Technology US

Streamer CriticalBard talks being the temporary face of PogChamp

Last week, Twitch deleted the face of its extremely popular PogChamp emote, Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez, after he called for further violence at the Capitol just after a mob sacked the building. In the aftermath, Twitch responded to a suggestion from the community for the emote — why not have a different face represent hype on Twitch every day?

So that’s what the company did. Three days after the experiment began, Omega “CriticalBard” Jones, a partnered Black streamer who writes music for Critical Role, took his turn as the face of the global emote. The racist harassment came almost immediately.

“At the beginning it was fine. I was nervous. I’ll say beforehand I prepped my mods on Twitch,” Jones says. “And they were like, ‘Well, the person who’s a PogChamp today seems like they’re doing fine. So I think you’ll be fine.’ I said ‘Ha but I’m Black.’” Jones started receiving comments on Twitter from people saying that he didn’t look like PogChamp, that Twitch should bring back the old emote instead, and then “a crap ton of people, you know, saying racist things.” After he went live on Twitch, however, the trouble really began.

Jones was playing Overwatch with friends — “not playing it well, which is why I don’t do competitive,” he says — when Twitch users stormed his chat saying that he didn’t deserve to be PogChamp. “But it got to the subject of Black lives not mattering and other stuff,” Jones says. “And then someone mentioned white Lives Matter, whatever. And I said ‘No, white lives don’t matter because a white life isn’t a thing.’” Someone clipped it.

The clip went viral in places like the Twitch drama subreddit /r/LivestreamFail and across the live stream-watching internet. It was, however, pulled out of its context. “I said you can be proud of being Italian, you can be proud of being Scottish — because those are nationalities,” says Jones, echoing what he said in the full version of the clip. “That’s your heritage.” He continued:

You cannot be proud of being white. Because whiteness is a concept that was only created because blackness became a thing. And the only reason blackness is a thing because we as a Black people were taken away from Africa without our consent, enslaved, and left for dust. Our literal heritage and identity was taken away from us. All we have to hold on to in America — for the most part, most Black people — is our blackness. So, there is a Black culture, there is not a white culture. There was never a white culture.

It’s an elegant way to put a pretty complicated concept, one that people across the internet seem intent on misunderstanding. To discuss race in America is to discuss power dynamics and history, which is something that’s hard to understand if it behooves you to not understand it. Jones says he was trying to explain that to people. “But you know racists gotta be racist,” he said.

Jones says he wanted to be the face of PogChamp because it was going to mean a lot to other people who want to see marginalized people on Twitch. “I can deal with a little bit of bull if that means someone else gets to see something that’s, you know, them. Their color. Or somebody they can identify with,” he says. He was also into the idea of a community-based rotating emote. “The funny thing is people don’t even care about PogChamp as a person. They just care about keeping what they consider to be tradition,” says Jones. “But if PogChamp is about that excitement, it shouldn’t matter who the face of that is.”

Jones’ harassment points to a larger problem on Twitch: the site doesn’t seem to know how to protect its creators from marginalized backgrounds from the toxic elements of its community. Jones told me that the Twitch representative who initially reached out to him about being the face of PogChamp did say the company planned on giving future PogChamp faces additional moderation support in their channels. But Jones says that’s not enough. “What annoys me about that is instead of doing what y’all can do, which is ban these people from your platform — if we want to get into it, you need to start banning IP addresses,” says Jones.

Furthermore, Jones says, it’s not as though the Black Twitch community hasn’t spoken up to the company about the issue in the past. “Like, it wasn’t just yesterday where someone said, ‘Twitch, you need to fix this.’ Racism has been very wild on Twitch for a long time. And they’ve yet to do anything about it,” says Jones. “So it makes us go like, ‘Okay, so what’s the point?’”

Twitch obliquely referenced Jones’ harassment in a Twitter thread yesterday, where the company wrote that it believes in celebrating diversity. A Twitch spokesperson sent me the following statement when I asked for more details:

Highlighting a new PogChamp every day was an idea that came directly from our community and was created in the spirit of celebrating the diversity of creators on Twitch. While we’ve seen an overwhelmingly positive response from both the community and those highlighted, we are also in close contact with the new faces of PogChamp to offer support as needed. We do not tolerate harassment on Twitch, and will take action on any behaviors on our service that violate our rules.

But in Jones’ view, that isn’t enough. “They didn’t even say ‘we were sorry.’ They said, we’re working to make this place more diverse and all this stuff,” he says. “They didn’t condemn anything. They need to start condemning this stuff,” Jones continues. “They need to start saying, ‘This is not what we want as a platform. This is not what we promote as a platform. And people are going to start seeing the repercussions of their actions. Start seeing the consequences of the things that they do.’”

Jones also took pains to clarify that it wasn’t just random Twitch users who came to his stream to harass him. He says it was directed by some affiliates and Twitch partners. “If Twitch is a company that’s saying, ‘We don’t agree with that,’ then you need to show that you don’t agree with that. AKA, terminating them accounts, getting rid of them partner badges. Getting rid of that affiliate status. Because I’m pretty sure in the partner and affiliate rules and all that stuff, you can’t really be, you know, doing hate speech and all that. But I guess, when Twitch is making money, it’s fine?”

The harassment hasn’t fazed Jones, though. Some members of the community rallied to his defense, like Hasan “hasanabi” Piker, a prominent political streamer, who defended Jones on his own stream. “I loved watching the clip of Hasan,” says Jones. “One of the best things that can just give you all the light, the nutrients that your life needs, is watching these folk look up to somebody and expect them to like be on their side, and they’re not.”

He also told me that he saw a large influx of new subscribers — “But I’m not gonna be like, ‘Thank you for being racist,’” jokes Jones — and that he’s still here. “Black folk have had to walk through this world on high alert, since we were practically born,” he says. “So there is literally nothing they can do. I got doxxed. I got death threats. You can say all that behind your keyboard that you barely can afford, with your two viewership. You can say all that, but understand that you’re only fueling me.”

February is Black History Month, and Jones tells me that Twitch has already started reaching out to prominent Black creators about activations. It’s an open question whether Twitch’s overhauled Hateful Conduct policy — which was announced in December and goes into effect at the end of this month — will have an impact on the droves of people who swarm marginalized creators when Twitch gives them the spotlight. As with everything else, the devil is in the enforcement. Will Twitch protect its marginalized creators?

Technology US

Spanish Fortnite streamer TheGrefg has broken the individual record for highest concurrents on Twitch

Today, Spanish streamer and EU Heretics team owner David “TheGrefg” Martínez is showing off his Icon series Fortnite skin. With just over an hour to the reveal, it appears that Martínez has smashed the individual concurrent record on Twitch, with more than 780,000 live viewers. (By way of comparison: Seattle had 753,675 residents as of the 2019 census.) His excitement was palpable, and viewers watched live as Martínez googled the records on his record-breaking stream.

Fortnite’s Icon Series skins are reserved for the game’s top creators, which include people like Kathleen “Loserfruit” Belsten and Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. As of this writing, there are only seven outfits in the series; Martínez’s would be the 8th.

Martínez takes the individual concurrent record from Blevins, who previously had the record for the highest number of concurrents on an individual stream, at 635,000, set in March 2018. Though this isn’t the first time that Martínez has broken Blevins’ record: he hit 660,000 live viewers during December’s big Fortnite event.

Technology US

2020 was the year of the Twitch streamer

I’m calling it now: live-streaming won the pandemic. (Broadly speaking, so did billionaires.) At this point, the numbers are annihilating. In October, millions (including myself) spent 1.6 billion hours on Twitch, which represents a 99 percent jump in year-over-year growth, according to StreamElements and’s November report. And even that doesn’t account for just how many things were converted into streaming video — events, holidays, relationships, and more. In the early days of the pandemic, we tried to cram the offline world into the series of tubes we call online. Now, nine long months later, it’s hard for me to remember how novel Zoom socializing felt.

I think about the many small adjustments we made to work and socialize a lot these days. Enough people cared about their video appearances that there were shortages of ring lights and webcams; Zoom’s stock price even shot up. (It dropped with news of a vaccine.)

Back in the beginning, when I was staring down the barrel of indefinite quarantine — as though through the wrong end of a telescope — I made a joke that was more of a confession about spending more time on Twitch. I wanted to take the whole thing more seriously, and staying inside felt like permission. “im going to start my twitch partner push while everyone is locked inside,” I wrote on March 1st, 2020. It was early enough into lockdown that the whole thing felt a little novel; things would eventually go back to normal, I surmised, and it seemed like the people around me in my city were committed to doing the right things.

Eight months and more than a quarter of a million deaths in, that telescope has righted itself. It’s become clear that the federal government has deemed 2020’s chaos — widespread job losses and business closures, mass unemployment, unchecked viral spread — acceptable. I’ve been reporting on Twitch as a business and as a social space the entire time, and it occurs to me that while it’s felt a little useless talking to people about streaming, what I’ve noticed is that the work does seem to matter. I admire the streamers who have made it their whole business to bring people moments of joy, or at least a respite from how unrelentingly terrible this year has been. Streamers are important because they’re important to people, which feels obvious to write. But this crisis has underscored just how valuable those small, tenuous connections can be.

And it’s worked on me. These days I find myself tuning into West Coast streamers I like (or East Coasters who run late) just before bed, when I’m alone with my anxiety about the state of the world. I think there’s something noble in their broadcasts; I can’t imagine I’m the only one who needs to hear a soothing human voice sometimes, or one that’s only upset about the momentary ugliness of a fictional universe. As the writer Charlotte Shane eloquently put it in a recent piece on TikTok, “But humor and distraction are my love language. I understand the necessity of comfort, but I don’t like being consoled, not by another human being discernibly laboring toward that end.”

The virtual world is the actual one now, and it’s going to take a long while to tease out what that means. The thing I can’t stop thinking about is the lesson the Trump administration unintentionally provided: all we really have is each other. And it goes double in a socially distanced world, one where we can’t even hug our friends and family. So I watch streamers, some of whom are friends, and it’s almost like togetherness.

In my own life, on the other hand, I’ve found that streaming regularly on Twitch has helped structure my weeks. A schedule provides a measure of accountability and some feeling of responsibility to a group of people with whom I enjoy spending time. It’s also helped me find a community of people I never would have met before, either online or off. And these, I think, are the small things that matter.

I’ve been thinking of 2020 as the year of the Twitch streamer for a while now. As the internet has become the main place people socialize over these last nine months, it feels like we’ve all become a little more like streamers — we present our whole selves online behind a webcam and a microphone, and we expect people to see us.

Technology US

New Chromecast works as a cheap but unsupported xCloud streamer

Google’s new Chromecast can run Microsoft’s xCloud if you’re prepared to sideload the game streaming service, The Verge can confirm. The functionality was previously demonstrated over on Reddit by u/kiddj55, and we’ve since been able to install the Xbox Game Pass app on our own hardware and access cloud streaming to play Gears of War 5.

Much like Google’s Stadia game streaming service which also works, xCloud isn’t yet officially supported on Google’s new hardware. That means you’ll have to sideload xCloud if you want to install it. The process involves finding an APK for the Xbox Game Pass app online, finding a way to transfer it to your dongle (here’s a guide from Android Police on doing exactly that), and then change the Chromecast settings to allow apps installs from “Unknown Sources.”

The lack of official support also means there are no guarantees about how xCloud will perform on the hardware. u/kiddj55 points out in a comment that games appear to run at 720p resolution, because the Xbox Games Pass app is designed for phones and not optimized for TVs. It does support Xbox controllers paired over Bluetooth, however.

While it’s possible to stream games from the cloud, we weren’t able to stream games locally from an Xbox console. When we installed the Xbox beta app (which provides the feature) we found it would crash whenever we tried to open it.

It’s unclear when we might see xCloud support officially arrive on the new Chromecast. Google has confirmed that its own Stadia service will be officially supported in the first half of next year though, and it’s unlikely that Microsoft will be too far behind. It’s great news for anyone who wants a cheap $50 device for streaming games to their TV, especially since the new Chromecast is a pretty good video streaming device in its own right.

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