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Can Twitch Be Saved?

The idea that the Twitch platform may be doomed likely comes off as more than a little hyperbolic, but, while it would be outrageous to claim that the site needs to pull a total 180 lest they lose their entire community, it’s fair to say that Twitch is headed in a weird, potentially troubling direction. Whereas Fortnite and the streamers who rode its coattails to success were the talk of the internet during the summer of 2018, discussion surrounding the service of late seems to have taken a decidedly negative turn.

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Things started heating up in late July of this year when Alinity, a popular female streaming star, caught a ton of flack for throwing her cat over her head live on camera. Although the clip doesn’t really show what happened to the poor pet, many were quick to cite it as a clear case of animal abuse.

Twitch later added fuel to the fire by opting to refrain from taking any punitive actions against the streamer regardless of the fact that she violated the site’s code of conduct. In truth, this hadn’t been the first of Alinity’s offenses to apparently fly under the radar, as she’s previously been in hot water for taking NSFW selfies and using highly-inappropriate language on stream. Fans and content producers alike rallied against a perceived double standard set by the site, as they’ve permanently banned male streamers in the past for very similar violations. Unfortunately, action has yet to be taken to rectify what some see as a definite injustice.

The situation grew even stranger when Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the site’s dominant and most visible personality, announced on the 1st of August that he’d permanently be moving over to Microsoft’s Mixer platform. It was a bombshell that must have sent higher-ups at Twitch reeling, and they didn’t exactly respond in the most dignified way. Eager to retain viewers in spite of their competitor's recent success, Twitch changed Ninja’s offline channel page into a recommendation hub for other Fornite streamers. That way, rather than forcing all of Ninja’s fans from the site, they could perhaps coax a portion of them to click on another creator’s stream.

This completely backfired when, on August 11th, it was discovered that one of the channels being promoted on Ninja’s offline page was streaming pornography. No filters, no age gating, and nary a form of censorship to be seen, it was an embarrassment which infuriated Ninja and made Twitch look more foolish than they already did. The situation has since been rectified, and the CEO of Twitch offered a statement on Twitter, explaining that it was a hiccup in the new recommendation system, but the damage was already done.

The platform’s most recent debacle comes hot on the heels of the news that, in the month of July, Twitch’s viewership actually declined. This was the first time in more than a year that the site actually lost more viewers than it gained, and it has many wondering if Ninja may have gotten out when the getting was good. As of right now, Twitch is still vastly more popular and recognizable than any of its competitors save perhaps for YouTube’s streaming platform, but that may very well change if Twitch doesn't alter its behavior.

So, what can Twitch do to right the ship? Well, most prevalently, they’ll need to find another platform ambassador. Ninja made appearances on their behalf in tournaments, talk shows, and viral events, and it’s likely that, without such a presence, a more casual crowd will forget about the site with the same haste with which they made it so famous.

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Moreover, Twitch earnestly needs to adopt a more transparent and even-handed approach to the way they police their site. It comes across as a ludicrous double standard when someone like Dr. Disrespect gets banned for live streaming in a bathroom while other streamers come away unscathed from much larger controversies. Gender-based politics have been a contentious issue for quite a while on the platform, and unequal treatment, no matter the demographic, should be cause for alarm.

Finally, though it’s not an issue which frequently makes headlines, Twitch needs to provide better treatment for smaller streamers. While major names may pull in millions of viewers, there are tons of smaller streamers out there who are unable to grow their channels thanks to the platform’s utter disinterest in promoting less-profitable content. While making it big online via any venue has always been a needle-in-a-haystack sort of deal, the lack of incentive for would-be up-and-comers and the rampant favoritism when it comes to partnerships comes off as particularly annoying.

Still, it’s important to reiterate that Twitch is far from ruined. An uneven judicial hand may aggravate some, but as popular streamer "shroud" put it, most content creators won’t be willing to completely move to another platform and potentially sacrifice all they’ve worked to create. Few have the pull of a guy like Ninja, and, while he could make the switch work, while he has likely made millions of dollars in the process, most Twitch streamers with small- to medium-sized audiences will likely find themselves marooned on the platform.

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