Subscriber bots concern top Fortnite streamers, but Twitch says there’s no problem

Over the past week, several popular Fortnite: Battle Royale streamers on Twitch have noticed huge spikes in their viewer subscriptions. Normally this would be cause for celebration, but the sheer volume of subscriptions in such a short time has made some of these streamers suspicious.

Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode has exploded in popularity since debuting last September, quickly overshadowing the main “Save the World” game mode Fortnite launched with. The Battle Royale mode mimics the mechanics of last year’s breakout PlayerUnknown’s BattleGrounds, but it has a cleaner, more colorful aesthetic, runs on all three major gaming platforms, and doesn’t cost anything to play. It’s been especially popular with teenagers and other people with more free time than money, and has consistently been one of the top games to stream on Twitch for the past few months. It even passed League of Legends, becoming both the most watched and most streamed game on the service over the last two weeks.

This led Twitch’s parent company, Amazon, to set up a special promotion with Fortnite’s creator Epic Games for Amazon Prime members. Anyone who pays for Prime (or starts a free trial during the promotional period) is eligible to receive some exclusive cosmetic skins for both modes in Fortnite, and the membership also grants one free subscription to a Twitch channel of your choice. Since skins are one of the only ways to tell players apart in Fortnite, the promotion is directly responsible for thousands of people signing up for Prime.

The dark side of popularity

While Fortnite’s popularity has certainly brought a lot of new customers to Amazon’s Prime service, several streamers have voiced concerns that the influx of new subscriptions might be due to bots and resellers. It takes a valid credit card to sign up for Amazon Prime, and it seems unlikely that this eBay auctioneer manually applied for over 200 Prime accounts to resell them. Many such auctions have popped up on eBay and other trading websites, hawking newly minted Prime accounts ready to claim Fortnite loot. These accounts are valid, and come with a free subscription to a Twitch channel just like any other Prime account. But some websites have raised the concern that these new accounts might have been created using stolen credit card information.

The promotion also appears to have led to an upswing in subscriptions, particularly to popular Fortnite  streamers. Each subscription is worth about $2.50 to a streamer, and there are rules in place preventing streamers from subscribing to their own channel or contributing “bits,” a Twitch-centric virtual currency, to anyone logging in from the same IP. Twitch’s community guidelines prohibit “Tampering (such as artificially inflating follow or live viewer stats)”, and several streamers are wary that their newly bloated subscriber counts might cause them to be punished for something they have no control over.  It’s possible that all these new subscriptions are due to Fortnite’s popularity, but some Twitch streamers find this unlikely.

Streamers have noticed tons of new subscribers with nonsense names who’ve never appeared in their viewer listings before. This is unusual, because people who want to contribute money to a streamer tend to engage with them before doing so. It’s led some to wonder what, if anything, Twitch intends to do about the issue.

The most extreme case concerns Tyler Blevins (A.K.A. Ninja), who is one of the best Fortnite: Battle Royale players in the world. His Twitch and YouTube videos are especially popular in the Fortnite community.  Eyebrows began to raise when his Twitch channel gained more than 50,000 subscribers in less than two weeks, beginning right around the time the Prime promotion went live.

While Blevins is exceptionally skillful and personable, these kinds of numbers are unprecedented. He’s the first streamer ever to hit 100,000 subscribers on the service, with more than half that total coming since the Fortnite promotion began. More than 40,000 more subscribers have signed on since Blevins hit that milestone, and no one is sure where or when his numbers will taper off. Blevins will likely see a massive subscriber drop starting in April, since Twitch subscriptions must be manually reinstated every month. But for now, he’s the recipient of at least a $350,000 windfall.

Twitch representatives were asked what the company intends to do about all the new subscribers, but it sounds as though Twitch doesn’t consider them a problem. A statement provided to Polygon said:

"We've seen large numbers of players trying Twitch Prime for the first time, getting free loot, and using their first monthly free channel subscription. It's great to see many broadcasters getting a bump from these new Twitch Prime members. New members are subscribing to these popular Fortnite channels and we haven’t seen any indication of bot activity.​"​

Fortnite: Battle Royale is heading to iOS and Android soon, and the creative director of Epic Games has expressed interest in bringing the title to the Nintendo Switch. There are no signs that the game’s popularity will be dying down anytime in the near future, though the Twitch Prime promotion ends April 30. It remains to be seen whether subscriptions will fall off after the promotion ends, but it seems very likely.