Brought to you by the Letter V

Brought to you by the Letter V

At a glance, playing video games for a living sounds like a dream to some, and a lot of us treat streaming as a side-hustle and a grind for growth to crawl closer and closer towards making that dream a reality. There are a lot of really great aspects of streaming on the internet – visibility, victory, value, validation, and probably some other words that start with the letter “V”. You drew a picture, and your mom loved it so much, she put it up on the fridge so that your whole family could enjoy it. Yeah. That’s what streaming can feel like, when you’re starting out.

My partner has been slowly getting back into streaming, and found it disheartening to come back from a three-month break to an audience of one (1) viewer (which was me). There’s all sorts of practical advice I can give about how to return from a break and get a viewer count up, but that doesn’t help mend the feeling of dejection that comes from getting up on a pedestal in a room and talking to a wall for three hours. So I had the idea of writing a blog to help, thinking I could use my knowledge and experience to protect others from feeling this way.

And then, it happened to me. I decided to change things up at the eleventh hour and play a new game for my usual Friday stream timeslot, because I’m the streamer and I should be able to play whatever I want. That stream must have averaged 3 viewers during my three hours of playing, obsessively hovering over my view count, and wondering why I wasn’t good enough, funny enough, entertaining enough. I was going to start writing this blog from a place of assuming I was above this problem. I’m glad now that I can write with more experience in my heart, even though that stream was an ego blow.

There’s something else that tags along with all of those other words that start with the letter “V” when you sit down to click the “go live” button. Vulnerability

This can be a surprisingly nerve-wracking sight for a streamer.

People don’t tell you how harrowing it can be, sitting in a chair and playing video games, wondering if anyone cares that you’re live. You reach out to a fairly quiet chat for validation that what you’re doing is providing value, that it’s worthwhile, that it’s a positive experience for everyone involved. I’m also here to tell you from experience – be wary of clicking the “go live” button on borrowed energy, and depending on having a good stream to re-energize you. 

Here’s the part where I start to give some advice. Remember, advice for content creators is not always a perfect one-size-fits-all match. See what feels like it applies to you.

Hide your view count

Yes, I mean it. Unless you’re in an Affiliate or Partner push, there’s really no need to watch your view count. And even if you are in an Affiliate or Partner push, be wary of obsessing over your view count! Repeat after me: The number of people who are available to watch you play video games at any given point does not measure your worth. Say it again: The number of people who are available to watch you play video games at any given point does not measure your worth. 

There’s been ongoing discussion on Streamer Twitter spaces about the “dangers” of “pushing.” For those who may not be familiar with the terminology, an Affiliate or Partner push refers to an effort on the streamer’s behalf to rally viewers to be present during specific times to boost their view count metrics and meet Twitch’s requirements to reach the Affiliate or Partner program. Just be mindful that this kind of inflated growth on any platform may leave you feeling particularly empty once the push is done. All of the people who helped you in your push may not have time and space to keep that level of engagement. It does not make you a bad streamer.

I monitor my streams with a journal to be thankful for participation.

Don’t gamble on a stream

I don’t mean betting money. I’ve streamed before on borrowed energy. Playing video games is something I always enjoy, but streaming is different – it’s a performance art. It’s managing your chat. It’s keeping track of what’s happening in your video game. It’s keeping a flowing and entertaining dialogue going. It’s monitoring your overlays, your viewer rewards, your audio levels, your captions. I’m here to try to practice what I preach: don’t stream for the what-if’s. What if I get a huge raid? What if I get a hype train? What if I have my best stream yet? 

It can end up being like a gamble – continuing to stream just in case any of those things happen, and ignoring your body in the process. That’s why the whole grind mentality of part-time streaming can be dangerous, and can lead to burn-out. Sometimes it feels like parenting yourself, or punishing yourself. But you need to take care of yourself, or your body will be sure to tell you that you’re not. Be sure to listen to your body and make room for breaks as you need them.

Grow at your own pace

This is a hard one, even for me – a streamer whose entire schtick is about growing and going. It’s easy to get disheartened when you see somebody started streaming around the same time you did, and they have ten times the follower count you have. People do not come from the same place, the same energy level, the same availability. Growth on Twitch is hard to predict. Whether you’re gaining 1 follower a week or 10, you are still growing, and it’s worth celebrating. 

Be kind to yourself for having the conviction to keep at it. Don’t tear anybody else down for their success either, even just internally. It can lead to a building sense of entitlement and a compounding negative mindset. People take time out of their busy schedule to be there, to watch you, cheer you on, validate you. Try to appreciate that for what it is. Growing as a content creator is not a race. If you are still going and growing, you’re doing just fine.

This is my stream setup that chat gets to see.

Be yourself

This sounds cliche, and I contemplated leaving it out. But it’s worth saying. Be yourself. The people you want to surround yourself with will appreciate you for being genuine and letting your guard down. People can tell when they’re being kept at arm’s length, and get the same “how was your day? my day was good” interaction every single time they say hello. This doesn’t mean they should be entitled to personal information. You don’t have to open up more than you’re comfortable. But be real, and be yourself.

People will keep coming back to streamers who they feel they make a connection with, who they can relate to. By keeping the walls up around you when you’re live, there’s no space for that connection to grow. I’m not talking about parasocial relationships – even small content creators should be wary about assuming too much familiarity with each other. I’m talking about people latching onto the content you create, and appreciating it for being genuine. You’re making content that’s making a difference. Allow yourself the space to make it authentic.

Here’s a picture of my messy desk setup, just to be real with you.

It’s normal to feel good about yourself after a stream with really good metrics. What we want to normalize is continuing to feel good about yourself after a stream with bad metrics. Or taking focus away from the metrics altogether. You are taking time out of your busy schedule and putting yourself in a vulnerable state to provide entertainment to others. The conviction it takes to do that and that alone should be applauded. 

It was jarring to me to discover that playing video games for internet strangers could take such a toll on my mental state. I like video games, and I like making friends, so it seemed like a hobby that would tick all of the boxes. Starting out was easy – my husband, mom, and sister would hop on to watch every stream, and chat, and made things feel less lonely. In time, you’ll build up a small community of family, friends, and other streamers who enjoy your content. There will be people willing to protect you from entitled people, internet trolls, and sometimes the harshest critic – yourself. Be kind and gentle, both with yourselves and others. Pay it forward, and the world is sure to do the same.

For transparency, here are my stream metrics for all of 2021.

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