One day in late June, Derrius Guice switched on the webcam in his bedroom. The Redskins rookie running back, perhaps better known to younger fans by his PlayStation gamertag, “Dhasickest,” broadcasts regularly and has more than 4,000 followers on Twitch, a video-game streaming platform. Within seconds of him going live, the chat exploded with comments.
Many dropped an acronym for “Hail to the Redskins,” and they asked him questions, like where he lives (at the time, still Baton Rouge) and how many rushing touchdowns he wanted this season (“I don’t like to think about that stuff”).
The scene of Guice’s room during streams — friends sitting on his bed to watch him play, his mom popping in and out (“Shoutout my mama!”) — plays out in homes nationwide, famous athletes or not, and the familiarity makes him accessible. Or at least it feels that way.
“[Streamers] are right there,” said Nathan Grayson, a writer for gaming website Kotaku. “The world of celebrity was one far beyond normal people and what they could comprehend, whereas Twitch and YouTube say, ‘Okay, well, here are these normal people who are famous.’ . . . It’s a reaction to what celebrity culture used to be, which was this very gated-off thing.”
Guice has only ever streamed himself playing Fortnite, the massive multiplayer online first-person shooter game that drops 100 cartoon players on a shrinking island and goes until only one player is left alive. On this night, he wanted to raise money for a local cancer center. Guice offered to play Fortnite with anyone who donated $5. Larger donations entered viewers into raffles for his gear.
In one game, Guice landed at “Tilted Towers,” an infamous spot on the map, but struggled to find the loot he needed to better equip his character. Eventually, he ran into another player, who started shooting at him. Guice scrambled, building walls and trying to run away, but eventually he jumped directly into the path of a shotgun blast. He was eliminated.
“I ain’t gettin’ nothin’!” Guice yelled, declaring it a warmup game.
Video games are a normal downtime activity for Guice, as well as for many professional athletes and young people across the globe. Yet gaming was also linked to why some NFL teams were concerned about drafting him in April.
In the lead-up to the draft, reporters cited anonymous sources calling Guice “immature,” at least partly because he posted often on social media and was “addicted to video games.” Throughout, Guice’s camp dismissed the reports, his high school coach going as far to say Guice was just “a new millennial athlete” and that future prospects would resemble him in their social-media usage. Six running backs were selected ahead of Guice, who was considered by many analysts to be one of the two or three best rushers in the draft.
Many teams across all sports are worried about their athletes becoming addicted to video games. Redskins Coach Jay Gruden is not one of the worried. He said he “used to play [video games] all the time,” but doesn’t anymore.
“If I graded somebody now because of video games, I probably wouldn’t have a football team out here,” Gruden said before practice Thursday. “Everybody plays video games [in] this day and age. This Fortnite thing is going crazy, Madden, you know, they’re playing [FIFA] in there. They all play it. So, Derrius is probably most known for it, for some reason, but that had no bearing whatsoever on us taking him or not taking him.”
Guice developed a gaming habit as a kid, he said, because he wanted to avoid the streets of his Baton Rouge neighborhood known as “The Bottom,” where his father was murdered.
The backlash has made Guice more reticent to speak about his passion for gaming and broadcasting. He has not streamed since Redskins training camp began, and to those who still don’t understand why he plays, Guice has nothing to say.
“I just don’t [defend myself] anymore,” he said. “I had to throughout the draft process, but now that I’m in the league, I don’t have to anymore.”
The criticism did not change Guice. The longer his late June session on Twitch lasted, the more donations poured in. In 24 hours, more than $4,000 was raised. Osman Torres, 21, a Louisiana-based car dealership business manager, was not surprised.
Torres started following Guice’s streams after rooting for him at LSU. He was impressed that Guice seemed the same on Twitch as he did in on-field interviews, that nothing he did seemed “forced, or like a PR move.” The more he watched, the more he felt like he knew the running back. Watching Guice stream, Torres said, was “really just like talking to your friend.”
Within 11 days, Guice would hit his $20,000 goal, but at one moment during the session, he stopped thinking about the donations. A user named “wholeftcurry30” had written in the chat: “Bro why u compare working out to kneeling for the flag lol cmon fam think.”
Last year, Guice compared “the disrespect” of kneeling in protest during the national anthem to posting gym selfies, because he and his teammates “sacrifice” every day in the gym and yet people didn’t take working out seriously. That was, he said, “disrespectful to us.”
Guice sighed. He always reads the chat. He addressed the commenter and quickly became animated, saying he had been misunderstood and that the comparison didn’t matter anymore, but the issue did.
He paused, then couldn’t help himself: “You probably one of those people that don’t even understand why they [expletive] kneel for the flag anyway, so don’t come at me with that [expletive]. . . . They killing black folks out here, but you worried about Snappin’ at the gym.”
His frustration didn’t feel staged, and his raw emotion and language felt like intimate insight into his mind. This was the magic of real-time streams: no script, no filter, none of the trappings of traditional celebrity culture.
Soon the chat became a referendum on protest and patriotism, reflecting a conversation happening far beyond Guice’s bedroom. Guice, however, had stopped participating, having turned his attention back to the game. He’d once again run into someone trying to shoot him.