“Streamers are not really known for hard partying…” writes the Guardian’s videogames editor, after meeting the up-and-coming stars of Twitch.
“I was instead astonished — and, honestly, worried — by how hard they worked.”
The woman sitting next to me told me that she streams for eight to 10 hours every day, and when she wasn’t live she was curating her social media, responding to fans, scouting for brand partnerships or collaborations with other streamers; throughout our conversation she was visibly resisting the impulse to check her phone, where new stats and fan comments and potential opportunities were presumably stacking up. I asked what she does for fun and she seemed genuinely confused by the question.
Playing video games for an audience for a living sounds like fun — and hell, there are many worse jobs out there — but it is also an ultra-competitive profession that attracts millions of aspiring kids with limitless energy and absolutely no concept of work-life balance. It involves extreme hours and intense pressure to be constantly available to the audience of viewers on whom they depend. And according to recently leaked Twitch data, the top 1% of streamers on its platform received more than half of the $889m (£660m) it paid out to creators last year; three quarters of the rest made $120 (£89) or less. Millions made nothing at all.
I was not surprised, over the following years, to read story after story about these energetic young people — with what must have seemed like the best job in the world — burning out. When you are broadcasting yourself so much of the time, when your hobby becomes your job and your job becomes your hobby, and when your personality becomes your brand and your brand becomes your personality, what does life offline look like for you? Who are you when the camera is off? The fact is that, especially for up-and-coming streamers trying to make it in the crowded world of playing video games on the internet, the camera is almost never off. Sticking to a regular schedule is the best way to build an audience on Twitch, and those schedules regularly involve at least eight hours of continuous streaming, five days a week or more… The reasons for these ultra-demanding hours are simple: the more you broadcast, the greater your chances of being featured on Twitch’s homepage, the more followers you accrue, and the more money you might eventually make.
The article acknowledges that among Twitch streamers, “tens of thousands of creators make at least a livable wage.
“It is no wonder, then, that many streamers end up obsessed with the numbers and graphs and invisible algorithms that determine their fate.”