Being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is something of a rite of passage for all children hurtling towards graduation. As a child of the 80’s, the most common answers I remember from my friends were things like, “I want to be President of the United States!” or, “I want to be an astronaut!” Today as a manager for the largest video game retailer in the country, I hear a lot of children proudly exclaim, “I want to play video games and stream them all day!” citing their fandom for their streamer of choice as inspiration.
The practice of streaming is barely a decade old, yet the effect of taking what you play and broadcasting it online for millions of others to watch and interact with has changed the retail, marketing, and social media landscape of the video game industry. Its is an intimate affair as the entire internet is able to watch you play, interact with you, and see you react to situations in real time. The appeal to this form of entertainment is undeniable, making the question of “Should I quit my job and stream all day?” no longer a ludicrous pipe dream, but a plausible source of income.Streaming can certainly be done for the benefit of others. It can even bring order and dignity to their lives
Who can stream?
Streaming is not difficult or particularly costly. Anyone with a PlayStation 4 or Xbox 1, compatible camera, and decent internet connection can stream. Bringing in a moderately powerful Windows (and the occasional Mac) PC can increase your options for interacting with the community. If you are interested in streaming, “how to” articles and videos are plentiful. However, before you start researching how, perhaps you should ask yourself a more important yet culturally unpopular question, “Should I start streaming?”
Ask almost any conservative Christian above the age of 40 and you will likely get the response, “Video games are what is wrong with our children! No wonder we have so many school shootings!” When I was a child, my parents refused to buy me an Atari 2600 or Nintendo Entertainment System. I purchased a Gameboy with my own money along with Metroid II: The Return of Samus and hid it under my mattress as a rebellious young rogue.
Streaming As Vocation
In the book Counterfeit Gods, Pastor Tim Keller reflects that what we sacrifice for, be it the dedication of time, money, and relationships to something, as synonymous to what we worship. To those outside of gaming culture, the idea of playing games all day could easily be seen as a colossal waste of time and money that could be invested in “higher callings” such as volunteering at church or investing in mission projects.If your sole goal in streaming is to get paid for playing video games or to garner fame, what good is your stream bringing to the world?
New technology and entertainment are usually met with resistance by more conservative church fellowships. “Secular” vocations involving pursuits outside the sacred walls of the church are often deemed as “less than” by said church bodies. For example, the sunday school teacher who helped lead a successful fundraiser would be celebrated from the pulpit while a local government official attending the same church, who was instrumental in passing an ordinance helping alleviate homelessness would not be mentioned because it does not directly affect the church body.
In contrast, a view that “All work is sacred” derives from the belief that just as God created order from chaos in the first chapters of the Bible, work that mirrors that, regardless the type of vocation (with the obvious exception of a handful of jobs that require employees to objectify others) is laudable. The idea that God is involved in all aspects of life, and that we should work, “so that we may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28) brings dignity to many vocations, including streaming. Streaming can certainly be done for the benefit of others. It can even bring order and dignity to the lives of others when you consider the profound impact it can have on an individual and the community that surrounds them.
What Sets the Best Streamers Apart?
A cursory look at the most successful streamers on Twitch and YouTube show us that the key to success in an extremely crowded marketplace is not the game you decide to stream, but the personality, consistency, and community interaction the streamer builds.
In 2017, The Verge profiled two college streamers who use their hobby to help pay for college and the related expenses. Kaitlyn Richelle, a medical student from Ontario Canada, raised $5,000 in one 24 hour session of playing EA’s Dead Space. Watching the stream in question shows Richelle crying with gratitude as her loyal fans supported her. In truth, Richelle was frightened to reveal to her streamers anything about her personal life outside of her professional StarCraft competitions, but the outpouring of support from her fans showed that her fears were unfounded.
The second student from the Verge story is Josh Caron who was told during one of his streams, that his grandfather had passed away. Rather than turning his camera off, he continued his stream allowing his followers to see a raw, emotional reaction that transcended the game he was playing. He shared the news with his viewers which led to the receipt of messages of encouragement and stories of shared pain.
Communities of gamers are some of the most fiercely loyal (and drama filled) groups you will ever have the pleasure of encountering. Streamers will often do live streams outside of gaming having live conversations at diners, parks, and other classrooms sometimes with their fans on chat, or meeting some in person as part of a contest or loyalty reward.Twitch is the 4th highest trafficking site on the internet during peak hours with over 100 million unique users.
Steven Bonnell is an example of a streamer who has seen a good deal of success from his streams on Twitch, YouTube, and private subscriptions through his website earning an estimated $100k a year according to DOTesports. The cost of success, however, is a lack of a work-life balance, “They’ve pretty much become inseparable at this point,” said Bonnel in regards to his 60 hours a week dedicated to streaming who has had, as of this writing, 82,328,331 views of his content.
And then you have the “Arab Andys” of the world who give us important examples of how to not better communities. On June 1 of 2018 Jammal Hassan Harraz, aka “Arab Andy”, entered the University of Washington Savery Hall with a smart phone set to play pre-recorded audio on a portable speaker provided by his viewers who payed to have the privilege of their content played during his streams. Walking into a crowded room with students and faculty, he asked for their attention and proceed to play an audio recording over the phone’s speaker saying “C4 has been successfully activated.” Students and faculty made a quick exit leaving Harraz to laugh out loud over the pandemonium he caused. In short order he was arrested while still live streaming the entire encounter.
The responsibility of the streamer is enormous. It can catapult “kool aid-dyed millenials” to celebrity status as Tyler Blevins found out when famous rapper Drake reached out to him to play a game of Fortnite. Speaking in Rolling Stone Blevins’ quote sums up the thought eloquently: “We’re literally molding and shaping the minds of these kids. … There are these massive people on YouTube and Twitch that are not doing anything with the responsibility they have,” says Blevins who is known as Ninja on Twitch. “We need to be instilling good morals in these kids. It’s a calling.”
Blevins’ wife Jessica ‘JGhosty’ Goch added, “Morals were already important in our relationship.” “Once hundreds of thousands of people started following us on Twitter, we had sit downs and said, ‘We can never let our morals go.’ … That’s our number one, letting people know what we believe in.”
The Demands of Streaming
Before you hand in your two week notice and run out and purchase your first broadcasting rig, a few reality checks are required. Financial success in streaming is not easily come by and the fight to have it has claimed lives…literally.
It is with a heavy heart that I have to inform the community our good friend Brandon (Dalsarius) passed away early this morning @Dalsarius82
— Infernoblitz (@TheInfernoblitz) April 12, 2016
Another streamer, Brian “Pshybrid” Vigneault died during one of his charity streaming marathons. He was 35 and a father of three.
These are extreme examples and clearly a very small sampling, but these tales should be taken seriously if you are thinking of switching vocations. The dedication required to make streaming financially viable is enormous. The schedule for streamer Joe Marino looked like this during his peak times in an average 2014–2015 day, 7 days a week:
- 6:00 wake up
- 6:15 prep for stream
- 7:00 go live
- 3:00 go offline
- 4:00–6:00 social media, sponsorship requirements, chat with viewers
- 7:00 make dinner
- 8:00 spend time with kids
- 10:00 go to bed
Streaming as a primary vocation requires the mindset that it is a full time job that must be engaged with intentionality and excellence, not a way to make money without actually working. Streaming sessions of 18+ hours are not unheard of for new streamers just to get a dedicated base of viewers as Roberto Garcia discovered when he started.
Other considerations for streaming are networking for sponsorships, being featured on Twitch’s partner program, and helping out your fellow streamers. Having a thick skin is also required for the duration as the internet is full of trolls and the discernment between them and honest criticism can be tricky at best. Twitch is ranked the 4th highest trafficking site on the internet during peak hours with over 100 million unique users. In a single day there can be as many as 15 million active users with over 2.2 million broadcasters vying for their time in a single month.
Counting the Cost
These kinds of statistics would frighten most people off. The amount of time and dedication needed to capture a small portion of that viewership is more than most full time hourly jobs at 40 to 50 hours a week. Physical and mental health is also a serious concern when you find yourself strapped to a chair for hours not only streaming but performing the requisite self marketing pushes. Do you have a family or loved ones that you live with? These interactions also need serious reflection as your dedication to streaming would affect your time with them as well.
Then there is initial start up costs as well. Sufficient internet speeds at your home, the cost of the computer, microphone, camera, and other technical equipment can run you well into the thousands of dollars before you see a return on your investment.Communities of gamers are some of the most fiercely loyal (and drama filled) groups you will ever have the pleasure of encountering.
Streaming is not a decision that should be entered into lightly. Passion tempered by realistic expectations combined with a clear calling to this vocation should be the starting point for any consideration into this highly competitive market. Overcoming these hurdles can bring something to both yourself and your potential viewers that can transcend the mundane of staring at a computer screen with a controller in hand: building an community that matters.
Why do you want to start streaming?
My generation is in that odd in between space where we are as comfortable with VHS tapes and vinyl as we are with smartphones and the latest in digital gear. However I look at my son in his early teens who is in that 100% digital space and most of his interactions with friends are on places like Discord, Instagram, and Snapchat and it is clear to me that there is value in these digital communities. The hundreds of kids that I interact with while selling them currency for Fortnite V-bucks who ask me if I watch such and such streamers on Twitch or YouTube confirm that there is a desperate need for streamers who excel at their craft and their ability to positively impact their audience.
If you know what you are getting into and have counted the cost, the world of streaming is a field ripe for good work to be done—work that brings order and benefit to the lives of the people around us. My advice, don’t just think about yourself. If your sole goal in streaming is to get paid for playing video games or to garner fame, what good is your stream bringing to the world? I believe work that is truly satisfying makes other people’s lives better in some way. So if you stream, make sure you do so in a way that highlights the beauty of the games you play and the beauty of those who tune in—doing so might just make all the sleepless nights worth it.