It’s been a while since I dropped an opinion piece on you. If I’m honest, I’m feeling happy and fulfilled, which means I’ve had no interest in plumbing the murky waters of the endless ocean that is “internet drama”, where leeches and bottom-feeders tend to grab at your ankles and drag you into the darkest depths of despair. I’m all about sparkles and unicorns at the moment, so I’ve been avoiding such things at all costs.
But then Blurz went and did this:
Images found on W24
Let me get you up to speed. Kyle (aka Blurz) is a South African gaming streamer / YouTuber with a fairly large following (7,000 subs is large in SA terms). He sent the above messages to a woman on Instagram, and they were inevitably shared with the press. This probably isn’t the first time Blurz has done something like this, as Zoe over at Critical Hit pointed out after she’d done some digging and found some rather interesting material across his social media profiles.
I’m not here to hate on Blurz, because the truth is, while what he did is inarguably grotesque, we’ve all done things we’re not proud of, myself included. Just recently I made an extremely inappropriate joke in a piece of content I’d created. I was messing around with my mates, and at the time I didn’t even realise I’d gone too far. But I had. When it was pointed out to me later, I was absolutely horrified and ashamed. I’d fed the hype and taken it a step too far. We’ve all crossed a line without realising it at some point. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to play down or excuse Blurz’s actions. My inappropriate joke is nothing compared to the level to which this dude has gone. But I’m here to talk about something else. I’m here to highlight a problem that extends far beyond the drama surrounding Blurz.
That problem is with the creators of South African gaming content.
I sometimes consult with brands and match them to content creators. It’s something I enjoy doing, and I love searching for new talent. Yesterday afternoon I had to remove Blurz from a campaign roll-out I was planning. I was completely committed to offering him an opportunity that would’ve likely destroyed the brand I’d consulted for, along with my reputation. Why? Because I didn’t do proper research or actively monitor his accounts. I believed some sub numbers and a bit of hype.
But this isn’t anything new. Two weeks ago I had this same conversation with another content creator after we’d been privy to a voice note from a prominent streamer, which had been leaked from a private group. Had that voice note made it into the public domain, said streamer would’ve likely lost at least one sponsor, if not more. Bottom line: this stuff is getting leaked, and it doesn’t just affect Blurz or the creator concerned. It affects all of us. Gaming-centric creators are on the rise, but the actions of a few (like sexually harassing an unsuspecting woman, lying about your true engagement, or just generally feeding pathetic gaming stereotypes) negatively affect all the new and veteran creators just trying to made rad stuff.
In other words: when one creator stuffs up, we all stuff up.
Gaming is a weird market. We’re a crazy bunch who speak our minds and play in a space that is generally misunderstood by mainstream audiences. We’re loud, crude and tend to not hold our punches. While this currently seems somewhat edgy, it can also be dangerous. Many brands moving in this space only understand what mainstream media has told them. They expect rude, crude and overtly sexual. They have it so incredibly wrong.
For many years, a small, established group of creators and media were presented with all of the most prestigious opportunities. I know this, because I’m part of that “old guard” now. I wasn’t always though. A year back I was the new kid on the block, but I think I’ve now settled in to a position where I’m the older generation. Brands want to be different and find “the next big thing”. So a bunch of young, up-and-coming creators are being told they’re the bee’s knees. They’re being promised the world and then some.
The hard truth
Brands don’t want the next big thing. They want the youngster who hasn’t yet realised their true worth. Because the veteran creators? We get it now. We’ve come to realise that the content we create is of far more value than a free mouse. We’ve realised that our audiences are worth more than any item of hardware, any “free” game you can toss at us. We have numbers, we have local engagement, and we get that brands want a piece of that. We also know that we don’t have to be loud, or overtly sexual, or feed any bloody stereotype to conform to what a brand wants. We don’t play the game they want us to anymore. We referee it. We turn down the freebies and invites to parties. We refuse to bend. Are we overused and overexposed? No. We’re worth it.
Younger creators are too, but they don’t realise it yet. They fall into the same traps we did. The promise of a new peripheral has us screaming “sponsor” on our channel. We believe we have to do what someone says or behave in some unoriginal way to take the next step. The fancy press pass and accompanying lanyard is an ego-boost, after all. Suddenly I’m important. The moment that happens, we start broadcasting the wrong message and while brands might think we’re great – the engagement statistics show an unimpressed audience.
I’ve watched well-known brands tell local gaming creators that they’re going to be the next big star because they’re edgy, or wacky, or sexy. I’ve watched marketing managers feed dormant, beastly egos, and I’ve seen the repercussions. Blurz is the perfect example.
The truth? Blurz acts like a dick. He always has. I’d suggest watching a livestream, but they seem to have been taken down. The community actively labelled him an asshole. But because of that attitude, more people watched him. Brands started sending him stuff, instead of asking why he was getting all this attention in the first place. He believed that was what they wanted and, I suppose, in some weird space in his mind, that made it okay to send those disgusting, offensive messages to a woman.
I was recently privy to an email a prominent brand sent out, specifically regarding female gaming creators. A well-known and extremely talented professional gamer was pushed aside in favour of a handful of female creators who had little-to-no content, but boasted burgeoning Instagram accounts containing shots of their faces (and cleavage, of course) in headsets.
“Our audience prefers this.”
Really? Because the numbers don’t lie. I’m not talking followers – I’m talking actual engagement. While we all like looking at pretty girls, I can assure you that when the professional gamer you glossed over says she swears by a specific brand, the likelihood is far higher that she’ll be the one to get you a sale, because her opinion carries actual credibility. Driving sales is why you’d support a creator in the first place, yet somewhere in the manual for catering to gamers it was decided that they’re all sexually depraved weirdos (I’m well aware of the irony here, considering the screengrabs I posted earlier). Because “sponsorships” are about sales. Awareness is so 2015. Get that out of your vocabulary.
So why this long diatribe?
Maybe I just wanted to publicly scream “I told you so”. Maybe I’m feeling the pressure of not being as edgy, or as “out there”, or as sexy as some of the new creators popping up on the internet.
Or maybe I just wanted to warn you: it doesn’t matter how internet famous you think you are, or are going to be. It doesn’t matter how many people tell you how great you’re going to be. The truth is, we live in a tiny region in the larger scale of things, and you’re nobody. It doesn’t matter how many subs you have, or how many brands you have telling you you’re the “next big thing”. Your actions in private speak multitudes about you publicly. Remember that.
Don’t be a dick, no matter how many brands tell you that is what your audience wants. Don’t change your persona because a marketing manager somewhere tells you you must. Also seriously, don’t be a dick.
I’m going to start working on being better. You should too.