Violence. Speed. Litigation.

Dr. Disrespect, at the time the biggest streamer on the platform, was permabanned by Twitch last year. He now says he knows why. And he's going to sue.

It was the most interesting story in gaming of 2020: In June, Herschel “Guy” Beahm IV – known to his viewers as Dr. Disrespect or simply “The Doc” – was permanently banned from streaming on Twitch, the internet’s biggest live streaming platform. At the time, Dr. Disrespect was the most-viewed broadcaster on the site, regularly pulling in hundreds of thousands of viewers. And he had just signed a deal in the range of tens of millions of dollars to stream exclusively on Twitch. At the time, the platform was working hard to retain its top talent after having lost a number of big streamers to exclusivity deals with other sites.

Twitch, even after months of reporting in the press, did not say why Disrespect was banned. In response to the ban, The Doc moved his live streaming enterprise to YouTube and has maintained ever since that he didn’t known the reason for the ban either. The question of why Twitch banned one of its most successful partners continues to be the biggest mystery in nerd entertainment today.

Things Have Changed

But things have now changed. On Tuesday, Dr. Disrespect announced in response to a viewer question on his stream that he knows the reason for the ban and has, in fact, known it “for months”. He confirmed that he’s lost about 75% of his revenue since the Twitch ban and that he’s had problems retaining sponsors due to questions about the reasoning for it. And then he said that he’s “suing the fuck out of” Twitch.

This presumably changes the dynamics of the situation. While no lawsuit has been confirmed by either side and there are no records about such a suit to be found on the internet, the fact that Disrespect stayed completely silent about the whole thing and breaks that silence now with claims of a lawsuit would make it a fair assumption that this isn’t the usual bravado that’s part of his character. In fact, Disrespect seemed to be speaking almost out of character when he opened up about his revenue loss and the impact the ban had on his enterprise. So it seems to be a relatively safe bet at this point to assume the lawsuit is happening.

One thing that will happen inevitably, if this goes to court, is that the public will finally learn why Twitch banned The Doc. That would be the core of The Doc’s claim (presumably for restitution) against Twitch, after all. And Disrespect either can’t talk about it because it’s a contract dispute and he’s legally prevented from doing so, or the matter has to be something Beahm is uncomfortable with, even in-character as Dr. Disrespect. Otherwise, one would assume he’d have opened up about it while he was already discussing his situation relatively frankly with his viewers.

The Controversies

Beahm, who’s streaming persona, if anything, lives up to his name Disrespect, has had a number of controversies in the past. Which isn’t surprising really, seeing that he carefully cultivates the aggressive proudly male gamer image he’s built for himself. But some of these controversies obviously weren’t calculated. In 2017, he pulled the plug on his stream for a few weeks after admitting that he had cheated on his wife. But not before completely breaking character (including ditching the costume, which never happens) and apologising in a very uncomfortable streaming moment.

This was somewhat of a self-imposed ban, but in 2019 Dr. Disrespect was banned for real by Twitch for the first time when, during a trip to the E3 conference in LA and his first ever stream outside of his studio, he streamed from a public restroom – which was open to the public at the time. This broke Twitch’s terms of service and violated California Penal Code 647. In addition to receiving a two-week Twitch ban, Disrespect was also banned from the conference.

In addition to these two headline-making moments, there also have been several other charges levelled against Disrespect, mostly from the established gaming media whose generally overly progressive population is largely at odds with the Dr. Disrespect persona and the success it garners among a large crowd of gamers. Probably exactly the kind of audience that feels misrepresented by journalists who seemingly care more about how gender-progressive a game is than about the actual fun the player has while playing it.

The publication that’s traditionally been at the forefront of the progressive wave in games journalism, Kotaku, criticised Disrespect in 2018 for putting on a mock Chinese accent during some of his streams.

In May 2020, Kotaku ratcheted the rhetoric up a few notches by declaring that The Doc was spreading dangerous conspiracy theories about SARS-CoV-2. After basically admitting that Disrespect was clearly in-character and that he isn’t even playing a doctor on TV, Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson goes ahead and slams him for what was, at best, Beahm voicing own opinion and, at worst, a bad joke.

Grayson, who in his piece can’t even tell apart a virus (SARS-CoV-2) from a collection of symptoms some people develop who are infected by the virus (COVID-19), quotes a Time Magazine story about a dubious claim from the WHO that anybody with at least rudimentary high school knowledge about virology and immunology could see as extremely dodgy even back in May of 2020. Needless to say, the WHO was wrong back then (as it has been multiple times throughout the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic).

While Grayson isn’t exactly showering himself in journalistic acumen in that piece, he of course has a point in calling Dr. Disrespect out for playing a video on stream that perpetuates the clearly idiotic theory that 5G causes COIVD-19 symptoms. But, especially as a writer about games topics, he must have known that this was a widespread meme on Twitch at the time and that The Doc was clearly playing that angle to get a reaction from his viewers. How he instead comes to the conclusion that people legitimately would take medical advice from a guy in a bad wig and a red MOLLE vest, who’s wearing sunglasses that would put Bret “The Hitman” Hart at the height of his career to shame, is beyond me.

But I think this points to a wider aspect of the gaming world that’s in play here. And that is the fact that The Doc has carefully built an image that, even though it is very exaggerated, is catering to a subset of the gamer population that is at odds with many of the more progressive views that are prevalent in the industry. So when Grayson doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand, streamers and their viewers meme-ing along and judges that Disrespect “constantly walks a line between comedy and outright toxicity, never very carefully”, he misjudges the balance of power on the internet. After all, it’s Disrespect who has hundreds of thousands of very loyal viewers. That’s an audience, and a level of engagement, that modern journalistic outlets can only dream of – and can’t replicate, even though they are constantly trying to.

Twitch Is at Odds with Itself

Nevertheless, one has to assume that these controversies play a big part in the mysterious Twitch ban. Because, paradoxically, Twitch is hampered by the same political viewpoints as journalists at Kotaku and elsewhere. Even though its audience largely enjoys what Grayson and his colleagues like to term “the toxic gamer stereotype” and has developed shitposting and meme-ing in chat into an art form, Twitch likes to brand itself as a very inclusive and progressive company. Which isn’t to say that its viewers and broadcasters aren’t progressive and inclusive, but there are definitely people chafing under some of Twitch Corporate’s more idiotic rules and decisions who like it when people like The Doc push back.

For example, Twitch’s TOS are a constant in-joke among streamers and viewers because they are extremely ridiculous. Especially from a European perspective, some of their rules seem to be downright puritanical – and I’m talking 18th century here. If you’re a woman, you can get banned for showing your nipples, even if you’re wearing clothing and they’re just showing though. And let’s not even get into the intricacies of the recent hot tub streamer controversy.

A while ago, Twitch also replaced what was arguably its most used and most easily recognisable emote because the streamer whose face is used in the emote fell out of favour with the in-crowd for voicing unpopular opinions about SARS-CoV-2 and later the 2021 Capitol riots. The streamer’s face was replaced with the face of a reptile. You can’t make this shit up. No wonder that streamers who are opposed to dumb decisions like this gain a cult following on the platform. Twitch, it seems, is often at odds with itself.

Some Speculations

So what is going on here? What will we finally learn from the lawsuit, when – and if – it happens?

Was It Criminal?

It seems clear that initial speculation about The Doc and Twitch not talking about the reason for the ban because of a criminal background were wrong. If there were criminal proceedings against Beahm, we would have known about these by now. Unless we are talking a covert FBI operation involving RICO charges, we would’ve had an indictment by now or The Doc would’ve been in the clear to talk about it. And knowing his on-screen persona, probably would have, too.

Did He Violate the TOS?

There’s also the speculation that The Doc did something that collides with Twitch’s self-proclaimed progressive world view. As we’ve seen, if anyone was to piss Twitch Corporate off enough to cancel their most popular streamer, Dr. Disrespect would be the man to do it. Still, it seems far-fetched that Twitch would sign an eight figure contract with a broadcaster – knowing full well what he was about, having watched him on their platform for years – just to kick him off a few months later because they saw something they didn’t like. Opening themselves up to litigation, no less. And bear in mind that The Doc’s viewers, and undoubtedly some journalists, have scrutinised the recordings of his streams to figure out what exactly got him banned – of course, nobody has come up with anything substantial.

It’s not inconceivable that Twitch banned him for a TOS violation, though. Platforms like Twitch and YouTube have developed a sad reputation for banning creators and deleting content and then just obliquely referring to their terms of service – without the creator in question ever knowing what they did that was wrong. I know what that feels like, it happened to my own podcast. If The Doc speaks the truth about not knowing for a long time what he did that was wrong, this would lend credence to this theory.

Is It a Contract Dispute?

The most likely explanation, in my mind, is that there’s some sort of contract dispute about the huge deal Beahm had just signed with Twitch. Maybe some of the advertising or side-projects he was doing was deemed by Twitch to be in violation of his exclusivity contract? This would certainly explain the silence on both sides. This would also make it unlikely that The Doc didn’t know for months why he got banned, though. If this is a contract matter, Twitch must have told him. Maybe they didn’t and that’s why he’s suing him? That seems a bit far-fetched.

If we are talking a contract dispute here, I would think it somewhat unlikely for Beahm to succeed with a lawsuit now. One would think that if he had a good case, he would have sued pretty much immediately. Why wait a year if you have an ironclad case? It seems likely that in this case, Dr. Disrespect’s tough talk about the lawsuit is bravado and more of a PR stunt than an indicator of what is really going on.

On the other hand, as we have seen, Twitch can be erratic in its decisions. Often, the way this company arrives at a policy or a course of action is incomprehensible from the outside. Maybe they indeed didn’t tell him anything beyond “we cancelled your contract” because they were missing an actual justification that would stand up in court – as unbelievable as that seems with the huge amount of money at stake here. If this is what happened, one would think that they’d be scared of the threat of a lawsuit.

I’ll Keep You Posted

Naturally, I have contacted Twitch and asked them what is going on and if they would like to comment on the situation. Unsurprisingly, I haven’t heard back from them.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for Dr. Disrespect over on YouTube where his live streams are regularly pulling in between 500,000 and 700,000 views. His popularity seems to have not been diminished by all of this drama surrounding his on-stream persona or personal off-stream shenanigans. Beahm’s decision of going from being a level designer on Call of Duty to developing a WWE-style character and playing games full time on stream seems to have been a solid one. Even in the face of all the pushback in the media.

I will stay with this story. Even though there is new momentum in the case now, the biggest mystery in nerd entertainment seems to be far from being solved at this point.