A new kind of celebrity - Twitch gamers | Technology | DW | 01.09.2015
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Technology

A new kind of celebrity - Twitch gamers

With the rise of Twitch, online gamers are becoming famous - and rich - from doing things their parents told them not to. They're also learning a bit about the darker side of celebrity.

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Of the 1.5 million broadcasters (also call streamers or casters) on Twitch, a platform on which millions of avid gamers can watch each other livestream video games, just 11,000 can call themselves "partners."

These are the Twitch elite, the gamers who are either entertaining enough and/or good enough at a particular game that they've garnered fan bases numbering in the thousands - or even millions.

The top six streamers on Twitch each have followers of over one million. Number one among the English-language bunch is a young Englishman named Syndicate, who has over two million followers on Twitch alone.

Through the Twitch partnership, streamers can access merchandizing opportunities and offer their followers the choice to subscribe, rather than simply follow, their channel.

Subscribing on Twitch is distinct from following. Following is free for anyone on the site. When a person subscribes to channel, they pay a small amount of money every month for exclusive access to different content on the channel. The streamer then gets some steady monthly income.

Many streamers are also able to generate income from sponsorships with various tech and gadget companies, making enough from streaming video games for it to be their full time job.

"Dozens of our partners make six figures," said Twitch's head of public relations, Chase, who doesn't use a last name professionally.

One of the most popular streamers, Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg from Sweden, famously made $4 million in 2013 in ad sales, and $7.4 million in 2014.

"You have to think of these people in the same way that you think of any other celebrity," Chase said, adding that at a recent convention, another Swedish caster, Sp4zie (pronounced SPA-zee), had fans lining up for two and a half hours to get his autograph.

German Twitch caster Ungespielt, who has over 400,000 Twitch followers and more than a million Twitter followers, also got huge amounts of attention at the same convention.

Many other streamers who aren't a part of the partner program will still ask their followers for donations or will cultivate sponsorships with brands to bring in some cash.

Chase told DW there was no way of knowing how many casters were able to make a living, either full or part time, solely from streaming.

Variety programming

Some channels on Twitch are more than just a person in their home playing a video game in front of hundreds of Internet strangers.

Rocket Beans TV, for example, is a fully fledged 24/7 German-language TV channel with more than 20 different shows that broadcast almost solely on Twitch, rather than on traditional television.

Rocket Beans TV joined Twitch in 2015 and makes most of its revenue from a combination subscriptions, merchandise, sponsorship and donations, utilizing all of the factors a Twitch partnership has to offer.

"This channel gave us the best opportunity to do what we wanted," said Charlotte Favereau, Rocket Beans TV's marketing manager. "It fits perfectly to the crowd we want to reach."

Rocket Beans TV, which has close to 200,000 Twitch followers, is also trying to expand.

"Everything circles around the gaming topics, but we're more than that," Favereau told DW.

Beyond gaming, Rocket Beans broadcasts a few shows about new movies - and even recently started a show about football.

Full-time streaming

Streaming under the name lolrenaynay, Renee Reynosa is also one of Twitch's partners. She has close to 230,000 followers on Twitch as well as substantial followings on YouTube and Twitter

"There are definitely casters who make six figures, but I am not one of them," she told DW. "I make enough to pay my $2,000-a-month rent and all my bills."

Reynosa, like several other popular Twitch streamers, was an avid gamer at a young age and had a popular YouTube following prior to joining Twitch in October 2011. She then became a partner in February of 2012.

"There's a group of us on Twitch who migrated from YouTube," Reynosa told DW. "A lot of the bigger streamers transitioned from YouTube, and there's people who came straight from Justin.TV," the streaming video service that pre-dated Twitch.

Reynosa said she actually tried to use Justin.TV to stream her gameplay when the platform was first released, but found it too difficult. Once Twitch launched in 2011, Reynosa began streaming once in a while, but kept most of her audience on YouTube, while also working a full-time job.

"I would go to work, I would come home, and I would record gameplay for YouTube, I would stream for, like, two hours, I would edit my stuff, go to bed, and then rinse, repeat," she said.

In 2013, she made the full time switch to Twitch, in part, she said, because of the community that exists more on Twitch than on Youtube.

"On Twitch, you have a real conversation with people, since it's live," Reynosa said. "So when people leave a comment [on YouTube], it's a comment that somebody left, like, two days ago. You can't really have a conversation with somebody through a comment. It just wasn't enjoyable for me."

The haters

Of course, this is the Internet. And with a massive opportunity to chat in real time with lots of people comes abuse. Most of the popular streamers have some kind of moderators in their chat streams, people who police the chat and censor out nasty comments to an extent that the streamer deems acceptable.

Reynosa still says that the chat function is her favorite on Twitch.

"I can have these constant conversations," she said. "I wouldn't say I'm incredibly extroverted, but I like to talk to a lot of people at once. So Twitch is the perfect way to satisfy that. I'm streaming a game, and I can read chat, and I can have multiple conversations with people."

She even sees chat as improving the game itself. "I love the commentary that my viewers add to my gameplay, like whenever I screw up and it's just a sarcastic back and forth," she continued. "I definitely consider my viewers people that I would just love to hang out with."

Reynosa however, began using moderators (mods) immediately when she began streaming. She allows trusted viewers who have been with her from the beginning and who follow the rules that she sets downs. Some behaviors result in a "time out," others, in a ban. Her chat therefore remains rather clean.

"I want to say that I see trolling, but honestly, my mods are so on point about it," she said.

And un-modded chat, well, generally looks like a mess. People regularly submit vulgar pictures and direct constant streams of insults at the streamer. And if you're female, be warned.

"I know as a girl, as a female, when trolls come in, they target different things," Reynosa explained. "They target my appearance, or throw out the typical 'show boobs' sort of comments." Her male streamer friends are also abused, but in a more general way.

"They'll say 'you suck' or 'you look like an a**hole.' It's just a little bit different. It's all trolls. I don't think one is worse than the other," she said.

"It's just bored twelve-year-olds getting on Twitch."

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