This isn’t the first thing you need to know about him, but it should be said: Dr Disrespect isn’t actually a doctor. He is, however, good at giving people what they seem to need. So good, in fact, that he’s amassed a staggering 3.8 million followers on Twitch, where he streams himself — in the trademark black mullet wig and red tactical gear — playing shooters like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
Disrespect’s government name is Guy Beahm and, as one of the most prominent streamers working now, he is beginning to expand his empire beyond the sandbox of live gaming. Beahm recently scored a TV development deal with Skybound Entertainment — the production company helmed by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman — to create a scripted, animated series starring the Disrespect character. “Creating a television property means we’ll be able to move fans from laptops to living rooms and engage completely new audiences while building backstories and expanding on Doc’s universe,” Beahm wrote to me in an email. “Fans are curious about Doc’s origin story and I have been ideating and planning with my team BoomTV, on how to take the narrative forward for many years now.” (I’m personally looking forward to hearing about the origins of the champions club, the mysterious “two-time” championship itself, and the mullet.)
Beahm started as a YouTuber, way back in 2010, mostly playing Call of Duty; the Disrespect character came from him reacting to videos of himself playing, which mostly meant talking shit about the people he played against. His in-character streaming career didn’t start until 2015, according to Dot Esports, after leaving Sledgehammer Games, where he was a level designer and community manager. The persona is masterful: there’s the mullet wig, the completely unnecessary red-and-black tactical gear, the elaborate graphics, and, of course, the shit talking, which approaches the sublime. There’s no one thing that sets Dr Disrespect apart from the rest of the pack of streamers: it is a gestalt, and it only makes total sense when he’s doing his thing on-screen.
Anyway, there are a few things to take away from the TV deal. First: streaming is mainstream, or at least mainstream enough to build out a whole narrative series based on a persona created for maximum engagement on Twitch. It makes a lot of sense. There’s already an audience of millions of people who spend hours of their days consuming Dr Disrespect’s content and his controversies; the idea has already been battle-tested, which is a little like how podcasts have become something of an intellectual property farm team for filmed media. (On that note, it should not go unrecognized that Tyler “Ninja” Blevins has gotten two book deals, both from the huge — and prestigious! — publisher Penguin Random House.)
It means that streaming, generally, has become large and communal enough that the personalities in front of the camera are already household names — depending on how young and online your household is. It also means that you should keep an eye out for more big names in live-streaming to cross over into the more traditional avenues of fame. “Naturally, the additional reach a popular show provides can launch us into even more aggressive expansion, especially given our partners at Skybound already have the infrastructure to expand IP from TV to comics, video games, books, merchandise, and more,” Beahm wrote.
Second: streamers’ brands are going to expand in unpredictable ways. Beahm’s deal with Skybound means that he’ll have Walking Dead-esque muscle behind his persona; there will probably be mobile games, comic books, action figures, and the like in the Doc’s future. Expect licensing deals. This kind of expansion, however, means that the Disrespect brand will probably be leaving a lot of its edge behind — it’s hard to imagine a future Doc IRL streaming from an E3 bathroom, or apologizing on stream to his viewers for cheating on his wife. The controversies are staying firmly in the past.
Third: Doc’s people say that Amazon isn’t involved at all with the Skybound deal. As the owner of Twitch and the home to an empire of original television, it wouldn’t be very surprising to see the Disrespect show end up where the Doc started; it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Amazon go to their signed Twitch talent directly, as part of the development process. But it’s hard to say for sure because of the streaming arms race that’s happening right now, and because it’s generally difficult to predict what a combined studio and distribution network is going to do. That, however, doesn’t mean it’s out of the question. (What’s telling here: Skybound Entertainment has a first-look deal with Amazon, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the Doc’s series will be picked up by the streamer.)
That brings me to the fourth takeaway: 2020 is just about here, and if the trend of locking down streamers with huge checks continues, we’ll see their operations further professionalize and diversify. That means management teams, agencies, and everything that goes along with that — streaming from places that aren’t spare bedrooms, for example, or experimenting with more expensive formats.
Over on YouTube, that looks like Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson, the guy who, in the last year, has been doing extreme challenges that end in massive donations; he’s single-handedly responsible for the recent trend of YouTubers taking sponsorship money and giving it away in increasingly elaborate ways. (Like that Drake music video from last year where the rapper gave away $1 million.) Beahm could be streaming’s MrBeast: the guy who does things so big that everyone else changes how they make videos in response — because now there’s way more money in live-streaming.
“2020 is going to be a defining year for streamers,” Beahm wrote. “We’re going to see more and more streamers take the next step in very real ways. My streams have always been the best, consisted of the highest production quality ... and I’m committed to continuing breaking creative horizons and engaging fans in an authentic manner,” he continued. “Anyone who’s not should just get out of the way.”