Twitch and the Danger of Quantifying One’s Value

Almost every aspect of the Twitch experience is driven by quantifiable and publicly-facing values. We know how many people are watching any channel at any given time. We know follower counts. We know which streamers are Twitch Partners because of the checkmark beside their names. If you dig just a bit deeper, you can find pretty much every performance metric for any channel, right down to the breakdown of how many paid subs it receives each month.

The Twitch and broader live streaming community at-large embrace these types of quantifiable systems. Streamers flash on-screen notifications every time someone follows or subscribes to their channel. Viewers flaunt their streamer-exclusive emotes on other channels. Even outside of Twitch, many streamers proudly declare that they are Twitch Affiliates or Twitch Partners in their social media bios.

All of this is in service of creating an ecosystem where viewers and streamers become emotionally and financially invested in the platform. In large part, it works as Amazon intended. They make money hand-over-fist by displaying ads and by taking their cut of Bits and Subs. Meanwhile, many of its audience “bleed purple” to the point where most chose to stay on Twitch even when its top creator left for Mixer.

These systems can tell us a lot about the performance of a channel. However, there’s a ton of danger when we apply these channel-specific values to ourselves. It creates a lot of friction on Twitch in very overt and subversive ways that can be incredibly draining on one’s mental health.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

A core component of the Twitch experience is the ever-present viewer count. Instinctively and systemically, we use viewer count to determine if a stream is worth watching. If no one else is watching, why should I? Especially when there’s another streamer playing the same game that has hundreds, if not thousands of viewers?

Furthermore, Twitch’s directory system sorts streamers by current viewership. Streamers with the most viewers within a category appear at the top of the page. Those at the top inherently benefit from being easier to physically click on. Furthermore, their higher view counts double as validation for others to tune in. Why would you scroll down hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of rows down the page in order to find that diamond-in-the-rough Fortnite streamer? Odds are, the streamers at the top of the directory will suit your needs just fine.

In absence of an infrastructure that allows users to get granular with search criteria (such as YouTube), this creates a massive imbalance by virtue of viewers gravitating towards top streamers. We gravitate so heavily to streamers at the top that we actually view streamers with hundreds or thousands of viewers as being the norm. Meanwhile, 95% of streamers have an average viewership of 0-5 viewers. Our perception of what is “small”, “normal”, and “big” is monumentally warped.

Worst of all, we as streamers devalue ourselves for having a less-than-desirable viewer count. Before I understood how wide the viewership gap was between the haves and the have-nots, I felt exceedingly embarrassed when I would stream for weeks at a time without attracting a single viewer. I still get incredibly conscious of my viewer counts and it affects my psyche. When that counter hits zero (which it still does for me from time-to-time), the sensation that comes with it is deflating. It shouldn’t be. With the way that the streaming landscape is, broadcasting to zero viewers should be what’s expected. Anything beyond that is worth celebrating, even if it’s short of your personal goals.

If no one is there to watch you, that doesn’t invalidate your efforts. Someone may find that VOD later and enjoy it. Your potential next viewers might still be looking for you. If no one ever sees that footage again, consider it as practice for the next one. Break down what you did during that last stream and think of ways you can improve. Your presence and time are never a waste.

As a viewer, you’re free to watch whomever you like. But if you do come across a streamer that you enjoy, take a moment to let them know that you appreciate their work. Just being there to watch is more than enough, but any affirmation can really make a streamer’s day.

Status Symbols

From emotes, to sub badges, to checkmarks, Twitch is full of status symbols for streamers and viewers. Though it’s not the highest-possible title a Twitch streamer can attain, becoming a Twitch Affiliate is probably the most sought after in terms of total number of streamers working towards that distinction. Meeting the criteria to be an Affiliate allows you to use Twitch’s built-in tools for revenue generation and engagement, such as Bits, Subs, custom emotes, and Channel Points. Many love the idea of getting paid to play video games, which ends up being a key motivator for those chasing the title of Twitch Affiliate.

The bar to achieve Affiliate status seems low to the average person:

  • Stream for 500 or more minutes in the last 30 days
  • Stream for 7 unique days in the last 30 days
  • Average at least 3 viewers per stream in the last 30 days
  • Have at least 50 followers

Reality paints a different picture. According to Sully Gnome, only 20% of streamers are Affiliate or higher. That means 80% of streamers are below that threshold. Some streamers are able to reach that goal in a matter of days. It took me just over a year to do the same. There are others who have been streaming for far longer than I have who haven’t reached that plateau yet.

For many non-partners, they fixate on achieving Affiliate status. Searching through #twitchaffiliate on Twitter will pull up and endless sea of streamers looking for viewers to help them achieve that goal. Not everyone is clouded by the mystique of the status, but many become so fixated on this goal that they tear themselves down each time they fall short. Even worse than that, their content suffers as spend much of their time begging others for followers and viewers without offering any value in return.

There was a time when my chase for Twitch Affiliate got the best of me. Stressing out over my metrics during this time was the worst self-imposed stress I’ve ever felt as a creator. I sacrificed my creativity in order to better my odds at reaching that goal.

Was it worth it? In a way, yes. Your financial support has helped make certain hardware purchases possible. The custom emotes have gone a long way towards building a culture around the channel. Most recently, unlocking the potential for Channel Points has created a whole new realm of interactivity on my stream that wouldn’t be possible had I not reached Affiliate status.

But did attaining Twitch Affiliate make me a better or more valuable streamer? Absolutely not. The stream got better when I stopped moping and started focusing on making better content. Affiliate status shouldn’t be the end goal. It should be an affirmation of the good work you’re already doing and will continue to do after attaining Affiliate status.

There are amazing streamers out there who haven’t reached that distinction yet or choose to carry on as non-partners. A Subscribe button and custom emotes don’t define who you are as a streamer. If you focus on making compelling content, Twitch Affiliate will come knocking. From there, you can decide whether the deal is worth your while.

Twitch and My Struggle With Jealousy

Viewer count and Affiliate/Partner status are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to friction and animosity that are systemic to the platform. Whether you’re a streamer or a viewer, almost everything about the platform is designed around publicly-facing values that have the potential to create stress. Though these types of metrics aren’t inherently meant to define one’s value, it’s incredibly easy to fall into that trap. Heck, I’m still stuck in that trap.

If anything, my brain takes the jealousy to another level. Show me any stream, and I will likely find something to be jealous over. Some things that get to me include (but certainly aren’t limited to):

  • Larger concurrent viewer count than what I’m able to achieve
  • More followers
  • Better equipment
  • Worse equipment but more viewers/followers
  • Ability to keep an audience engaged in ways that I can’t
  • Reaching certain milestones faster than I did, such as Twitch Affiliate
  • Having awesome emote designs
  • Amazing content ideas
  • Prettier overlay
  • Being more physically attractive
  • Having a bigger Snorlax bean bag chair

And it never ends. Doesn’t matter how much I’ve achieved or how much effort I put into creating the absolute best show I can. I will find aspects of other people’s streams and get mad that I don’t have that thing or am not currently doing that thing. It once got to a point where I was jealous of my friends for their success. What they achieved had nothing to do with me. It was in that moment where I really had to find ways of dealing with my feelings rather than unfairly using my friends as targets.

How I Cope With Twitch-Related Jealousy

Separate myself from my channel

My channel and I are two different entities. Viewer counts, subscriber numbers, and any other quantifiable metrics don’t apply to who I am as a person or as a streamer. They shouldn’t define you, either.

I choose to define myself by the impact my streaming efforts have on myself and on others.

Start within. What is the value you get from going through the process of streaming? For me, there are a lot of aspects of streaming that make this a fulfilling endeavour, even if no one else is watching:

  • Using video and audio equipment
  • Using streaming software
  • Creating content that connects with others in ways beyond gameplay, even if my shows are gaming-centric
  • Finding ways of creating compelling content that works beyond its live origins, such as social media clips
  • Using this channel as a platform for my thoughts, opinions, and feelings
  • Using this channel as a platform to raise money and awareness for charity
  • Improving my skills in video production, audio production, streaming production, PC building, public speaking, social media, and content creation, among many others

When I focus on these types of facets, I come away from streaming with a sense of fulfillment. Again, even during times when there are few viewers or none at all, I enjoy the journey and respect the path I have to take in order to grow into the best streamer I can be.

From there, I focus on the impact my work has on others. During the early days of my streaming journey, I simply saw it as a way of creating supplemental video content for my blog posts while also giving myself the opportunity to catch the attention of a few viewers. Over time, I’ve really shifted my focus away from being a gaming journalist of sorts to creating a platform that allows me to connect with others on a human level. Much of my content is gaming-centric, but I really want the stream to be a place where we can all feel like friends hanging out in the basement. Even if you lurk and never say a word in the chat, I want you to feel just as connected.

Ultimately, I want to create a stream that adds value to your life. Something that you will make time to be a part of, whether you do so when I’m live or after the fact through a VOD. Knowing that my work helps others get through their day means a lot, especially since your support helps me too.

Don’t compare numbers

There’s essentially no value to gain from comparing my numbers or growth rates to someone else’s. Everyone’s path is different. Even if I had all of their equipment, electric personality, and stunning good looks, there’s no guarantee I would replicate or exceed their success.

Furthermore, the comparisons will never end. Once I get rolling, my jealousy will always find something to nitpick. The exercise only tears me down instead of building myself up.

Focus on the things I can control

No, I can’t control the success of others. Yes, the world of streaming is stacked against me. But that doesn’t mean I can’t climb that mountain to a higher plateau than where I’m currently at. Others climb it every day. What steps will I take to climb that mountain?

I try my best to focus my energy – positive and negative – on my work. Any energy that’s spent stressing out over the success of others is energy I could have spent on making my stream better. When I’m not live, I spend so much time tweaking with my setup, thinking of topics to discuss, watching guides on how to improve, and watching other streamers to see what makes them tick.

Instead of focusing on their numbers, I look past that. What are the qualitative aspects of their stream that others find compelling?

  • Are they great at engaging with their audience?
  • Do they make funny jokes?
  • Are they approaching the game they’re playing in a unique way?
  • Do they have great chemistry with their on-screen partner?
  • Are they decorating their room in a particular way to make the background more interesting to look at?

From there, what lessons can I learn from there experience? And what can I do with those lessons to improve my own content.

Recently, I’ve become obsessed with TheSushiDragon. This one-person meme machine creates a stunning experience unlike any other. He makes his magic happen through a green screen room where even the floor and ceiling is green, a body suit controller that allows him to toggle between scenes and sources while he dances, and a technical backend that probably requires its own nuclear power plant to run.

I don’t have a green screen studio, body suit controller, or the myriad of computers he has to make his particular stream go. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from it or take inspiration from his work. What he’s ultimately doing is taking his audience to a virtual place that allows him to set the stage for whatever content he has in mind. Using that as a starting point, I’ve started creating my own virtual scapes that amplify certain moments of my show.

Instead of using other people’s numbers to tear yourself down, find inspiration and education from what the qualitative things they do right. Then find a way to put your own twist on it. Even when I’m influenced by others, all of that energy eventually comes back to improving myself.

What Actually Defines You as a Streamer

Don’t get me wrong. There’s value in all of these numbers. We all would prefer to stream to a viewer count higher than zero. Many of us would like the option of using Twitch’s built-in revenue generating tools. We all want the numbers associated with our channels to go up. Even so, these numbers, titles, emotes, and badges only define the channels we’ve created. They do not define who we are as streamers or as people.

What does define us is the impact we make on ourselves and on others through our streaming efforts. From the knowledge we gained, the friendships we make, to all of the times we improve someone’s day when they watch us, all of that is our true value. No number could possibly capture that.

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