On Monday December 12, the White House partnered with Twitch to make history. The White House Competitive Gaming Event—a four-hour livestream—took place in the Eisenhower Building, featuring online celebrities ActaBunniFooFoo, Elspeth, ThatChickParker and more along with professional gamers such as NRG eSports, Rocket League team, Justin Wong and Mike Ross. They all came together to support the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and spread awareness of the Healthcare.gov Marketplace open enrollment period, which ends today (December 15).
The event was hosted by Twitch programming manager and streamer, Anna Prosser Robinson, who joined the ESL last year in creating a public service announcement to encourage gamers to get health insurance. She spoke with various members of the White House staff, including Erik Martin, policy advisor at White House office of science and technology policy, who talked about his personal history with health issues and gaming. He also remarked on the importance of engaging with young gamers directly through platforms like Twitch. Other Twitch celebrities sat down with White House staff to demonstrate use of the Marketplace and talk about video games.
The White House Competitive Gaming Event also used Twitch’s newly released AutoMod tool, which employs machine learning and natural language processing to identify and block inappropriate content from the chat—keeping the discussion civil and relevant.
Brain Petrocelli, product marketing manager at Twitch, spoke with [a]listdaily from the event and detailed how the partnership with the White House came together. “We did the DNC and RNC this past summer, and folks didn’t necessarily realize that we were protecting our chat with the AutoMod, which just released. So, we were able to have an amazing social video experience that was conductive to people having a great discussion about a topic. Fast forward, and people in Washington took notice and came together to figure out what we could do. We thought, what better way to host a conversation about healthcare than to talk to the independent business people that use Twitch and use the power of the White House to amplify that message to reach a hard-to-reach audience.”
When discussing how video gaming and healthcare related to each other, Petrocelli said, “most Twitch partners and eSports athletes are independent. Therefore, they have to worry about healthcare themselves. Whether you’re committing yourself to be a successful Twitch partner or committing to becoming an eSports athlete, making sure that you’re healthy and able to work as much as possible is really important. It behooves the community to discuss what healthcare options are available.”
To help promote the Marketplace, streamers spoke about their personal experiences in addition to having guest speakers come onstage to talk about the healthcare program and how to sign up. Some of the games played included a healthcare theme, particularly the board game Operation, and Trials Fusion, which features plenty of stunts and accidents.
“We wanted to reach the widest audience possible, which is why we selected some easy-to-get-into games such as Rocket League and Street Fighter,” said Petrocelli. “That’s in addition to choosing a group of broadcasters that have diverse communities that can all come together and have a good conversation.”
Petrocelli believes that a lot of people from the White House are fans of gaming, but don’t get to play as often as they would like to. However, they recognize the power that gaming has and its reach. “Considering how difficult gamers can be to reach, with their cord-cutting and only consuming content on Twitch, this is a really good opportunity to speak with them.”
Katie Hill, assistant press secretary at the White House, also spoke to [a]listdaily from the event.
“We’re in the middle of open enrollment for the Healthcare Marketplace, Healthcare.gov,” said Hill, discussing the importance of the event. “Ever since the Marketplace opened several years ago, we have made it a point that young people in particular understand that this option is available to them. If they shop around on Healthcare.gov, most can find a plan for $75 a month or less—less than their cell phone bills. [We want to make sure] that they understand that health insurance is affordable and a good thing to have. Not only does it help you stay healthy because you can take advantage of preventive benefits the ACA covers, such as vaccines, screenings, contraception for women—but it also protects you against an unexpected illness or catastrophic accident.
She also talked about the ACA’s goals, particularly in reaching young, uninsured individuals—many of whom are gamers. “Since the ACA has passed, the number of young people who are uninsured has dropped dramatically, but we know we’ve got more work to do,” said Hill. “Of the Americans who today are still uninsured, a disproportionate share of them are young. We also know that the gaming community is disproportionately young, so it aligns nicely with the audience we’re trying to reach.”
Hill described previous efforts to encourage young individuals to purchase healthcare. “Over the years, some of the more prominent examples are the president’s interview on between two ferns, the popular BuzzFeed video the president did a couple of years ago, and we just launched a video on our Facebook page where the president and actor, Bill Murray are playing golf in the Oval Office.”
— White House Archived (@ObamaWhiteHouse) December 12, 2016
The White House has also been working with colleges and universities on an initiative called the Healthy Campus Challenge. Nearly 400 institutions are letting students and faculty know about open enrollment. “This is something that we hope will become institutionalized, even after this administration is no longer in office,” said Hill. “Come open enrollment time, colleges and universities will do what they’ve done in the past: educating their students, alumni and faculty about how quality affordable insurance is available at Healthcare.gov.”
The White House is also emphasizing the sense of independence healthcare offers young individuals. “There are a lot of folks in the gaming community who are app developers, writing code and designing games. It may be something that they would like to do full-time, but can’t because they wouldn’t have health insurance. But they can get that insurance on the Marketplace.”
When asked if she thought the White House Competitive Gaming Event could become a regular event, Hill said: “Realizing that we have a short amount of time left here in the office, our hope is that today’s event has been a success and that it could be something our partners across the country—who are doing the hard and important work of signing people up for health insurance—could possibly replicate.”
Among the online celebrities invited to the event was voice actor, composer and gamer, Elspeth Eastman, whose talents have been featured in games such as League of Legends and Crypt of the Necrodancer. She spoke to [a]listdaily about her experience getting healthcare, which turned out to be as short and easy as advertised.
“I needed healthcare—I knew I needed to get covered, and I went on the website,” said Eastman. “It probably took me about ten to fifteen minutes to secure a plan for myself. Once I was done, I was like, ‘That’s it?’ It was very simple. I’m covered, and I’m happy about it.”
Eastman also talked about why it was important for full-time streamers and gamers to think about healthcare. “You don’t know the day-to-day specifics of your job,” said Eastman. “Sometimes it can be tough, and you might not plan for something that comes down the road when you are streaming. You never know. So, it’s always good to look out for yourself first and get covered, even if you’re situated somewhere comfy in your house. You don’t know—you could fall down the stairs or something—and it’s something you need to think about. A lot of people don’t realize how easy it is [to get healthcare]. It’s very easy to get set up.”
However, there is a perception that young gamers generally believe that they’re invincible, and don’t put much care or thought into the topic of healthcare. To them, Eastman says, “Hey, I’ll wake up in pajama pants, and sometimes I’ll eat a bag of Cheetos and won’t feel bad about it. I’ll stay up until four in the morning and eat a plate of pizza rolls before going to bed. You take that for granted when you’re sitting there enjoying video games. But you never know what could happen to your body. You don’t really think about it. So, it’s good to get healthcare now, be protected, and have that piece of mind.”
Angela Parker (ThatChickParker) is a prime example of the kind of young self-employed individuals the White House is reaching out to. She was no longer eligible for coverage under her father’s Navy healthcare plan when she turned 21 and decided to forgo college to pursue full-time streaming on Twitch.
“Gamers definitely live a more sedentary life, but it’s important to realize that anything can happen at any moment,” Parker told [a]listdaily. “One unfortunate incident could put you in debt for the rest of your life. Right now, we think we’re invincible, but we need to think about the long term.”
Professional gamer, Justin Wong, plays on team Evil Geniuses and came to the White House for an epic Street Fighter V showdown against Mike Ross and ended up winning three games in a row. Having to pay for healthcare was part of what drove him to succeed in eSports.
“Growing up, when I was 17 or 18, we went through some rough times. My family couldn’t pay for their hospital bills, so I went around the United States winning tournaments. Every time I won a tournament, I used the money that I won to pay off the debt that we owed to the hospitals.”
Wong also spoke about the importance of healthcare coverage for professional eSports athletes.
“I traveled about 40 times this year alone. The risk of being sick because of posing for pictures, shaking hands, or being around a culture of food that you’re not used to might affect your ability to play in a professional environment. Being under healthcare and having the option to go to the doctor while I’m at home before my next trip is really important.”
What does Wong say to young gamers who believe that they’re invincible? “I was like that once and said the same things. But when unforeseen circumstances happen, especially when you have to take care of your family because of sickness, it becomes really hard to live a regular life. Especially when you’re going to school and getting a job—and also if you want to keep trying to game. There will be less time for gaming. For me, I had to grind really hard—playing tournaments and paying the debt off—to make sure that my family could live a comfortable life in the future.