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How new streamers can succeed and stay safe, according to veterans

Pros share their wisdom for budding streamers yearning to spread their wings

Illustration: Ariel Davis for Polygon

How hard is it for an aspiring streamer to succeed in today’s world? According to The Washington Post, only 7,500 out of nine million Twitch partners make earnings above the U.S. minimum wage. And many of those that do might make a modest $20-30,000 per year. Many streamers work full-time and stream for 40 hours or more every week, with pizza deliveries as their primary diet. That’s not to say millionaire streamers don’t exist, of course. But in a field this competitive, one thing is clear — if you’re tempted to start streaming for fame and fortune, you’re doing it wrong.

Serious game streamers must have a passion that comes from within. It’s a labor of love, one that is carefully nurtured and shared with the world and the communities they forge. I recently chatted with Zelda Universe streamer Amanda and Nintendo Brand Ambassador Miss Click to get advice for budding streamers.

Streaming: A labor of love

Miss Click may be a rising star in the video game scene, but she hasn’t forgotten her humble roots. “Personally it’s hard for me to consider myself a pro streamer,” she says. “I started this venture as a hobby to share what I love with others, and it’s certainly been a crazy journey since then.” The Nintendo hobbyist is now an official Nintendo Brand Ambassador, well known for streaming game playthroughs and live Direct show reactions. “The amount of individuals you meet from all over the world is incredible,” she says. “Video games and social media have impacted us all so differently, and it’s been my absolute favorite thing to create a community where we can all have different opinions or memories about games and be able to share it all with each other.”

Amanda, of Zelda Universe, says she’s been playing video games most of her life. “I was always that kid who wanted someone to watch me play, and I could talk someone’s ear off about the game I was playing. Growing up I would always hear, ‘Amanda, no one wants to just sit there and watch you play video games.’”

Thanks to her tenacity, Amanda now lives her dream of streaming Zelda games worldwide. Her streams have helped promote remarkable nonprofit campaigns. The last Zelda Eternity event she co-hosted raised over $10,000 in donations to Doctors Without Borders. “The fact that now people voluntarily take time out of their day to watch me play is just unreal,” Amanda says. “I truly enjoy just sharing my love of video games with others.”

Creating a safe streaming environment

While many steps have been taken to improve the safety of online activities since the internet’s inception, the web is still very much in a Wild West state. Streaming channels are no strangers to ugly trolls and flame wars. Left unchecked, a stream session can easily turn foul on viewers and unsuspecting streamers. It can even morph into an unsafe situation.

Prevention is often the best medicine. Creating a safe and welcome environment with a few ground rules circumvents many online issues in the first place. “With the live chat, I always try to make sure to say ‘Hi’ to everyone, ask how they’re doing, and just in general talk with everyone,” says Amanda. “It’s really important to me for everyone to feel welcome when they come to my streams. [...] One of my biggest rules is no political discussion.”

Safety is not simply a community asset — it’s an essential culture. According to pros, streamers must take ownership of their sessions to ensure safety stays prevalent. “As a streamer, you ultimately have control over what vibes your community portrays,” says Miss Click. “Using tools such as bots and hand-selecting people you trust as mods really help the chat experience flourish for everyone involved.”

These days bots and mods are particularly helpful to keep an unruly chat in line. But if mods become scarce, what’s a streamer to do?

“I often will select community members who have been active, kind, and responsible in my chat for a while, as well as set up an application period where many can apply,” says Miss Click. “Your moderation standards are essentially a reflection back on you, so it’s important to know what you want to accept/deny so new viewers can understand your boundaries.”

Establishing quality of life for the streamer

The life of a streamer can certainly reap rewards. But like any content creating profession it can also be draining, and sometimes outright exhausting. Hours upon hours poured out in front of a screen can lead to feelings of isolation and burnout, struggles that streamers know all too well. “It can really take a toll on your mental health, because you’re putting yourself out there, leaving yourself open to criticism and [feeling] incredibly vulnerable,” says Amanda. “So it’s important to know you have value that has zero to do with your viewer count.”

Fortunately, these issues can be addressed to ensure a stronger mental outlook and quality of life. A support system at home is especially helpful. For Amanda, it’s her husband who cheers her on. Seasoned streamers like herself also recommend finding time to participate in other enjoyable things besides gaming, such as baking or hiking outdoors. “It really helps you avoid burnout,” she says, “because look at it this way: Tacos are great, but if you eat nothing but tacos every day, you’ll get sick of them. Sometimes you need to throw some fried chicken into the mix.”

What about online leaks?

With recent platform hacks like the infamous Twitch leak in October, one can’t help but wonder where the future security of streamers goes from here. “It’s definitely concerning knowing that my information is just floating around on the internet,” says Amanda. “It may very well be that they’ve been stopping info leaks left and right, and this was just the one that got through. That’s my hope, at least.”

Like many streamers, Amanda feels that the way Twitch and other companies handle stored information has much to be desired. “I hear all the time about accounts being banned due to something petty like dress code violations,” she says. “Maybe if Twitch worried more about keeping private information safe rather than what streamers are wearing, then these leaks wouldn’t be a problem.”

Miss Click expresses similar concerns on the matter. “Obviously getting information leaked is a terrifying thought, and I wish I knew enough technically to say what could be done for a site as big as Twitch.”

Thankfully, streamers are not powerless. Miss Click emphasizes that being thorough in setting up safeguards like two-factor authentication and authenticator apps is the key to preventing hacks and privacy leaks. “What I do know is that you should always do your best to not ever give too much information out about yourself more than required. You should also be aware of what information is shown while you’re streaming, and be double sure you don’t click any links or articles that are not officially released by any company or brand you may be working with.” Chances are, if you don’t open suspicious links or attachments in your emails, then you shouldn’t do it in your stream, either.

Inspiring the next streamer generation

With all of this in mind, what can new streamers expect starting out on their own? Miss Click sums it up with two words.

“First of all, have fun! Don’t ever feel like there is a pressure to have to perform to a certain standard,” she says. “I always say that this is the best hobby to have, but if you look at it as a job first it loses its magic.” Dedication is vital to a successful streaming career, though, which doesn’t always go hand in hand with it being fun. “Be practical that great things take time, and a lot of the bigger names have put many years into their craft,” she says. “Build up the empire you want to represent, and the people who love what you stand for will flock to you.”

“Secondly, don’t ever allow others’ success to intimidate you,” she continues. “It’s better to be inspired over being intimidated. If they can do it, so can you!” She recommends new streamers experiment with finding their own brand. “Instead of trying to feel like you’re copying someone, add your spin to it and make it your own,” she says. “When you have fun, it’s absolutely infectious!”

With uncertainty and unpredictability hanging in the balance, new streamers have a lot to tackle these days. But like any passionate profession, one can succeed if they work hard and stay dedicated to their craft. “I seriously wish all the new streamers the best of luck,” says Miss Click. “It’s such a fun journey and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”