If you don't spend time watching them, it's hard to understand Twitch streamers and the relationship they have to their fans. It's one marked by both the closeness and accessibility one has to their favorite streamer, but also the distance the one sided relationship creates. Animator HeydoubleU created two short animations that explore the pleasure and pain of that experience. Since they've gone viral, thanks to big name streamers posting their reactions to HeydoubleU animations, he's also experiencing it from the other side.
The animation "Spending Time Without Your Favorite Streamer" captures a unique, modern experience. In it, the main character Peepo, a squat, cute variation on the now infamous Pepe character created by cartoonist Matt Furie, has been banned from his favorite streamer's chat. The video shows Peepo pining to get back in his favorite streamer's good graces, and his sad, angry attempts to get their attention.
An earlier HeydobuleU animation showed that Peepo was banned after the streamer in question made fun of an animation he'd made—HeydoubleU said that this was a real reaction from this streamer, who'd made fun of one of his animations. Over the course of the animation, Peepo has to grapple with what his relationship to this streamer even is, and what they owe each other in terms of time and attention.
What's most striking about this video is how it lays the culture of Twitch bare, warts and all. The streamer that Peepo is watching is XQC, who has been called toxic quite consistently throughout his career, specifically for making homophobic remarks while part of the Overwatch League. While Pepe's creator has gone to rather extreme lengths to take back ownership of his character, Pepe is still listed as an antisemitic hate symbol by the Anti Defamation League for its association with the alt right.
But Pepe is more than that as a character. He's also a ubiquitous Twitch chat emote, one that has become deeply intertwined with the experience of being onTwitch. Similarly, XQC isn't just a former Overwatch pro; he's an extremely popular streamer, one that HeydoubleU watches a lot of while he's working. In fact, HeydoubleU said that the prequel video had actually happened. He submitted a video for XQC to watch on stream, and got made fun of and banned from chat. The Discord conversation Peepo and XQC have in Spending Time Without Your Favorite Streamer is also sort of real. While watching the video on stream, XQC was quick to point out that he had actually replied, but the exchange was edited for the video.
HeydoubleU is a 23 year old 3D animator who splits his time between the East and West Coast. He started doing 3D animation as a hobby while in college, but dropped out of school to pursue animation full time. Given the nature of his work, he watches a lot of streamers. He said over a Discord call that he more or less has a streamer on whenever he's working on something.
The kinds of animations that HeydoubleU makes in his personal time are different from the ones he does professionally. For these, he doesn't storyboard or plan in advance, as he does when he works with other people. It's more about capturing a mood or a vibe.
"The way I see it is it's like if you had a dream about the animation, that's kind of the vision," he said. "The little detail I saw in my head—that's not specific. It's just a matter of trying to translate that."
HeydoubleU said that he used a character based on Pepe because everyone recognizes him at this point. At least for HeydoubleU, Pepe doesn’t necessarily carry a negative connotation. It also helps that Peepo is adorable. Whereas many of the Pepe variations used by the far right show him screaming, shooting a gun, or dressed as Nazi, Peepo just seems like a vulnerable kid, one that you'd want to protect from bullies at school.
"I think it's one of those things that it means so many things that it doesn't mean anything," HeydoubleU said. "The only meaning you can ascribe to it is the intent or context."
In the case of Spending Time Without Your Favorite Streamer, HeydoubleU said that Peepo is simply a stand-in for people who are deeply embedded in the culture of Twitch.
"It's like, 'insert miscellaneous Twitch viewer here,'" he said.
HeydoubleU didn't expect people to have such an intense reaction to his work, and compiled the reactions of streamers, including the ones he references in his animation, reacting to the video. The fact that people were moved to tears by his work is of course flattering, but it comes with newfound pressure and scrutiny. While HeydoubleU is still really only familiar with experiencing internet fame from the side of a fan, the reaction to his animation gave him a taste of what it's like to be on the other side.
"It's weird, people are actually bursting into tears. It's not weird that they're crying, it's just weird that that's the effect from something you made," he said. "If I do anything else it's going to have to top what came before, and I feel like that's going to be really hard for me."