Twitch emotes are just 56 pixels wide and 56 pixels tall, and they typically involve little more than a former employee or streamer making a face at the camera. Over the course of nearly a decade, though, Twitch's viewers have injected each emote with dozens of complicated definitions and connotations. An image like "Kappa"—a dude smirking through a black-and-white filter—is as multi-pronged as the F-word.
This can be inscrutable for outsiders: The text in the Twitch chatbox zooms by at hyperspeed, and deciphering exactly what each of these emotes mean, and when it's appropriate to deploy them, is a downright scholarly task. The good news is that while big channels often have their own, somewhat unique emote culture, the most popular global emotes mean roughly the same thing wherever you go on Twitch. Here are the Twitch emotes you need to know, and what they mean:
4Head: This is the face of Cadbury, a League of Legends streamer who was added into the Twitch directory in 2015. As you may glean from the goofy look on his mug, 4Heads are most commonly spammed after someone makes a bad, cringey joke. Most often, I see it deployed as the equivalent of a loud fake laugh, though it can be used in kinder, more genuine ways as well.
BabyRage: Clean and simple. This image of a screaming infant shows up in chat when a streamer is in the middle of a tizzy. In particular, BabyRages typically come out for streamers who are known for flying off the handle. When Tyler1 loses it on Summoner's Rift, expect a couple BabyRages.
BibleThump: Roguelike fans will recognize this emote from The Binding of Isaac. That is baby Isaac right there, with tears streaming down his face. Stream viewers bust out BibleThump when a profoundly sad, or profoundly precious incident crosses through the stream.
BrokeBack: That there is Alan, half of the SeriousGaming channel. He has his tongue out and his eyes crossed, and so the BrokeBack emote is closely associated with something weird or unexpected happening on stream. Did your bomb somehow accidentally aggro the Spelunky vendor? BrokeBack.
CoolStoryBob: Here we have the late great Bob Ross, head cocked to the side, with a big smile across his face. CoolStoryBob is most frequently used when a streamer or personality goes on a long, boring tangent about something of limited interest. Have we spent a little bit too long talking about Hearthstone's Arena meta? CoolStoryBob.
Bob Ross' PBS painting videos became a popular attraction on Twitch after a marathon stream in 2015, and they continue to be streamed today.
DansGame: This grimace belongs to longtime Twitch streamer DansGaming. As you may expect, DansGame usually appears when viewers are disgusted by something, be that a bad framerate, or the mention of a console, personality, or political candidate that the chat disapproves of.
Elegiggle: Similar to LUL (see below), but even more sarcastic. Elegiggle is the emote used when you're laughing down at someone, and Twitch chat being Twitch chat, you expect to see it a lot after, say, a particularly pathetic performance during an esports tournament.
Failfish: The ultimate facepalm. Administered after a colossal screw-up in the middle of a stream. Miss a headshot in Overwatch? Drop a combo in Mortal Kombat 11? Prepare for a whole lot of Failfishes.
FrankerZ: This is a cropped image of Twitch employee Ernest Le's dog, Frankie, who sadly passed away in 2018. The dog's plaintive expression is typically used to denote sarcasm in a comment. But also, FrankerZ is often spammed whenever any dog enters a streamer's feed. As in, "OH MY GOD A DOG."
HeyGuys: This emote is of Selen Akay, once the director of recruiting at Twitch, who's waving at the person taking the photo. Unsurprisingly, HeyGuys is now the de facto salutation on the platform. When a performer begins a stream, you can expect to see a brief flood of HeyGuys.
Jebaited: The quintessential "you've been owned" emote. Jebaited, face of CEO Gaming's Alex Jebailey, is used when someone on stream, or those in the chat, are misled, bamboozled, or otherwise led astray by someone in game.
Kappa: Kappa has become the unofficial mascot of all of Twitch. It's a black-and-white photo of former Twitch staffer John DeSeno with a smug grin on his face. In chat boxes, it's often used as a punctuation for sarcasm: "Nice play... kappa." However it's used, it suggests irony or trolling.
Given Kappa's legendary status in the community, it's been mutated countless times by the Twitch brass. Scroll through the emotes now, and you will absolutely find a Kappa with a Santa hat photoshopped on.
Kreygasm: You have to feel for streamer Kreyg. The dude inadvertently made a… well, a very suggestive look on camera, which was cropped by the Twitch overlords and turned into an emote. Kreygasm, as you can glean from its name, evokes a feeling of ecstasy, like maybe after the speedrunner you're watching finally eclipses their personal record.
LUL: LUL depicts late YouTuber John "TotalBiscuit" Bain in the middle of a ferocious cackle. This one is pretty self-explanatory. LUL is a way to signal loud, slightly derisive laughter. I see many LULs when a streamer mentions the name of a game the chat deems to be inferior to their taste. Say the words, "Heroes of the Storm" on a Dota broadcast, and expect a ton of LULs.
NotLikeThis: Pure despair. NotLikeThis is the emote for when things don't go to plan. You may see a NotLikeThis after falling through the last floor in Hex-A-Gone.
PogChamp: This former Twitch emote features fighting game personality Ryan "Gootecks" Gutierrez, who made the famous expression during 2010 YouTube video. PogChamp became one of the most ubiquitous emotes in Twitch history, and was used to react to decisive moments. (The best explanation for the origin of the "pog" prefix is that it refers to another old Gutierrez video, in which he played an intense game of pogs on a living room couch—hence, the "pog champ" himself. In other contexts, "POG" can also mean "play of the game," as in, the highlight clip at the end of an Overwatch match.)
In early 2021, Twitch removed the PogChamp emote after Gutierrez called for "civil unrest" in support of a woman who was shot and killed inside the US Capitol, which she broke into along with other rioters on January 6, pausing the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden's victory. The rioters acted in support of President Trump's baseless claims that the election was "stolen"—claims which US courts soundly rejected.
Twitch said it would design a new emote that expresses the same sentiment, but that doesn't use Gutierrez's face.
We will work with the community to design a new emote for the most hype moments on Twitch.January 7, 2021
ResidentSleeper: The Twitch streamer OddlerPro embarked on a 72-hour Resident Evil marathon and nodded off in the middle of it. Twitch honored the moment with an emote, and now, ResidentSleeper will forever be the emblem of a boring stream. Have we been watching nothing but mirror matches for the last hour? ResidentSleeper.
Trihard: Trihex is the streamer behind this image. His wide-eyed maniacal grin roughly translates into the emotion anyone feels when they are truly locked in during a crucial bit of gameplay. Unfortunately, some Twitch users have made an effort to give the Trihard emote a racist connotation, which is something Trihex has spoken out about in the past.
"It is used for racism a lot, but it’s also used for good a lot," said Trihex in an article I wrote for Kotaku. "One of the ways the emote is being used for good that I'm really proud of is there’s a Dota 2 streamer named Arteezy, and when he’s winning really hard, he’ll put Trihard on the screen, and cover his minimap. He'll finish the match without using his minimap and call it 'Trihard mode.' His chat is spamming Trihard all day. Clearly it’s a play on the face—because I look hyped in the face—and it’s a play on the pun of the emote itself. If you’re 'trying hard' ... you gotta turn off the minimap to win in style."