Between three group chats I’m in, the word “pog” appears 280 times. It’s a term that has broken into the mainstream, and if you’ve talked to teenagers recently, chances are you’ve heard the word. But who is the man behind the now-iconic PogChamp?
PogChamp and its variations, “pog” and “poggers,” have grown from a niche Internet meme to a commonplace phrase for extremely online Gen Z-ers. The original PogChamp image (seen below) is used as an expression of joy or excitement.
The image originates from a 2010 YouTube video in which Ryan “gootecks” Gutierrez reacts to a cameraman almost knocking over a camera. In 2012, the emote was added to Twitch’s global database, allowing the image to be easily sent in chat during livestreams. The name PogChamp was chosen due to Gutierrez’s involvement in a promotional video in which Gutierrez and his co-host Mike Ross play pogs, a classic 90s toy. The ad ends with Gutierrez proudly claiming the two to be “pog champions”.
PogChamp’s reputation grew alongside Twitch, as it began growing prominent content creators and communities of its own through the 2010s. Eventually, these circles began growing into the mainstream, such as prominent Fortnite streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who appeared on the television show The Masked Singer. Twitch - and its unique culture, PogChamp included - would even seep into the world of politics, as politicians such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Raphael Warnock, and Sen. Jon Ossoff would use the platform for GOTV campaigns.
Throughout all of this, PogChamp remained one of the most popular emotes on the platform, and grew into a universal symbol of hype and enthusiasm. Whenever something exciting happened during a Twitch stream, viewers were encouraged to “drop pogs in the chat.”
While the popularity of both Twitch and PogChamp grew, Gutierrez’s own reputation began to sink. Gutierrez had a history of using his platform to engage with conspiracy theories. In a 2012 video, he warned about the Illuminati and encouraged his viewers to watch the conspiracy documentary series Zeitgeist. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, his affinity for conspiracy theories would be pushed to the forefront, as he took to Twitter to espouse harmful rhetoric about the virus. In March, Gutierrez suggested that a fellow streamer that tested positive for COVID-19 take hydroxychloroquine, which at the time was thought to be a potential cure in right wing circles but had been denounced by the FDA.
In August, Gutierrez doubled down on advocating for hydroxychloroquine. He continued to cite a singular article, published by far right news source The Gateway Pundit, and insisted that “mainstream media and social media censorship” was obscuring progress.
In a Reddit post responding to criticism on Twitter, he referred to the ongoing pandemic as a “coronacircus.” As it stands, the post has 0 upvotes, and 670 comments, the majority of which tell him off for his idiocy.
User ArgenAstra stated that, “whenever someone asks about the pogchamp guy they’ll get sent here.”
Gutierrez voiced his opinions again on Jan. 6, 2021, during the insurrection against the United States Capitol. He referenced the death of Ashli Babbitt in a tweet asking, “if there would be civil unrest for the woman executed inside the Capitol?”
This comment pushed Twitch over the edge, as they later removed PogChamp from the platform as a direct consequence of Gutierrez’s comments. On Twitter, Twitch stated it could simply not continue to enable use of the image in good conscience.
Twitch also noted that it “wanted the sentiment and use of Pog to live on - its meaning is much bigger than the person depicted or the image itself.” And indeed, poggers has developed into a cultural phenomenon. Many friends of mine detached from Twitch culture use poggers conversationally. Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted the phrase in October, asking if she had used it correctly. Few people reading Rep. Omar’s tweet would have connected her usage of the phrase to a right wing insurrectionist. Gutierrez had lost association with the symbol.
A few days later, Twitch announced that they would choose a new “daily PogChamp” by setting the emote to be the face of a different creator every 24 hours - the truest representation of the community. And although this decision has come with controversy of its own, as some creators have been targets of harassment, Twitch has left Gutierrez in the past. The symbol now stands for the community, for enthusiasm and for hype.
In the Internet era, symbols often outgrow their creators - usually with disastrous consequences. Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe the Frog, resents the alt-right icon that Pepe had developed into during the Trump administration. In an interview with Time, Furie states that “it's completely insane that Pepe has been labeled a symbol of hate, and that racists and anti-Semites are using a once peaceful frog-dude from my comic book as an icon of hate.” Still, despite many efforts to take back his image from the clutches of internet, Pepe’s reputation has been forever tainted by his association with racism and anti-Semitism.
PogChamp is a case study in the opposite: a creation outgrowing its controversial creator, and developing into a representation of both pure enthusiasm and the strength of the Twitch community.
And that? That’s poggers.