from Twitch since 2016 for over-sexual content, Burgher now describes herself as the “head egirl in charge” of Luxe Modeling, a collective of self-described “egirls” who sell lewd photos and videos. “I love the term egirl because I think it’s just like the world slut,” said Burgher over the phone. “You’re not supposed to take a derogatory term to give yourself empowerment,” she explained, adding that that’s exactly what she’s doing. “I’m trying to make the gamer girl WalMart,” she added of Luxe Modeling.

Zoie Burgher streaming Call of Duty on YouTube.
Image: Zoie Burgher (YouTube)

Recently, the gamer corner of the internet summited peak self-aware egirl when cosplayer Belle Delphine, in an Overwatch bikini and brandishing a pink Xbox controller, began packaging her “gamer girl bathwater” for $30 a pop. Delphine seems unapologetic about earning money from her sex appeal and gaming hobby, and as Polygon’s Patricia Hernandez noted, it wouldn’t be off-base to call Delphine a troll. “What’s curious about Delphine’s side hustle here is that it seems to be a mixture of business and next-level performance art,” Hernandez wrote. “Delphine’s work is defined by her willingness to go there. The result is as strange as it is funny.” The bathwater sold out in two days.

Although the reclamation of “egirl” isn’t new, its meaning has broadened, distinct from Twitch culture. TikTok teens’ redefinition or mainstreamification of it almost mirrors the transition from “emo” to “scene.” Emo was decidedly a lifestyle, culture and an aesthetic, while its Myspace-fueled cousin, “scene,” was mostly recognized as a sugary interpretation of the emo aesthetic. The TikTok egirl might cosplay, or might exclusively shop at Urban Outfitters; she might dye her hair pink, or wear cat ears. She might be a 4chan-shitposting social outcast, or a popular girl with the most mild edge.

There is, of course, deeper connective tissue between the “egirls” of Twitch and TikTok. Living primarily in cyberspace is one of them. In the past, actively participating in online gamer culture as a woman might have fulfilled that condition. Today, when “online” has nearly subsumed “offline” for younger generations, the “e” in egirl is more a nod to the portion of one’s identity that exists purely in cyberspace. This fixation on social media isn’t new to Gen Z, but their hyper-awareness of their online personae might be. This leads to another major throughline: others’ idea that egirls are phony and just want attention.

“E-girl literally just begging for attention,” reads the TikTok profile description of one star who goes by Gothchan666. If the name wasn’t a giveaway, clearly Gothchan666 is being ironic; it doesn’t matter whether or not she’s “begging for attention” if she’s having fun on an app with her friends and followers. In a TikTok video, Gothchan666 might pull her hair into two anime-style buns, draw black dots under her eyes, which are heavily mascaraed, and lip-sync the lyrics to some cutesy song with high-pitched vocals. If she’s wearing an outfit she likes, she might post three or four TikTok videos in it, each of which are viewed tens of thousands of times. “I only call myself an egirl because other people call me an egirl,” she explained over an Instagram direct message.

Twitch streamer Natalie “ZombiUnicorn” Casanova
Image: Natalie Casanova (Twitter)

Aside from the harassment Twitch streamers have been facing for years, the idea that egirls are online to be objectified has had consequences even for the newer generation. Earlier this month, 17-year-old Bianca Devins, widely referred to as an “egirl” on TikTok, was murdered by an unhinged man she met online named Brandon Andrew Clark. Devins and Clark attended a concert together New York city, and when she expressed interest in another man, police say, Clark cut her neck and posted images of her body on Discord. “Sorry fuckers, you’re gonna have to find someone else to orbit,” he said to her friends and fans. Investigators believe that her kiss with another man was the murderer’s motive.

Reclaimed or not, the word “egirl” is laden with dark connotations. As a younger generation’s influence begins to alter its meaning, though, women on Twitch might begin to see some changes, too, for better or for worse. More and more, women on Twitch who aren’t fighting it are gleefully enjoying the new toothlessness of the term. “I think the term ‘egirl’ is past being an insult now,” said Twitch streamer Natalie “ZombiUnicorn” Casanova over e-mail. Lately, she’s seeing the word “thot” more instead. “If someone tried to use [egirl] as an insult toward me I’d just laugh and be like ‘Ahh yes, egirl Zombi aka the online version of me versus IRL Zombi when I actually go outside.’”

Source: Kotaku.com

Cat wrecks video game stream by barfing so hard it breaks a computer

Photo: Tanased Heamathulin (Getty Images)

Cats ask very little of us. They need to be fed, brushed, given water and toys to play with, and have their litter changed. In return, they provide love and companionship, tempered only with the annoyances of some occasional early morning meowing and ill-timed explosions of barf.

Because cats, for all their redeeming qualities, are also great at yacking stuff up in the last place you’d want them to, a live streamer who goes by JadedBlue will now be taking a break from playing games on the internet. As a perfectly framed clip shows, his cat Kelsier decided to cut short a Twitch broadcast yesterday by ralphing with such incredible volume and direction that it broke a computer.

The video proceeds like a low-stakes horror short: JadedBlue is playing a game, hears some disconcerting meows and asks “What’s the matter, buddy?” After recognizing the first of several disgustingly wet-sounding cat gags, he looks to his left, pleads “Oh, dude…dude,” and the stream abruptly cuts off. Kelsier the cat, full of feline dignity (and hastily eaten food), yartzed so hard it cut the video immediately.

Later, the streamer announced, with the grossest photographic evidence possible, that he won’t “be streaming for a little bit” because Kelsier “ended up puking directly into my computer,” likely wrecking the motherboard, graphics card, and power supply in the process.

Warning: the below tweet contains photograph evidence of cat puke.

This is the nature of the world. Cats are not stuffed animals. They are living, breathing creatures whose affection comes with a few small caveats—like that sometimes, in exchange for all the good they bring, they’ll vomit straight into the top of your computer, costing you hundreds of dollars and interfering with your video game streaming schedule.

[via Polygon]

Send Great Job, Internet tips to gji@theonion.com

Source: Kotaku.com

‘The Discord Is The Church:’ A Place For Gamers To Worship

A few months ago, I was watching streamer Matt Souza play Fortnite on a custom server while I played along with his community, GodSquad Church. With a laptop earbud in one ear and my PC headset over another, I landed randomly on a hilltop near Polar Peak, only to immediately be killed by a player I didn’t see. As my screen swerved to spectate my killer, I saw their screen name: PastorSouzy, the handle of Souza. Instead of basking in his victory, as another streamer might, Souza thanked me via stream for joining the chat, adding, “I appreciate you.” Moments later, he killed another player and thanked them for playing too, throwing in a “God bless.”

It’s not the response I’d expect from a streamer or a Fortnite player, but this wasn’t exactly a regular stream. GodSquad is an online church, and the custom server was their version of a real-life church’s spaghetti dinner. GodSquad’s congregation plays games together a lot, but they also hang out on Discord or chat with each other during Souza’s near-daily personal stream. On weekends they have services, which take place on Twitch.

Over Discord voice call, Souza tells me, “I asked myself, if I’m a gamer, which I am, and I hardly ever leave my house, which I don’t, how am I gonna get the story of Jesus to people who don’t leave their house? And that’s when I found Twitch.”

Souza, 29, is the founder and lead pastor of GodSquad Church, which calls itself “the world’s first church for gamers.” The church’s values statement acknowledges issues that gamers tend to face, such as trolling and toxicity, as well as the mental health struggles or social isolation that can come from or drive people to game excessively. In my time observing the church, congregants seem to talk to each other as much about gaming as they do about religion. GodSquad has a Discord of about 2860 members, and while Souza and his wife Amanda Lee, the church’s executive and music director, are based in Virginia, the church’s other staff and congregants are scattered across the world. “The Discord is the church,” Souza says, since it’s the place “where people are doing life together,” but they also have services, streams, and occasional in-person meetups.

The Discord server is separated into different rooms where people coordinate playing video games together, discuss movies and books, and share memes, as well as make prayer requests or meet in private rooms or video chat for one-on-one prayer or pastoral counseling. I’ve spent a month observing the Discord on weeknights and after GodSquad’s services. It’s a lot more lively than your average physical church, with at least a handful of people around all the time. The server gets especially active after a service, when Souza or another worship leader invites regular viewers and newcomers to join them to chat or play games.

Services happen every Saturday evening on GodSquad’s Twitch channel, with a second service having just been added on Saturday afternoons. Besides the fact that no one’s in the same room, it’s a lot like any other church service. Amanda performs modern praise music with the lyrics shown on-screen. Prayer requests are offered up in chat or via the Discord. While it can be funny to hear people referred to by their Twitch handle, the prayers sound familiar to anyone who’s been to physical worship: jobs, relationships, health. Financial offerings are requested through Streamlabs, text, or via GodSquad’s website. The most incongruous parts of the GodSquad services I’ve attended involve giveaways, where staff members raffle off gaming swag and console shop gift cards via “Penguin points,” a personalized Twitch currency that subscribers accrue from watching Souza’s streams. There’s also a reel of top five gaming clips that the community can vote on, which is a way for congregants to share the best of their gaming moments with each other.

Music at a recent GodSquad service
Screenshot: Twitch

The sermons are usually rooted in gaming or other geeky metaphors. They’re delivered by Souza from his home office, with nerdy toys and art in the background, or from the home of one of the church’s other staff members. Sermons I’ve watched include using the idea of video game delays as a lesson in spiritual patience, completionism as a metaphor for the story of Easter, or how God’s promises relate to Avengers Endgame, complete with an assurance that there won’t be any spoilers. A recent series of talks uses the console wars as a jumping off point for discussing diversity. Souza skirted theological specifics but said “Jesus is calling you and I to deal with diversity, whether it’s racial, whether it’s political, whether it’s preferential, whether it’s philosophical, whether it’s simply Xbox versus PS4.” The sermon came down firmly on the side of diversity being a good thing, while drawing a distinction between “sin and holiness,” between ideological differences and what Souza believes God thinks is right, leaving the latter vague. I haven’t heard specific hot-button issues like homosexuality or abortion in GodSquad sermons, though a recent video stood in favor of women preaching, a progressive stance in some denominations. GodSquad seems more focused on the issues viewers face in their lives and how they relate to one’s personal relationship with God than ecclesiastical tensions that might arise in physical churches or those more firmly rooted in a specific denomination.

Sermons shift in topic between gaming and religion, surprisingly, without tipping over into cool youth pastor parody. Gaming is acknowledged as what brought people to GodSquad, but it’s never made overly important or more serious than other aspects of congregants’ lives. While the sound effects and graphics could feel a little hokey to me at times, in sermons gaming largely serves as a rhetorical anchor or a model of a bigger theological concept. Souza in particular shifts between gaming and God well, and he’s especially compelling as a preacher. He’s conversational and intellectually approachable, quick to laugh and to implicate himself in the struggles and spiritual pitfalls he explores. He comes across as warm and passionate about both the message and the people hearing it; even when I’ve been dubious about a certain message or suspicious of a turn of phrase, it’s hard not to hear him out.

Souza gets a lot of public speaking practice since he streams seven hours a day most weekdays on his personal channel. He plays Fortnite and a lot of Old School Runescape. Sometimes the community raids other channels, often other Runescape streamers, filling their chat with messages of love and support. On Fridays, he hosts a segment called Real Talk where he invites viewers to ask him anything, whether that’s deep theological questions or advice about streaming. Christianity occasionally comes up in the chat, the day often begins with a prayer, and Souza falls naturally into talk of faith or Jesus from time to time. But other than that, Souza’s personal channel is a lot like any other streamer’s.

Souza has been streaming video games since 2014, but it wasn’t always as part of GodSquad. He and Amanda met while studying theology at a Pentecostal school in Massachusetts. Later, Souza worked in a brick-and-mortar Assemblies of God church in Oxford, Connecticut while gaming on the side.

At that time, Souza wasn’t public about his love of gaming, seeing it instead as an “almost secret lifestyle.” He’d played games since he was young, but as an adult, he felt it would be considered a shameful pastime, especially in contrast to his public role as a mature pastor. “I worked at a local church, suit and tie on Sunday mornings, I was Pastor Matt,” he explains. “It might sound silly, but it was almost a fear I had, if people found out I played video games… Are people going to think I’m going to be 35 and live in my mama’s basement without a job?”

In the summer of 2014, something happened that changed Souza’s mind. He was watching Twitch streamer Summit1g, not realizing at first what Twitch was, seeing it as “like a website where everyone can get together and, like, watch a YouTube video.” But then, he says, someone in chat asked a question, and Summit answered. “My mind was blown,” says Souza. “I was like, ‘He’s live, this is happening now?’” Summit’s stream in that moment had 25,000 people in it, and Souza couldn’t help but notice: “That is bigger than 99% of the churches in the world. I was like, it’s Tuesday morning!”

Souza was inspired. “I just had the thought: What if we were able to use this to influence people in a positive way, to teach them good principles about how video games and responsibilities do not need to be enemies, and also sharing with them what we have found to be life-changing, which is the power of Jesus, with other people who wanted to hear it?”

In the early days, Souza was more or less like any other new streamer. He got an Xbox, a “crappy” camera, and a “headset mic that was awful.” He made his Twitch title “A Pastor Playing Halo” and started streaming. He describes it as “literally while I’m shooting people in the face I’m telling them, ‘Hey man, God loves you.’” His early clips are incongruous—switching between talking about God’s love to cheering over a particularly good kill—but the casual chatter feels familiar, even if the subject matter might be unusual for Twitch. The channel started with three viewers, but more people started tuning in over the next year, with many of them accepting Jesus into their lives over stream.

A clip from an early stream

After over a year of streaming and gathering more viewers, Souza launched a GoFundMe to start turning GodSquad from a personal project into an actual organization. Due to various difficulties around becoming an officially-recognized church that didn’t have a physical location, GodSquad eventually came to operate under the umbrella of the church Souza had worked for in Connecticut. Souza’s home church was excited about the project—Souza tells me the response to GodSquad from the church world is “either one or the other extreme” between enthusiasm for their methods or disdain for “encouraging even more teenagers to waste their lives.” Luckily, his home church fell in the former camp rather than the latter. In March of 2016, GodSquad became a non-profit, “as real a church as any church you’ve ever walked into,” motivated by “the desire to reach people no one else was reaching, connecting with people no one else was connecting with:” gamers.

These days, when I watch, Souza’s personal streams have averaged between 70 and 100 viewers, with over 100 tuning in for GodSquad services. Souza tells me that his streams average about 7000 people every week, with about three-fourths of them being return viewers. The church has five core staff members: Souza; Amanda, who, in addition to music, manages the ins and outs of the church’s volunteers; media director Dylan “UnworthySeraph” Hoelz, who makes graphics and runs GodSquad’s website and social media; Community Care Pastor Raymond “Pastor Bos” Bosworth; and Joey “Pastor Joey” Simon, who leads the church’s small group studies under the title Level Up Pastor. Many of them stream from their own personal Twitch channels as well. Hoelz is a full-time paid staff member of the church, and Bosworth and Simon receive stipends. Souza and Amanda make money via Souza’s personal stream: “Technically my broadcast is how my wife and I make a living, and both of us just volunteer our time at the church,” Souza says. “Especially with the negative stigma of pastors and money and everything, we want to be above reproach in that area.”

There are also about 75 volunteers. Some moderate the Discord and Twitch chat. Others lead “ministry” guilds in games like World of Warcraft, where they attract other players through their behavior and high level of play and then introduce faith. If these players aren’t interested in learning more, Souza explains, they can just keep playing with the church’s guild. Volunteers must be members of the church for at least three months, and they’re interviewed over video before being accepted.

One volunteer moderator, Chris, tells me over Discord message, “I help cultivate a family friendly atmosphere for the server and Twitch chat and help resolve any conflict that might emerge within members of our server and Twitch chat. As a moderator I am expected to be available at certain times throughout the week, but there are many times where I help out even when I am not expected to, to make sure the community is being looked after.”

Chris came to GodSquad via Souza’s channel. He tells me he grew up Southern Baptist but felt alienated from the church and from God. “I hated churches, because when I showed up to church in ripped jeans and a T-shirt with a heavy metal band on it, I never felt welcomed. A pastor at one church told me to call him if I ever needed anything but wouldn’t answer the phone if I called. I felt like everyone thought that they were better than myself because they went to church every Sunday. It felt like I was surrounded by hypocrites.”

After turning away from religion, Chris says he struggled with depression, turning to “nicotine, alcohol, and women.” In September of 2017, he came across Souza’s channel while on lunch break at work. Souza was streaming a newly-launched game, and Chris stuck around. “To be honest, I thought the guy was a fake pastor that was just using a clever name to get viewers on Twitch,” Chris says. “God knew what He was doing that day. He knew how bad I needed a positive influence in my life. I became a member of GodSquad Church that day, and looking back, I’m so glad that I didn’t leave that stream and that I decided to stay.” After a year of membership, he became a volunteer because he “wanted to help people the way this community helped me.”

People don’t always have the same positive reaction to GodSquad as Chris. Some viewers just leave once they realize the stream can be religious; I’ve seen people enter chat, say, “Oh this is about God, bye” and exit. Others stick around to troll. In a service in February, Souza acknowledged the challenge of trolls coming into the community, saying, “People can come in at any time from anywhere in the world and say anything they want, literally 24/7.” The most aggressive trolling I’ve seen was a viewer dramatically overreacting to the telling of the Easter story, but I’d certainly believe there’s worse.

Unlike other Twitch channels or Discord communities, GodSquad is hesitant to ban people. Souza tells me that on Twitch they’ll often issue people 10-minute timeouts, after which many trolls will just leave. Those who get repeated timeouts, he says, will sometimes get curious and stick around or, he claimed in February, even join the church. Dealing with trolls can be trickier on Discord, where the challenges of time zones can mean that when trolling or hateful messages are left “at 4:30 in the morning, those messages stay there until someone wakes up.”

In our conversation, Souza shares a sentiment common in some denominations that people today are hostile to Christians. He chalks this up in part to what he sees as judgmental Christians misrepresenting the faith. In a recent video, he said, “Twitch is not a God-loving website, it’s a website where people are far from God… It breaks my heart to think that people hate God, but I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that truth.” Whether the people trolling are doing so out of a distaste for religion specifically or just trolling for the sake of trolling, GodSquad faces a conflict of wanting to invite everyone in and then dealing with the consequences of that openness. The ease with which people can enter the church from their own homes means it’s easy for anyone to give church a shot, a strength GodSquad capitalizes on in its messaging. But it also means it’s easy for trolls to cause trouble, a situation most physical churches rarely face.

Recently, Souza has come to suspect the outward trappings of religiosity, especially on his personal channel, might hurt more than they help. He wants to reach people who aren’t Christians—one of GodSquad’s most prominent slogans is “You don’t need to believe to belong”—but most non-trolls willing to enter or stick around a stream titled “Pastor” are likely to be Christian already, or at least curious about religion. In our conversation, he makes it clear that he doesn’t want to be seen as a Christian streamer just looking for other Christians to hang out with. To further clarify this image, recently he changed the name of his Twitch channel and other social media and gaming handles from PastorSouzy to SouzyLive.

“I can’t share God’s love with people who refuse to enter my stream,” he said in a video describing the reasons behind the name changes. He compared his old Twitch name to starting a conversation with a friend by bringing up something they hate: “If I want to build common ground with people, it’s unwise for me to say, ‘Hey my name is Pastor Souzy and I love the thing you hate, let’s be friends.’” Whether people who pop into his streams unawares will be more likely to stick around, or whether the change will inadvertently invite more trolls, remains to be seen.

GodSquad faces other challenges unique to being an online-only church. During Saturday services I’ve watched, moderators have had to turn the chat away from games and back to the sermon more than once, like a digital version of hushing the kids in the back pews. During Runescape and Fortnite streams on Souza’s personal channel, viewers will hit him with complicated theological questions or personal issues when he’s trying to focus on gaming. Sometimes he’ll ask them to come back for Real Talk or head to the Discord. Other times, I’ve seen someone fill the chat with the story of an intense personal struggle—a heart attack, a miscarriage—and look for pastoral care a gaming-focused stream can’t necessarily provide. I’ve watched the chat fumble to respond to a person’s repeated requests for help while moderators direct them to one-on-one conversations or the Discord.

The church, in one form or another, is available to everyone all the time, which means people expect Souza to be available, too. Many streamers try to keep their viewers away from their personal lives, but Souza, by virtue of his job and unique community, has to invite it all in. Most streamers don’t go from entertaining viewers with a Fortnite stream to counseling people through their marriage or rallying the community to record a video for a congregant who’s just woken up from surgery.

Souza says, “Our church offers something that I don’t think I can say any other church on the entire planet does, which is that if you want, you can spend all day, every day, with your pastor.” The result sometimes looks to me like the internet version of The SimpsonsNed Flanders calling Reverend Lovejoy too often. Souza says, “No one’s going to knock on their pastor’s door at three o’clock in the morning, but people will definitely send us a Discord message at three o’clock in the morning and expect us to answer.”

The work can be “difficult and exhausting,” says Souza. “I’m definitely a small streamer, but I think I carry a weight that most streamers don’t carry.” When GodSquad was first taking off, he tried to respond to all his messages himself, but that quickly got out of hand, with people waiting too long for a response. “They’re reaching out, looking for help, and two months later their problem is over,” he laughs. “They’re no longer in need of care. I’ve made all these promises—we want to be there for you, we love you—but then they’ve waited over two months for a response.”

It’s a struggle too, Souza says, because he wants to keep his personal Twitch channel and the church separate. “To me, when you’re watching my stream, you’re hanging out with Matt. I’m not preaching a sermon, you’re just hanging out with me and who I am. In those moments when I’m talking about faith or praying for people, I’m not doing those because I’m a pastor, I’m doing those because that’s who I am.”

Souza streaming Fortnite
Screenshot: Twitch

But even making that separation clear, by trying to keep his personal streams focused on gaming or changing his name on Twitch, can’t undo the fact that people are still hanging out with their pastor. They want his attention, like any fan might, but they bring their personal and faith issues with them. Souza plays a greater role in their lives than just an entertainer, regardless of the focus of a day’s stream. “It can be difficult at times to try to live up to the expectations that everyone has,” he says. “I think people can put pastors on a pedestal and think that we are perfect and all-knowing and all-mighty, and the reality is that I’m not… Everyone has bad days, streamers have bad days. On the days you feel like you need encouragement, you’re still the one responsible to be giving out encouragement.”

Souza has methods for balancing life with streaming and with the business side of GodSquad, much of which has to be conducted in the evenings after he streams. He and Amanda have a date night on Wednesdays, and they don’t work on Sundays. “It doesn’t mean there’s not work to be done, we just don’t do it.” He hangs out with friends. He makes sure to pray, read the Bible, and keep his own faith life strong—“If I don’t truly love God it’s not going to be coming out of a place of passion, it’s going to be coming out of a place of obligation.” It’s the usual streamer stuff, as well as the usual ministry stuff, rolled into one. “That’s just leadership,” Souza says, “learning to deal with the pressures and unrealistic expectations. It’s never going to change. It’s not going to get better, it’s only going to get worse… The reality is that this is what I’ve signed up for and this is what I believe that God has called me to do.”

The pressures, as well as the opportunities, are made possible by the unique nature of Twitch. Even so, GodSquad is looking to move beyond the internet and into the physical world. This summer, they’ll have their second SquadCon, an in-person gathering at a church in Richmond, Virginia. They’ve also recently moved forward on a dream Souza has had since before they even started GodSquad: to build a LAN center. It won’t be an explicitly Christian LAN center, but it will nonetheless be a place to establish outreach for people who aren’t in the church and a place for members of the church to gather.

Through fundraising, GodSquad has raised $26,000 for the LAN center—specifically, that money is to put a down payment on some land and clear the trees off it, though they’re still closing on the property itself. The process has been difficult, with GodSquad’s current lack of a physical meeting place making it hard to secure loans as a church. In a sermon about the LAN center in April, Souza spun these challenges into a lesson in patience he could share with congregants. He has dreams of having these LAN centers around the country, “a vision and a plan I hope will outlive me,” but that dream is a long way off.

Souza skydiving as part of the fundraising goals for the LAN center

This project raises the question of why a church with such a strong virtual presence would need land, especially when so many members of the community are unlikely to ever visit it. Souza says GodSquad’s community was happy to give to the effort so that other people could have what they would want: a place to game with their friends. “Gamers growing up, we all sit alone in our rooms. I believe life is better when we do it together, and I believe video games are more fun when we do it together… I think God wants us to have a desire to be together and to have a place to be together.”

GodSquad is a small Twitch channel but a large and lively church, with an active attendance few physical churches can likely boast. Subcultural churches are nothing new: There are churches for runners and cowboys, churches where dinners replace standard worship. Organizations like Game Church and the Christian Game Developers Conference have combined Christianity and gaming before. I’m not sure if GodSquad would be as effective without the gaming angle, if it were something more akin to an online-focused church like Life.Church. Sharing the common interest of gaming seems to help GodSquad’s community cohere in a way physical churches, sharing only the commonality of geography, can struggle to do.

GodSquad’s gaming metaphors might seem corny in a service, but they aren’t a gimmick, and Souza’s passion for the topic is genuine. He wants to entertain viewers in his streams, and he wants to share his passion for Jesus with them, and these two goals are united by a desire to connect with other gamers on the internet. He tells me, “There’s a quote: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care…That’s what I try to do every day on Twitch: build a relationship with them. ‘Hey man, I’m so glad you’re here. You’re a real-life person, you matter and have value. We’d love to play some games together.’”

Source: Kotaku.com