Not Your Girlfriend! How Female Streamers are Dealing With Sexual Harassment in Gaming

Leave the sexual innuendo and crass come ons at the door

Alexandra and Andrea Botez have over 800 thousand followers on the streaming platform Twitch and in less than five years have amassed a total of 50 million viewers to their chess streaming Twitch channel BotezLive .

The now-famous sibling streamers appreciate their followers and the income that a large following generates. What they don't want is lewd innuendos or crass come-ons. If you want to follow them for their chess moves, then they're all game. If you want to follow them to gain a girlfriend... get lost. 

Twitch streamers have recently made headlines for exposing a culture of sexism and harassment in the streaming and esports community. Female streamers like the Botez sisters are facing the brunt of online abuse. 

"They think they can treat [me] like a romantic object because they don't care about anything else," 25-year old Alexandra Botez told NBCLX.

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Alexandra made a name for herself in both the esports and chess community since she began streaming in 2016. She's an internationally ranked chess player, entertainer, and entrepreneur. 

But some in the online community are more focused on her appearance than her impressive resume.

Flirting is a grey area in the world of Twitch streaming. In Twitch's official harassment policy, they address the subjective nature of the issue. “Although harassment is never allowed on Twitch, we want to enable users to express themselves naturally with their friends and communities without fear that these interactions could be misidentified as harassment.”

Romantic interactions with Twitch streamers vary from user to user. Some creators welcome flirting and embrace it as part of their brand. But many become unwilling recipients to unwelcome suitors. Streamer Amouranth sometimes allows flirting on her terms. In 2018, she tweeted a boyfriend application to her followers that received over 60 eager applicants. Twitch Streamer JessieDitto says that the acceptability of flirting depends on the established relationship between the streamer and viewer. “When it’s someone I know that I’m friends with it tends to be harmless. But when it’s a random person, it can change my mood,” Jessieditto says. 

Although Twitch has a harassment policy, it is up to the streamer to successfully moderate content – a task that can be daunting. “You are expected to use channel moderators and the tools we provide, such as AutoMod, chat timeouts, and bans, to mitigate hateful conduct and harassment in your channel. Not using the provided tools to moderate hateful conduct appearing on your channel will lead to a suspension,” the harassment policy states. 

Alexandra and Andrea Botez discussed the lengthy process of moderating their community to discourage romantic or sexual interactions. "Alex sat down and had a stream saying, we're not accepting any of this,” says Andrea Botez.

The sisters have begun to "time out" viewers – a tool that temporarily bans a person from a room for ten minutes – for comments they find inappropriate.

"That's not what our chat is about," Alexandra says. 

Flirtatious comments and harassment can undermine a female streamer’s work. Andrea recounted a time when she posted a TikTok about how people credit a woman's success to physical appearance. In Andrea's case, this meant inferring her looks somehow had a hand in her impressive competitive chess record. Andrea felt overwhelmed by the amount of "disgusting" comments and hate she received in response to the video. "People overlook that a female streamer needs the same amount of entertaining characteristics…as any male streamer." 

“When I first started streaming the chat was so toxic and sexist… It was only through a two-year period that I was able to get my chat clean,” Alexandra Botez says, “I really believe that somebody's chat is based on their personality and what they find acceptable.”

There has been much debate over whether Twitch fosters this community of sexism or if it’s a part of society that's exacerbated due to the relative anonymity of online interactions.

“While we can’t singlehandedly tackle sexism and harassment across the gaming and broader Internet, we take our responsibility as a service seriously and are fighting against all harassment in our community. Safety on the service is our biggest priority and one of our top areas of investment, and we have a number of projects underway to address the hate and harassment streamers face as we continue to grow,” a Twitch spokesperson told NBCLX.

With the increased discussion around what constitutes harassment, several streamers are speaking out about the double standards in their treatment. "Men can get away with so much more than women streamers can...With the rise of hot tub streamers, I've seen so many tweets from men (and some women) bashing them. But when a dude does it, it's almost as if they act like it's life-changing," says Jessieditto referring to a controversial streaming trend in which a streamer chats with their viewers from a hot tub. 

In July 2020, more than 70 female streamers took to Twitter to share their experiences. British streamer Brooke Thorne said in an interview with TheNew York Times, "When it's one call-out, it's a problem with a person... When there's a ton of call-outs, it's a problem with the industry."

While forms of sexism and harassment are still an issue in the esports community, there are some signs that the culture is changing. AP reported that an all-girls school recently became the first in the U.S. to offer a varsity esports program, a step forward in closing the gender gap in esports. More streamers are taking to Twitter to publicize their experiences and redefine what constitutes harassment. 

Still, esports culture poses significant challenges for female streamers. Alexandra Botez offers a piece of advice to girls who are considering following in her footsteps. "I don't know if fame is a good thing for young girls." If a girl does decide to start streaming, Alexandra gives a stark warning, "Do not tolerate any kind of sexism from the start."