Leading StarCraft streamer embroiled in viewbot controversy
Over the past year, Evan "Winter" Ballnik has risen to become the number one StarCraft 2 streamer on Twitch. This is no mean feat given that he has never been a professional player, nor does he even play at the highest competitive level. His stream generally comprises “climbing the ladder” on smurf accounts against low level players, and he focuses on helping his viewers improve their own game.
For the most part his success was attributed to his relatability, a persona that's seen him invited to events for commentary and analysis. Ballnik has publicly spoken of his success, posting on Reddit that he earned $60,000 per year. In many ways he was a posterboy for the life-changing possibilities that streaming platforms such as Twitch can provide for hardworking and talented broadcasters.
Ballnik still believes that he has a streaming future whatever the outcome.
There were, of course, detractors. Several professional players and commentators have taken swipes at the stream, criticizing the minimal effort required to beat low level players under the guise of it being a “learning exercise” for those who watch. Several others, including prominent streamers such as Steven “Destiny” Bonnell, have always been skeptical of the viewer numbers compared to the chat activity. The community has often treated such criticisms as motivated by envy. And while the question of whether Ballnik has used viewbots to inflate his popularity has cropped up, it has been mostly dismissed.
But then it happened. A Heroes of the Storm streamer named Nicholas "NickHotS" Wuollett posted to the StarCraft subreddit what he said was concrete evidence of viewbotting on Ballnik’s stream. After taking a look at each of the accounts viewing the stream, he noticed a significant number of them appeared to be throwaways. The ones he highlighted had generic names in lowercase and only followed one other Twitch account. These accounts, MythTheGamer and Honor_Buddha, were the vendors of the viewbotting service, Wuollett concluded. He gave a complete breakdown of his findings and the accounts involved in a detailed 80,000 word document that he made publicly available. It made a compelling case against Ballnik and showed that there were significant number of bots actively viewing his stream on multiple occasions.
The Twitch accounts look credible at first glance. Most have biographies and details about what games they like to play. But those are just part of the service offered by viewbot providers. Here’s an example of a typical package description from an established viewbotting site.
“Followers and Channel Views really help improve the image of 'popularity' on your stream. We have legitimate accounts, all with avatars and bio descriptions, to follow your stream. We add both followers and channel views slowly over a few days, for the most organic appearance possible. Larger orders can take longer.”
What muddies that waters even further is that during past discussions about the allegations, Ballnik maintained that someone else was viewbotting his channel, and it was beyond his control.
“I do get botted on occasion (out of my control),” he posted during a Reddit AMA in May last year. “But the reason the chat is slower than most is there is a very strict policy in chat about spamming/trolling/being unproductive etc. This is so if someone new wants to ask a question they can actually get it answered as opposed to being drowned out in spam.”
Sometimes people who offer viewbotting services use this as a form of advertisement, contacting the streamer after they boost their viewing numbers and then offering their rates to repeat the feat.
When Ballnik took to Reddit to defend himself he invoked this defense once more saying he didn’t want to believe that his success was due to viewbotting. He later deleted the comment, but a screenshot can be viewed below.
If his supporters were convinced by this, few other people were. Bonnell made several sarcastic tweets that underlined how unlikely it was that someone would do this without the recipients knowing for such a prolonged period of time. “call mom, dad picks up, says she's disappeared” he joked in one. “no clue where she went, all traces of her vanish, find out she was a viewbot all along.” Another popular StarCraft streamer, David "avilo" Blowe, who had also accused Ballnik of viewbotting in the past, recorded a lengthy diatribe about it, which he uploaded to YouTube.