Stream long enough, and you become mercurial. Either that, or you watch the passion you once felt for your favourite game slowly fade into a hazy silhouette of duty. Over the past few weeks, big streamers who helped turn Grand Theft Auto 5 role-playing into a Twitch phenomenon have started to burn out even as the overall scene keeps going strong.
It’s one thing to simply stream a game. It’s another to role-play in it—to pretend to be a character of your own imagining and to remain in-character at all times, no matter what glitchy oddities might arise. That’s the central appeal of No Pixel, a popular Grand Theft Auto V role-playing server that’s modded out the wazoo to enable interesting, trashy, and downright bizarre narratives.
Earlier this year, it leaped to the forefront of Twitch thanks to interest from big streamers like Chance “Sodapoppin” Morris, Jaryd “Summit1g” Lazar, and Saqib “Lirik” Zahid, each of whom have millions of followers. This was not the first time GTA 5 RP had become a hot commodity on Twitch, but this was by far its biggest growth spurt, with roughly a dozen big streamers joining the fray for at least a handful of days a piece, playing as cops, criminals, aspiring rappers, and more. Together, they knitted together the disparate appeals of interconnected cinematic universes, personality-driven content, and of course, trash. It wasn’t long before GTA 5 was in league with Fortnite, surpassing it in terms of raw viewership on good days.
Many previously popular streamers dropped out as quickly as they dropped in, but folks like Sodapoppin, Summit, and Lirik stuck around, turning GTA RP into their main game. However, as of the past couple weeks, all three have abandoned their stomping grounds in Crime City, USA, seemingly with no plans to return. Sodapoppin was the first to go, abruptly retiring his character, Kevin, the remarkably entertaining average dude who just wanted to make an honest living while all his friends coincidentally kept getting arrested, toward the middle of last month.
On Twitter, Sodapoppin said he’d “hit a wall” with GTA RP. During a stream a week later, he went into more detail. In short, he’d fallen into a rut with his role-playing. Kevin was working at a vineyard, making his honest living by interviewing people for jobs. Soda just wasn’t feeling it anymore. He considered giving Kevin a big (read: fatal) send-off to conclude his story arc, but on a role-playing server where everybody knew who he was IRL, that would’ve presented problems of its own.
“It would almost be a shitshow, because if people knew it was my last day playing and I was planning on killing my character, I would think that a lot of people would be going out of their way to try and kill me, just so they could be the ones who [permanently] killed me,” Sodapoppin said during the stream.
So instead, he sunsetted Kevin quietly, logging off and leaving him in the GTA RP equivalent of cryostasis — possibly forever. He also noted that if he ever does come back, he’ll role-play Kevin as somebody who went away to a mental institution to “treat my obsession with grapes,” at which point he’d return to the vineyard and “burn it down, because I hate it.”
Summit’s exit was more dramatic. During a stream at the end of last month, he quit out of GTA RP mid-stream, citing burnout.
“How do I explain this feeling?” he said to his viewers. “I don’t feel like doing anything today on RP. Not even a heist right now, no. Not in the mood for a heist either. I’m debating with myself.”
Moments later, he switched to survival game Miscreated. During a stream a few days later, he explained why he wasn’t playing GTA RP anymore.
“This channel, it’s always going to prioritise what I want to play or what I feel like playing,” he said. “We made this decision when Fortnite took a whole dump on this thing, on my fucking attitude everyday. After that, I was like ‘Yeah, we’re just going to play what we want to play.’”
For Summit, switching off GTA RP has meant a drop in numbers. Typically, he’d pull 30,000-50,000 concurrent viewers while heisting his days away. Lately, he’s been doing just over half that while playing significantly less popular games. He’s made his peace with that.
“Obviously it’s super-cool to have a lot of viewers and stuff like that, but I want to play what I want to play,” Summit said. “I want to be here and having fun. When this feels like a job, it’s not a job. You don’t want it to feel like a fucking job.”
Yesterday, Twitch’s eternal prom king, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, gave Summit props for abandoning his life of virtual crime.
“I have to give mad respect to Summit, man,” Ninja said. “To play GTA RP and go from 40-50k viewers to knowing that you’re going to lose half that viewership when you play other games and continue to stick with it, that’s tough, man. But the mental health of streamers and streamers actually enjoying what they’re playing and what they’re doing is way more important than numbers.”
Lirik exited around the same time as Summit, shortly after a climactic moment involving his character, Avon, and other players in his little crime family. When asked about why he wasn’t playing GTA RP during a stream the next day, he said he had “an issue” with his GTA RP client and couldn’t get it to update correctly. He hasn’t streamed the game since. That said, Lirik established himself in the GTA RP scene years ago, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see him return eventually.
Despite these high-profile departures, GTA V is still one of the most popular games on Twitch, regularly pulling over 150,000 concurrent viewers split between countless streams. As of this writing, it’s second only to Fortnite. No individual streamers are reaching heights like Sodapoppin, Summit, and Lirik managed, but dedicated role-players like Vader and Buddha have seen their audiences permanently expand since they crossed paths with their more popular partners in crime. Vader, for example, has more than doubled his follower count in the past 90 days, from around 100,000 to more than 300,000.
As for whether GTA RP’s popularity last, that’s tough to say. Some Twitch viewers are just as mercurial as the streamers they follow, and GTA RP has had periods of boom and bust before. But if nothing else, I’d bet actual money that GTA development studio Rockstar Games is at least considering adding a whole bunch of role-playing features to Grand Theft Auto VI (or whatever it’s making next).