So, I want you to picture something for a second.
Imagine you’ve been a fan of League of Legends for the past two years. You’re used to a specific stream experience: webcam, mic, music and whatever else. You start dabbling a little more in Dota 2 and you decide that maybe it’s time to see what some of these pros are doing; you go to the Twitch.tv directory for the game and click into the most popular at the stream at the time.
You meet Artour, and your descent begins.
Artour “Arteezy” Babaev is a pro Dota 2 player, but to me, he’s just an interesting person to observe. He represents a shift in what I was used to in the personality and conduct of a pro player, but not as a negative; watching him as a spectator tends to be a complex endeavor that can look fucking stupid if you’re not willing to take a bit of a ride.
At a surface level, you’ve got a 20-year-old who’s won over $800,000 of prize money playing Dota 2. When he streams, he instantly shoots up a couple thousand viewers: when he returned to Twitch.tv after leaving his previous team (who were contracted to another service) it took less than an hour for him to have over 10,000.
Spending any amount of time in his stream with the chat open is where things start going a little screwy. I can think of few other channels that exemplify the downright chaos that is unmoderated Twitch.tv discourse; Artour’s propensity to rage, comment, emote — whatever — eggs this on, but not in any purposeful way.
There’s no facade of manipulation here. There is only someone playing a game with thousands of people watching him that both want to support him and see him fail in the most horrible way possible, because then they might be able to spam BabyRage and say they were there.
It’s like you climb aboard a surfboard and choose what you want to ride: are you going to delude yourself into thinking you’re going to sit and try to analyze what he’s doing as a “good player,” shitpost and flame his every move, or just passively consume the symbiotic relationship between what’s happening on-screen and the loud, obnoxious peanut gallery? Are you going to enjoy the societal breakdown when he plays Mango Bay?
The thing is, after all that, you might think I’m telling you that the stream is bad. After spending an increasing amount of time there, I can only tell you that some times I feel enveloped in something magical, surreal and downright nuts.
One more hypothetical: you’re working on another monitor or playing some game. You’ve got Arteezy on somewhere else in order to provide some kind of background noise. You suddenly realize he’s been playing the same song for the past five songs. Normally, this would annoy you.
But for some reason, the idea of a guy who has a community and fanbase of thousands in the palm of his hand — that others would kill for — and saying “fuck it, we’re listening to this today” is immensely entertaining. There is no pretense of community-building here; besides when he’s on a pro team that demands it, there are no sponsorships, ad banners or things to be shilled.
In his words, he’s “just a boy, trying to play some Dotes.” We’re given the privilege of being able to see that all unwind in whatever way it needs to. Sometimes that means going hours without hearing him talk — other times that means listening to One Direction, or a techno song where the performer is screaming in German into the mic, seemingly at random. Sometimes we get to hear his thoughts on what anime character he thinks is best — sometimes he compares himself to some basketball anime character who chooses to dribble with more fingers when he feels the opponent is worthy.
That last bit might be ironic… but it also might not be? It goes into some weird places, but there’s no apologies for that weirdness. You have no influence. You don’t have a broadcaster working for your approval. I’m not sure if that’s just a refreshing feeling in a sea of endless “thanks for the resub” notifications or the convenience of being able to experience a bit of collective insanity.
You’re along for a ride with a guy who wants nothing more to just play a game, enjoy it, and most likely get some good practice in. Sometimes that happens. Other times you get to see him voice the same frustrations at you do to the morons who are on your team.
That shit’s cathartic.
On rare occasions, you get to see this calamity drop away for what I call “PogChamp moments”; these are the ones you’re likely to see most on a Reddit highlight reel, like the clip below.
Normally, seeing it afterward, you might think “oh, okay, whatever, cool” and close the tab.
But again, imagine you’re in a stream and you’re watching the some otherwise-dumb shit happening. Artour’s team is down considerably, or a whole bunch of stupid plays have been made. Something happens, like the above; you’re able to see a switch flipping in the player’s head that says “alright, if we want to win this game, we’re going to have to make something crazy happen.” It does. Sometimes it syncs to a Lil Jon song.
All of a sudden, regardless of what people are doing in the chat, the chaos ceases in order to spam emotes in reaction to what happened. It’s like as if no matter whether they love Artour, hate Artour, want to pay money to insult Artour with his donation text-to-speech bot, they can at least appreciate crazy-ass shit happening in front of them with a talented person behind the controls.
That is what hooked me to this. The premise of someone broadcasting themselves contrary to what is popular or successful, opening themselves up to a torrent of hate and insults and people telling him to kill himself for missing a last-hit, and still managing to just pick and choose moments to slam the door shut. Sure, sometimes it doesn’t work out, but the ability to not be broken by that environment is astounding to me.
Perhaps that’s what draws people to him; maybe it’s just people not getting burnt out on the concept yet. All I know is that it’s very easy to let yourself be sucked in — it’s like deciding to jump in a mosh pit for the first time. You’re there for a reason, and if you don’t give yourself to the experience, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
I have no idea about whether there’s this person who’s been shoved into a position of prominence and has somehow managed to keep their ego relatively intact, whether it’s a grand act to pander to preconceptions, or whether, at the end of the day, he’s just a loser.
You know, like the rest of us.
Matt Demers writes about the Internet and probably should take a break from it soon. Follow him on Twitter. If you liked this piece and want to show further appreciation, you can toss money to his PayPal.