Illustration for article titled iValorant /iTwitch Streamers Are Gaming The System With 24/7 Streams That Rack Up Viewers Desperate For Beta Keys
Image: Riot Games

If you take a look at many of Twitch’s top Valorant streams right now, you’ll note that they claim to be running “24/7.” This might strike you as odd, given that human beings generally need to eat, sleep, and all that fancy, life-sustaining jazz. Most of these streams, however, are not actually live. At least, not all the time.

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Ever since the launch of its closed beta a couple weeks ago, Riot Games’ new tactical shooter Valorant has dominated Twitch, pulling record-breaking viewer numbers for what is, by this point, probably a record-breaking amount of time. But it’s not just because people have an insatiable hunger to watch Counter-Strike as played out by special forces members who are also wizards; there are beta keys at stake, and if you want one, you’ve got to tune in to Twitch. Any streamer with beta access will do. Beyond that, you just have to link your Riot account with your Twitch account and then sit in somebody’s chat and wait. Once you pass a threshold of a couple hours, you become eligible to receive a key. Riot says the selection process is random, but it gives higher “weight” to people who’ve watched more hours of Valorant streams. “Hours watched also has diminishing returns,” it said in a blog post on April 8, “so please don’t burn yourself out trying to marathon Valorant streams.”

That, however, has not stopped an ecosystem of 24/7 streams from emerging around the game. Here’s how most of them work: For a portion of the day, the streamer is online, playing live and interacting with chat. Eventually, they go offline, but their stream remains online, airing either a recorded rerun of the day’s stream or an assortment of highlights from various play sessions. So the stream is still live, but the streamer is not. Twitch has a built-in rerun feature, but streamers eschew this for the sake of beta key drops. Viewers, many of them AFK, hang out in these streams’ chats, hoping to up their chances of snagging an all-important beta key. Viewbotting for the purpose of illicitly snatching up additional keys has also been an issue. This makes sense, given that keys were selling for upwards of $150 on eBay and other sites until Riot said players on purchased accounts could end up getting banned. Now prices are down in the $15-30 range, but selling in bulk could still fetch a pretty penny. But Riot insisted in its blog post that “both us and Twitch have filters in place to distinguish bots vs. people.”

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Evidently, the 24/7 method works for streamers. If you check Twitch at any given moment, odds are that you’ll find longtime CSGO content creator Ludwig “Anomaly” Lagerstedt at the top of the Valorant category with over 100,000 concurrent viewers. For the better part of the past few days, he’s been the top streamer on all of Twitch in terms of concurrent viewers. Chat is mostly people asking about keys, entering commands like “!givekey” even though they don’t do anything, and checking their watch time. Other 24/7 Valorant streamers like gaming wiki Fextralife (which also embeds its stream across its pages to inflate its viewership stats), Russian streamer IrmanPlay, and ex-Counter-Strike pro Onscreen aren’t far behind.

These streamers are gaming the system—one that Riot created by gaming Twitch’s viewership system with the promise of beta key drops for those who accrued the most hours watching Valorant streams. In chat, it goes a layer deeper: Viewers are trying to figure out ways to game the system and increase the likelihood they’ll receive beta keys by coming up with bogus strats like the aforementioned “!givekey” command. I saw one smaller 24/7 streamer get in on it as well, suggesting in their stream title that viewers use a “trick” in which they stay AFK but leave their sound on and consistently enter the “!watchtime” command to improve their chances. Nowhere has Riot or Twitch suggested that any of these MLG pro beta key strats will actually work, but Twitch viewers are clearly desperate.

These streams have proven divisive among streamers. Some, like popular Fortnite pro turned aspiring Valorant pro Ali “Myth” Kabbani have spoken out against them.

“4/5 top Valorant channels [right now] are 24/7 VOD streams,” he said on Twitter earlier this week.

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This prompted a response from streamer and YouTuber Jimmy “HighDistortion” Moreno, who said that “You know it’s an issue when new viewers ask ‘Is this a 24/7 stream’ or ‘Is this live?’ Both answers to these questions should be obvious on Twitch—a live stream platform.”

Kabbani agreed with Moreno. Many others concurred, saying that promising new streamers trying to make it big on the back of Valorant’s success are getting crowded out of Twitch’s most visible sections by streamers who aren’t even streaming half the time, and who are cultivating communities of key farmers, not actual fans. Another streamer, G2 esports professional Jakub “Lothar” Szygulski, said that he agreed with Kabbani and Moren, but with a short-term caveat: This has allowed him to passively grow his channel in a big way. On Twitch, a platform that grows more oversaturated by the day, you take what you can get. “I can’t say no to that,” Szygulski said.

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24/7 Valorant streamers who spoke to Kotaku found themselves arriving at similar conclusions. Team Singularity Apex Legends player Nikola “Nikolarn” Aničić said in an email that initially he found the idea of 24/7 streaming “stupid” because “I’m a talented FPS player,” but ultimately he “just couldn’t reach an audience, since even a lot of my viewers left to watch those 24/7 streams for drops.”

“I have criticized 24/7 VODs myself, but then just went with the [mantra of] ‘If you can’t beat them, join them,’” Aničić said. “Why should my brand be exposed to the Valorant category only for 8 hours a day while others are exposed for 24 hours a day? If the viewers don’t mind it being that way, why should I? What I’m doing is not a long-term solution. It’s just short-term exposure and a ‘harvest’ of potential new followers.”

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At this point, he estimates that he’s live about 50 percent of the time, after which he runs VODs of old gameplay. Even then, though, he says he often snoozes in his chair and wakes up regularly so he can reply to people’s questions in chat. Further out, he’s considering collaborating with a designer to jazz up the VOD portion of his stream and give it some television-like production flair. In the long run, he sees this all being worthwhile because “I can confidently say that I play this game and will play this game on a higher level than a bunch of these 24/7 streams, so why miss out on the opportunity to reach as big of an audience right now?”

Craig “Onscreen” Shannon is approaching his 24/7 streams with a similar mentality while trying to spend as much time as possible live. “I’ve been grinding the hell out of Valorant since alpha and have been livestreaming for around 12-15 hours every day and only running VODs while I sleep,” he said in an email to Kotaku. “I’ve seen some streamers that barely livestream at all and some have just been streaming a VOD 24/7, which I don’t agree with at all.”

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He said that he’s gained around 500,000 followers because of Valorant, and his subscriber count is up to 14,000. He thinks that’s an indication that, contrary to popular belief, he’s not just vacuuming up mindless key hoarders. “You do not need to follow and, obviously, you do not need to subscribe for a drop, so no, not all of my viewers are just ‘viewers trying for keys,’” Shannon said. “I do understand where myth is coming from, but at the end of the day, the #1 rule for Twitch is that viewers will watch whoever they want to, and if they would rather watch somebody playing a VOD, then that’s their choice. Complaining about that is not going to change anything.”

He acknowledged, however, that this tactic is likely hurting smaller streamers. “Of course, smaller streamers are impacted by this,” he said. “I was even impacted by this when I used to stream CSGO. Tournaments always run reruns as live in the CSGO section and take the top spots, which affected my own viewership back then. I asked Twitch about this years ago and was told it was fine. I wasn’t about to lose viewership to this thing again.”

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A representative of Fextralife, which employs multiple streamers, said that, unlike other 24/7 streams, the channel is not running any VODs. “We have been skipping sleep to stream, being that it’s a very popular game,” the representative said.

Kotaku reached out to Riot and Twitch to see if they plan on changing the underlying functionality of Valorant beta key drops in light of 24/7 streams and viewers who seem confused about how key drops work, but did not receive a response as of this publishing.

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If Twitch decides to forbid 24/7 Valorant streams, Shannon isn’t even sure how the company would pull it off.

“For people calling out Twitch to ban VODs, how would they even enforce it?” he said. “Some popular streamers stream with no webcam and no chat interaction. How would they even prove it’s not live? If I was Twitch, I would add the option for streamers to flag their streams as reruns without actually using the rerun feature. Right now most people are putting it in their title (me included), but I see some are purposely not doing so, which is another issue altogether.”

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Ultimately, he returned to a refrain that’s common among those trying to elbow their way to the front of Twitch’s still-nascent pack of Valorant streamers: The system is busted. He’s just taking advantage of the questionable foundation laid down by Twitch and Riot.

“To any haters I might get from this I simply ask: What would you do in my situation?” he said. “Hate the game, not the players.”

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Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.

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