Streaming to zero viewers is an experience that is surprisingly common. 95% of streamers on Twitch average 0-5 concurrent viewers per stream. Even so, it doesn’t make the sensation sting any less. I don’t blame anyone for quitting because they don’t like streaming to an empty room. The whole point of streaming is to share that experience with others. When there isn’t a demand for it, what’s the point of carrying on?
I know this darkness all too well. During my first year of streaming, I bounced around between YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch. My viewer count was basically zero the entire time. Didn’t even get a single message in the chat. And it wasn’t like I was streaming once in a blue moon. I streamed more back then. Extra time didn’t help one bit.
With hundreds of hours logged in the void, what kept me going? And what can you learn from my trials and tribulations?
I wish I had a better answer for this. Something like, “Ninja came to me in a dream and said to never give up!” This simply isn’t how it played out for me.
In spite of the non-existent audience, these were the things that kept me going:
1. I was going to make video content anyway
Years before I decided to go live, I was making quick look videos for every game I played. Even without a live audience, those videos still served as VOD content for the YouTube channel and supplementary video content for the site. Because of this, zero-viewer streams didn’t hurt my ego as badly, but they still stung.
If I had the bandwidth, I would continue with this practice of making videos for every game I play. At this juncture, I don’t have the cycles.
For those who are streaming to zero viewers, make note of key moments that might work as standalone clips on other platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter. It’s a potential opportunity to expand your reach while also getting more mileage out of a moment that no one saw live.
2. These streams were not a fair assessment of my potential
Even with the string of zero-viewer streams, I didn’t think those results were indicative of my destiny as a streamer. Not to say that I felt like I could be the next Ninja, but I knew that my hardware was holding me back.
To a certain extent, that was true. My first streaming computer didn’t have the horsepower to display gameplay and a webcam at the same time. My voice sounded awful through the built-in mic. Furthermore, due to compression issues on Facebook, most of my streams were broadcasted at 480p.
I wasn’t going to give up until I had serviceable hardware. Had the channel failed to gain any traction by the time I had gotten everything set up, I probably would have quit streaming to focus on videos instead.
With the hardware of today, I probably would have gotten my answer much quicker…and quit streaming. At the time, my journey towards hardware competency took just over a year. It was a lot of runway to learn the software, buy the parts, and most importantly, lay the groundwork for the direction I wanted to go on Twitch. By the time I was in a good place with my hardware, I was on the brink of reaching Twitch Affiliate.
What really turned the tide
In retrospect, my stream had much bigger problems than the tech. Even back then, I was seeing streamers achieve more with less tech.
I’ll never forget this one streamer who had more viewers for Tetris 99 than I had gotten at that point. His setup? A webcam pointed at the TV. The image quality was awful, but he had an audience that was actively engaging in the chat and enjoying the show. Though this is an extreme case, you can see across the board that there’s little-to-no correlation between production values and success on Twitch.
My biggest failing came from my lack of understanding of the medium. It hurt me in many ways:
- I didn’t have a schedule. Sometimes, I’d start streaming as late as 1am my time. How could anyone follow me if they don’t know when I’m on?
- I didn’t stream for an appropriate length of time. With an eye on making VODs for my YouTube channel, some of my streams were as short as 15 minutes. The meta on Twitch is to stream for at least 2-3 hours per session. Many streamers go for much longer than that.
- I didn’t make any efforts to promote my stream outside of Twitch. The biggest issue with streaming is that discoverability is horrible. Without the power of an algorithm that would allow viewers to find very specific things, streamers are herded into categories and ranked by concurrent viewers. The vast majority of viewers gravitate towards the top channels, making it essentially impossible for anyone to find me. Take matters into your own hands by promoting your stream on other platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram, or in my case, WordPress.
- I didn’t put much thought into my game selection. This is a tricky one. I get that people play what they want to play. However, just because you love Picross S doesn’t mean there’s an audience for that game on Twitch. On the other end of the spectrum, streaming a saturated game like Fortnite won’t get you very far, either. I was just playing whatever I was currently playing IRL, with no thought towards what would make for an entertaining Twitch stream.
- I didn’t stream with the intent of providing value to an audience. My most damning sin. For the most part, I just played video games on stream without really adding any value. What I really need to work on was what I brought to the stream through my voice, my words, and my viewable actions on camera. Viewers hang out on streams for hours on end because they enjoy the company of the streamer. That bond can be so strong that they’ll watch the streamer play or do anything.
- I didn’t understand how rewarding streaming could be. This experience has helped me meet so many cool people from all over the world. Whether we’ve chatted just once, connect regularly over Twitch, or have become friends beyond the platform, these relationships have enriched my life in a way I wasn’t expecting when I started this adventure. You’re the reason I keep pushing forward.
I didn’t learn any of this overnight and most of it didn’t come naturally. Along with trying to resolve my hardware issues, I absorbed everything I could on the subject in order to improve. If anything, struggling with the hardware for so long gave me more time to focus on developing who I was as a streamer and what I wanted to create for the world. Had my hardware been powerful enough from the start, I probably would have quit way sooner.
Too legit to quit?
Despite a year of no viewers, I ultimately overcame my initial hurdles. Not necessarily through sheer perseverance, but by better understanding the streaming landscape and making incremental improvements on my output every day. I wish I could say that was part of the master plan, but it just so happened to work out that way. Doesn’t hurt that I developed a passion for the process of streaming, from meeting new people, to playing with all of the streaming related hardware, to trying to create content within a live medium.
For those who are struggling to reach their goals, I’m reluctant to say that you should simply push forward until you get there. Streaming really isn’t an activity for everyone. Even if you love playing video games, those skills don’t translate at all towards creating a stream. You simply may not enjoy the process of streaming itself.
Furthermore, The world has so many horror stories of aspiring streamers who completely ruined their lives by not knowing when to shift gears. Don’t let streaming ruin your life. There’s no shame in quitting. Find another hobby that will make you happier.
That said, if you’re struggling to reach your streaming goals, have a desire to improve, and aren’t in a place where you’re hurting other aspects of your life, I think there are a few things I’d recommend. One, find your passion within the process of streaming itself. If you love what it takes to put on a stream, from setting up your equipment, to leading a conversation about topics you’re interested in, the grind can become part of the fun.
Two, if you want to grow, make an honest effort to improve your output. Get better at using your equipment. Develop a better understanding of the streaming marketplace as a whole and find your niche within it.
And lastly, don’t overstate the importance of playing video games on your stream. For most, the actual gaming part is the least interesting portion of one’s stream. You’re the real star! What you say, how you react to moments within the games you’re playing, and all of the human interactions you have with your audience are way more valuable than anything you’re doing in the games you’re playing. Instead of trying to be a pro gamer, do everything you can to present the best version of you that others would want to hang out with.
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