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Alex Labat, a former news anchor turned Twitch streamer “Labat,” has developed a feature for his viewers called Twitch Plays World of Warcraft (WoW), where his chat room members can control one of his characters in Blizzard’s hit fantasy game World of Warcraft using various text commands.
The Twitch chat successfully reached max level with the character “Twitch Plays Jenkins” on Tuesday, which is level 70 in the retail version of the game. Labat told Decrypt via email that he created the feature because he wanted to see if his chat could accomplish that character feat, all without his help or interference.
“I cheekily went with a Draenei because I felt like it ‘represented’ Twitch in a way,” Labat told Decrypt, noting the color scheme similarities. “As far as the class, that was random too. I put together the character to ‘test’ to see if it would work. But once I realized it did, chat took the wheel and it’s taken off from there.”
12 days. 22 hours. 47 minutes. 38 seconds.
— Labat (@SNLabat) August 30, 2023
To control Labat’s character, players can type W, A, S, or D keys into his Twitch chat to move the character around, type “startrun” to make the character run, or press “F” to interact with items in the world, to name a few of the keybinds. Chat participants have made the Twitch Plays character embark on quests, run into walls, and kill enemies.
But watching the stream, it is obvious that the character isn’t being operated by an experienced WoW player and could be mistaken for a bot.
Since Labat began the WoW experiment with his chat roughly two weeks ago, his channel has seen an influx of activity, logging over 9,100 watch hours and a 182% increase in peak viewership according to Twitch data site SullyGnome.
Despite Jenkins’ sometimes bot-like movements, Labat’s chatters managed to level up the character from scratch. When they reached level 40, the chatters’ progress accelerated dramatically and popped up to level 60 in less than 48 hours.
Twitch streamer Asmongold—who’s well-known in the WoW community and has roughly 7 million followers across multiple Twitch and YouTube channels—called Jenkins’ achievements “impressive” in a video published last week.
“I could make my viewers farm things for me,” Asmongold said of the feature. “It would like botting because it wouldn’t technically be botting, would it? I wonder if it would be.”
While Labat’s chat has been able to play Jenkins for weeks so far, it’s unclear whether the Twitch Plays feature could be deemed a bannable offense within World of Warcraft. Blizzard has not yet responded to Decrypt’s request for comment regarding its stance on the feature.
Labat’s streams can run from anywhere from 30 minutes to nearly 50 hours long, but the streamer says he always tries to be “present” for his chat—even if they’re the ones calling the shots.
“This is a showcase of chat’s talents,” Labat said. “I felt it better I act as the man behind the curtain, ever present to troubleshoot or patch something that’s needed.”
That said, not every Twitch Plays WoW stream has gone smoothly. Sometimes, trolls take the reins and kill the character, or make them idle for hours in bizarre locations like a canal.
But Labat doesn’t call his chatters who like to derail Jenkins’ progress trolls—because, in his words, they’re the ones who tend to stay in the chat the longest.
“Other than the occasionally ‘cheeky’ chatter who will come in and repeatedly kill the character over and over, or stick them in a far off place... I’d say the toughest part? Dragon riding,” Labat told Decrypt, referring to the mechanic where players can ride dragons to fly to remote locales in WoW’s vast world.
“Now, chat eventually came together to work out a strategy of how to do it, but that took the longest,” the streamer shared.
From a technical perspective, Twitch Plays WoW was a pieced-together project.
“I sort of Frankensteined existing, disparate pieces of software to create a functioning Twitch Plays for World of Warcraft,” Labat said of creating the feature for his community, whom he described as “welcoming but very protective of me and my family.”
“They love to rib me, and I make myself the butt of the joke," Labat said, "so any chance they get to ‘interact’ with me, they love it."
What’s next for the streamer now that his chat has achieved level 70? Ahead of reaching the milestone Tuesday, Labat said he’d love to have a day-long party in a WoW town square, and then get Blizzard’s “blessing or nod of approval” for his Twitch Plays feature.
“My dream is to get a group of people together who understand the character and won’t accidentally report it,” Labat said, “and then I want to see if Twitch Plays can run a raid.”