I don’t frequently write about video games (in fact, this may be my first or maybe second time), but I am known to dabble in games from time-to-time. In any case, I recently heard the story of DrDisRespect and his recent ban from Twitch.
DrDisRespect refers to himself as the “most ruthless competitor in game history” and is known for streaming games like Fortnite, PUBG, and Call of Duty. He earned a reported $1.8 million from his 32,000 subscribers in 2019 per twitchfollowers.com.
Yeah, $1.8 million. By playing video games.
He was banned by Twitch recently for no discernible reason. I’m not going to go into the details of the ban, but theScore esports had a nice video summing it up, here.
These bans happen all the time. Many fans complain that the bans are not always consistent, and Twitch’s policies aren’t very well defined. Ill-defined policies would not normally be a problem for your average gamer who plays for fun, but these streamers play for serious money. Given the money at stake, clear policies and fair application are a must for Twitch, but you’ll find that both are lacking.
Twitch publishes its guidelines here. They outlaw pretty straightforward stuff like breaking the law, violence, hateful conduct (including hate speech), and nudity. However, the application of these guidelines lacks clear guidance to their users.
Nudity seems obvious, but it’s anything but clear. For example, a Brazilian streamer named Gabriel “Gabepeixe” Baptista was banned in September 2019, because a Pink Floyd poster was displayed on one of his streams. The poster was from Pink Floyd’s “Back Catalogue” album cover, which depicted nude women (though, in a reasonably tasteful way, showing only their backs, hence “Back Catalogue”). He was banned for three days.
Compare that to a popular streamer named Kaitlyn “Amouranth” Siragusa, who on September 8, 2019, had a “wardrobe malfunction” which revealed actual nudity. She was banned for three days. She has been known to skate the line of sexual conduct in the past and has been banned two more times in 2020.
Identical bans for clearly non-identical behavior. I’m not explicitly taking sides here. Frankly, I don’t care what people choose to do online (within some reason, I guess), but I think it’s interesting that the punishment appears to be the same regardless of the actual offense.
Further, Twitch appears to have a “three-strike rule” in that if you get three bans, your ban becomes permanent. But many big-name streamers bypass this rule. For example, Amouranth was banned three times, the last time was on May 10, 2020. But her stream was reinstated in less than 24 hours.
Other streamers, like DrDisRespect, don’t seem as lucky since his latest ban appears to be permanent.
Why Does This Matter
These bans involve streamers who make thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars. It seems to me that clarity is very important when you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods. I don’t know the exact cost of these bans, and, in fact, some streamers may net subscribers from their bans. It seems like bans have a big effect on the economic ecosystem that exists on a platform like Twitch. That ecosystem is complicated and there are winners and losers, but you would think some clarity is necessary for long term health. How will a platform like Twitch continue to attract top-tier talent when that talent can be punished unfairly?
This also highlights the perils of making money on someone else’s platform. Twitch owns the court, and it can take its ball and go home whenever it pleases. Twitch and other social media outlets are private companies, they can police them any way they please. The trouble is that these streamers don’t really have any other choice. It’s not like they can drive as much traffic to their own site. But then they have to play by Twitch’s rules, regardless of how unclear they may be.
The streamers do have one advantage, though. Once they are popular, they can leave and take a ton of viewers (and money) with them.
The last thought I had was that Twitch (and other social media giants) are responsible for policing their own users, the same users that make them money. Ninja, the Fortnite streamer, made a reported $5.4 million from streaming in 2019. Imagine how much Twitch made on him. Now let’s assume he did something to get banned. I imagine that Twitch has a lot of incentive to reinstate him regardless of his actions. I’d say they have millions of reasons to keep him around.
It’s almost like the system maintains room for Twitch to make subjective, final decisions. By publishing guidelines that are not explicit, Twitch can basically do what it wants. That means it can protect the streamers it wants to protect and punish those it doesn’t value.