Like all great romances, D'Angelo Taylor met Zoie Burgher in a club. She was there celebrating a bachelorette party, he was there to talk to girls who were celebrating bachelorette parties. D'Angelo knew Zoie wasn’t an ordinary girl when she deliberately saved her full name and number into his phone. Not a pet-name, or an inside joke, or a blank entry paired with a jumble of digits you learn to recognize by the area code. Nope. First name. Last name. Say what you like about Burgher, the girl knows how to make a statement.
"I looked her up on Instagram and I was like, 'Who is this? For real?" laughs Taylor, over drinks in a bougie San Diego watering hole. They’ve been dating since July, and I guess you could say they’re still settling in.
For those unaware, Zoie Burgher was a Twitch streamer who caught fire late last year. Originally, she was just a college girl dressed in low-cut tops and cheeky Halloween outfits, twerking for donations during her Call of Duty streams. Sexualized content, even when it’s relatively tame, falls outside of Twitch’s stringent moderation policies, and Burgher soon found herself permabanned from the service.
Like most controversial streamers, she moved her craft to YouTube (she now mostly streams Fortnite), and broke ground on a new LLC called Luxe Gaming. When I profiled her for Rolling Stone earlier this year, I found a woman maniacally dedicated to perfecting her radical new mash-up of pinup and videogames. It’s funny how the right boy can shake things up.
D'Angelo Taylor is not part of that world. He's a crane operator and a single dad, and while he once had a brief dalliance with competitive Call of Duty, his awareness of the volatile, still-malleable notion of "videogame fame" was tenuous at best. After a month-or-so of dates, hang-outs, and emotionally intense conversations, Burgher wanted to make the relationship public. One afternoon, she smashed her 646,000 Twitter followers against Taylor's extremely modest online posture like a wrecking ball. Life hasn't been the same for him since.
"Her friends told me, ’You know she’s famous right? When you guys make that announcement, people are going to be all over you,'" says Taylor. "As soon as she posted a picture of us they were on my social media trying to add me."
The fame game gets strange
I think I can pretty much imagine what it would it would be like in a relationship with someone of, say, Sean Penn’s celebrity. You immediately receive the lesser celebrity-by-proxy status that comes with dating someone who’s perennially in the public eye. People take photos of you inside and outside of restaurants. You go to a lot of red carpets. Eventually you break up by leaking the news to Us Weekly. We’ve lived with conventional celebrity couples long enough that their ecosystems are immediately recognizable. But when it comes to the weird world of online stardom, how romance is handled is completely new and often bizarre.
I imagine that it's always been painstakingly obvious when Sean Penn is hitting on you, but now some of the world’s most influential people are hiding in plain sight, and you might trade phone numbers with someone with a miles-deep vertical slice of followers in a very particular community. All of a sudden, you're strapped in for the ride.
Rania and Octavian "Kripparrian" Morosan's relationship is the stuff of internet legend at this point. Rania liked Kripp's famous Hearthstone stream, so she added him on Skype to thank him personally. They started talking everyday, until Kripp jumped on a plane to Rania's native Greece to meet her in person. They fell in love, and he never left the country until they decided to move, together, back to Canada. Professionally, Rania studied Artificial Intelligence and was working at a University full-time, but she suspended that career to make Kripp's media output a two-person job.
"We believed that there was a lot of potential to grow both Twitch and YouTube by putting more time and effort into them," she says. "At the same time Kripp had more than a thousand unread emails, so he clearly needed help. After seeing great results from me sporadically helping out, we knew I was the ideal person to be his full time manager and YouTube editor. More than three years later, it's still working out great."
Kripp streams five hours a night, and uploads two videos to the channel everyday. His work ethic is mind-boggling, and Rania is a consistent, ubiquitous presence—always lurking a few inches off camera, probably playing with their adorable German Shepard. She's even become an in-chat meme; the hoards of teenage boys that populate his feed every night demand her, and occasionally she'll make a special appearance, (usually on a holiday, or a new expansion release date). More regularly, they'll also spam "Rania, the baby is crying" whenever Kripp is whining about his bad RNG.
Collaterally, Rania's own personal YouTube oeuvre has blossomed. 26,000 subscribers tune in to watch the moments they spend outside of Hearthstone together. The videos are usually quite wholesome—updates on the verdant backyard greenhouse, or cooking up fresh vegan recipes. Their quiet, picturesque life—newlyweds with awesome dogs and a shared diet plan—feels a little strange compared to the endless hours they spend cultivating an invisible online congregation. According to Rania, when you're in this business, you gotta make peace with a lack of privacy.
"My opinion is that, when you do a job that involves [an] audience, you can't really avoid people getting some insight into your personal life. As long as it doesn't negatively affect it, and there are some limits, I don't mind it at all," she says. "In fact, I'm humbled and touched by people that actually take the time to send messages to thank us for the content, or to let us know how we have affected their lives. We are both very appreciative and respectful of the audience, and for all the support we have been getting."
Rania is made for this. She's witty, dynamic, and a natural on camera. Recently Kripp featured her in a video, essentially detailing how she saved his life. If they decided to go all the way in on a 24/7 life-stream, where viewers watched them mess around in their organic garden for hours on the weekend, I don't think anyone would be surprised.
But for someone like Bucky, the boyfriend of top Elder Scrolls: Legends streamer Christian "IAmCVH" Van Hoose, the camera was far more terrifying.
When Van Hoose made the decision to take Twitch seriously, he was broadcasting from the confined space of their shared bedroom. That proximity meant that Bucky, whether he wanted to or not, was part of the show—mostly as a dude who occasionally leans into the frame. Van Hoose is a performer; before he was beaming live through Twitch, the lion's share of his income came from making and playing music.
Bucky, on the other hand, describes himself as a classic introvert—the sort of guy who doesn't know what to do with his hands when he's suddenly standing in front of a few hundred people. "It used to be super duper bad, I wouldn't do jack squat," says Bucky. "[Christian] has had an influence on me, I'm a little more outgoing now."
Van Hoose's chat adores Bucky. Like Rania, he's emerged as an integral character on his boyfriend's stream, which is funny, because his appearances are becoming rarer and rarer ever since Christian moved his work out of their bedroom into a converted studio. He tells me he never worried about being candid with his personal life on-stream. Yes, sometimes being openly gay on Twitch attracts bad apples, but Christian makes it abundantly clear that any shitty comment will immediately earn a ban.
Bucky tells me he takes those things a little harder, which is interesting considering he's not an active participant on the show. "I'm overly sensitive, so if someone says something really not okay, I'm just like, 'TROLL, GET HIM GONE,'" he says.
"He sometimes reads my YouTube comments," adds Van Hoose. "Even the really tame stuff that's like, verging on constructive criticism but is obviously worded really poorly, that will upset him. I'm like, 'You should see some of the stuff I have to delete.'"
When trolls attack
That's the rub with Twitch. If you play your cards right you can make a healthy living by playing videogames, but it also means you need to spend an inordinate amount of time as a public figure fielding anonymous queries on the internet. Zoie Burgher has spent the last year-plus as a woman unafraid to build a brand with her sexuality, which means she takes a ridiculous amount of abuse in her comments boxes and Twitter mentions on a daily basis. When she announced she was dating Taylor, who is black, the worst parts of the gaming community mobilized in the most predictable, tiresome ways.
Taylor tells me that adjusting to his newfound social status is something he's struggled with. "A learning process," as he called it. He's a man with so many important priorities—his kids, his career, and ultimately, his self-esteem—so it's natural that the unwanted attention of the worst sort of idiots on Twitter were discouraging. Thankfully, he's also in a relationship with someone who's become an expert in navigating online abuse.
Recently, Zoie and Taylor posted a video where they read mean comments that have been posted on her YouTube channel in which they roast all-comers from the comfort of their bedroom. Our online culture isn't likely to get less toxic anytime soon, but at the very least, they do a good job of supporting each other.
"I'm like, ‘They don't even know her, but I bet if they had the opportunity to hang out with her, they wouldn't pass that up," says Taylor. "Even though they're talking so much, I think they just do it for attention, just to get her to respond. But they're still some hateful comments. ... I ask her, ‘How do you cope with it?' Not many people her age can handle that."
The conclusion I was left with after reporting this story is that the relationships that exist in the margins of Twitch and YouTube are built on sacrifice. Everyone here works an insane schedule. Burgher is managing a company, Kripparrian came down with appendicitis and was back on air the night he left the hospital, and Van Hoose has been going for 300 days straight, though he's planning on taking day 366 off. "If I don't do that, I might just keep going," he says.
This forces their boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, and husbands to do the best they can with the scarce moments of quietude and togetherness they find. "The more popular a Twitch streamer gets, the more obligations and less free time they have," says Rania. "So [the partners] need to be patient enough to accept that they may not see each other enough—unless they work together."
Bucky leads a bookstore cafe. Sometimes he's working 9 to 5, other times he'll be there till 11 at night. Van Hoose tells me when he's not streaming, he's usually tied up with music, which means their opportunities to savor their relationship are remarkably limited. "You gotta improvise," says Van Hoose. "I sit there editing while he's playing games, we can talk about things and laugh about things … It's not for everyone. There are some people that need a very specific schedule … If I was the kinda person who needed to do everything in the same order everyday and eat dinner at 5 o'clock everyday, that just wouldn't work."
Still, they've all managed, because love is usually worth a compromise or two. But it'd be great to see the still-young streaming infrastructure evolve into something that's more friendly to the self-care needs of their employees; a world where date nights and card game marathons can co-exist.