The sun is bright. Blinding, almost. It is late afternoon on the last day of TwitchCon, and I have been waiting in line for 40 minutes. I’m not in the convention center, but rather, about half a mile away, outside a San Diego pizza restaurant called Ciro’s. The line wraps around the building. Well over one hundred people have gathered to attend a pizza party hosted by Twitch mega-star Imane “Pokimane” Anys. The crowd looks restless. I overhear people speculating that Anys hasn’t even arrived yet. “She’s gonna pull up in the Poki-mobile and be like ‘Sorry, guys!’” says a person in front of me. Ten minutes later, this actually happens: Anys pulls up alongside the frothing crowd in a BMW with art of her face painted on the side of it, fashionably late to her own party.
Anys is one of the biggest streamers on Twitch. The 23-year-old has nearly 3.5 million followers, putting her just outside the platform’s top ten most-followed. She is, notably, the only woman to have yet made it into Twitch’s highest echelon. Her on-stream persona is a mixture of chill, inviting, and quietly funny. She’s a contrast with the bellowing boys club seen elsewhere on the platform, instead occupying the loftiest tip of the Twitch iceberg with a warm and easygoing charisma. She also manages to be believably expressive during big competitive moments, or when she accidentally kills a chicken in Minecraft (RIP). Her appeal is one of contrasts: She’s somebody who many viewers can imagine themselves being friends with (or, as often seems to be the case with Twitch’s largely male audience, dating), but her “girl next door” persona is, at the same time, very polished, with an almost unattainable air about it. Also, in case you had any doubt about the whole unattainability thing, she now has a BMW with her face on it.
This, in a nutshell, is why a whole mess of people wanted to eat pizza with her.
Like pretty much everybody else there, I found out about the pizza party because Anys advertised it on Twitter. I arrived outside the pizza restaurant at 4:05 PM, five minutes after the event began. I did not leave until just before 6:00 PM, the time it was originally scheduled to end. I spent all of that time, except for two seconds, in some form of line. This might sound like torture, but at around the 35-minute mark, I achieved a sort of purgatorial galaxy brain nirvana and began to regard the whole thing as an Experience. This improved the situation tremendously.
It was around this time that the first of many passersby decided to investigate the line’s vast ecosystem. From just behind me, I heard a voice:
“A lot of GAMERS here,” the voice said. “GAMERS, what’s this line about?”
For what was the first and would definitely not be the last time, a guy behind me explained in a quiet whisper-mumble to the much larger guy asking this question that the folks in line were waiting to see “Pokimane, a streamer.” Over the course of the next hour and change, a procession of people—some relatively knowledgeable TwitchCon attendees, some confused San Diego citizens—asked what the line was about. For some reason, they continually asked this same guy right behind me. “Do I just look like I know?” he said to a friend in bemusement after the third time it happened.
As the line inched forward to the point where I was almost on the correct side of the building as the door, a man walked up. He looked much older than the mostly 20- and 30-somethings who comprised the line. I expected him to be the most bewildered of all the people who’d approached thus far. Instead, this tank-top-clad, silver-haired brick house of a boomer was here to give a presentation on what he knew about Twitch.
“I heard about this on the ride over,” he shouted at no one in particular. “It’s livestreaming. People will wear a GoPro at a concert—or play video games. And it was just bought by Amazon!”
Kind of a shaky start, but not the worst. I gave his book report a B-minus overall.
As the clock ticked toward the hour mark, I saw the people around me growing more and more restless. Hopeless, even. “There’s no way I’m waiting to go in there,” said one prospective pizza party attendee upon seeing the line into the too-tiny pizza parlor. “I’m gonna have to fight through a crowd of little kids.”
Not long after, a woman with a determined look on her face rounded the corner. Then she saw the rest of the line. “Yeah, that’s a no from me,” she said before immediately turning to walk away.
For more determined line-waiters, the pizza restaurant became a sort of promised land. Anybody who rounded the corner was barraged with questions. “Did you come from inside?” “What’s it like in there?” “Is the pizza good?”
The line, I will admit, was more than a little conspicuous. In addition to the hundred (possibly hundreds?) of people who comprised it, security guards patrolled up and down it the entire time, holding what appeared to be metal detectors. More security was stationed at the door of the otherwise humble mom ‘n’ pop shop. Anys might have made her name in a medium that thrives on accessibility with a uniquely inviting, down-to-earth vibe, but she is a star now. She can’t just show up somewhere without taking appropriate precautionary measures.
And show up she did—50 minutes late. This was perhaps the most surreal moment of the whole occasion, only in part because a person in front of me had predicted it just ten minutes beforehand with a level of accuracy that seemed almost clairvoyant. Anys and some friends pulled up in the car right next to the point where the line wrapped around the block, the late-afternoon sun glinting off her face (her car face, that is, not her real face). People looked stunned. Soon, the line shifted itself into more a huddle formation as people tried to get a glimpse of Anys. She proceeded to greet everyone with a level of enthusiasm that I’m still not sure how she summoned after a grueling convention weekend, took some pictures, and then advanced to the front of the line. Just like that, she was gone—or at least, out of eyeshot.
I’m still not sure if she meant to be late. I heard some people behind me grumbling that she’d been late to her official TwitchCon meet-and-greet the day before, too. Maybe it’s a tactic to build hype. Maybe she’s chronically late to things. Or maybe she’s chronically too cool to be on time. Or all of those things.
The line sped up a bit once Anys arrived, but it still felt like we were shuffling through a swamp of coagulated maple syrup. The clock struck 5:00 PM. Then 5:15 PM. By this point, I had a powerful hunger. Fortunately, as though summoned by the line’s collective hunger pangs, a family of candy sellers arrived. An older man in a weed hat spurred on two young girls (his daughters, presumably) as they sold chocolate bars to people in the line. Thank you, weed father and weed children. I would have starved to death without you.
As the family proceeded down the line, a streamer in front of me made an observation about them: “We’re all chat, and they’re the content creators.” I have not been able to stop thinking about this statement since. It was a bad joke that didn’t really land (Was candy the content? Were we chat simply because there were a lot of us?), but it was such a TwitchCon-appropriate type of bad joke. If you spend all of your time immersed in the Twitch ecosystem, this—for better or worse—is apparently just how you perceive the world.
Finally, after around an hour and 20 minutes, I approached the door. That’s when I realized there were two doors, one of which functioned as an exit. Anys was standing outside this one, taking pictures with every single person who emerged from the pizza restaurant. So this pizza party was more of a photo opp with pizza on the side. At first I was a little disappointed, but then I realized that, given the sheer magnitude of Anys’ fame at this point, she probably didn’t have a better option to offer her fans.
Finally, I neared the end of my quest and entered the restaurant. Then my vision adjusted to the no-longer-blinding light of this cool indoor space, and the comedy of the situation came into sharp focus: There, before me, was a second line. It snaked around the entire restaurant’s outer perimeter and over to the door, outside of which Anys stood. I got my free slice of pizza from the front counter and prepared for another long, grim march.
I considered devouring the slice right then and there, but I stopped myself. I was going to have pizza with—or at least in the general proximity of—Pokimane, darn it. So I gripped my paper plate such that it wrapped the pizza in a warm, taco-like embrace and dreamed of the day when I’d reach the second door.
Toward the back of the room, there was a sign on the wall. “PLEASE GRAB YOUR PIZZA AND GO,” it said in large, printed letters. Beneath that was a message written in Sharpie that said, “THX <3—Pokimane.” This operation had been engineered for maximum efficiency. As fans digested the pizza, this perfectly calibrated pizza party machine digested and expelled us.
Still, the other fans in earshot seemed to appreciate it, perhaps because they too were finally nearing the end of the line where we all had been living for ten million years. “I respect it,” said a 20-something guy who’d just gotten his pizza. “She’s literally serving her fans.”
At around the hour and 40 minute mark, I finally exited the second door. It was then that a whole host of thoughts rushed through my head. Should I ask her if she meant to be late? If she was purposely doing it to bolster her image? Would it be funny to request for her to sign my greasy pizza plate, to commemorate this extremely specific occasion? In the end, however, there wasn’t time for any of that. Instead, the photo opp was over in a flash, and before I knew it, another person had already taken my place. The efficiency of it all was ruthless but understandable.
Then I ate my pizza. It was fine.
Some distance away, I reviewed my photo. It was a good picture, all things considered. Anys looked a little worn out, in a normal human way any of us would after a lengthy ordeal. Maybe she was beat from the convention, or maybe that’s just how a person’s face looks after they’ve smiled for well over 100 photos in rapid succession, and there’s still a line out the door and around the building to come.
Regardless, in that moment, Anys, the real-life person, looked a little less unflappable than Anys, the face painted on the side of a car. It’s one thing to stream to millions of people from the comfort of your home. It’s another to reckon with them—and your own fame—in person for three straight days.
If nothing else, Anys definitely made some people’s day. As I stood on a nearby corner, waiting for a Lyft, a person I recognized from the line rounded it. “FUCK YES,” he said loudly, with a skip in his step.