“We’re gonna have some fun here,” Beeftipsy said, spraying his tag on the ground of Overwatch’s Oasis map, the Overwatch equivalent of cracking one’s knuckles. It was the first day of the Twitch streamer’s “Bronze to Grandmaster challenge,” a trendy stunt in which master players who want to flex their competitive muscle live for fans take a single hero from the lowest to the second-highest rank as quickly as possible—sometimes bending the rules to do so.
Peering down into the map’s central chasm, Beeftipsy took his time placing his crosshairs on an opponent’s head, giving off the impression of shooting fish in a barrel.
A generous interpretation of the Bronze to Grandmaster challenge paints it as a high-tension redemption storyline, like the plot of a generic anime, in which one streamer with lots of potential scales the ranks to compete against the greats. It’s also educational, a way for viewers to see how each hero performs on every tier of gameplay.
Then again, a more cynical onlooker might view it as a novel and less overt approach to “smurfing,” a widely reviled practice in which more skilled gamers make “smurf” accounts to stomp on noobs and revel in their superiority.
Beeftipsy’s main account is already ranked Grandmaster. To prepare for the challenge, which took him 70 hours to complete, he purchased an alternate account, leveled it up to Competitive Mode’s specifications, and then conscientiously underperformed on his placement matches. When asked whether he thinks intentionally pursuing Overwatch’s lowest ranking constitutes “throwing,” a big no-no in publisher Blizzard’s book, Beeftipsy said, “Nope.”
What he did, he said, was do the placement matches with a controller on PC, constituting a sort of handicap—and plausible deniability. “Keyboard was broke and I wanted to place a new account and all I had was a controller,” he told Kotaku. “Maybe that was the case.”
Another streamer, PvPTwitch, got wind of the challenge back in March and decided to give it a go with the explosives-based hero Junkrat for a few reasons, he said in a Discord chat: “One, to prove Junkrat is viable at all ranks, two to prove I could hit GM as a Junkrat player coming from Console, and three to teach people how to play Junkrat through all ranks in a very entertaining format.”
PVPTwitch levelled up an alternate account with five other players, who were either Bronze-level or primarily console-owning viewers of his Twitch channel. “I chose to group up with lower skill players knowing I probably would not be able to carry 5 other people during my placements,” he said. He lost all 10 of his placement games. Once he reached Grandmaster on that account, he had a 70 to 80 per cent win rate. His viewers watched raptly all 130 games of his ascent.
Dozens of new viewers tuned in for his streams, PvPTwitch said, because of their educational content. Often, during face-offs, he would explain tactics like how to knock a Pharah out of the sky with Junkrat’s bombs, or how to guard Junkrat’s Rip Tire with Symmetra’s moving shield.
“The interesting part about climbing from bronze to GM is comparing all the different ranks as you climb,” he said. Silver ranked players almost never communicate. By Platinum, players make more use of voice chat. Once they reach Diamond, opponents position themselves differently. “This allows me to give tips to people of different [skill rating] levels, and explain how people should improve to make it to the next step.”
Still, in his streams, it’s clear that PvPTwitch relishes in the skill gap. “It’s like my team isn’t killing anything,” he laughed during a Bronze-level match-up that he was clearly carrying. “If I don’t kill it, it doesn’t die.”
“These kids suck,” he added during another Bronze match. “They’re all plebs. I’m killin’ them.”
Most viewers and Overwatch fans who aren’t cheering along streamers’ Bronze-rank pillages tend to look on with ambivalence. The few vocal naysayers are mostly furious about the games these streamers “throw” off-stream to get their account’s rank as close to zero as possible.
“It’s not okay to ruin hundreds of games just to get some attention on Twitch,” Overwatch fan Girafarig said over email. “It’s like letting a pro boxer fight against an amateur. Everyone knows the outcome but they still watch it.”
A fan of the streamer Ster, who has done the challenge, finds the streams funny and impressive at face value, but also a little callous, especially considering the Overwatch community’s grievances over how hard it was to “climb” ranks last season. “It’s frustrating to see someone rank up so easily through the ranks,” he said. Having a pro just blast past the rank you were or still are stuck at for seasons.”
At the end of an early match in PvPTwitch’s Bronze to Grandmaster challenge, PvPTwitch seemed nonplussed that his Junkrat’s Rip Tire won “Play of the Match.” PvPTwitch had dropped his Twitch handle into chat, which another player recognised. “Smurf account?” the player asked.
“Yessir,” PvPTwitch responded.