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A streaming set-up showing Street Fighter: 3rd Strike

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How to find your own game streaming gimmick

There are few things better than a turkey sandwich and 3rd Strike

Photo: John Learned for Polygon

I see you there, wondering how you can differentiate among the many game streams out there, how yours can rise above the noise. I was once like you — streaming the occasional Souls game or run of Symphony of the Night as I scratched my head at my small viewership with zero interaction. I, too, was alone in the streaming wilderness without a guiding light. It turns out, I was doing it wrong, and you probably are, too.

Then I stumbled upon a streaming gimmick, and one that pays its own kind of dividends. As the definition of a small-time streamer, I don’t make a living off playing games on the internet. But, by laying down a few simple rules, sticking with them, and following my own strange muse, streaming has been rewarding for me outside of the monetary benefits.

Find a game to play forever

Over the past year and a half, I, like many, had some extra time on my hands at home. Working remotely, I found that hooking up old consoles to capture cards and fighting sometimes finicky PC setups took a back seat to the ease of plugging in an arcade stick and firing up Fightcade on my lunch breaks to decompress for a bit. As a frothing Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike junky, my lunchtime became sacrosanct: finish work, inhale some food, play 3rd Strike. It is, after all, the only game that matters. I was getting a small, but consistent, viewership, made up of other folks that were stuck at home killing time for the pandemic to end, too.

Fighting games are ideal for this streaming strategy, especially games as old and studied as 3rd Strike. Jumping from game to game does you no favors, especially if you’re not a known commodity. Playing one game consistently helps you not only work on your own skills, but lets you adjust to speaking while playing if it’s a game that you know well. Zeroing in on a game also gives you opportunities to talk about that game in capacities outside of playing it. In 3rd Strike’s case, there are still tournaments being held and new techniques to be found in a game over 20 years old. These are topics of conversation that your stream can now explore.

Your chosen game doesn’t have to be something as competitive as fighting games. Plenty of people make their Twitch hay with Animal Crossing, Minecraft-building, or simply living as a tourist in Souls games. Your goal: find one that you can cling to and stick with it.

Don’t sweat being good at it

On a good day, I’m above average at 3rd Strike, a game I have played at least once per week for many, many years. I know deep within me that I will never be one of the all-time killers. This used to bother me, and then I became an adult. Burn your ego. When streaming, the love of the game is the game.

I’m not telling you to graciously lose every match in Valorant or shrug your shoulders when your Fortnite bros bail on you. But there is both great comedy in the occasional loss and an even greater calm when you realize that winning is great, but really, who cares? If your gimmick is that you’re the player that loses their cool and yells at the camera about the lag of whatever, then that’s the act you have to stick with. For the rest of us, laughing most things off and respecting your viewers with commentary on what happened goes a lot farther.

John Learned playing Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike Photo by John Learned

Play to the game’s dedicated following

While some communities are tough nuts to crack and some can be downright cruel, I’ve lucked out that the ones built around old-timey games, like 3rd Strike, are often welcoming to new folks.

Learning to play to this crowd is a challenge, though, and it helps to have some material. Love Halo? Dig up and talk about recent Halo stories. Animal Crossing player? Try in vain to divine Nintendo’s plans for any future DLC. Still playing Garou: Mark of the Wolves? I’d like to buy you a beer. Engaging the core audience of your chosen game is equally as important as playing the game itself.

Not for profit

I’d like to reiterate two things: First, I don’t make a living off streaming, and it turns out almost nobody really does. Second, I am the definition of small-time. 3rd Strike Lunch Breaks and a weekly 3rd Strike Happy Hour stream will never put me on a late night talk show couch, no matter how good I look in a suit. There will always be a bigger fish, and it’s important to be reasonable with your expectations. Make some cash from streaming if you can, but playing games that you love with people that love it like you do is already its own reward.