Friday, February 14, 2020

Would You Still Stream If No One Ever Watched?




You can see it on so many streamers' faces: the hopeful glances at their chat windows, demure looks at their view counts after they've lost a match, or mounting anxiety when they think whatever they're doing isn't entertaining enough. The crippling need to feel validated. To feel like people are watching. To feel like someone, anyone, cares about their shows.

Most people who get into Twitch streaming do so in the hopes that they'll become famous. And in harboring such a mindset, they set themselves up for failure from the moment they first press the Go Live button. Having a community dedicated to your channel is amazing, and people can humble you with their kindness toward yourself and their fellow members. But like a house, these things are only what you can see above the ground. Truly loving the craft, without the need for validation from anyone else in the world, is the foundation upon which you must build- otherwise your Twitch channel, and everything in it, will come tumbling down.

Ask yourself one question: Would I still stream if I were the last person on Earth? 


➢ BUILDING ON UNSTABLE GROUND


Most streamers follow what they think 'works.' Talking faster, louder or more obnoxiously, if you know how to please a crowd, can get more people watching. Setting up giveaways might boost the viewer numbers for a time. And playing the newest game releases is typically a sure way to bring new faces. But it all begs the question: what does it mean for something to 'work'? If a stream decision attracts larger crowds, does that mean it's more valuable than another option that brings in a smaller audience? Most streamers would say yes- the value of a stream is directly correlated to how many people watch relative to the follower count. But with this definition of success, what happens when your viewership falls, despite your best efforts?

Everyone tries to speed toward higher numbers
without thinking about why.
I've spoken before on this topic, but it's easy for many new Twitch streamers to chase this rabbit of viewership, because they think it'll lead them to fame and fortune. Their definition of success becomes only about reaching for higher numbers. And in the process, these streamers become mere puppets, strung along by their own channels' quests for rapid expansion. Eventually, whether after a week, a month or a year, they typically realize they can't keep up the pace- doing giveaways, playing so many new games, or acting artificially energetic, all take their financial or physical tolls and these practices come to a halt. Then a strange thing happens: as soon as the stream changes, the audience starts to dwindle. Dedicated fans drop away, active chatters dry up, and the streamer is left with a fraction of their original viewership. After about a week of this. burnout sets in, weepy Tweets are composed, the channel goes dark, and another streamer slips into obscurity. They might start the cycle over again a few weeks later, claiming they're refreshed after a much-needed break, or they may never go live again. These streamers don't realize that 'putting on a show' for the sake of an audience was all a mere gimmick. They were artificially boosting their results until they started fooling even themselves, relying on these fake metrics to measure their self-worth.

Every channel has its peaks and valleys. there are weeks or months when everyone will be watching and chatting during every stream, and then just as soon as they all come, whether due to life events, going back to school, changing jobs, or a million other reasons, viewers will drop off. You'll reach the doldrums of your viewership, when no one is around and the needle doesn't move at all. Even if you don't make major changes like I outlined above, these dark times will still come. They're the truly defining moments for every Twitch channel- when you're forced to look in the mirror and decide whether you actually like what you're doing for its own sake, when there isn't anyone else around to bring you validation. This span of frozen growth is when most streamers decide to quit. They may not be able to put their finger on the real reason why, but ultimately it's because they enjoyed the attention they got from streaming more than the act of streaming itself. They had built their channels on a bad foundation.


➢ LAYING THE GROUNDWORK


When you're building a channel, the momentum of gaining followers, viewers, and chat activity isn't constant. You don't just keep climbing at an equal or higher rate week over week. Things tend to move in fits and starts- one week there's nothing, and the next brings a surge. If you want to truly last on Twitch, your morale can't depend on any of these factors, or you'll be depressed every time your numbers fluctuate. But if you're in love with creating the content, rather than the sharing of it, your perspective will change. This is the strong foundation on which your channel should be built, because if you're happy with your stream from within, no external factors can affect you in the slightest.

Don't think too much about the practical realities
about being the last person on Earth.
It's just an expression.
Every day I wake up and I'm excited to stream. I happily put in grueling hours to study, create and improve, not because I hope those changes will be 'a hit' with the viewers, but because making and improving my show is the end goal unto itself. I could have 100 viewers, 10 viewers or 0 viewers and I'll still be equally as enthusiastic, equally content, equally unfazed. I can honestly say that, if no one ever watched my stream again from this moment onward, I'd still do it with the same vigor that I do now.

This doesn't mean that I discount the value of community- quite the contrary! In several past entries I've detailed the importance of growing and cultivating your community, and the people I've come to know through streaming have become incredibly important to me. But if you're going to last on Twitch, you need to build that community on top of a rock-solid foundation of self-contentment.


➢ BECOME UNSHAKEABLE


You are not measured by your viewership. Until you realize that, you're prone to debilitating breakdowns and constant self-doubt. You might think your content is good or bad, people might watch it or they might not, but the work and its rewards don't define who you are or how valuable you should perceive yourself as a streamer. What's the real reason any of us want to have outward success like high viewership numbers or follow counts? It's because we want the validation of knowing that we're making something worth watching. Cut out the middle man- if you (and you alone) are happy with your content, as well as the process of making it, and you could do it happily for the rest of your days, that's all that matters. Viewers will come and go, but when all the dust settles and the slumps set in, the only thing about your channel that will stay in place is you. So that's the one person you should try to please before all others. If you were the last person on Earth and you love what you do enough that you'd still stream, there's no challenge in the world that you can't overcome.

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