TORONTO – It’s a subculture that’s becoming a thriving business model, social gateway and career aspiration for some: live video-game streaming.
“Streamers,” a new web series from the National Film Board of Canada and ARTE France, examines the growing phenomenon in which participants can build an online community, gain communication skills and even make money through monthly subscribers, spontaneous donations and sponsorships.
Montreal-based filmmaker Guillaume Braun created the series, in collaboration with Marie-Eve Tremblay, by immersing himself in the world of streaming service Twitch and interviewing some of the platform’s biggest stars, who spend many hours playing games as their fans watch.
Twitch users can either just be a viewer or become a streamer and broadcast live, showing both their gameplay and themselves providing commentary onscreen. Users can also send each other messages and post in chat groups.
“It’s a new opportunity to have a career in something you like doing, pretty much like in sports or other fields, where that did not exist maybe 10 years ago,” said Louis-Richard Tremblay, a producer on the series.
“Being surrounded with 10-year-old boys now, when you ask them, ‘What do you want to do in life?’ often they say ‘I want to be a YouTuber’ or even a Twitcher now, or a streamer. It’s part of their professional desires.”
Braun, who has worked with the NFB on several projects, is an avid gamer and spent four years on Twitch under the avatar “Will” for the series. He also narrated the episodes, in which popular streamers talk about their online lives through their own Twitch cameras.
“Technologically speaking, it’s insane how fast it’s going on — new features, new stuff, multiple new platforms where people can stream,” Braun said. The space is getting more crowded, he said, citing Facebook and Microsoft’s Mixer as competitors to YouTube and Amazon-owned Twitch.
“The whole demographic and ecosystem kind of exploded, especially in the last two years where streaming is more mainstream than ever.”
Braun said he built the trust of the streamers he interviewed by being a part of the platform, getting to know them at TwitchCon and working with Marie-Eve Tremblay, whom he called “an expert of immersion into different cultures.”
While the series that’s on YouTube and Facebook is about the culture of streaming in general, it focuses on Twitch because it’s the most popular platform with over 100 million users per month, said Louis-Richard Tremblay.
The four episodes delve into why and how streamers build their communities. Some users say they’ve become best friends or even romantic partners “IRL” (in real life).
Female streamers talk about sexism and misogyny in the industry, and some users say the career can be isolating.
“Some of them don’t sleep, they do a marathon of many hours,” said Louis-Richard Tremblay.
The series also looks at the pressures of competition and how to monetize in the space, noting money is a taboo topic in streaming communities.
“It is really possible to make a lot of money out of this,” said Braun. “It’s basically the same business model as a specialized channel on television cable, with added benefits, like donations.”
But establishing authenticity through passion and building relationships must come first, he cautioned.
“Pretty much every streamer we talked to said that if you go into this thing to make money, it’s not the right mindset and you might not succeed,” he said.
Braun likened streamers to entrepreneurs pioneering an industry that’s quickly evolving and requires great commitment at the start.
“They learn really fast the basis of marketing, branding, broadcasting,” he said, noting streamers are savvy about the challenges and requirements of the space.
But it’s like a hockey league, he added.
“Not everybody who plays hockey makes it toward the NHL,” said Braun.
“So there are a lot of streamers but the few of them live from it.”
The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.
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Video-game streamers open up about their lives in NFB/ARTE France web series