Deep into a marathon PlayerUnknown session, a rowdy squad of four streamers ran into a familiar problem - the motorcycle they just nabbed outside the island’s famous apartment blocks only had spots for three commandos. For most teams, this would call for a rapid reshuffling of resources, a huddle to discuss their options, perhaps a brief excursion to track down a more suitable vehicle. For Twitch icon “Dr. Disrespect,” the calculus was altogether simpler - he shot one of his allies in the head, pilfered his gear, and jumped on. And though the Doctor’s armada of fans rushed to defend the act of friendly fire as satiric, Brendan Greene - PlayerUnknown himself - wasn’t so keen, personally rebuking Doc and handing him a temporary ban from the game.
Every day, millions of viewers keep their eyes glued to the glowing gallery of talking heads at platforms like Twitch, where they watch their favorite streamers carve a path through a sea of foes, again and again, cracking mild jokes all the while. But while most popular streamers attract the teeming masses with their down-to-earth demeanor and pinpoint trigger finger, the Doctor displays a little less respect for decorum. He flaunts a mullet wig and sport shades, rarely taking either off for hours at a time; he spouts catchphrases like a villain ripped from the pages of a comic-book; he chastises his allies for their lack of skill; and he does all this while continually reminding his fans of his unparalleled “dominance,” even when he’s getting wrecked by his opponents. You see, unlike the dozens of personalities that have managed to eke out enough of a following on Twitch to stream full-time, the Doctor isn’t just a photogenic version of himself - he’s a fictional character, portrayed by former level designer Guy Beahm, who ultimately shares common with pro wrestling gimmicks like Stone Cold Steve Austin than his always-“chill” counterparts on Twitch.
As Beahm himself is quick to note, though the Doctor’s brand of hyper-aggressive, macho posturing might seem tailor-made for a platform like Twitch, it actually predates the video revolution entirely. “He started as a voice in Halo 2,” he says. “In that game, there was proximity chat, where you could talk to the enemy if you are near them, all in real time. This created an opportunity to showcase this personality, and naturally, I just went with that dominant character because I was fairly good at the game and I could back up the talk, which made it more genuine. It got to the point where those same people that I would defeat would message me, or we would meet in the lobby, and they would be laughing, saying how much fun that was.”
When the burgeoning technology of streaming finally caught up with consumer demand in the early twenty-teens, Beahm began to notice the nascent culture of sites like Twitch and its competitors beginning to coalesce. Eventually, he realized that his goofy persona might have some legs beyond the muddy hills of Blood Gulch. “I realized there was an opportunity to take the character to the next level by doing things that hadn’t been done before on the platform,” Beahm says. At the time, he was working as a level designer at Sledgehammer Games, one of the stewards of the monolithic Call of Duty franchise, a role that he enjoyed “as much as I enjoyed playing games.” Once he met an investor willing to help him make the transition to streaming as a vocation, the changes came naturally, but not without obstacles along the path. But now that he’s found unprecedented success on the platform, Beahm says that he plans to bring the Doctor’s ultra-competitive shtick to as many media platforms as he can sustain.
“There was certainly an adjustment period,” he says. “My working experience prior to streaming had always consisted of being a part of big teams, employed by big companies. Committing to streaming full-time meant I was going to be self-employed. That was the biggest adjustment. Being self-employed, I know I have to have a lot of discipline when it comes to scheduling, managing of costs, and being aware of everything related to the brand.”
As the Doctor’s viewership grew steadily throughout 2017, his name became synonymous with the biggest shooter of the year, the battle royale megahit Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. Its reliance on roulette-like loot-drops and tense, unpredictable firefights made for compelling content, and the Doctor’s ornery antics kept the viewer-count spiraling ever-skyward. The much-publicized friendly-fire incident won him notoriety, but in the expected As Nasty As They Wanna Be-esque twist, it only served to increase his profile. But at the height of his infamy last December, Beahm broke character, sans shades and mullet, and tearfully explained to his legions of fans that he had been “unfaithful” to his wife and that he was subsequently “taking time off to focus on [his] family.”
After two months of introspection, the Doctor made his triumphant return, shattering the all-time concurrent viewers record on Twitch and returning to his usual six-to-eight hour a day schedule. But despite his continued success, to hear him tell it, his mistakes still weigh heavily on his relationship with his wife and young daughter. “Today, it’s still an everyday struggle to cope with the events,” he says, “but we both feel we are taking the appropriate steps in repairing our relationship. I knew it was going to be a long time before I came back, and, to be honest, given the emotional stress my wife and I still experience daily, I feel I came back too soon.”
As the Doctor has returned to Twitch, Beahm’s wife has come into the DisRespectiverse as her own character: Mrs. Assassin. According to Beahm, this was vital to the persona’s resurgence, both professionally and personally. “My wife and I were literally on the verge of separation, possibly divorce. I would’ve been destroyed emotionally if it went this far,” he says. ”...We both knew that if the Doc came back, she would have to be fully involved in the business. That was one of my biggest mistakes, not having her involved from the beginning...I’m hoping our working relationship will strengthen our personal relationship. I’m extremely lucky and happy to have her by my side still.”
Now that he’s re-assumed his place in the pantheon of Twitch influencers, with 1.8 million followers, fans dropping thousands of dollars in donations by the week, tens of thousands of subscribers paying $5 a month to support him, and a fleet of big-name sponsors like Razer, Turtle Beach, and Discord, Beahm reflects on the Doctor’s popularity. For his part, he hopes to see more character work on Twitch in one form or another - though some may scoff at the notion of streaming as an art-form, there’s no denying his contribution to the still-inchoate field. “I notice a lot of interaction between influencers right now consists of good players playing with other good players that have easy, manageable personalities. I think that’s great, but that’s sort of the blueprint of modern-day streaming,” he says. “I think interactions between ‘strong personalities’ would allow for a better narrative across the platform, and would really draw in people who are experiencing digital entertainment outside of hardcore gaming culture.”
This quote, most of all, recalls the colorful world of pro wrestling - Stone Cold attacking his maniacal boss Mr. McMahon in the hospital, with throngs of onlookers cheering all the while. But, for Beahm, it’s not just about the competition, or even the mammoth PUBG, or any individual game. “I don’t want to rely on a single game’s success,” he says. “I don’t want to rely on any video game. That means expanding the Doc, along with his evolving personality and ego, into other markets or spaces. I can’t go into details, but I’m very excited.”
Even with the faucet on and the waterfalls of cash rolling in once more, Beahm tries not to let it go to his head. He might play Dr. DisRespect, but, to him, the line between Guy Beahm and the mulleted shit-stirrer that’s made him notorious has never been starker. ’“I don’t really consider myself famous in any fashion. To me, I’m just goofing off on camera for six to eight hours a day. That’s what it literally feels like. And when I’m done, I’m downstairs with my daughter and beautiful wife, disconnected from the online world.”