Twitch Streamers Say The New Identity-Based Tags Have Made The Platform Better
In May, Twitch added more than 350 tags encompassing race, gender, disabilities, and mental illnesses.
Detractors worried using the tags — such as "Black," "transgender," and "autistic" — would just lead to harassment. And why does the race, gender, orientation, or other identifier of a streamer matter?
But streamers told BuzzFeed News that using these tags has improved their experience on Twitch, and that these identifiers actually matter a great deal.
Veronica Ripley, who's better known on Twitch as Nikatine, was a key voice in pushing Twitch to add a "trans" tag. She's been streaming since 2016, back when Twitch had a feature called "Communities." This allowed users to find each other using their own tags. For Ripley, it was an easy was to connect with fellow transgender people on Twitch.
But, that system was eventually retired for a tag system that Twitch controlled, with the tags being based around content, like games or game genres.
"When tags was replacing communities, there was a vacuum and that vacuum was trans discoverability," she told BuzzFeed News. "Not just trans discoverability, but minority discoverability. In general, discoverability is a big problem on the platform."
Ripley was able to fill the gap to some extent by creating Transmission Gaming, a Discord server and Twitch team for trans gamers. As an official ambassador for Twitch, she told Twitch how vital bringing back the tag would be for the community.
So, May's announcement was a big win that was a long time coming.
"For years, members of Transmission Gaming have been using their platforms to raise awareness about it. And finally, finally, we have it," she said.
Twitch actually added more than 350 new tags in addition to "transgender," something Jeff Brutlag was happy to see. Brutlag, a variety streamer, has been using the "non-binary" and "gay" tags and said they set a precedent of what to expect in a stream.
"I definitely think having these identity tags is kind of like, 'Hey, this is who I am,'" they told BuzzFeed News. "At the very bare minimum we are going to be standing up for these people."
They also said it demonstrates just why these tags, and the identities of streamers, really do matter.
"I think it all to me comes down to identity is content. I, as a gay non-binary person, cannot take that out of my perception of the world and how I take things in and view things," they said.
"I think it's also really important to find people that you identify with, because there might be people out there who are still struggling with the idea of coming out, or maybe have just recently come out, and are just trying to look for the people that they just vibe with and can feel absolutely safe with."
Brutlag said the tags have helped them discover new streamers to watch and has also brought new viewers to them.
"There have definitely been a few people who've come in, that said, 'Whoa, I saw that you're using the non-binary tag'. And so I can see that it's helping," they said.
When asked by BuzzFeed News, Twitch was unable to provide data on how the tags are being used, but streamers are able to see in their own statistics if people are coming to them via the tags. Ripley said 61% of people who find her via tags did so by the "transgender" tag.
"I was pretty excited because I was able to find more people like me," she said. Viewers have told her in chat they found her via the "Black" tag.
"Actually it’s one of the best things Twitch could have ever added," she said.
Towery said that while she does deal with harassment, the new tags don't appear to have made it worse. But that doesn't seem to be true for everyone.
Emily Krumlinde, who streams as QueenE and has been using the "autism" tag, said there's been some new harassment, "but they have been in the minority. Mostly it's been positive reactions all around."
"I've had people come in and mention how it's nice to have found a streamer they can relate to," she said.
But there's still more work to be done.
"One thing I personally think they could do a lot better is promoting and highlighting minority creators more actively and consistently, not just during events like Pride Month, Mental Health Week, or Black History Month," she said.
"It should be a normal, recurring thing to have minority creators represented throughout the year, alongside the creators they always promote."