- CohhCarnage/Twitch; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
- Professional video-game playing is becoming an increasingly common profession – but it’s not all fun and games.
- We spoke to eight professional gamers, many of which live-stream themselves on websites like Twitch, to discuss the biggest downsides of their profession.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Video games are better than ever. But playing them for a living isn’t all sunshine and roses.
Game-streaming has taken off in recent years, thanks in part to the growing number of incredible games released each year, and lowered barriers to entry: Webcams and microphones aren’t expensive, and most new computers these days have more than enough power to handle playing a game and streaming it online simultaneously.
Thousands of people have turned their game-playing habits into full-fledged careers. Many don’t reach the heights of, say, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who rose to fame after rappers Drake and Travis Scott played “Fortnite” with him on Twitch one fateful night (“Fortnite” was the most popular game in the world at the time, and Blevins is one of its best players, which helps). But even if you don’t become a celebrity through streaming, people can still make a decent living from playing video games in front of a live audience.
Still, playing games for a living isn’t easy – or fun all the time.
We talked to eight professional gamers, who stream games for a living or play them professionally in tournaments around the world, and we asked them about the biggest upsides and downsides to their chosen profession. We have a separate story focused solely on the upsides of gaming, but this story is meant to emphasize the darker side of gaming, where it’s often difficult to find time for family and friends, and trolls can go to extreme lengths to harass broadcasters.
Sean Gallagher, a.k.a. “Gladd,” is a 31-year-old Twitch streamer and YouTuber, who often plays “Destiny 2.”
Gallagher says the long hours and “high levels of ever-changing competition” can be “exhausting.”
“This is a day-in and day-out part of the job,” Gallagher told Business Insider. “This could also be seen as an upside and motivator to keep pushing. However, as you get more comfortable in your element, there are always newer, younger, and fresh faces entering the market.”
Gallagher also mentioned how work-life balance can become difficult for “relationships outside of gaming,” since “it’s very easy to become so tunnel focused on building up your gaming name, that you can lose sight of the friends and family around you.” Plus, it’s easy to get sucked into the numbers game when it comes to streaming, like keeping track of your viewers and subscribers, since those heavily influence one’s income.
“This can cause frustration, confusion, and a demotivating state of mind,” he said.
Soleil Wheeler, a.k.a. “Ewok,” is a 14-year-old Twitch streamer and YouTuber who was actually born deaf.
Wheeler appreciates the dynamic of game-streaming and building a community on Twitch, but she did lament that it means “spending less time with family than I used to.”
“Before I started streaming, I did art commissions, like paint dog portraits. I played outside more before as well. Now I am learning how to balance and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Wheeler told Business Insider.
“It’s a learning process, the time management. It’s no fun trying to do all of that at 14 years of age but I know it will make me a more well-rounded person who can adapt to new changes that come my way.”
“AFKayt,” 32, is a stay-at-home mom and a variety streamer on Twitch three days a week, where she gives makeup tutorials, plays games like “Overwatch,” or learns to play the ukulele.
“AFKayt,” who wished to not use her real name due to harassment and recent threats made against her online, described how one troll can ruin a stream and everyone’s good time.
“Someone created a script or something where over 500 to 1,000 bots came into my stream while I was live and started spamming really gross stuff,” Kayt told Business Insider. “I had threats sent to me before just because I said something that someone doesn’t like.”
Kayt also talked about how “creative burnout” can take a toll.
“The easy part is pushing live and doing my things for two hours,” she said. “But I put in most of my work when I’m not live because you have to get eyeballs on your content. You have to make graphics for your stream. There’s a lot to building your personal brand and things like that.”
Stephen Brown, a.k.a. “Gunfly,” is an 18-year-old professional “Fortnite” player for the professional esports team Luminosity Gaming.
Brown said the biggest downside to what he does is simple: finding the time to balance content creation with his rigorous practice and competition schedule.
“I have to always make sure I am competing at a top level, as well as producing content on Twitch,” Brown said.
Ryan Wright, a.k.a. “True Vanguard,” is a 31-year-old Facebook streamer and YouTuber.
Wright said one of the most notable downsides of being a professional gamer “is how punishing it is to take your foot off the gas.”
“For example, this spring I took my first vacation in over three years. I stepped away from the stream and YouTube to take the wife and kids on a trip down south to relax for a little over a week. When I returned, I found that I had lost almost two years worth of growth in terms of my subscribership on Twitch,” Wright told Business Insider.
“When you work tirelessly to grow your community for years, it’s pretty demoralizing to see rapid drop-off like that. It really is an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ kind of industry,” he said.
Wright also mentioned how generating growth can be extremely difficult, given how saturated the market is with “talented gamers and communicators.”
“It’s certainly a loser’s market,” Wright told us. “Most people who end up making a real run at vocational content creation end up losing capital, time, and other genuine opportunities in life. They take off work, quit school, or even quit their jobs … I’ve seen a lot of people get burned by this mentality.”
Melissa Misenhimer, a.k.a. “Lulu,” is a 32-year-old part-time Twitch streamer who works full-time as a pediatric registered nurse.
While Melissa says she “definitely wouldn’t change” her current schedule, which involves working as a nurse and streaming in her off-hours, she definitely feels the biggest downside is how streaming can “take away from other ‘in real life’ situations.”
“I generally maintain a strict stream schedule, especially since I work full time outside of streaming, so viewers always know when I’ll be live,” she told Business Insider. “But since I schedule my streams in advance, it may mean that I miss out on a last-minute friends or family lunch, or breakfast, or a hangout.”
Christopher Pavloff, a.k.a. “Jay3,” is a 24-year-old former pro esports player and a current Twitch streamer and YouTuber.
Pavloff, who played competitively in tournaments for games like “Overwatch” and “Apex Legends,” said the biggest downsides to being a pro gamer relate to time commitment, health, and a short career length.
“Most professional players perform at their peak until their mid to late 20’s,” Pavloff told Business Insider. “Although age may bring experience and comfort in professional play, your reflexes and response time start to slow. If you are lucky, you can continue your career in eSports working in management, analytics, or coaching, but for many their careers will end when they no longer can play at their peak.”
Pavloff also mentioned how health issues can arise from “sitting too long and staring at a computer screen,” including obesity and heart issues “from the combined lack of activity and the high caffeine and sugar diets that are common.” He also said that practice is a huge time suck.
“At one point in my career, I was playing Overwatch for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week,” he said. “It seems like it would be fun to spend so much time on a game, but it can be taxing and take time away from other things you want to do, like spending time with friends or going to the gym.”
“Elixa,” a 35-year-old Twitch streamer who also works part-time at Tesla, shared one of the worst harassment stories I’ve ever heard.
“Elixa” didn’t want to use his real name for this story, and I understand why. Over the phone, I heard how one YouTuber harassed him relentlessly – first online, then eventually in real life -just because Elixa often streams in full drag.
According to Elixa, it all started when one YouTuber made a call to his audience to “hate raid” Elixa’s Twitch channel, asking his viewers to visit, spam, and say “the most disgusting things.”
“I looked up the video [on YouTube] and I saw myself on his video while he was collecting donations,” Elixa told Business Insider. “He was pretty much asking people for donations so he could do this.”
Days later, the YouTube troll somehow learned Elixa’s real name, and began to send erroneous food deliveries to his workplace at Tesla.
“He’d be on the phone with the delivery person pretending to be me,” he said.
Eventually, the troll somehow learned Elixa’s cell phone number, plus the numbers of his fiancé and his fiancé’s family, which led to tons of prank calls and “disgusting messages” in the middle of the night. Soon after, the troll posted “all of my information, all of my fiancé’s information, his parents’ information, information about my little brother, everything” through his public Discord channel, which led to threats.
“Someone said they were going to send a pipe bomb to us,” Elixa said.
At that point, it got serious: Elixa and his family created a terrorism report with the government, and Tesla’s legal and security teams also got involved. Elixa and his fiancé finally got a pair of detectives to work on their case, who subpoenaed YouTube to get the troll’s information, and talked to the troll over the phone.
Since those detectives spoke to the troll, Elixa’s harassment stopped completely.
“He was really scared over the phone,” Elixa said, but apparently “he hasn’t stopped. He’s still doing this to other Twitch streamers.”