The Streamer Awards, an awards ceremony dedicated to livestreaming (and not to be confused with The Streamy Awards), hosted its first-ever show on March 12. Founded and organized by cooking streamer QTCinderella, the celebration pulled in 380,000 concurrent viewers, as big-name broadcasters like Hasanabi and Pokimane made appearances to pick up their golden trophies. However, many weren’t happy with the event for one particular reason: The trophy is getting confused for Pepe the Frog.
The raised eyebrows shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Pepe has a complicated history, initially starting out as an apolitical character drawn by American cartoonist Matt Furie in 2005, before it was appropriated by the alt-right. It’s since been used by extremist groups as they perpetuate hateful rhetoric. The Anti-Defamation League added Pepe to its database as a hate symbol in 2016, but this hasn’t stopped hatemongering racists from continuing to use the image all over online spaces from 4chan to Reddit. Still, Pepe has continued being a popular character both on the internet and a major emote on platforms like Twitch.
Some have tried to argue the statue isn’t Pepe but instead Peepo, a supposed gentler rendition of the memeified frog that sometimes pops up in Twitch chats. The problem is that the average person doesn’t know who that is—most folks are only aware of Pepe, the more popular meme, which might explain why some took to social media with confusion about the trophy’s potential negative connotations. The trophy’s monochrome also boasts less detail, which might make it easier to confuse the two if indeed it’s not Pepe.
Amazon’s livestreaming platform also has a tumultuous history with Pepe. As one of Twitch’s most popular unofficial emotes, the image has commonly been used when making incendiary comments, but is also used more innocuously when expressing excitement or sadness. But its use as a hate symbol has led streamers to wonder whether banning Pepe altogether might be a necessary move. Others have simply started adopting Peepo instead.
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It’s this history that’s drawn ire to both The Streamer Awards and the trophy itself. When QTCinderella tweeted the behind-the-scenes creation of the award, multiple folks simply asked, “Why?”, seemingly in response to Pepe’s identity as known hate symbol. Sure, some claimed that the little trophy—a gold-covered 3D printed model of frog in a suit and tie—is cute, it kinda is. Assuming it’s Peepo! But if it’s not, Pepe’s murky history taints whatever cuteness the trophy has. It’s hard to overlook an image that’s been used to disparage all kinds of marginalized folks, including the queer community and Jewish people.
Kotaku has reached out to The Streamer Awards for comment.
As you can guess, lots of folks talking about the trophy are baffled by this design decision. Why The Streamer Awards and QTCinderella would try to reclaim such a toxic image is puzzling, to say the least. One streamer named KamiAnya summed up the discourse perfectly in one tweet.
“Using Pepe as the award tells a lot of us that we’re not welcome there,” they said. “I hope this is unintentional. Please, anyone who is unaware, educate yourself on the history of this frog and how it’s become a dogwhistle for white supremacists.”
Update, 3/14/22, 2:28 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to reflect that The Streamer Awards’ trophy could resemble either Pepe the Frog or Peepo.