Live productions have been casually interested in live feedback from their audience for some time now. Around 2010, competition game shows on broadcast TV started showing tweets with specific hashtags at the bottom of the screen. Of course, those tweets were hand selected by producers on a show. This practice was magnified on streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch. Modern entertainment is not content to simply show; it also desires the illusion of interaction.
Nowhere is this more true than in live streams of esport matches. Whether you are watching on Twitch, YouTube, or – god forbid – Facebook Gaming (which I am convinced is merely a myth), you will likely be treated to a live chat alongside the live stream of your game. The only problem is that this chat is fucking useless.
Streamer live chat culture
Live chats can be a great feature in the right context. Live streamers’ chats are often filled with fun banter, interesting discussions, and hilarious memes. The chat gives streamers and audience members the opportunity to interact with each other, making the chat a unique and important aspect of live streaming and creating a sense of community.
Chats tend to follow the culture that their streamer cultivates. More mature entertainers such as Overwatch streamer Daniel Fenner have stream chats that are friendly, intelligent, and welcoming. This reflects Fenner’s voice and brand which in turn creates an active and supportive community.
Streamers whose audience trend more immature, like speedrunner GrandPooBear, have chats filled with juvenile hijinx, pepe memes, and stream-specific spam. This reflects GrandPooBear’s brand as well.
Every stream has its own rules, culture, and moderators, so results will definitely vary with each stream you enter, but rarely is a Twitch chat totally useless. Most well-moderated stream chats are at worst annoying and at best a great place to discuss your shared interests in games and online entertainment with like-minded people.
Unfortunately, none of the positives for live chats in streams seem to translate into esports broadcasts.
Esports live chats: Where memes go to die
During esports matches, the chat goes to hell. During Overwatch League, League of Legends, and Dota 2 events, stream chats are equal parts toxic assholes screaming about their favorite team and annoying spam.
Unlike normal streaming chats, it’s nearly impossible to have a conversation in an esport chat section.
Obviously part of the issue is that the stream has 70,000+ people watching. The entirety of the audience is trying to share one chat, which is an insane proposition to begin with. When you add the toxic assholes and the random spam, the chat becomes downright stupid.
On top of there being too many people sharing a single chat, the idea of having a live chat on a competitive sporting event is odd to begin with. Can you imagine what chaos would be created if there was a live chat being shown during Ohio State v. Michigan football games? You would probably have biased fans being nasty to each other while everyone else is trying to enjoy the game. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what happens in esports chats.
Esports chats are filled to the brim with angry, toxic people yelling at other angry, toxic people.
The toxic people alone are probably enough for the average person to hide the chat. Afterall, I doubt most people are excited to see messages like:
Stream chats just come off as childish and immature, a quality that I don’t find attractive in a community. For whatever reason, esports chats are filled with random toxic comments which are only tangentially, or not at all, related to the game.
The toxicity of the esports chat isn’t isolated to just fans, some players have also engaged in toxic and even hateful rhetoric on Overwatch’s Twitch chat. According to a news release from March, 9 2018,Overwatch League itself stepped in to punish Felix “xQc” Lengyel for “repeatedly [using] an emote in a racially disparaging manner on the league’s stream and on social media, and [using] disparaging language against Overwatch League casters and fellow players on social media and on his personal stream.”
The blatant toxicity on public esports streams is a stain on each league’s reputation. We all know that these toxic people represent a loud minority of players. Most fans are not down with racism, misogyny, or toxicity. After all, every esport claims to promote a welcome and inclusive environment. Unfortunately their chats are spamming a different story.
The rest of the chat is dominated by people spamming annoying copypastas constantly in the chat. Even if moderators want to remove spam, there are hundreds or thousands of people posting the same spammy messages. Sometimes the message is in favor of a particular team, sometimes the message is against a particular team, and sometimes the message is just random.
For example, during OWL Playoffs for 2019, there was a ton of random Pro-LGBT spam in the chat, which led, of course, to a bunch of anti-LGBT spam in the chat, because this is the video game community. Neither type of spam had anything to do with ATL Reign crushing the SF Shock.
League of Legends fans are likely accustomed to a variety of annoying regional spam messages, such as:
A lot of the spam comes in the form of a poorly constructed rhyme.
Throughout 2019, esports channel chats would randomly fill up with bots, who would just take over the entire chat with the same emote.
Of all the spam though, I think that sponsor spam is the worst. For whatever reason, Blizzard’s streams in particular receive a lot of pro-sponsor spam. For OWL opening weekend, people kept spamming “Crunch Time” as a reference to the OWL sponsor Cheez-its. I am also excited about Cheeze its, but I don’t feel the need to spam CRUNCH TIME all game.
It’s hard to tell if the sponsors are spamming it themselves through guerilla accounts, or if people just really want the sponsor to give them free shit. During the 2019 OWL Playoffs, people were spamming pro-Coca Cola messages because Coca-Cola was giving away Overwatch League “All Access Passes” on Twitch to people who were active in the chat.
Whatever the rationale or logic to spam, it 100% ruins the usefulness of the chat. You can’t react to what’s going on in the game without getting immediately drowned out by off-topic copypasta.
So what’s the point of using the chat at all on an esports broadcast?
- They're full of spam and are ruining the experience for fans 50%, 3 votes3 votes 50%3 votes - 50% of all votes
- They're a funny way to express yourself and who you're supporting 50%, 3 votes3 votes 50%3 votes - 50% of all votes
One possible solution for esports live chats
I think that esport chats could be improved by splitting the total chat into a variety of chat rooms, each equipped with its own moderators. Moderators could be determined by the owner of the account, or maybe by some sort of chat reputation system. Twitch had a feature like this, called Twitch Rooms which allowed anyone to create a chatroom, however they killed the feature at the end of October in 2019, probably because no one was using it.
Maybe no one used it because the feature was bad, or maybe it wasn’t implemented properly. I think that rooms should be created by default for some broadcasts instead of waiting for a random person to create a room for other random people. An organized, automatic dispersal of viewers into smaller chat rooms might help make the chat useful for esports broadcasts.
You can’t make a community stop being toxic or even stop spamming, but you can make the chat more manageable for moderators to remove spam and help foster a better discussion. Platforms like YouTube and Twitch could create smaller chat rooms which people are randomly sorted into. Rather than joining a chat with 100,000 people in it, they could split everyone into groups like 1000, or even smaller, to encourage a more fruitful discussion.
In addition, tools like slow chat and follower-only chat have helped make chats more manageable, since the same person can’t monopolize the chat with their annoying spam message over and over again. I also think it is probably possible to block copy/paste features, which would help reduce people’s lazy ass spam.
The current chat situation is not working and something needs to change. Until then, I will just continue to hide the chat. If the point of having a chat is to allow viewers to engage with other audience members or contribute something to the stream, then it’s not doing the job.