Giving money to streamers can be weird. It makes sense when a streamer is a scrappy up-and-comer for whom even a few coins in the cup can make a difference, but we live in an era in which big streamers are millionaires with exclusive contracts and brand deals. While popular streamers have expressed awareness of this power differential in the past, Imane “Pokimane” Anys is doing something about it.
Earlier this week, Anys announced on Twitter that she’s set a donation maximum of $US5 ($7) on her stream, recommending that fans who want to spend more should instead “support growing channels, charities, and treat yourselves.” While many fans who donate to streamers tend to keep their spending within reasonable limits, some kick in hundreds or even thousands of dollars to be acknowledged by their favourite streamers or even create (typically one-sided) relationships with them.
During a stream the same day, Anys elaborated on her decision and thanked fans for helping her get this far.
“I worked with [livestreaming software company] StreamLabs in order to create a custom donation cap of $US5 ($7) on my channel,” she said. “I think this might be the first time they’ve ever done that. I’m not sure. I just really want to thank you guys for supporting me when I was in high school, when I was $US20,000 ($27,912) in debt in university, to the very, very lucky place where I am today and where I consider anything more than [$US5 ($7)] just unnecessary.”
Anys is one of the most successful streamers on Twitch, and donations are far from the only way she makes money. Earlier this year, she cut an exclusive deal with Twitch that sources told Kotaku at the time was worth around $US4.5 ($6) million. She also has deals with numerous brands, as well as her own merchandise. In addition, she has thousands of paying monthly subscribers on Twitch, and she takes a cut of money from ads that roll during her streams. Donations do not make up the bulk of her income. Still, within the Twitch community (and on other platforms like YouTube), some have previously accused her of taking advantage of especially dedicated fans who find her attractive — “simps,” as they’re derogatorily or jokingly called — despite the fact that nobody levels similar accusations at male streamers with dedicated donators, who benefit from the same system that monetizes parasocial relationships.
Many streamers and fans have approved of Anys’ donation cap, with an avalanche of people on Twitter saying they “respect” this decision, while smaller streamers have declared it a long-term goal. Some bigger streamers have expressed interest in following Anys’ lead.
“I love this! Would be great to have this option for anyone who wants to enable it,” Twitch streamer and YouTuber Tucker “Jericho” Boner said on Twitter.
Popular (though controversial) League of Legends streamer Tyler “Tyler1” Steinkamp, who has previously made fun of his own viewers for donating to him, arrived at a similar conclusion, albeit for very different reasons.
“I need to do that, honestly,” he said in reference to Anys’ $US5 ($7) donation cap during a recent stream, immediately after a fan donated $US100 ($140) to him. “Because I cannot stand fake reacting. I mean, people send $US100 ($140), and I feel like an arsehole if I’m not like ‘Oh my god, whoa, that’s crazy.’ People are too stupid not to do that.”
Overwatch pro turned Twitch superstar Félix “xQc” Lengyel, who sure does have some takes, commended Anys’ donation cap in a way that is, if nothing else, consistent with his larger body of work.
“Every time that one creator does something that’s good, for some reason — I don’t know why — everybody, instead of going ‘Oh that’s good,’ you know what they do? They don’t do that,” he said during a stream while drawing a sort of explanatory diagram in Microsoft Paint. “They say ‘Holy shit, all the other ones not doing it, they’re bad,’ and that’s a really odd way of thinking and doing things…We never, ever celebrate anyone doing something good. We always shame others for not doing it.”
Granted, that’s just kind of how it works when one successful person sets a new standard for other successful people, thus raising expectations across the board. Lengyel went on to say that not everybody can afford to limit donations and that those who can’t shouldn’t be expected to — which is a valid concern — but mainly he seemed wary of incoming criticism and discussion.
“[Anys] didn’t say any of that?” he said, referencing perceived pressure on other streamers to set a donation cap. “I know. I’m trying to mitigate all the dogshit that comes next with those kinds of things, because they always do.”
He also said that he does not “think anyone is pressured socially or by chat to donate a lot,” which is patently untrue, because many Twitch viewers have said they feel that way. So it’s a system that’s worth interrogating and, yes, criticising, albeit with the understanding that some streamers are more reliant on it for income than others.
Lengyel said that he does not “hardcore need” donation money at this point in his career. However, he does not intend on making any changes to his current setup, not because of “income,” but because he doesn’t want to limit what his viewers can do.
“Am I gonna do it?” he said of setting a donation cap. “Of course not.”
Late last month, drama-baiting YouTuber LeafyIsHere stirred up an internet-wide fuss over the idea that Imane “Pokimane” Anys, the most popular female streamer on Twitch, might have a boyfriend. It was the most recent evolution of a long-running line of thought: women on the internet keep their dating lives secret…