TheSatanicHispanic was his Twitch handle and at the time of our unexpected meeting, he was at the tail end of a 24 hour marathon. The current game: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney on the Nintendo DS. On chat, I asked him, “Are you starting to lose your mind?” His response was, “I think I lost my mind a while ago.” After that, he laughed like an exhausted Joker. The crazy part wasn’t necessarily that he was playing video games nonstop on camera for the past day, but that he was doing all of this for no one. Before I had hopped on his stream, his view counter was at a big fat zero. I couldn’t help but wonder why. Why would someone put themselves through all of this for no money or compensation of any kind? So I asked him.
As you may already know, Twitch is a site for folks to stream themselves playing video games on-line. In a 24 hour span, there are between 8,000 and 24,000 streamers on Twitch vying for traffic from viewers of which there can be anywhere between a whopping 300,000 to 800,000. Twitch accounts for more than 43% of streaming traffic according to Business Insider. Just to give you a comparison, CNN’s online news streams account for .8% of traffic. Twitch garners 45 million unique viewers, and 12 million minutes of content was watched per month on Twitch according to data collected back in 2013.
All of this being said, with so many people out there willing to watch others play video games, it can be really hard to garner a solid viewership in a sea of very dedicated and skilled daily streamers. I should know. I am trying to do the same thing myself albeit on a much smaller scale.
Every Monday night, my girlfriend Lexe and I sit down for two hours to stream. She, a non-gamer, plays while I watch and try not to lose my mind as a fairly seasoned pro/controlling asshole. We are some of the lucky ones. Because of the following I’ve garnered via my podcast The Round Table of Gentlemen and other means, we automatically have a standard viewership of about fifteen to twenty folks every week. It isn’t a lot but it is just enough to feel like our stream has purpose.
One night, however, I decided to do a pop-up stream to play the beta for a lesser known Dark Souls-ish game set in feudal Japan called Nioh. I went live and, after about fifteen minutes, I quickly realized I was streaming for no one. Suddenly, I had this very existential feeling like I was Twitch streaming in a novel by Albert Camus. What was the point? If I yell out into the Internet but there’s nobody there to hear it, do I even make a sound albeit digitally? What am I trying to gain from doing this in the first place? And how many people out there are going through the same thing that I am right now?
I would soon discover that the answer is a lot. The way Twitch organizes its interface is first by game. The ones with the most viewers are at the top of the menu screen. These tend to be eSports level competitive games like League of Legends, DotA 2, Overwatch, and Counter Strike. If you click on a game, it will show you, on top of the menu, the streamers with the most viewers that are live at that moment. Therefore, the streamers with the most viewers will be the ones getting even more viewers from those who are just browsing.
That said, if you scroll down on any game, you will soon find yourself looking at a mass of streamers that have either just one or even zero viewers at a given time. I made it my mission to hop on Twitch every day and spend time with one of these streamers. I wanted to try and understand what makes them tick. I wanted to make a connection with a total stranger over a shared passion, and also to make their day just a little bit better. Here are some of my stories from this experience.
“I normally play DotA,” Agnusdeidota quickly explained from his dorm room when I jumped on his stream. He went from deathly silent to giggly and animated in the blink of an eye when he realized there was just one person watching him play. The game was Overwatch, a team-based multiplayer first person shooter and a personal current favorite game of mine. He was clearly new at the game, just learning the ropes. I told him he should try Junkrat, an Australian explosives expert. He’s a great character for newcomers because his grenade launcher takes away the necessity of, well, aiming. He reluctantly did so, got murdered pretty quickly, then went back to playing the shotgun-wielding edge lord named Reaper. We laughed about it. He got “play of the game” with Reaper’s ultra. I cheered him on and we relished in his fleeting victory.
Nipppler is a Canadian kid who just started streaming regularly. At the time that I got on his stream and started commenting, he was playing an indie rogue-like called Rogue Legacy in which you play as a lineage of knights trying to make their way through the same castle over and over again. I commiserated with him that the second boss in the forest is so hard that I never got past it. He asked where I’m from so I told him and we got to talking about my band The Cowmen. He suddenly stopped streaming to check my music out on Spotify. It was pretty surreal to hear my own band’s music blaring in the background of a dude in Canada’s Twitch stream. We got to talking about how he was looking to form a band himself, how he has a buddy who plays bass but they just haven’t gotten around to it, how he’s a loner in his small town, a weirdo without a crew to hang with. I could easily relate to his plight from my own experience growing up. We talked about everything but Rogue Legacy. By the end of it, he sent me a Facebook request. It makes sense. In half an hour, he now knows more about me than some of my relatives.
I love the Dark Souls series, and was happy to find Orangejohnson, a Brit, streaming Dark Souls 3 at one of my favorite parts of the game, an area called the Crucifixion Woods that’s filled with giant crabs and other abominations. He decided to take on a boss called The Crystal Sage, a wizard that summons two replicas of itself half way through the fight. It’s not the toughest battle in the game by any means but still one that will lead to at least a few deaths if you’re not careful. Orangejohnson tried and failed a few times. I kept cheering him on and we discussed a few different strats for how to take him down once the fight kicks into high gear. At one point, he said, “should I go on to something else or try the Crystal Sage again?” I said try the sage, so he did. With little health left, at the last minute, he laid the killing blow down on the Crystal Sage. We celebrated his big win from completely different parts of the world, and went our separate ways.
Skroova had a really good set-up for his Overwatch stream. The mic sounded great, his camera was quality, and he had a decent premise. “Here to play Overwatch and tell jokes” was the title of his stream that day. He had a few friends in his party, so he was talking to both them and the only viewer watching his stream: me. He couldn’t come up with a good joke off the top of his head at the current moment because he was deep in the midst of a competitive Overwatch match. Instead, I decided to tell him one that I found using a quick Google search of “dirty jokes”. The set-up was simple: “Why does Santa have such a big sack?” When Skroova noticed my set-up, he lit up. “Okay, okay, why?” he asked. The punch line was, “because he only comes once a year.” Skroova saw this and immediately lost his shit. “Hey guys! Listen to this!” Skroova told his buddies. It fell pretty flat with them, but Skroova couldn’t get over it. Dude just loves jokes, I guess.
Vice-Black was getting to the later areas in his first play through of Bloodborne. He had a foreign dialect but I couldn’t place him, which made sense when he told me he is a Brazilian living in Dusseldorf, Germany. We talked about moving from such a heavily populated area like Brazil to a small town. I cheered him on through two bosses and gave him a tip about a secret area. It was a fantastic afternoon much like one I might spend with an old friend, except we were total strangers in two distant points of the globe.
What could I take away from this? In the modern age, everyone can have their own show, but what drives us to do it, especially when no one is even watching? Is it the prospect of easy money doing what you love? Sure, but there’s something more to it than that. It’s also about the prospect of making that one single connection. We may be from different parts of the world with completely different backgrounds. We may be loners who go to and from work, barely talking to anyone. All of that said, there must be someone out there who feels the same way you do. They like that one game you like that none of your friends care about, they have the same dumb sense of humor, and hopefully they’ll find you. They’ll find you on Twitch, and when this happens, it can be a beautiful moment of instant companionship that can surpass many interactions that you have in the real world.
My advice to streamers based on this experience: stream like thousands are watching. Don’t wait for that little number to go from zero to one to turn on the charisma. Lots of people are surfing around looking for someone to hook them in and all you need is for one viewer to start watching to get another to join and then another and then another until you’re eventually reaching out to people all over the world. For viewers, don’t just watch the popular kids. In fact, I have had far more enjoyable interactions by hopping on streams with zero views than I ever have watching the pros. Anyway, I’m sure if you were in the same position, playing games on twitch to no one, all you would want is to have just one person hop on to watch you. It would make your day, so why not make someone else’s?
That brings us back to TheSatanicHispanic. In the midst of his mind melting on hour 22 of his marathon stream, I asked him why. Why would a person put himself through all of this with barely anyone watching? His answer was simple. “I wanted to see if I could do it,” he said. “I’ve been slacking on streaming and this is a good way that I could get a couple of followers, some attention. Like, ‘hey look this fat asshole is doing a 24 hour stream. And I’m hitting that goal. I’m doing it.’” He sure as hell got a follower out of me.