For fans of Dota 2 livestreams, the last several months have been a terrible drought. Unlike other forms of video entertainment—television shows, sport seasons, YouTube series—esports livestreams wax and wane according to a variety of unpredictable factors. As Ludwig “Zai” Wåhlberg pointed out last week, there are plenty of reasons for players to forego streaming. For the many professional players who tend toward introversion, trying to entertain a rowdy crowd of thousands is a tiresome chore. Plus streaming can arm opponents by revealing strategies and weaknesses, a huge issue in advance of major tournaments like The International. Then there’s the fact that players who do like streaming sometimes wind up on teams sponsored by inferior Twitch.tv knock-offs, like Hitbox or the downright unwatchable Panda.tv. Whatever the cause, when the streams go, a little bit of what makes esports special goes with them: livestreams lay bare even the most recondite players, exposing their personalities to a degree unparalleled in traditional sports.
You can tell a lot about a player from the music they play.
One of the best examples of the livestream’s elucidatory power is background music. You can tell a lot about a player from the music they play. When Artour “Arteezy” Babaev returned to Twitch.tv last week, he opened up with godawful German rap. (As a former student of German, I can confirm that there is no such thing as good German rap, just tolerable German rap and terrible, deplorable, irredeemable German rap, the latter of which is the kind Arteezy prefers.) Canada’s most fearsome mid player is known for subjecting his viewers to such aural travesties as “The Same Juicy J Song Repeated Ad Nauseum,” “The Teletubbies Theme Song,” and YouTube playlists of sing-song nursery rhymes. Some of his other favorites become much more bearable after a few listens—Yung Lean’s gooey stumper “Kyoto,” the oft-requested and thoroughly-memeified ballad “Mango Bay”—but it’s hard to believe that Arteezy himself actually enjoys bulk of the the music he plays. It just doesn’t seem biologically possible.
(Although it should be noted that Arteezy has attested to competing with the same song playing on repeat throughout entire tournaments, suggesting that he may not care what he’s listening to as long as he’s listening to something.)
It’s possible that the man is fundamentally uncomfortable with fame.
One explanation that strikes me as credible is that Arteezy’s farrago of cringy underground headscratchers encapsulates his relationship with his fans and fame. Certainly part of why he plays these songs is to troll his viewers; what’s less clear is whether he intends to drive them away. I have a number of friends who admire Arteezy as a player but refuse to watch his stream, solely because of the music. It’s possible that the man is fundamentally uncomfortable with (or willfully apathetic towards) fame, or at least with Twitch.tv’s particular avenue of monetizing it. Consider his distaste for donations, which at one point he swore he’d never enable, or his refusal to enlist moderators to suppress the cancerous id-outpourings of Twitch chat. He often ignores donation messages (in his defense, most of them are insults or lecherous jokes). He never once thanks a subscriber, thereby contravening the most timeworn strategy for drumming up Twitch revenue, and in a way it makes sense: he makes plenty of money through tournament winnings and team salary. Since he doesn’t need or want Twitch.tv revenue, it’s almost like he uses the excruciating music to test the mettle of his viewers.
“If you’re a real fan,” he seems to say, “you’ll put up with it.”
“And if you’re just here to fuck with me,” goes the unspoken corollary, “let this symphony of Andy Salad and Rebecca Black be my way of fucking with you back.”