As quarantine stretched much longer into 2021 than any of us could have hoped, the amount of time that I've spent staring at my computer screen with a controller in hand has been steadily increasing. As my Minecraft world starts looking more and more like a YouTuber's paradise, and my Fortnite victory streak has been getting longer and longer, a thought crossed my mind that pretty much every casual gamer has: What if I started streaming?

Well, I decided to actually go for it. I mean, why not? With literally nothing to lose, I began researching what it meant to be a streamer, what equipment I needed to get, and how to set up a stream. Nothing ventured, nothing gained ...

Stream For The Fun Of It, Not The Money

I mean, it's the dream to make money off streaming. Supposedly you could be making $3000-5000 a month as an "expert streamer" on Twitch. You're playing hours of video games anyways; why not monetize your free time? Not even the small guys though, let's talk about the major players. Supposedly the top 10 streamers on Twitch make over $20 million a year. Which is enough to pay to have Cyberpunk 2077 hypnotically erased from your memory and still be able to buy two PS5s from eBay. 

So it's really easy to hear that and think that you should join the competition for a slice of that pie. You're the best at video games in your friend group, you never lose a game of Smash Bros, and you got your Dark Souls 3 speedrun down to five hours. (Alright, that's not as big of a deal when looking at some of these runs that are nearly 30 mins, but let me have my flex, okay?).

Dark Souls death screen

Namco Bandai

We're talking beginning to end on only one rage-destroyed controller.  That's like pro-level skill.

Though odds are ... you're not going to be able to make a ton of money off of streaming. You're likely never going to beat out the greats who have an already dedicated community, all the professional equipment, and the perfect setups to seemingly effortlessly stream for hours on end every day. You'll really be lucky if someone comes onto your stream, enjoys your content, and sends a $5 donation (*cough cough*... hi).

But when it does happen, it really makes your day. I can still hear my father's words echoing around my head ... "Son, put down that controller and go outside. You'll never make a living playing video games, so go do something productive!" Take that, dad, I did it! I made $5 playing video games today, and there's nothing that will take that away from me (except for the, you know, $200 I spent on an Elgato).

Moral of the story, you'll probably never get rich streaming. Hell, you probably won't ever make enough money to quit your day job either (lucky you, Cracked.com). So if you're streaming because of the money, you should rethink it. Stream because it's legitimately fun to stream and interact with people, because at the end of the day ...

It's All About The Community

I am truly a novice streamer. Currently, I'm streaming on a few accounts. I have my own Twitch channel twitch.tv/flyinfire, but I also stream with Cracked's Carly Tennes. It's really an interesting experience because both of the channel's communities are really different. They each have their own personality and interests, and getting to interact with them is truly the best part of streaming. Some of them don't even yell at you.

The community is what makes streaming fun. I've been a part of some other streams in the past and interacted with chats that double as ghost towns. For sure, you could just play video games, not talk, and project what you're doing into the void -- but that defeats the point of streaming. At that point, you could just make a let's play video and call it a day.

A streamer

Terelyuk/Shutterstock

And what is this, 2013?  Might as well chisel a picture of Mario into a clay tablet at that point.

The joy of streaming is the ability to interact with an audience, that instantaneous feedback. One of my favorite moments with my stream had to have been when we started to receive donations on Carly's stream. We decided we would quickly improvise a song for each person who donated, jamming out on my tenor ukulele with pitch imperfect vocals (all I'm saying is that Casper the Cat is a jam).

It takes a while to build a strong community. You have lots of people randomly popping in and out of your streams and not a lot of people actually interacting with each other. Sticking to the concept of collaboration and trying to interact with everyone who jumps on is really important. Eventually, you'll have a few dedicated people joining in regularly and helping to make your stream nights more fun. It becomes about hanging out with the community, telling jokes, and just having a good time. Hell, one of my viewers even sent me an Xbox Live gift card for my birthday last week (Shout out to Tony!).

It's Performative

If you think you can just jump on and start streaming, as if you were just playing games normally, you'll be quick to realize, that's not the case. You play games to entertain yourself, but you stream to entertain others. Say some person stumbles into your stream randomly -- if you're just chilling on camera, not saying anything while doing something grindy or boring in-game, no one is going to stick around and keep watching. Not even to tell you how much you suck.

Streamer

Syda Productions/Shutterstock

"Welcome to the stream everybody!  Today I'm gonna be configuring the mouse sensitivity."

Why would they? If they wanted to just play that game, they'd just play it themselves. I'm sure we all had those friends when we were kids who invited you over to hang out at their place and would just have you sit there and watch them silently play a video game for two hours. Wait ... maybe I just have bad friends? Either way, that's a really boring way to consume video game content.

So while reminding you that "Hey, when you're streaming, people are watching you ... the streamer ... for entertainment ..." might be a really obvious statement, you also might not be prepared for the extent to which that's true. For the stereotypically introverted gamer, it's not always the easiest to hype yourself up before a stream and be 100% ON for however many hours that camera is rolling. It takes a lot of practice and energy to pull it off. On top of that ...

Streaming Is Work, And It's Confusing

I thought streaming was going to be easy. Not to split hairs here, but I'm a pretty avid user of a lot of social media platforms. All of them are pretty plug and play, but Twitch ... that's another story. There are layers of software and graphics that you have to set up, equipment you need to get, and problems you need to solve. (Beyond "How play game real good?")

For some gamers, these solutions are easier than others. If you're a PC gamer, truth be told, you could probably set up a stream tomorrow. However, I'm not a PC gamer. I'm a console gamer who owns a MacBook Pro. That came with a lot of research in itself to figure out a good setup that would work for my personal situation. I spent months reading about capture cards, microphones, and OBS until I felt like I had a good enough understanding to pull the trigger on my new hobby.

soldering stock photo

Serhii Mileknin/Shutterstock

Long story short, if streaming doesn't work out, I can at least brag that I learned how to solder.

There's the other thing about it -- it's more than just a hobby, really. If you ever want to be successful while streaming, you gotta also treat it a bit like a job. Making a stream schedule is really important; it lets your audience plan for when they can tune in next. If you're just randomly launching a stream on some Tuesday night without any warning, chances are a lot fewer people are going to be able to tune in or even notice that you've gone live. It's truthfully a lesson I'm still trying to learn, as many of my regular watchers would very quickly complain to you about. Though we've talked a lot about running a stream, you need to know that ...

Streaming Isn't Just About Streaming

While working on your stream and managing your Twitch channel is really important, other important aspects of streaming take place outside of Twitch. You should put energy into growing your other social platforms: make clip montages for YouTube, fun dialogue moments for TikTok, stream updates, and ramblings for Twitter. A streamer is basically an influencer (except a lot more staying indoors), and you can't really just expect people to stumble onto your stream just by trolling on Twitch. Make meaningful content that other people might enjoy and share on other apps. All the effort you do for other platforms helps direct people back to your stream.

tearaway fliers

James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

Tearaway flyer that just says "Watch me play Fortnite?"  Hey, if that's your audience.

Honestly, you also never really know where you'll find your audience. Maybe only a handful of people show up to your stream, but there are a couple of thousand people who really loved watching that really clean carry on Valorant that you posted to YouTube. The point is if you're really passionate about sharing what you do, be sure to share it anywhere and everywhere. 

It's also not good enough to just post full recordings of your live-stream to YouTube -- edit your content and create something that adds value to that platform. Someone who watched your stream probably doesn't want to go watch it all over again later, and knowing that you post your full streams doesn't really incentivize people to watch them live. Give a unique reason to follow you on all your platforms. Who knows, maybe you set out to be a streamer but found out that you were destined to be something else instead? You'll never know until you try.

If you want to find out if Max Mitchem is just as bad at video games as he is at writing articles, follow him at Twitch.tv!

Top image: Sezer66, Terelyuk/Shutterstock

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