What the Twitch payout amounts can teach us about parasocial relationships and the top 1%

Screengrab via HasanAbi

 

On Oct. 6, 2021, the online streaming community was rocked by a 125 GB Twitch leak that contained sensitive user data and AutoMode source code. However, the breach that made the most headlines was the subscriber payouts of gaming's most popular streamers. 

The top 25 streamers from the now confirmed Twitch leak


To many, it was a sobering moment to see F-U money next to their favorite bedroom streamer. Among the most common reactions online were incredulous shock, cynical resentment, and a few vindicating cheers.

 

"Imagine donating to millionaires just to get them to acknowledge you exist."

 

"Don't forget, these numbers are EXCLUDING sponsors and donations."

 

"It's sad that people here just realized that streamers make an insane amount of money lol."


Later, a trend began to start referring to streamers by their number on the list. Some streamers leaned into the gag as they addressed their stream community head-on:


Streamers rely on a community of viewers to support their broadcast and most follow an unwritten social rule:  financial support should, in most situations, be rewarded with interaction. Nowadays, this is most commonly referred to as a parasocial relationship.

What is a parasocial relationship?

Parasocial relationships are not new or exclusive to streamers. They are most simply understood as one-sided relationships and you can find them at any celebrity or sports event. That fan with the painted face screaming support for a player that doesn't know they exist? That is parasocial!

 

The upside of parasocial relationships is they have a very low chance of rejection and can be a low-anxiety way to ensure some much-needed human connection. In addition, the individual has complete autonomy over who they want to enter a parasocial relationship with. In other words, you choose who you want to follow.

So this Twitch leak...

What is so fascinating about the Twitch leak is that it doesn't actually reveal any new or shocking information about Twitch's top 1%.  The gaming community already knew that top-performing streamers make great money and it remains a desirable "dream job" to millions and millions of people.

Fans knew streamers were rich... but did they really understand?

 

What the Twitch leak adds to the equation is specificity. Fans now know precisely how much Twitch streamers have made from 2019-2021 (or at least in terms of direct pay-outs, that's not counting sponsorships, exclusivity deals, and the like) and it doesn't help optics that the timeframe matches precisely with that of the COVID pandemic. This specificity brings with it an understanding that can unleash a torrent of emotions.

 

Professional streamer Hasan "HasanAbi" Piker is #13 on the list and, among those affected by the leak, was the only one to personally trend across Twitter. In this clip from his stream addressing the leak, he even concedes that angry responses from his fans are valid:



"See a motherf***** sitting in their god damn living room making more money than you and your dad will ever make for the rest of their f****** lives over the course of an entire year, then yeah, of course, you're going to get f mad at that," HasanAbi says.

 

"Why wouldn't you get f****** mad at that? There is a reason why a lot of these salaries are f****** hidden. Because if it was out in the open, as it is right now, demonstrably people are going to get f****** mad at that... it's the difference between a wealthy person living way out of your comprehension to a wealthy dude living in your neighborhood. A rich asshole moving into your neighborhood and building this giant monstrosity next door."  

 

Despite the irony of thanking a viewer for 50 gifted subs while simultaneously explaining how most people will never be as wealthy as him, Hasan is spot on in predicting the emotions of his parasocial community. The nuance is simple but powerful — wealth inequality feels a whole lot worse when it is right at your doorstep. The Twitch leak brought this truth to the doorstep of his, now worse feeling, audience.


The first signs of a parasocial breakup

When Hasan says "there is a reason why these salaries are f****** hidden", I believe him. Hasan and the hundreds of other streamers affected are the financial winners in these massive online parasocial relationships and the risk of this leak slowly eroding away at that income is real. 

 

Hasan knows why it is better to have his Twitch income hidden, but makes a point of reminding us that he was never hiding in the first place:


Was this really something everyone already knew? When people see Hasan's 50,439 subscriber count on stream, are they equating it with nearly $3M earned throughout the pandemic? When people tip Hasan for a chance to engage with him, are they seeking the attention of a millionaire? 

 

The lasting question now presents itself clearly. With the Twitch leak forcing people to contend with the specific and visceral reality of wealth inequality that exists between users and the platform's most popular streamers, will these communities ever be the same?


Before Hasan spoke in the clip above, he said he understood. He doubled down on that just moments later. And if not for the Twitch leak, it would be a whole lot easier to believe Hasan understands why his community feels so betrayed.


But he and the rest of the top 1% of streamers are millionaires living in a pandemic-ravaged 2021 — how much can they really understand how this feels?

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