It’s surprising how hard streaming is. You’d think it would be a dream job. Playing video games almost every day? Free copies of games? Being paid to advertise cool products? But when you’re starting out on Twitch, the reality isn’t quite so glamorous. The hours are long, the pay is awful, and if you’re doing it on a platform like Twitch, half of your earnings will eventually wind up in Jeff Bezos’ pockets. Your chances of breaking out are small. If you’re a person of color, your chances of being harassed skyrocket, and those odds are even greater if you’re queer. So why bother when there’s so much stacked against you? I spoke to a variety of hobbyist streamers to find out.
One of the biggest draws of streaming is being able to form a community. It’s pretty common for streamers to have Discord servers now, places where their followers can convene and get to know one another. They keep the community together even when the streamer isn’t live.
For Sylverstone Khandr (SylverstoneKhandr on Twitch), having a Discord server began as a way to help out fellow streamers. “It started as a big Discord DM group where we hung out, shared knowledge about stream tech/production, and organized stream collaborations,” says Khandr. “Now, it’s evolved into a server with a nice [little] community of communities where regulars from our streams can hang out, share interesting content, and be exposed to other creators and communities within the group.”
One of the biggest mistakes you can make on Twitch is thinking you can do it alone. Building connections, and helping others do the same, is the best way to help you grow as a streamer. It isn’t always easy, though. “The reality is that taking care of a Discord can extend the time you’re ‘on’ or ‘entertaining’ and interacting with viewers as a streamer [to] up to 24 hours a day if you let it,” says Eira (eirawave on Twitch).
Streaming is a performance of sorts. You have to be switched ‘on’ while you’re live, and that can continue into your private time when you run a Discord. Running a community isn’t something with clear cut rules, either.
Streaming is often a balancing act, one that’s made harder by the lack of resources on the topic. It’s not something that everyone can keep up at the pace they might like to. “[Streaming] takes up a lot of time, and you don’t really recuperate that financially. And that’s the reason why I’ve cut down, because I was doing four streams a week, really consistently for a few months,” says Jason Coles (EnotheStrife on Twitch). Coles is a freelancer, and has a daughter and wife who he supports. He, like a number of others we spoke to for this story, doesn’t think reaching Partner is an achievable goal. But ultimately, he isn’t too fussed; as long as he gets to show off some cool indie games to his community, he’ll keep streaming.
Motivation is something that’s particularly hard to keep fostering with streaming. You might not even have a positive reason for keeping it up. “On some weeks, it feels like an obligation. I get thoughts like, I’ve invested too much time and money into this to quit now; I have to keep going,” says Joshua Loebig (ProfGiles on Twitch). Loebig notes that those streams are often his worst.
When you get fixated on numbers, which Loebig says he did at one point, a stream not performing well can be incredibly demoralizing. “To be perfectly honest, a lot of times with everything I’m motivated by the anxiety of letting people down,” says Eira, though it isn’t all doom and gloom. They have recently started doing art streams, and have found the desire to finish a piece off provides motivation for hitting the ‘go live’ button. They’re also a part of Black Twitch UK, a group that aims to highlight and uplift black streamers in the UK.
Finding victories outside of just traffic
For others, like Samm (beepsalt on Twitch), the community is not a source of anxiety but a positive motivator. “I’m also lucky that my community [has] a ton of like minded people with me. I feel inspired [that] I can talk about queer content, be visibly non-binary, and help others who are looking for places to be like that,” says Samm. As a non-binary streamer, the fact that 99% of the time someone “in real life” calls them by the wrong pronouns is stressful, but going live and having a community that respects them and genders them correctly helps keep up motivation, they say.
Samm is a bit of a veteran on Twitch, starting back when it was still called justin.tv, but has been on and off over the years. Samm returned to regular streaming in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit the U.S. They’re a partnered streamer, though the idea of going full-time isn’t something that motivates them, or even something they want. Samm knows that full-time streaming is an idealistic goal. It’s more than just waking up and playing video games; it’s caring about views, money, and what content you’re making. What keeps them going is the community they’ve formed, and showing off games that interest them.
In some cases, it can be as simple as one person coming into chat that makes all the difference for motivation. “I was playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Sunday mornings, when a viewer named Bennett said that they’d been having a bad day, but watching and hanging out in the stream had helped make their day,” says Joe (JoeMedforce on Twitch). That moment helped Joe realize the value in streaming outside of just having something to do.
Like many streamers we spoke to for this story, Joe started streaming during the pandemic as a way to spend time and maybe make some connections. But that one person coming in and saying something nice has been enough to keep him going. Bennet apparently doesn’t come to Joe’s streams anymore, but it doesn’t matter to him. The moment was enough on its own.
In Khandr’s case, finding friends is what’s kept them going. “What I’ll always cherish are the people I’ve met because of streaming — the friends that I’ve made, the folks who regularly tune in to see my antics, personalities of all kinds that I had a chance to talk shop with at various get-togethers,” they say. Khandr doesn’t view themself as a “successful” streamer by the numbers. But even through tough times, they have people they can rely on. “It isn’t an exaggeration when I say that I genuinely credit streaming with saving my life because it gave me the platform and the confidence to start building something positive for myself.”