Webcam or no cam? That is a question that I had to ask myself when I started making videos years ago. It’s a question I still see now on Reddit and other message boards. While it seems like using a webcam is the standard, I don’t blame anyone for wanting to opt out. Being in front of a camera changes the dynamic of gaming in a way that can feel invasive and unnatural.
It’s not impossible to succeed as a streamer webcam-free. Lirik is one of the biggest Twitch streamers and he doesn’t use a camera. There are other streamers like him who excel with a camera-free setup. During these discussions online, I’ve even seen viewers who state that they prefer streamers who don’t use a camera.
Does that mean you or any other camera-shy streamers will find the success you’re looking for? As a hobby streamer with a tiny-but-growing audience that I love with every fibre of my being, I’m not an authority figure on the matter. But I think it makes for an interesting discussion about why users would tune into a particular streamer watching video of the same game from any other source.
I am of the mindset that gameplay footage is a dime-a-dozen. There are on average over 10,000 people streaming Fortnite on Twitch at any given time. Not to mention the countless other VODs out there for Epic’s battle royale juggernaut. What makes people want to watch you play Fortnite or any other game? They watch because of the value you add on top of the gameplay.
There are a lot of ways you can add value to your gameplay footage. One of them is to just be really good at the game. Most of the time when I’m on Twitch, I’m either watching fighting game tournaments, or watching the individual streams of pro fighting game players in action. I like watching the best players in their element.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the luxury of being the best – or even good at – the games we play. In this far more common case, how do streamers set themselves apart from the pack? You can try a different approach to your gameplay, such as trying to reach level 60 in World of Warcraft by only killing boars. Trying to find a unique angle can work wonders, but it can be tough to find the thing that hasn’t been done.
The one differentiator that every streamer has is…themselves. No one looks like you, sounds like you, or has your perspective on the world. In most cases, this is way more important than your ability to press buttons.
Your microphone is the true star here. It’s your primary conduit for communicating with your audience. What you say and how you say it is the single most important thing you can offer, and that is what most people will come back for. This is why some streamers can thrive with just a microphone, while there are virtually zero streamers out there who operate with a webcam but no microphone.
That said, the webcam supports your microphone in a huge way. Going beyond the surface-level aspects of physical attractiveness, having the webcam on allows viewers to make a deeper connection with you. They can see the way your face and body emotes when you speak, further adding more meaning to what you’re saying. They can see you throw your hands up to celebrate a hard-fought win. They can see you throw your controller across the room in a fit of rage. All of this visual information matters. The webcam helps you communicate so much without having to say anything.
Though I’m still not entirely comfortable in front of the camera after hundreds of hours of streaming, I can see the value it provides in my own broadcasts. One of the first key moments of me acknowledging this phenomenon was during a Rocket League stream with the Boss Rush crew. With the ball hovering over the goal line as the timer hit zero, the genuine shock you can see in our reactions makes it such an easy clip to connect with as a viewer.
Since then, I’ve tried to make my own visuals compelling, whether that’s through show-and-tell, visual party games, or simply switching to a webcam-focused streaming layout when I have a story to tell. Based on my experiences so far, people follow my channel for who I am more than what I play. What I do with the webcam and a microphone are way more important to my success than being good at Tetris 99 or awful at Ninja Gaiden.
Without a webcam, you lose all of the visual information that helps viewers connect with you. Not impossible to overcome, but you’ll have to work even harder to bridge the gap. As mentioned before, being really good at the games you’re playing goes a long way in this regard. If you have an online presence elsewhere, such as a blog or social media account, these users will already have a connection with you and could be more accepting of your webcam-free stream.
Really though, without a webcam, your best bet is to amazing on the mic. Speak as often as you can. Be prepared with a lot of things to talk about. Pay close attention to the chat and interact with them as much as you can. You should be doing these things if you have a webcam as well, but it becomes critical in an environment where you don’t have any visuals to pick up the slack.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. Streaming is difficult any way you slice it, though I think the road to building an audience is bumpier if you stream without a webcam. If you’re feeling camera shy but still have ambitions of growing your channel, I would at least give the camera a shot for a few streams to see how it goes. If you’re still not comfortable with it or not happy with the results, let it go and game on!
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