The Streamer Awards offered a glimpse into a possible future of awards shows, and I have to say it was a lot more fun and meaningful than the stodgy yesteryear glamour of the Oscars. Not to be confused with the broader scope of the Streamy Awards, The Streamer Awards honed in specifically on live streaming and – well – takes itself a lot less seriously.
Don’t get me wrong, their production values are night and day. Created and hosted by Twitch streamer QTCinderella, The Streamer Awards were hosted at a small venue, the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles. They were weighted toward online voting, which accounted for 70% of the voting for winners. While the ads on Twitch are thankfully fewer than on live TV, the hosts hawked the show’s sponsors so often it turned into a running joke. You could see some of the technical seams showing, but this is part of what streaming is all about.
Streaming is off the cuff, a strange performance art that’s a marriage of scripted and unscripted, stagecraft and improv. It’s often funniest when chat and the audience are in on the joke and can see how it’s done. Every scuff becomes a feature that highlights how streaming is a participatory conversation between streamer and viewer. When it comes to streaming, seeing how the magic trick is done makes you part of it. Laughing at how it’s screwed up means both performer and viewer are laughing alongside each other at the same thing.
That’s how streaming takes advantage of the internet to convey its performance art in a way other mediums can’t. Does that mean it’s all great? Of course not – just like every other storytelling and performance medium. What’s important is what makes it unique, what it can do that other mediums can’t.
Of the hosts, presenters, and winners, many of them were visibly nervous and unused to a theatrical production. A streamer talking to a few thousand people in chat still has the benefit of distance, guard, and the buffer of the technology they’re using. They have the freedom to pull the plug at a moment’s notice if they want. Speaking live in front of a few hundred people can be a lot more tenuous, and was clearly something not all of them had training to do.
The more transparently scuffed nature of the very first Streamer Awards doesn’t mean that they’re niche. The show’s peak viewership was 380,000, and in fewer than two days, 4 million have watched the VOD on Twitch and 275,000 on YouTube. Each medium measures its views a little differently, but compare it to the 11th Streamy Awards, which has seen 9.6 million views since it aired four months ago. Now compare these to the 2021 Golden Globes telecast, watched by 6.9 million, or even last year’s Oscars telecast, which dropped to a record-low 10.4 million viewers.
Every success made The Streamer Awards as a whole a success. And yet every failure, every joke that bombed or moment of cringe, also made it a success because that’s what streaming is. Watching a community and its chat appreciate the work, and empathize with the intent regardless of whether it’s pulled off, is such a different experience from watching the Oscars and knowing that every dress, punchline, and even people’s attentiveness throughout a three-hour-plus show will be rated.
Here, QTCinderella scolded the audience when they talked too loudly through her co-host Maya, and Maya called out the jokes she didn’t think would work but QT insisted remain. The cameras cut to two streamers making out late in the show. No one gave a shit. It wasn’t a moment that sparked gossip or angry letters. It didn’t stain some nonsense perception of elegance, etiquette, or proper carriage.
The other part of this is the path streamers take to popularity. The typical view of streaming is that it centers on gamers who never leave their room. There are certainly places where that’s true, and The Streamer Awards were quick to use this joke every time a streamer who wasn’t present won an award. Yet this overlooks some powerful performance art created this year, as well as a number of IRL streams.
Take co-host Maya, or Maya Higa, who started streaming in 2019. From the beginning, her streaming content has centered on conservation. She started by getting permission from the zoo she worked at to feature her work in raptor rehab and falconry. Her Twitch following caught fire in a clip where she featured an injured hawk she was rehabilitating. She’s since expanded into conservation podcasts, and founded a non-profit animal sanctuary and education center.
Like Maya, most streamers who make it big expand into some level of variety streaming. They need a diverse range of content to be able to fill hours, which means working with other streamers, cooking, chatting, making music, the list goes on. The point is that there’s no one way into streaming. Many play games, many like Maya barely play any. Both are valuable.
In fact, the Twitch streamer with the most subscriptions today is Ironmouse, a Puerto Rican streamer with CVID, an immunodeficiency disorder that keeps her on oxygen. She’s a VTuber, meaning she uses an animated avatar (in this case, an anime-styled devil) controlled by motion capture software. A talent for voice over and training in singing serves the VTuber approach well, and she balances gaming and chatting streams with her talk show “Speak of the Devil”, where she interviews other VTubers in character.
Like many, my initial reaction to VTubers a few years back was that it was off-putting. It hadn’t occurred to me then just how useful a tool it can be for performers who are disabled, cope with anxiety, or want to control their own image for a variety of reasons, including safety concerns. Ironmouse has spoken in interviews about how streaming through an avatar allows her to do things she otherwise couldn’t when bedbound for long periods of time.
The scope of what can be accomplished in motion capture also hadn’t occurred to me. The Streamer Awards had a category for VTubers, though Ironmouse was beaten by CodeMiko, Youna Kang’s cutting edge blend of motion-captured character, CGI environments, Cronenbergian interpretations of memes, and live content (when Kang doesn’t feel like putting on her motion capture suit and plays the character’s technician instead).
I think what appeals to me most about The Streamer Awards is that it didn’t merely recognize the boundary-breaking elements of its medium, it highlighted them. The category League of Their Own featured four geniuses in performance art:
Kitboga streams his interactions with those aggravating scam callers who’ve made us all refuse to pick up the phone the last several years. After finding out his grandmother had fallen prey to a scam in 2017, he built a career around scamming scammers. He utilizes a voice changer to play characters. When scammers want access to his PC, he runs a virtual machine off his computer that’s spoofed to look like a unique PC. He even created a fake banking website that’s extraordinarily difficult for scammers to navigate and that gives him control of the financial transactions.
Ibai is a Spanish streamer who invented a whole new international sport: the Balloon World Cup. Based on the game where you have to keep a balloon off the ground, each player gets one touch to keep it afloat. If the other player can’t touch it to keep it afloat, you score a point. It sounds silly, but put it on an obstacle course and the final product becomes intense, athletic, and a lot more exciting than most professional sports.
The Sushi Dragon livestreams…well, the making of his livestream. The hell’s that mean? He uses a device on his wrist to edit the stream as it happens. He turns his live recording of daily life into an immersive experimental film.
The winner was Jerma985, who rented out a warehouse, built a complete sitcom-styled set, and employed a film crew to offer viewers the chance to control his stream as if he were a character on The Sims. They could decide how he looked, what he did, what he bought, what events happened to him, and influence his emotional state, complete with stagehands who upgraded his house during intermissions, and used props to represent housefires.
Awards shows that take themselves more seriously don’t do this. There’s no Oscar award for who fucked up film the best this year, for those who changed our understanding of what it can even be in the first place. In fact, I’d argue the people who did exactly that, such as Julia Ducournau (“Titane”), Prano Bailey-Bond (“Censor”), and Michael Sarnoski (“Pig”) saw a grand total of zero nominations for their films in any category.
In another vein, we saw an award for Best Philanthropic Streamer. This was won by Irish streamer Jacksepticeye, who raised $7.6 million to combat homelessness in 2021. When was the last time we saw an award for Best Philanthropic Actor, or Film that Caused the Most Change?
The Streamer Awards also featured an inclusive range of presenters, nominees, and winners – something the Oscars and other awards shows still can’t manage reliably.
But look – this article? It’s only kind of about the Oscars. It’s really about streaming as a medium. The Oscars are the jumping off point. As it shears away some of its most interesting awards in the pursuit of making the telecast shorter, it misses the point that it should be diving deeper to catch up with how people view film and become interested in the medium’s storytelling. I mean, hell, the quickest fix is to look at what the Independent Spirit Awards did with Aubrey Plaza hosting, but the longer fix is to figure out what forms communities around film, and how to feature and appreciate this.
The Streamer Awards already has that down when it comes to live streaming. It felt like a community that appreciated each other, that acted like a community even as the awards show was happening. It didn’t matter if there were technical issues or a third of the jokes clunked. It mattered that as the show went on, it became a downright sweet appreciation for the performers others marveled at, a celebration of just how far communities enable performers to take their art.
There was no regality. The awards both mattered to the point where streamers were moved to receive them, and didn’t matter to the point where they accidentally broke or forgot them. That both these aspects are true defines the weird landscape of streaming, where the audience is in on the joke but participates in the performance by taking it seriously.
If that seems like a dangerous form of art, that’s because it is. We live in a dangerous reality, where enough of the population believes bullshit that they’ll refuse to get life-saving vaccines, refuse to wear a mask, that they’ll frenzy to take school lunches from children, celebrate politicians who take money from enemies, the list goes disappointingly on.
If we understand that play is a type of processing and practice for real life that everyone needs – including adults – when we look at the gaslit world we’re in…we need a medium where we can see the joke from inside and out, understand how that participation works and how to recognize it, where we can practice at turning it into empathy, into wanting to see someone else succeed, into celebrating what gives others access, or a voice, or challenges the status quo.
Awards shows are ads, and The Streamer Awards certainly had those. They have a choice what to be beyond that, whether they’re rubber stamp approvals of the way things are, or they genuinely seek to push the boundary of what can be and platform those pushing hardest. Any piece of art has to have a reason for being, and awards shows don’t even think of themselves as a piece of art. That excuses them from having a purpose. Give an awards show a purpose, create it with that expectation, and it can become a piece of art. At that point, what it says starts mattering a lot more than whether it pulls it off or not. People want to see art, even if it has ads stuffed into it. They don’t want to see ads with more ads stuffed in.
The Streamer Awards were scuffed because they were willing to be, and they were willing to be transparent about what they aspired to. Audiences are smart enough to fill in the blanks when they’re entrusted to do so, and that enabled this awards show to have a point, a purpose, to argue for streaming as the largest medium we’ve ever had for performance art, and to point us in the direction of a diverse range of performers who challenge our ideas of what art is, who can make it, and what our participation in it looks and feels like.
If you find articles like these important to you, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to write articles like this one.