Everything you wanted to know about becoming a streamer

Catt

Catt / CopyCatt
UX Copywriter.

Human Ranger/Bard. Horror enthusiast. Story-driven. I like games where you can harvest plants.

Don't just play games – compete!

Have you ever watched a streamer and thought, I could do that? We spoke to Swedish streamer Jessica*, to get some behind-the-scenes tips on starting out in the world of streaming.

First things first, do I need to spend a lot of money on gear before I start streaming?

No! Don’t go and buy a sh*t-ton of stuff before you’ve even started. I started with just the tech I already had. Many big streamers, such as Pokimane, tell the story of how they started streaming in their bedrooms with a laptop and a regular gaming headset. Having expensive gear does not make you a better streamer; just make sure your audio and stream quality is good enough that it isn’t distracting. 

You try it for a couple of months, see if you like it, then you can start improving your stream. I’ve streamed for 4 years now and only bought things incrementally. I didn’t buy everything at once; it looked terrible for 2 years. In the end, most viewers will not stick around because you have the most expensive equipment, but because they like you and your personality

In terms of apps, you need OBS—which is free and easy to set up—and Streamlabs or StreamElements for alerts.

OBS-Screenshot

OBS is free, open-source software that you can use to stream from a PC or Mac.

What are some things you wish you’d known before you started streaming?

That it’s really easy! You can basically go live in 2 seconds. A lot of people make a big deal out of streaming, but you can do it from a phone; you can do it from a laptop. If you want to try, don’t second guess it. Just try it out. I considered streaming for about 5 years, and then when I actually did it, it was like, “Oh, this wasn’t such a big deal. It was just fun.” It can feel really nerve-wracking like you have to get all of these things to start, but just try it out first and see if you like it. 

- If you want to try, don’t second guess it. Just try it out.-

How do I get people to follow me?

Twitch is hard to get followers on all by itself. Many streamers recommend that you also try to create content on other platforms to get your brand out there. For example, streamer Kruzadar uploads her best stream clips to TikTok and has gotten 2.1 million Tiktok followers, which surely boosts her Twitch viewership.

You can also try sharing your stream with friends and family and relevant communities. For example, are you only streaming with Sage in Valorant? Try sharing your streams in communities of other people who play Sage, etc. There’s tons of different niche Facebook groups and Reddit communities out there that you can explore

What happens if no one watches my stream?

You can go about it one way or another. You can ask your friends if they can watch your stream for a bit. I remember I asked my mom just to sit and watch. It’s nice if you can get a friend who can chat with you because, in the beginning, it can be hard to talk. 

If you play a popular game, there will be literally 2000 streamers streaming to 0 viewers. If you can just get it to 1 or 2 viewers, you will climb the list. I know people put the stream on their TV and then their phone, which counts as 2 viewers. 

I heard that if you mute the stream, it doesn’t count as a viewer. 

That’s true if you mute it in the video. If you mute the tab in Google Chrome, it still counts. 

Once your stream is up, it’s up. Do you think about people watching it back in the future or just focus on the present?

In the beginning, I just focused on the present. Now, I know there are people who do watch it afterward. What I do is that I keep the chat on the screen so that the chat is overlaid on the game. If the chat is really active and part of the stream, then that’s a good way to make sure that the chat is also shared. But if you don’t have many viewers when you’re live, there’s not a huge risk that many people will watch it later either. So I think, in the beginning, it’s better to focus on who is there in the moment. 

You mentioned looking at what other streamers are doing; did you do that much before you started, or did you just jump in and do your own thing?

I watched a bunch of streams before I started, but I don’t think you really have to. I liked to watch people who play really “lore-friendly” games—where you roleplay what’s going on—so I knew that’s what I wanted to do too. I think it’s a good idea to get inspiration from people, but in the end, you just do your own thing.

What kinds of games should I stream? How do I know what will be popular?

Well, the most popular games on Twitch are not necessarily the best ones to stream when you begin. The algorithms [on Twitch] are not super-advanced, so if you’re a viewer and want to watch Valorant, the recommendations are based on who has the most viewers. Valorant probably has 5000 streamers at any moment, and you’ll probably have 0 viewers and be at the bottom: viewers will have to scroll forever before they come across your stream. 

It’s better to start with games that don’t have that many streamers. There are sites you can use to look this up and see the streamers to viewers ratio. I think stuff like this is so fun. So right now, if you look at Animal Crossing, there are about 2500 viewers and not that many streamers, so if you streamed Animal Crossing right now it would be easy for new viewers to find your stream. 

So is it better to play a niche game or maybe stream at a time of day when there aren’t many other streamers?

That’s if you really want to game it. At the end of the day, it’s video games: play what you think is fun, and people will have fun watching you. 

Do I need to be amazing at the game I’m playing to be popular?

No. If you look at the top streamers, not all of them are super pros. Of course, in esports games, it helps if you’re good, but in the end, it’s all about entertainment or education. You don’t have to be the best player to help other people become better players if that’s your thing. Or you can just be entertaining.

I’m worried about people being toxic or offensive in my chat. How do I stop that from happening?

This can be really problematic in the beginning when you only have 5 viewers because you really want to keep all of them. I remember, in the beginning, I would let people cross a few boundaries because I didn’t want to lose a viewer. But when it comes to community building, you get the community you nurture. So you have to nail down things you are and aren’t comfortable with. 

There are different ways to go about it. You can just ignore people who cross your boundaries—chatters want attention, and if you give them attention, they’ll continue—but if you only have a few people in your chat and someone says something mean, it stays there visible in the chat for a long time. Or ban everything you’re not comfortable with. In the end, I don’t think you’re going to lose out by getting rid of inappropriate people. 

-...when it comes to community building, you get the community you nurture.-

As you’ve gotten bigger, do you have regular, positive community members who boost your chat up?

Yeah. I used to ban way more people than I do now. Back then, I felt they really stood out more in the chat. I felt like if I didn’t ban them, I gave the signal that this was okay. But now I have a really nice community, so if someone says something mean, they’ll be like, “What the f*ck?” They’ll take care of it, and I can just ignore it. They know what I’m okay with and not, so that’s nice.

So you’ve essentially curated your audience. Because you banned those toxic people earlier, you’ve built a community that polices itself. 

Yeah! It’s also about who you are as a streamer. Some streamers are great at arguing with trolls: they’re really quick-minded, come up with really funny responses, or make a really cool moment out of someone being toxic in chat. I’m super Swedish and hate confrontation, so for me, it’s easier to just ignore it and move on. 

Forsen is one of the biggest streamers, and he is known for having a chat that’s complete chaos all the time. That’s part of the appeal of the stream, and that’s fine too!

Do you think female streamers have to face different challenges from male streamers?

At the beginning of Twitch, there was probably an advantage to being a female streamer. It was almost like clickbait because it was like, “Oh, it isn’t a male person streaming; it’s someone who looks different.” Now, there are so many women streaming on Twitch, and gaming is quite equal in general, I think. But if you look at the top 20 streamers on Twitch, they’re usually all guys.

There are still nasty comments; there are people wanting to stalk you and send creepy messages and whatnot. I think women get that way more. I think you always feel a bit more like you have to prove yourself, especially in esports games. I think some people always suspect you of not being as good as other gamers.

You said gaming is becoming more equal. Hopefully, that means the viewership is also becoming more equal. 

For sure. And that comes back to how you moderate your chat. I don’t let people say sexist things, and I think that makes women and non-binary people more comfortable hanging out in my stream because it’s not that kind of dudebro community. 

What have been the hardest parts of being a streamer?

For me, it’s just a hobby. I’m lucky that I earn a bit on it, and I have an alright number of viewers. But it is a hobby, so it can be hard to motivate yourself to do it, and it’s hard to make the argument to do it. It’s like, should I game or should I clean? Should I stream or should I do homework? 

Being super introverted, it’s hard to talk to people all the time and always feel like you have to be your best self on camera. I don’t know if the people watching actually care about that, but it’s hard when you know there are people watching. 

It sounds like it takes a lot of different skills. You’re playing a game but you’re also performing playing a game. It’s like a combination of speaking in front of an audience and hanging out with a big group of people. 

For sure. While I’m super-duper introverted, I don’t have a problem speaking in front of an audience—either in-person or on camera—so that’s fine. But imagine chatting with 100 people. It can be super draining. A lot of people don’t understand that. I made a rule that I don’t stream for more than a certain number of hours and only on weekends. 

People say, “Oh, but if you’re playing World of Warcraft, why don’t you just stream it?” but it’s not really the same. 

Does it change the way you interact with the game itself? Do you feel different playing versus streaming?

Yeah. When I stream a game, I try to make it more fun. For example, if it’s a single-player game, can I do things to make something exciting happen? Whereas if I’m playing by myself, I do things way slower, and I take way more time. In Skyrim, I read all the books; people hate it when I do that on stream. 

Thinking about making things fun, do you ever play games you don’t really like just because they’re fun to stream?

Yeah. I streamed a game that I won’t name but which I do think is a pretty bad game. Playing by myself, the bugs made me super frustrated, but when streaming it, it just made it into a fun moment because ridiculous things would be happening—people floating up in the air and stuff—and it was hilarious and one of the most fun games I’ve ever streamed. If I’d just played it by myself, I would probably have uninstalled it after an hour. 

How involved is your community in choosing what games you’ll play?

I ask them for recommendations, but in the end, I pick by myself. If you do streaming for a living, you probably have to pick the games most people watch and that work best for you, but as a hobby, it’s just an extension of me having fun. I pick the games that are most fun for me.

What have been your most memorable moments as a streamer?

As I said, I’m not the most social person. When I’m talking to people in chat I don’t really think about how we’d connect as real people. So when people come up to me in public and say, “Oh, you’re this person,” it’s like… “Oh! You’re a real person in the real world watching me.” It makes it feel more real.

Do you go to events?

I’ve been to Dreamhack and stuff a few times. It’s really fun, but it’s also a bit scary because I don’t feel like that many people are actually watching me, and then 5 people come up to you and… it’s crazy.

What do you love most about streaming?

I get to play games with people. Growing up, we had 1 TV and 1 Playstation, and my brother would sit with me while I was playing. We would comment on it and help each other out and experience it together. In the same way that watching a comedy film is way more fun in the cinema than if you sit completely alone, the enjoyment of games is so much bigger if I stream it than if I play by myself. All the fun moments and the sad moments get enhanced. It just makes me enjoy gaming a lot more. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start streaming? 

Do it if you think it’ll be a fun thing to do. Don’t do it as a get-rich-quick or get-famous-quick scheme. That’s not how it works unless you’re super talented. A lot of people say it’s a luck game, getting famous on Twitch. I don’t think it is; I think it has a lot to do with talent, having a captivating personality, being great at games, or just an amazing entertainer. The people who are most famous on Twitch right now didn’t start because they wanted to get famous or rich; they did it because they love doing it and they’re fun personalities to watch. 

If you think it’s fun, do it. If you think it’s not fun, don’t do it. Don’t overthink it, anyone can be a streamer!

*Jessica's name has been changed to protect her professional identity.

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