We were fortunate to get to participate in TwitchCon again this year. Last year we got to present a panel on women in esports and this year we followed up with both a panel and booth space. We were thrilled to be a part of “Inclusivity City” alongside great orgs like I Need Diverse Games, Online SOS, Hack Harassment, and Smash Sisters. AnyKey’s activities at TwitchCon this year really highlighted several angles we’ve been working on since the last convention.

A big theme we’ve encountered our research (both at events and in workshops) has been the power of providing women and girls opportunities to try out competitive gaming they might not otherwise have. Over and over again, we hear about how impactful it can be to get a chance to compete or try out a competitive title in spaces that feel fun, welcoming, and don’t have a huge barrier of entry.

One of the initiatives we’ve been so excited to help amplify and support has been Smash Sisters. Founded and run by amazing Lil Chen and Emily Sun, Smash Sisters gives women a chance to play with other women at a range of levels (casual, casual competitive, and competitive). I’ve been following the coverage of Smash Sisters events and have absolutely loved the pictures coming out from them so I was thrilled when Morgan told me we were going to be supporting them at TwitchCon. It was amazing to share space with them and watching all kinds of women come through, take up the controller, play and compete. There were also free-for-all sessions where both men and women were playing and during competitions men were cheering on the women going head-to-head. It’s clear these kinds of amazing initiatives are an important component for bringing more women into the space and I’m so grateful to Smash Sisters for letting us be a part of what they are doing.

A second major theme we’ve identified through of the work we’ve been doing in AnyKey over this last year has been focused on the importance of community management and moderation. At a prior workshop we held we identified a number of layers to this within Twitch chat and there has been some great progress on that front, both via Twitch and from external folks who are committed to making chat as great as it can be.

Picking up on that thread, Morgan moderated a fantastic panel called “!permit: Tips and Tricks for Better Chat” with Ellohime, Anna Prosser Robinson, Brian McNulty, and Zach Goodman. That panel, which kicked off what was to become a weekend filled with serious conversations about good communities online, touched on not only how technology might assist management in streaming spaces, but the important role experienced moderators who can handle the complexities of communication are to successful chat.

It was incredibly heartening to see how persistent a theme community management was throughout the convention (even on panels not dedicated to the subject). Far too often in gaming CM has been left as an after-thought or situated organizationally off to the side within game (and social media) companies. But creating multiplayer spaces requires responsibility and accountability to the communities you create.

I was struck by how much esports orgs could learn from the hard work variety streamers are doing on the platform when it comes to managing their audiences and communities. I encourage you to watch the panels linked below to get some great insight into that work. In the meantime, here are a few key take-aways from my notes that I think esports broadcasters – both large and small – need to focus more on:

  • Your chat is a reflection organization/league. It’s part of the product and broadcasters should not only be aware of that, but start thinking proactively about best practices and making these “online stadiums” ones we all want to go to and spend time in.
  • Good chats don’t just happen by magic. They are created through the hard work of moderation and management teams.
  • Effective moderation teams are built and have intentionality. They aren’t just about randomly modding people or giving mod rights to anyone who volunteers, but are about cultivated groups of people who take on the work and values of the stream/organization/league. Excellent teams regularly integrate application processes, training, mentoring, and trial periods.
  • While part of the work of moderators is reacting to issues in the channel, another critical component is modeling the behavior you want in the chat. Setting the tone and redirecting bad behavior to more positive engagement by example is key.
  • Successful teams have sustained backchannel (including asynchronous) communication/conversation to trouble-shoot, iterate practices, and provide feedback to the broadcaster.
  • The consistent work of mod teams can end up producing communities that also do the informal work of modding by socializing people into the channel’s values (i.e. community members speak up to correct bad behavior even before the mods can).
  • Technology, like bots, is critical especially for large streams but a human hand is always required to handle emergent behavior and watch for teachable moments.
  • Good moderation is work. Hard work. But it’s a crucial part of healthy communities. Your moderators are a part of your overall stream’s production. They are a part of your organization. Invest in them.

Far too many esports orgs haven’t faced the reality that their broadcast chat is a space they are not only accountable and responsible for, but can leverage as a powerful positive component to the broadcast. Audiences can be gained, and lost, by chat. Good moderation teams are key to that aspect and I encourage esports orgs to learn a lesson or two from the hard work of variety streamers.

For more nitty gritty insight from those doing this work, check out some of the following videos from TwitchCon!

!permit: Tips and Tricks for Better Chat

Management Through Moderation: Bringing Value to the Streaming Table

Managing Broadcasters Twitch Communities