By Nicole Mitchell
Illustration by Katelyn Betz
It’s no secret that the online streaming platform Twitch is made up of mostly men. Featuring a variety of categories including sports, food & drink, travel, gaming, and more, Twitch is a space where everyday people can livestream their lives online for the whole world to see. One of the most popular livestreams is in the gaming category, with streamers like Ninja, Sykkuno, and Trick2g being some of the most well-known Twitch creators.
Streaming or not, the gaming industry has always been a harsh place for women—from inappropriate comments to a complete distrust in their gaming capabilities. In fact, 44% of women in gaming have experienced gender discrimination in the last year, according to a report from esports giant Evil Geniuses. “As someone with an identifiably female voice and name, [harassment] is one of the reasons I refrain from playing online games,” a woman shared in the report. This idea that women are less-than has, unsurprisingly, seeped into the gaming community of Twitch. In fact, only 35% of streamers on the platform consist of women, according to Influencer Marketing Hub.
Twitch’s Recent Improvements
In the grand scheme of things, Twitch has done little to help protect its users from the hate that they receive. In May 2020, the company announced the creation of its Twitch Safety Advisory Council. The council is made up of online safety experts and Twitch creators. The goal of the project was to inform and guide future policy and safety decisions made by Twitch. Topics that the council has advised on include drafting new policies and updates; developing products and features to improve safety and moderation; promoting healthy streaming and work-life balance; protecting the interests of marginalized groups; and identifying emerging trends that could impact the Twitch experience, according to Twitch. While only three of eight participants—38%—of the council is made up of women, it is hopeful that the council continues to initiate change against the harassment and abuse that women on the platform face.
That’s not all Twitch has done to try and help its community members. In May 2021, Twitch introduced over 350 tags based on identity: transgender, biracial, Black, disabled, and more. Tags like these help introduce people in these groups to be introduced to others in their communities. In its blog post introducing the change, Twitch wrote, “When viewers talk about why they love Twitch, they don’t just talk about the content. They talk about creators, what they care about, and the communities they have built.”
To an outside audience, the addition of these tags seems like a step in the right direction; however, there are some inside of the streaming community who sincerely question Twitch’s timing. The truth is, previous to this change, Twitch did have a tag for a marginalized community —the LGBTQIA+ tag—and streamers had been asking for more since the addition of it back in 2018. Adam Rosenberg, Senior Games Reporter, wrote for Mashable, “But the late admission does make the statement feel a bit more toothless, like Twitch is taking the ‘safe’ route now rather than moving years ago to more aggressively look out for its most harassed creators.”
The company’s reasoning for waiting so long is nonexistent. “When we launched tags in 2018, we did so to boost discovery, to help creators describe their content and to help viewers find streams they’re interested in,” Twitch shared in its release. “We intentionally designed that system for creators to be able to describe what they were streaming, not who they were or what they stood for. We have maintained this distinction since that time, and we were wrong.” Because of Twitch’s late response, as well as a variety of other reasons, streamers and viewers alike have questioned whether or not Twitch genuinely cares about its viewers.
The Pitfalls of Being a Woman On Twitch
While there are no doubt setbacks that women face in the streaming community, they continue to join the platform. Based on average concurrent viewers, followers, views, and livestream time for the last thirty days, the number one female user is Pokimane. She is a variety streamer with streams in the gaming and chatting categories and is ranked at #77 on the list. Next in line at #78 is Amouranth, a just chatting streamer known for her ASMR and hot tub streams (more on that later). The third most popular female streamer is Emiru, who mostly plays the game League of Legends, and at #98 on the list, she hardly makes it to the top 100. For women trying to get into the streaming industry, it can be extremely difficult to get any viewers. Even the most popular female streamers struggled to get to where they are today.
So then the question is, where do smaller streamers fit into the system? “It’s almost like a subcategory of streamer,” Willow of PixelPixieGames said. “I’m not just a Twitch streamer, I’m a female streamer, which could be seen in a positive light too.” The reality of the situation is that women streamers’ audiences consist of a variety of different people. There are some people there for the content, but others there strictly because they’re women.
Midwestern Streamer LassJessie decided to start consistently streaming on Twitch over six months ago after finally getting the right equipment. Not only that, but she had to be emotionally ready for it too. “I got into a more healthy spot in my life where I felt like I could freely express myself,” she said. Some big influences in her streaming career are LuxieGames and MermaidRoyal. “They’re both LGBT lady streamers that I watch, and they both have amazing energies and supportive communities,” Jessie said.
While Jessie is fairly new to the platform, she has already dealt with a troll on her account, who called her names and said that the stream was boring. When asked how she responded to the hater, she said “I think I was being overly nice. I know that that kind of gets under people’s skin or it gets some to leave.”
It’s not that different for streamer RizzoAbby, either, who celebrated her one year anniversary on Twitch early December. “There are sexual harassing remarks,” she said. “People saying shitty things like ‘I’m so glad that you don’t stream with half your clothes on like everyone else.’”
It seems like the hate will never end for women. “Something as simple as camera angles… A camera angle could make someone mad if it’s too high, or if I’m wearing a low cut shirt, or if I’ve got a lot of makeup on, or if I have no makeup on,” Jessie said. “It’s like the same stuff that women are annoyed about in the real world. And now we’re also annoyed about it on the internet.”
Some women use the negatives of being a woman on Twitch to their advantage. “Primarily my audience is men,” Abby said. “It’s been easier to grow with this audience. It can make me uncomfortable, though. I don’t want to be this person that people follow because I’m a cute, young girl. But I have been blessed with a great community who are genuinely interested in my content.”
Are There Benefits to Being a Woman On Twitch?
Women on the internet receive a lot of hate, and yet many argue that being a woman makes it easier to gain popularity. “In numbers, I feel like, yeah, I might have a few followers who follow me not strictly because of the content that I create, but also of how I look,” Willow said. Women streamers who show more skin than others—such as “hot tub” streamers—are popular in the community. In fact, hot tub streamers gained so much attention in early 2021 that Twitch decided to make it its own category, rather than banning everyone who participated.
“It’s kind of like taking advantage of the gross systems that are already there and using them for my benefit,” Jessie said. “It’s like if you can’t beat them, for lack of a better phrase.”
However, not every woman wants to show their skin in that way. “I want people to like me for my personality, talent, and my skills,” Jessie said. “And it bothers me that a big draw for a lot of ladies is our bodies—not to the ladies’ fault. It’s just annoying that that’s kind of how it works.”
Where Will Streamers Be in The Future?
One big issue with Twitch for many creators is that even with blocking users from a stream, that user can still watch it. Twitch, in comparison to other social platforms like Instagram or Twitter, is less secure in terms of banning and blocking unwanted viewers for its users. “If someone was coming into my chat being really nasty towards me or my friends or whatever, I wouldn’t want them to be able to watch me,” Jessie said. “Yeah, they can’t chat, but what if they record the screen and put it on their Twitter or TikTok or something?”
Recently, Streamer Ludwig—who streams mainly video game-related content as well as contests and game shows—made the switch to YouTube, and he’s not the only one. Before Ludwig, user and fellow video game Streamer Valkyrae made the move after being offered an exclusive contract with YouTube in 2020, and TimTheTatMan—who also streams video games—moved soon after as well. With more and more people making the switch, it’s sparked a lot of talk within the community.
One of the main reasons Ludwig left Twitch for YouTube is that he felt more appreciated by YouTube as a platform. Not only did YouTube pay him a hefty penny to move over, but the company fought to keep him. The same cannot be said for Twitch. After setting a new record for most subscribers on Twitch, Ludwig hadn’t even received a short “congratulations” from the company, he said in a YouTube video about the switch. As seen before, when the company waited years for the addition of more diverse tags (which streamers begged for), it’s no surprise that users think Twitch is ungrateful. “Twitch has proven to be a platform that is more worried about money than anything else,” Abby said. “I think every company can grow and do better.”
Not only that, but YouTube has a fairly stronger blocking system than Twitch does, which could be a draw for Twitch’s smaller (or diverse) users. In reality, there are a variety of reasons for people to leave Twitch for another platform, and those reasons are personal to each streamer.
Unlike other streamers, however, Willow can’t see herself leaving the platform for good. “A lot of streamers use Twitch as a launchpad for YouTube,” she said. “I am excited to make YouTube videos, but I won’t leave live streaming there.”
Abby argued that Twitch is the better option for smaller streamers. “People are going to follow these bigger streamers. But for someone smaller, Twitch is the easiest and most available,” she said. “A lot of people dislike Twitch as a company. They take a big chunk of money from creators.” That “big chunk of money” is at least 50% of each subscription paid for by a viewer.
Jessie, on the other hand, thinks there’s a different path on the horizon for streamers. “I have a weird feeling that there’s going to be like a whole new streaming platform that’s going to come out,” she said. “I know some folks who used to stream on Mixer, then that closed down and then people are on Twitch… One of my other streamer friends started streaming at this really random website called Trovo.”
Trovo is a newer streaming website that is still in Beta testing. Whether or not it will become the new Twitch, streamers will have to decide for themselves, and only time will tell.
Despite all of the issues that may come along with being a woman streamer, Willow, Abby, and Jessie all agree that it’s worth it. “Twitch can be whatever you want it to be. You don’t have to put yourself in a box,” Willow said. “It’s a creative platform, and you can express yourself and interact with people.”
Check out these streamers and their community, Scuff Juice, here.
Nicole Mitchell (she/they) is a writer and social media manager who graduated December 2020 with a degree in strategic communication. A few of her favorite things include cuddling with cats, listening to Bon Iver, making lattes, and running her book club (even though sometimes she forgets to read the books.)
Katelyn Betz (she/her) is an artist from Kansas City. She got her degree in Graphic Design from Missouri State University, and loves to paint, shoot photos, and make comics. A lot of her work is open to playing with a traditional feminine design style, in a world where feminine things aren’t taken seriously. Katelyn believes that all art has a place; even if it is “girly,” and that being “girly” in the art world is dope—even if a couple of old guys don’t think so.