On Friday, the first night of TwitchCon 2017 in Long Beach, California, I was standing on a street corner, waiting for a traffic light to change. A roving pack of streamers walked up behind me. "Are you streaming right now?" one asked another. "Of course!" an IRL streamer replied. "If you're here and you're not streaming, what the fuck are you even doing?" The moment would prove to be illustrative of a divisive trend at this year's show that led to tension on show floor, trouble at parties, and even an arrest.
Image: Hampton Brandon.
Since late last year -- shortly after TwitchCon 2016 -- Twitch has played host to a section called "IRL", short for In Real Life. IRL streams aren't constrained by the virtual bounds of video games or the four walls of somebody's bedroom. With their phones attached to selfie sticks, streamers go on walks, hike, bike, travel and, controversially, even drive while engaging with their chat. The world is their oyster, and inside that oyster is sweet, sweet Content.
TwitchCon 2017 was packed. From Friday through Sunday, thousands of Twitch streamers and fans descended on the Long Beach Convention Center in hopes of meeting their favourite online celebrities (by which I mostly mean Dr Disrespect), interacting with fans, and broadening their own audiences. Oh, and of course, they streamed -- some from booths, some from stages, and some from slightly dystopian glass cubes.
Many, though, didn't need anything more than a phone. You couldn't walk more than a few metres during the event without seeing an IRL streamer, and not everybody was happy about that. While professional streamers spend large portions of their days on camera, most prefer to do it on their own terms. The sudden proliferation of IRL streamers at this year's show meant that cameras were constantly in sight. This led to a palpable tension, especially at events such as parties where most streamers were hoping for a chance to turn their personality dials down from 11 and just chill with their friends.
"There were guys shoving cameras in our friends' faces," popular video game streamer LolRenaynay told me during the convention. "Our friends were being polite about saying no, and that's when these guys started getting aggressive. It was really awkward. It's fine to walk around the party [on stream], but it's a whole different thing when you incorporate other people into it... You just don't take pictures and video of people without their consent."
IRL streamers, however, saw these gatherings as opportunities for spectacle, sometimes involving well-known streamers with thousands or millions of fans. In the wake of complaints, Twitch staff eventually forced IRL streamers such as Andy Milonakis, Boneclinks and EXBC to put their cameras away at parties, but it didn't stop streamers from voicing their distaste on Twitter.
Twitch parties are now just a place for people to aggressively shove IRL streams in your face. Nice. Fuck off.
— Scaricho - Tucker (@IIJERiiCHOII) October 20, 2017
we had drinks in our hands and wanted to unwind. I’m glad people are saying it wasn’t cool and hope that without directly calling people -
— Vin ?? in transit (@getvindictive) October 20, 2017
Download pics of fat, disgusting dicks on your phone so the next person to force you into their IRL stream is in for a fun surprise.
— Renée Reynosa ?☕ (@lolrenaynay) October 20, 2017
While IRL streamers I spoke to contended that they tried to be polite before turning other streamers into co-stars on their shows, they also feel like it was strange that people were surprised to find themselves on-stream at events dedicated to the world's largest live-streaming platform. "I think they do forfeit an expectation of privacy [at TwitchCon]," Milonakis, who drew 12,000 concurrent viewers for one of his "biggest streams ever" during the first night's Twitch party, said in an email.
He added that it's important to try and read the room, even if you don't get the right read 100 per cent of the time. "A certain amount of tact should apply," Milonakis said. "If someone is being an asshole, they shouldn't be able to fall [back on] the excuse of 'Hey man, we're at TwitchCon. I'm allowed to stream.'"
For some IRL streamers, though, brazen unpredictability is part of the appeal. Viewers can't look away from the inevitable carnage, and that's why they tune in. During this year's convention, a particularly notorious streamer (who, it should be noted, was streaming on Periscope rather than Twitch) named Hampton Brandon showed up, immediately began doing things such as cat-calling women, and eventually got into a scuffle with a convention security person before being removed from the premises. Later that day, he ended up in gaol on a misdemeanour charge, per records from the Los Angeles county sheriff's department, though the records didn't indicate what for.
"FUCK BURGER FUCK THE 4TH FLOOR FUCK THE TWITCH EVENT MANAGER," Brandon wrote on Twitter the next day after being bailed out. I reached out to Brandon for further comment on the incident, but as of writing, he had yet to get back to me.
As for how he got bailed out, Milonakis is taking credit -- which is not to say he approves of Brandon's actions.
"I felt bad for him," Milonakis told me. "I woke up and was just thinking about what it would be like being stuck in a cell over the weekend, and it made me sad, so I put a couple hours into talking with the bail bonds place to get him out. He needs to learn how to channel his anger so he doesn't self-sabotage this golden opportunity of making a living off of live-streaming."
While debate continues to rage over whether or not some IRL streamers crossed the line during the show, everybody I spoke to agreed on one thing: Twitch should have been more up front about the rules surrounding IRL streaming during parties and at TwitchCon.
"I was informed by the official TwitchCon Twitter that 100% of TwitchCon was streamable," IRL streamer Boneclinks said in an email, describing the problem he ran into when he tried to stream at one of the events parties. "I assumed this extended to official TwitchCon parties as well." He said that Twitch staff were unnecessarily rude to him when they told him to stop streaming. "A much more constructive way of approaching a Twitch partner would have been to explain the situation and offer alternatives for content," he added. "None of this was done, and I feel as if I was treated like a criminal."
Milonakis found himself in a similar boat, having also been told to stop streaming at a party, and said he felt like he was suffering because of the actions of a few bad eggs. "If one person was being rude to another person by being aggressive with a camera in their face, that person should have been removed," he said. "To make every IRL streamer guilty and pay for that person's mistake is pretty stupid. If someone threw a glass on the ground, they're not gonna kick everyone out that had a drink in their hand."
"The best thing Twitch could do is create guidelines for these events," said LolRenaynay. "If they had set rules or boundaries for IRL, I don't think any of this would have happened." She added, however, that nobody really expected so many people to be IRL streaming during the convention, so she can't entirely blame Twitch for failing to sense a storm on the horizon and batten down the hatches. "I honestly didn't really think about it [ahead of time] either," she said.