The camera focuses on two bare feet as a Twitch streamer, who goes by JrocTheGod, wrecks boss after boss in Cuphead with just his toes. After a few failed attempts to defeat the devilish final boss (in addition to a few breaks to rest his feet), J-Roc rolls credits on Cuphead as members of his community drop a “gg” in the chat.
“Full-time job or stream, my own well-being is first,” says J-Roc. Breaks are important to him. Despite working hard to cultivate an online community and earning recognition from the Amazon-owned platform as a Twitch Ambassador, J-Roc is one of the thousands of dedicated streamers with day jobs.
Reporting from WIRED’s Will Bedingfield lays out how streamers with small audiences struggle to grow. Even those with a decent following struggle to make ends meet on the platform. “If your immediate goal is to make a living as a creator, then you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment. Be more realistic,” says Mike Minton, a vice president of monetization at Twitch.
“I’m not gonna sit here and say, ‘Yeah, it’s easy to become a livestreamer and do that full-time.’ Because the data doesn’t support that,” says Minton. It’s not an issue that’s unique to Twitch. Only a small sliver of full-time creators on social media earn a living wage across the industry.
At TwitchCon in San Diego, the platform’s top earners expressed deep frustration as the company lowered how much some people make from subscriptions after receiving $100,000 a year. Less popular streamers who attempt to sustain a career on Twitch encounter even more financial instability. Earlier in 2022, Valkyrae, an influential creator who switched over from Twitch to YouTube, discouraged a member of her community when asked for growth advice. “Do not quit your job,” she said. “Do streaming as a hobby.”
Far below Amouranth playing Just Dance and HasanAbi reacting to his Twitter feed live on Twitch, a legion of unnoticed streamers desire more on-platform discoverability. “Larger streamers are great, but there are a lot of smaller streamers that are a lot of fun,” says Rose Evergreen, who performed at TwitchCon’s drag showcase.
“Twitch keeps growing,” claims Tom Verrilli, a chief product officer at Twitch. “So the number of people that we have to help surface grows exponentially as well.” The platform boomed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many streamers broadcast to no one at all.
Those who rely on streaming as a primary source of income often experience burnout. Sometimes, they stop broadcasting altogether. “I think the most rewarding aspect of streaming isn’t the growth aspect. Particularly, it’s about finding people,” says Mary Kish, a director of community marketing at Twitch who streams in her free time. Twitch is incentivized to shift the community’s perspective about compensation at the platform’s current pay rates. A person who considers streaming as their job may be devastated to get $800 a month from the platform. A hobbyist may be delighted to receive the same amount.
Instead of trying to play whatever titles are trending on the platform, like Apex Legends or Valorant, several part-time creators successfully connect with like-minded people through distinctive broadcasts and peculiar game choices. “My blueprint is my blueprint; it’s not going to be yours,” says J-Roc.
“Upgrade as you go. You don’t need to be elite from the start,” he says. As tempting as it may be to recreate a PC battle station used by Twitch superstars, top-of-the-line equipment is not at all necessary for someone who’s a weekend warrior and broadcasts a couple times a month.
What if your mailman was a V-tuber? Or your teacher streamed Surgeon Simulator 2 after a long day of class? The hobbyists are the future of Twitch. In lieu of incessant group messages from that one friend about a DJ set or yoga class, expect to receive invites (with links attached) to watch their livestream. An interest in video games is not necessary. Your friends may cook a fancy dinner live or rant about their fantasy football draft. They might even pull you onto the digital stage.