A recent post on reddit recently brought evidence to people’s attention that a popular Starcraft 2 streamer, WinterStarcraft, aka wintergaming on twitch.tv, is guilty of using view bots on his stream. In response to the controversy a few things have happened.
Firstly, the Starcraft subreddit r/starcraft exploded and WinterStarcraft became widely condemned as a shady, unethical figure. His stream was then de-featured on teamliquid.net, the largest Starcraft community site, after they revised their featured streaming requirements. You can read their articulately written reasoning here. Then earlier today nVidia, who previously sponsored WinterStarcraft, disassociated themselves from the controversy and ended their sponsorship of him indefinitely. Winter announced the decision in a post on his Facebook page.
Quite a strong reaction. So what are view bots and why are they viewed so negatively?
View bots are fake mechanical viewers that are purchased from external services, usually disreputable companies, to artificially inflate viewer counts. Using view bots on a twitch broadcast is explicitly against twitch.tv’s terms of service and can result in channels being banned. While view bots don’t contribute financially to the broadcaster, the more viewers a stream on Twitch has – the higher up they appear in the list. This means more exposure as they are one of the first channels to be seen, and so more likely to attract new viewers who would check out the popular streams first.
One of the reasons people resort to using view bots to inflate their viewer count is so they can qualify as a twitch partner. Twitch stipulates that one of the requirements to qualify is an, ‘average concurrent viewship of 500+’. Being a Twitch partner brings a slew of benefits to the broadcaster, not least of all the ability to monetise their stream by earning a share of the revenue generated from broadcasts and channel subscriptions.
In contrast to the obvious gains of viewbotting it also harms legitimate streamers in a number of ways. Viewbotting can take away potential new viewers who are instead drawn to watch the populated streams. This creates an imbalance where the less popular or newer streamers are stuck in a dead zone at the bottom of the list. Their low viewer count and stifled growth offer little to no chance of receiving a partnership or sponsorship, which are instead offered to the streamers that cheat the system with their artificial popularity. This in turn encourages more streamers to use view bots to claw their way up the list to gain exposure.
For a more extensive break down of the harm viewbotting can cause – Avilo, a popular Starcraft 2 streamer, recently released a video on the subject of WinterStarcraft’s use of viewbotting.
So it’s easy to see the motivations for viewbotting and why is it so rampant in the Twitch community. The question is, what can be done to help stop the practice and solve the issues that can cause it? Twitch is responsible for their service and I think they should primarily be the ones to solve the problem. How they would do that is unclear though.
Harsh punishments for viewbotting seems like the most logical response. Although they would need strict guidelines as innocent streamers, who are victims of viewbotting by malicious individuals with intent to harm broadcasters’ reputations, would be unfairly penalised.
At the moment Twitch does nothing to help out the smaller streams. Promoting the lesser-known streamers to give them exposure would help to discourage the use of viewbotting and would go a long way to lessen the growing problem.
Captcha checks or only making viewing available to confirmed email accounts would reduce the frequency of viewbotting, but at the heavy expense of viewer convenience.
Other factors besides viewer count could be used to determine where streams show in the list, emphasising stream quality over viewer numbers. Twitch could then remove the public viewer count entirely and only make it available to themselves and the streamer for stat tracking.
Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
Photo by Doctor Popular licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.