There are as many ways to make it on Twitch as there are streamers. Even so, there is a culturally recognized type. And you can picture him — yes, him — now, can’t you? A young white guy in a gaming chair, playing something like a shooter or possibly an MMO, averaging hundreds or thousands of viewers with the subs and bits to match. This isn’t meant to be prescriptive, obviously — your fav is probably not this made-up guy — but I think it’s important to talk about who we typically think of when we talk about streamers because so many streamers don’t fit the stereotype, and we should recognize them, too.
Brandon Stennis is one of those people. He goes by iamBrandon on Twitch, and he’s an energetic, unapologetic queer Black advocate for marginalized people on Twitch. (He’s also fun as hell to watch.) Stennis was partnered on Twitch in 2016, a couple of years after he started streaming. Today, he’s also the influencer relations manager at Reverb Games, a position he’s had since last April — and yes, he says his experience as a content creator makes him better at his job. “I just have the upper hand because I know what it’s like to get an offer from a company,” he says. “It’s just easier for me to understand where a streamer’s coming from.”
In the beginning, however, he didn’t want to be a streamer. He wanted to be a journalist, someone who went out in the field and came back with a good story. It didn’t pan out. “When I was looking for jobs, they basically told me that I didn’t have experience, online experience, with like a portfolio or anything,” he tells me when I reach him over Discord. So in 2012, the summer after he graduated from college, he ended up spending a lot of time at home playing video games. “And that was my very first experience with online gaming,” he says. It led him to start his own blog, UGRgaming.com, a gaming news and reviews site. He eventually found a staff to help him out. Things were going well.
They decided to update their social strategy and landed on Twitch. Stennis jumped in. “I quickly learned that you can’t promote a website on Twitch, it doesn’t work like that, it’s more about people’s personalities,” he says. “So I kind of just started, you know, being myself and playing games that I enjoyed, and wanted to play.”
People started gravitating toward his streams, which, at the time, were mostly Resident Evil. “I was starting to see that people actually liked my personality. So I thought that streaming would be something that I wanted to fall into a little bit more,” Stennis says. He kept at it, founding a popular Twitch Chicago meetup in 2015. “I kind of fell into it and didn’t realize what I was getting myself into, but then it turned into something that built up my career,” he says. UGR Gaming ended in 2017.
Back then, when Stennis started, Twitch was a lot different. If you weren’t partnered, you didn’t have a sub button, which meant you couldn’t earn money from streams. You had to have more than 50 viewers to upgrade the quality of your streams, too. And, he says, there was no real sense of community. After Resident Evil came Outlast and speedrunning; Stennis managed to find his people and earned his partner badge. But he’s still vocal about how Twitch can do better at helping people find each other.
“I know, there’s good people who work for the company,” Stennis says. “But there are some people who just don’t care.” One of the things he’s been vocal about online is the issue of a trans tag on Twitch for the LGBTQ community, which streamers have wanted for a while. “The CEO of Twitch came out a few months ago on a live stream and basically said that they didn’t want to do it because they didn’t want to send harassment to trans streamers — but trans streamers and LGBT people and people of color are already dealing with harassment on the platform, because Twitch is not doing any good with the harassment that that’s already happening,” says Stennis.
Twitch not being able to curb its harassment problem isn’t an excuse for standing in the way of a marginalized community trying to find each other. “They should have done it a long time ago. The community is very vocal about that,” he says. “And there’s been, you know, other tags that have come along very quickly and very fast that I feel are not as important as this one.”
Twitch’s issues with its non-cis, non-white, and non-male populations are pretty well-documented online. During our chat, Stennis pointed out that Twitch is doing better this Black History Month than it has in the past. Even so, he was shocked that he had a pleasant experience being on Twitch’s front page, which has been highlighting Black streamers all month. (For people who don’t fit the traditional streamer stereotype, being featured on the front page of Twitch can be an exercise in harassment.) “I was taking a look at the total number of streamers on there, and it’s like 116,” he says. “And so it’s just like, obviously, there is an issue with visibility of Black creators and POC creators on this platform. If there’s only 116 people on this team — that’s very small compared to our counterparts.”
The work, as they say, continues. Despite everything — quarantine, COVID-19, etc. — Stennis says he’s doing well. “I’ve been able to finally take control of my streaming career in a really big and positive way,” he says. “I never thought I would be doing like... being a guest star on Rooster Teeth and all this kind of stuff. And there’s a lot more to come,” he says. And it’s at this very moment that G4, the gaming TV network, tweets at him.
“It’s just been crazy to see because like, you know, I watched G4 when I was a teenager, grew up on all the shows, and to see them recognize like me as a person,” he says. “And talk about me in that kind of way. It’s like literally insane, you know what I mean?”
Stennis says he wants his streaming career to grow, but more than that, he wants to show other queer Black people that they have a space in gaming. “I knew when I walked into doing all this, I was walking into a white male-dominated field. That I was not going to be received well, so I did several different things,” he says. He hid who he was. “But as soon as I let that go, and I decided to be myself truly and open and honest, I saw so much love and saw how I was inspiring other people to just be themselves.” And that, I think, is a worthy goal.