Now Live: Streaming Full-Time on Twitch

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Now Live: Streaming Full-Time on Twitch

Making money playing video games isn’t a pipe dream anymore. Now it’s a real job.

Most video game fans know the stories of successful, millionaire streamers like Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Michael “shroud” Grzesiek, and Turner “Tfue” Tenney. But how do you make money on Twitch in 2020 if you’re not already blessed with a massive following?

Twitch has come a long way since the platform’s humble beginnings in 2011. Today, it’s the go-to place for gaming and esports communities with between 3.4 and 4.5 million monthly broadcasts. It’s destroying the competition, attracting around 72 percent more viewers than YouTube, its closest competitor.

And the platform has become more than just a place to stream and watch games. It’s become a community unto its own, spawning conventions and regular meet-ups in major cities across the world.
And for some streamers, it’s become their day job.

But the life of a full-time streamer isn’t just kicking back and gaming for eight hours a day — it’s a business.

So, what’s it like to take the step from just for fun, to full time?

ESTNN talked to streamers — PlayWithJambo, Kid Kerrigan, Naysy, and TheSpudHunter — about exactly what’s involved in a full-time streaming career. They talk about what made them take the step, and offer insights into community building, time management and a slew of helpful tips for newcomers to the scene.

The importance of community

No matter how large their following, live streamers live and die by the will of the communities they create. (See Jake Paul’s switch to boxing for a real world example.)

According to TheSpudHunter, a self-described “sweaty FPS” streamer who focuses on the comical side of esports, community is also one of the pillars of his stream’s success. He said he focused building a strong relationship with his audience, according to him “If you're only in it for the money, it will show, and you'll have to rely more on networking and sponsorships to stay afloat. I feel very privileged for the support I receive from my audience.”

He believes this advice applies whatever your streaming niche; “Whether it's professional gaming or putting on a show, be genuine, do your thing and people will look after you.” stresses that even with all of the options available to you, it’s important to go into professional streaming with realistic expectations. “Live streaming and content creation is a saturated industry,” he says. “Have a genuine purpose for why you're doing it other than ‘big efamous streamer dollars’ and most of all, have fun.”

Jambo’s journey to full time

According to Jambo, a variety streamer (and pizza lover,) she started streaming in 2017. After finding her way our of a toxic relationship; “and while feeling empowered took the bold jump into content creation. It was always something I'd wanted to try.”

She had been an avid viewer of YouTube and JustinTV and had watched plenty of people “entertain and empower others to follow their passions,” from their own bedrooms. And she felt inspired to try and do the same. “My family will tell you entertaining is in my blood, and I would say they're right.” She says.

Jambo smiles for the camera wearing a dark red hoodie with the words "video games" in bold white letters on the front

Although Jambo was still working a full-time job at first, in September 2019 (a self-admittedly rough year,) she lost her job. Then in October a diabetic-related emergency ended up with her in the hospital. “I reached the point of being so depressed I had absolutely no idea how I would continue. I hadn't streamed in almost two months and was ready to give up.”

Jambo said she would have given up if not for the push from her partner and Twitch mod. But in November she sat down to stream again, to give it “one final go before deciding if I would throw in the towel.” She didn’t tell her community or partner what was riding on this, “I had kept it to myself.” She explains.

But she had no idea her life was about to change.

“I started November with 74 subscribers,” Jambo says, “and ended the month with 3,562.”

While Jambo had been working full-time and streaming on the side, she had also been doing something else. Fostering a community that she “…had no idea would grow and develop into what it is now: a second home.”

In those short weeks of November, not only did Jambo’s little community grow, coming together to help her cover her medical bills from the trip to the ICU, according to her; “they validated me in ways they may never know… It still, months later, does not feel real… and there are not enough words to express my gratitude.”

Jambo waited three months before she made the decision to stream full-time, continuing to look for a job over the holiday period. But for the first time she had the ability to explore and try new things, including, “being able to have a consistent schedule for the first time in my streaming career.”

Over these three months she said she vetted herself to see if she could make it sustainable, and she never disclosed the information to her community. She didn’t want anyone to feel any added pressure.

“Community is everything and it takes time and care to nurture and grow healthily.” She says, adding that her discord community is a hugely important. “Discord is another huge part of streaming.” She says. The importance of “creating that ‘offline' hub for community engagement, game nights, brainstorming, friendship, is key.” While she admits it takes up a large portion of time, she also adds that “But nothing, and I mean nothing, warms my heart more than seeing the community, people who were once complete strangers, supporting one another in all avenues of life. It is worth every moment.”

It is Jambo’s community that made this possible, and she’s the first to tell you that. “I get to work from home with my partner and adorable dog (shout out to Beesly). I get to spend every day doing what I love. And it is all thanks to this incredible, caring, compassionate, sometimes trolly, community I am humbled to call home.”

How many hours does a streamer really work?

According to Jambo, content creation is “…a seven day a week job if it is something you intend to take seriously and pursue as a career.” She estimates she works a minimum of 60-hours each week. Which is well above expectations at your standard full-time job.

“My streams themselves last anywhere between 6-8 hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday) and after I finish each stream, I spend roughly 2-4 hours working on clipping/highlighting and video editing for social media.” She says, adding that social media itself takes up more time than streaming. “I always say it is considerably more significant than the stream itself.”

As Jambo explains, discoverability on Twitch itself is tough; “so the presence you have on social media (primarily Twitter) is substantial.” Jambo says she spends plenty of her day on Twitter, “posting, interacting with other content creators, scouting games and developers, or looking for new streams to engage with.”

TheSpudHunter agrees that growth from Twitch alone “is almost non-existent now.” He explains this is mostly the result of “the way the platform is structured it has a system of rewarding the already established channels from the very early days of its inception.” But as he puts it, explaining the finer details of the problem would be “a breakdown of biblical proportions, in short all growth is external.” Streamers will want to draw people to their Twitch channel by using what he calls “static content.” This is content that spotlights your live show on a website like Twitter, YouTube, or Reddit, according to TheSpudHunter. “These are all huge tools to bring people to the seats of your livestream,” TheSpudHunter says.

That’s part of why Jambo also reiterates the importance of being an active member within the wider Twitch community too. She believes watching other streams makes up a key part of your personal growth as a streamer. “The people we meet and interact with change a part of us, and in content creation, you are the product. How you grow, develop and shift in your life will echo into your content.”

While Jambo acknowledges that it can be a difficult balance, she encourages people to even just lurk a little and get a taste of different communities and titles. “Streams, while they may appear on your channel and be your product, are not really about you, they are about the community and the difference you can make in each other's lives.”

Self-care struggles

Jambo does admit she needs to get better at “…taking breaks and time for myself.” A struggle faced by many full-time streamers.

Kid Kerrigan, a Melbourne-based streamer and Twitch host, streams around five hours a day on average. She says she’s had to actively schedule more time for self-care, which she said was “lacking when streaming for 8 to 12 hours a day” and keeping up with everything behind the scenes.

The amount of commitment to those behind-the-scenes tasks varies as well “depending on the time of year, number of emails, available opportunities,” Kid Kerrigan said. The new fiscal year and the holiday season are her busiest times thanks to company budget resets and new game releases, according to Kid Kerrigan. Her behind-the-scenes tasks consist of “…emails, project planning, marketing planning, video highlights, editing, if I have any urgent voice-over jobs that come in…”

Naysy, on the other hand, is a full-time streamer based out of Brisbane who mostly streams first-person shooters. “I stream about 25+ hours a week, but I put about an additional 20 hours for behind-the-scenes tasks,” Naysy said. “So, all up around 45 hours.”

She also allocates a lot of behind-the-scenes time to emails and business meetings, and a big chunk of time goes toward preparing her taxes at the end of each financial year.

“I am doing a fair bit of video editing at the moment,” Naysy said. “Making thumbnails and doing metadata takes up a surprising amount of time. I do a lot of VR streaming as well so a lot of time gets put into refining my setup. To get everything working smoothly for stream is an endless task.”

She also puts a lot of work into cultivating her social media presence, taking images or Instagram stories for brands she works with.

“Staying active on social media is a constant task/distraction,” Naysy said. “I definitely could manage my time better, working from home is always harder than what you think, but I'm always working on ways to be more productive and stay on task.”

TheSpudHunter dedicates an average of 40 hours a week to streaming. That’s just Monday to Friday and not including any weekend streams he might do.

“Sundays are my dedicated ‘behind-the-scenes’ days to work on everything that is putting on a show,” TheSpudHunter said. He calls his stream a show because it isn’t just gameplay, it includes comedy skits that build up a gamer lore—he even has a chimpanzee producer who he interacts with on the side.

How do Twitch streamers make money?

The visuals look great, and the community is rich. But how do Twitch streamers actually turn their stream into a livelihood?

There are a few different methods that successful Twitch streamers use to monetize their channels. Some of these are official options through the Twitch platform and others involve using additional platforms to grow their audience reach.

Some of the official options are limited to streamers who’ve earned affiliate or partnership status on Twitch, but there are ways for even newcomers to set up their channel to start generating income while they’re building a following.

As TheSpudHunter points out, “platform revenue varies from streamer to streamer… it's almost exclusively funded by donations, generally speaking all Twitch users get a 50/50 cut of monthly subscriptions.”

While Jambo says she makes “double-triple” from streaming in comparison to her full time job, she also reiterates the importance of creating value for her community. Creating a space that’s just as much for them as it is for her. “I always tell the community, always that I am not their responsibility… they have to worry about themselves before anything else.”

As Jambo puts it, if she ever needed to stop streaming and get a full time job again, she would do it. She wants her community to be putting their wellbeing first; “They are number one… not a day goes by that I am not reminded with everything I do. I hope they read this, so they know I am thanking them yet again for allowing me to chase my dreams every day.”

So, what are Twitch Subscriptions?

Twitch subscriptions are monthly scheduled donations. A tier-one subscription starts at $4.99 USD. But viewers can also subscribe to higher tiers at a higher price, which gives them more perks for that channel.

Channels that have reached partner or affiliate status on Twitch are able to take subscription fees from viewers who tune in regularly to their streams. Subscriptions give streamers access to a recurring source of income that grows over time with their subscriber count.

For those channels who haven’t yet reached partner or affiliate status on Twitch, there are third-party websites that can be used to take subscriptions from viewers. Pateron and Ko-fi both provide services that allow creators to take a regular subscription fee from supporters.

With community being such a huge focus for growth on Twitch, it’s worth putting in the effort to create custom emotes for subscribers to use and setting up alerts to announce new followers and subscribers when they join your squad. Both help encourage a community feeling, which is what most viewers subscribing to a stream are looking for.

According to Kid Kerrigan, things like alerts work best as a tool to let a streamer know when something happens that warrants a response, they can also “…offer a branding opportunity as a way for a streamer to show more of their personal flair.”

Naysy said she always uses follow and sub alerts on stream. “Streamlabs is my favorite tool when it comes to alerts,” Naysy said. “I use .webm files, which means I can have nice quality alerts with audio synced to the image.”

She also stresses the importance of engagement in building that audience relationship. “I told myself I will always do my best to acknowledge every follow and sub with equal enthusiasm,” Naysy said. “If someone has taken the time to engage with your stream, you want them to feel welcomed.”

Naysy has a gumball machine visible on stream for subs. “Every different colored gumball means a different thing, whether it's points or prizes, etc.,” Naysy said. “I want to make every sub and resub fun and make it more incentivized for people to return to share their sub alerts.”

Naysy picking gumballs from her gumball machine on screen. An animated chibi octopus with purple hair waves to welcome a viewer in the top left corner

Do streamers get revenue from video advertising?

Video advertising is only available to channels with partner status on Twitch.

“As a partner, ads will be shown on my channel whether I want them to or not, so I would rather benefit from them than not.” KidKerrigan said.

Some months, her ad revenue can be close to what she makes in subs, according to KidKerrigan. Her subscribers, however, don’t see those ads.

“I choose for subs not to see ads because it gives me time uninterrupted to connect with them,” KidKerrigan said. She believes as they’re paying a sub, they’re entitled to an uninterrupted experience.

KidKerrigan says that adblockers can be a concern. Especially if you’re someone who doesn’t have followers dropping huge subs or donations regularly. Aside from ads, KidKerrigan focuses on outside work and sponsorships to support her career, rather than focusing solely on crowdsourcing as a monetization strategy.

What about sponsorship deals?

Getting a sponsorship deal is something that can be done regardless of your channel’s status on Twitch. Sponsorships on Twitch work the same way influencers work on Instagram. An agreement is reached between the streamer and a company to endorse their product or services on Twitch.

Computer hardware and accessories, video games, and software are the most common sponsorship deals seen on Twitch. But food, drink, fashion, and health or beauty products are all industries that engage in influencer or sponsorship marketing.

Jambo says she currently has no active sponsorships or affiliates. But in her opinion, she’d only be working with products and organizations who she already supports; and whose morals align with her own.

While extra money is always nice, my brand, name and community are more important and I will forever be cautious of what I attach to it.” She says.

Naysy has a slightly different perspective.

“Being self-employed, I couldn't make ends meet some months without the support from sponsors,” She says.

Her advice for those looking to go down the sponsorship route is to focus on creating a professional brand that sponsors would want to work with. This was part of her strategy from day one.

“Showing examples of what your capable of is a great way to showcase this,” Naysy says. “Posting high-quality images of products, you enjoy or unboxing videos is a great way to build a portfolio.”

Naysy says she also set guidelines for herself as a brand, including not engaging in political or toxic discussions on social media to keep her social feeds positive. “This was a personal preference for me, and I recommend content creators decide for themselves how they portray themselves online, while also considering that these things do play a positive or negative part in working with brands,” She says.

How do you know you’re ready to make the leap?

As Jambo says, streaming full time “isn't something to blindly jump into.”

According to her the most important thing you can do is vet yourself.

“It takes a strong person to be able to sit down and acknowledge that they aren't ready, or that they need to change and grow,” She says, “to be able to analyze yourself and where you could be better. If you can't do that, do not go full time.”

But if you’ve planned and plotted it out, and you know you’re ready then she has this advice to offer,
“Know your worth, know your audience, know that you can support yourself. Do not be arrogant, entitled, or believe anyone owes you anything.”

Jambo has been streaming for three years (her official stream anniversary date is April 22) and like she says, she’s still learning and, “always will be.”

Living the life of a full-time streamer might seem like living the dream, but it’s no walk in the park and it isn’t easy money. It takes dedication and work. And it can give you plenty of fulfillment beyond a paycheck.

“I am proud of what we have built,” Jambo says of her community, “I would not be where I am or who I am without them.”

Feature Image: Maik Jonietz/Unsplash

Avatar of Eliana Bollati
Eliana Bollati
Eliana is a freelance editor & journalist from Australia with a passion for esports and video games. An avid player of video games for the better part of three decades, she began following professional esports circuits during the 2010s. She brings both a player and longtime fan perspective into her commentary on the professional scenes.