“In accordance with current local guidelines, there will be no COVID-19 vaccination or testing requirements at TwitchCon San Diego. Although masks are encouraged, they are not currently required to attend TwitchCon,” read the statement on the TwitchCon website.
For TwitchCon Amsterdam, which took place last month, there was a similar policy in place. Twitch partner Nazih Fares told The Verge he left after four hours, concerned for his health despite being fully vaccinated.
“It was as if the whole pandemic never happened,” Fares said. “I thought that Twitch partners would lead by example, the partner lounge was cramped, hygiene level sub-par and don’t get me started with the ‘bar area.’”
As word came that the same policy would be implemented in San Diego, many streamers expressed outrage and hesitation, declaring that they no longer felt safe attending the massive streaming convention.
“I was planning to attend and had booked a hotel room,” Gary Whitta, screenwriter and Twitch partner, told The Verge. “With the news that TwitchCon isn’t requiring either vaccination or masks I’m currently planning to stay home unless they revisit their policy.”
While it is true that masking and vaccination requirements are being relaxed across the country in step with guidance from public health officials, California seems to be in the midst of a COVID surge thanks to the virus’ variants and subvariants. And even if mask mandates are no longer in effect for some parts of California, it’s not outside of Twitch’s power to enforce its own policy.
San Diego Comic-Con, which took place July 21st to 24th in the same convention center TwitchCon will use, required proof of vaccination or a negative test and masks. While that didn’t stop people from getting infected — among them Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin — according to a report on the con from Polygon, some attendees felt more comfortable with the extra guidelines in place.
Twitch adhering to the minimum of standards isn’t only a safety issue but also an issue of accessibility. “There are more than 56 million potential disabled players, and countless people who are immunocompromised, who simply want to enjoy these celebrations of gaming,” Steven Spohn, senior director of development for AbleGamers, told The Verge.
Spohn noted that even with mask and vaccination requirements in place, no gathering of this scale could be 100 percent safe.
“Everyone knows going to these kinds of conventions is a risk because the pandemic is not over, but we can mitigate the chance of exposure and risks to people’s health with a few simple measures,” he said. “Disabled people should be included in measures to keep people safe.”
The Verge reached out to Twitch for comment but has yet to receive a response. TwitchCon San Diego takes place October 7th–9th.