Twitch users post over 300 messages per second and frankly, a lot of them are garbage. That's OK, though. Under all those layers of spam and emotes, there's some meaning.
The inspiration for POGchamp. Image: Cross Counter TV
If you've spent even a few minutes on the game streaming site, you've probably noticed how incomprehensible its embedded chat can be. Like an American in Paris, you might pick up on a few things the longer you stick around. After a while, Twitch chat still reads like garbage, but at least some of the garbage will look familiar ("Is that a Snickers bar or… ?").
Here's a brief explanation of some of what you'll see in Twitch chat:
How to read Twitch chat
Busier game streams' chats might look like a blur of faces, acronyms and spam. A lot of Twitch chats move faster than anyone can possibly read them. Don't scroll up hoping to take in every last Kappa emote. Mostly, these chats are full of spam - well, not spam per se, but repetitive reactions to things. That's "copypasta", or "copying and pasting".
After a big moment happens, excited and shocked viewers might spam an emote of an excited and shocked face en masse. To make an impression, viewers will just sort of jump onto whatever is happening in chat so it happens on a larger scale. Just let it wash over you. Twitch chat isn't meant to be the focus of a stream - the streamer is. These kind of chats mostly add ambience and hype.
Reading more intimate streams' chats is pretty different. Slower streams' chats might be full of earnest questions and comments for the streamer. The focus might be on the viewer-streamer interactions.
Here's something worth recognising: There's a solid delay between when something happens and when Twitch chat responds to it. That's because livestreams aren't 100 per cent live - there's always just a few seconds' delay. Because of that, viewers might see streamers' response to something said in Twitch chat longer after when it's actually said. That's normal.
Artist's rendition of the Trihard emote. Illustration by Sam Woolley
What the hell do those emotes mean?
For the most part, each of Twitch's most popular emotes has some sort of backstory. Just like everyone knows the "flame" emoji means something is hot or fierce (or that the eggplant emoji is, well, you know), Twitch emotes have taken on meanings of their own. A lot of streamers have custom emotes, but here's a primer on some of the most popular ones across all streams:
From early Twitch (Justin.TV in those days) employee Josh DeSeno. One of the most emblematic Twitch emotes, Kappa conveys sarcasm, trollishness or insincerity.
From speedrunner Mychal "Trihex" Jefferson, the emote's purest incarnation expresses happiness and excitement. Unfortunately, more obnoxious Twitch chat participants will spam the emote whenever a person of colour comes on screen.
From Twitch streamer Oddler. The emote comes from when he fell asleep while marathon-streaming Resident Evil games and conveys boredom.
From fighting games personality Ryan "Gootecks" Gutierrez, whose exaggerated shocked face indicates surprise and hype.
From Hearthstone streamer Sebastian "Forsen" Fors. It's a skewed version of his face that his fans use to spam other streamers' channels to proselytise Fors' stream and bother other streamers.
From CEO Gaming founder Alex Jebailey, a personality in the fighting games community. Marks whenever anyone is outplayed, exposed or baited. There isn't really a great reason why.
From Twitch streamer John "TotalBiscuit" Bain. It started out as "cynical laugh" on Bain's channel, and now just means "LOL".
A lot of streamers have bots set up that automatically answer viewers' questions. They look like this: "!keyboard". Then, "Nightbot", the name of a branded Twitch bot, will say the name and make of the streamer's keyboard, which viewers are often curious about because they want to imitate their favourite streamer's playstyle.
Popular other commands are "!wins", "!uptime" and "!points", which tell viewers how many wins a streamer has stolen since they started streaming, how long the stream's been up, and how many points a streamer's won in a game.
Chat commands such as "/mods" will tell you who the chat's moderators are. "/Ignore" lets you block all messages from a user. A full list can be found here.
Other random stuff people do in Twitch chat
Twitch poems are very cute. "Spam this orc to help New York" was a fun Overwatch League chant.
In larger and more unruly streamers, viewers will spam "gril" if there's a woman on screen.
If someone makes a killer play - or a crappy play that viewers want to sarcastically compliment - they will spam "400 IQ", as in, "400-IQ play".
A lot of streamers have teams of moderators who clean up offensive chat and spam. They will basically moderate however the streamer wants them to, banning repeat-offending chatters and specific words or phrases.
Twitch also offers an AutoMod bot, which removes potentially offensive messages from chat until a moderator can view and approve them. AutoMod can be set to a level between one and four, ranging from "Removes globally banned words" to "Removes all of the above [levels], plus profanity and mild trash talk".
So now that you've been briefed on Twitch chat, it's time to stop calling it "garbage". Anyone who knows better might call it "recycling" instead.