Baseball fans would recognize Trevor May as a hard-throwing relief pitcher for the New York Mets. May grew up in Kelso, Washington, and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the fourth round of the 2008 MLB Draft. He would end up making his professional debut in 2014 for the Minnesota Twins, where he spent six seasons before signing a two-year, $15.5 million deal with the Mets last month. But as a streamer, he’s developed an entirely different audience.
May is a growing streamer on Twitch who took part in the famous roast of TimtheTatman at Twitchcon 2018. Gaming has been a part of May’s life for nearly three decades, having first been introduced to video games at age five thanks to his older brother. He would eventually make the transition to PC gaming because of his neighborhood best friend, whose dad built PCs so there was always an extra for May to use. The first game he really sunk his time into was Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.
May took a five-year hiatus, of sorts, from video games to focus on throwing heaters past opposing batters. But when an injury left him on the sideline, May jumped back into video games when he “discovered” Overwatch. He started streaming in April 2016 directly off his PlayStation 4 for a handful of viewers before transitioning over to a gaming PC. Why did he start streaming?
“I am an entertainer,” said May, who has grown his channel to 192,000 followers. “I like entertaining and performing.”
Hitting the “Go Live” button for the first time can be daunting, and the seemingly overnight success of TimtheTatman or Tyler “Ninja” Blevins has caused plenty of misconceptions about the streaming life. It takes time to grow a channel, and small streamers can easily get caught up in comparing themselves to the bigger creators on Twitch, Facebook, or YouTube. YouTube’s head of gaming, Ryan Wyatt, reported that there were over 100 billion hours of gaming content watched in 2020. More than 80,000 content creators hit 100,000 subscribers, over 1,000 creators hit five million subscribers, and over 350 creators surpassed the 10 million sub mark. Julian Fest, the VP at Corsair and GM at Elgato, said over 18.5 billion hours of content were watched on Twitch. These are astronomical numbers in a very diluted market.
It can be easy for the small streamer with one or two viewers to lose the joy and passion they had for streaming because they are not pulling tens of thousands of viewers. Streamer/content creatorActionJaxon, who otherwise goes solely by his first name, Paul, fell into that trap early in his streaming career. His best friend, Tim “TimtheTatman'' Betar, is one of the biggest creators in the gaming scene. Betar was actually the one who suggested Paul start streaming after being laid off from his job in December 2013. Paul was first introduced to video games while he was “in single digits'' and, like May, his older brother was a big factor in his gaming. He started to find his own gaming identity through Grand Theft Auto on the PlayStation 2.
In taking Betar’s advice to start streaming, Paul went live for the first time in February 2014 while looking for his next job. Paul’s goals for streaming are simple. “I definitely like to affect people’s lives in a positive way,” he said, “if I can make your day and make life a little bit easier for you then that is my goal.” But he would soon find himself comparing his stream to Betar’s because of their “similar personalities” and they grew up together. Looking back on it, he acknowledges it was “unfair” to do that to himself. “After a while, I learned that it would only steal my joy,” Paul said. “It would only ruin what I was trying to accomplish.”
Comparisons are like the forbidden fruit, but they are especially common in the data-driven world of gaming and content. Where success is determined by views, likes, and subscriptions. On YouTube, a creator is not eligible for monetization until they have surpassed 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours watched. In order to be a Twitch Affiliate, streamers need to have at least 50 followers, and stream 500 total minutes over 30 days, to an average of three or more viewers. The Twitch Partner path is even more extreme, applicants must stream for 25 hours, stream on 12 different days, and have an average of 75 viewers. It is one number requirement after the next, and like Paul, smaller streamers can easily fall in the hole of comparing themselves to the streamers who have the numbers they are striving towards.
May and Paul have developed ways to look past the numbers and block out the negativity that comes with direct comparisons. “I haven’t looked at how many people are viewing in months,” mentioned May. Echoing Paul’s thoughts, May cautions against streamers that focus on direct comparisons to other streamers because it is a “losing proposition.” It is a skill that he learned in baseball, where performance is directly correlated to compensation. While the numbers do impact pay, he says, those who focus solely on them will not have nearly the same levels of success as those who do not.
So what do these creators offer as advice for the streamers who are just embarking on the journey and have a lower viewer count?
Paul says the first step should be to do a self-analysis on the intention behind streaming a particular game. Is it viewer count? Is it personal enjoyment? “ I would assess the game you're playing and make sure you are playing a game that you love and enjoy,” he said, “ but temper that with a bit of reality.” He references Fortnite, one of the most popular battle royale games on the market right now, and suggests finding a different game that the streamer enjoys, with a smaller community to help them stand out. He also recommends, like May, to turn off viewer count and spend the time talking to chat and talking aloud to yourself. “People love chat interaction, and if you turn off your viewer count, you can ensure that you are not basing your reactions off numbers, but you are actually being genuine,” Paul said.
May reinforces his stance on comparison when attempting to grow a stream and community. “Find little ways to compete with people with content, not how well you are doing on Twitch,” May said. It is a never-ending cycle that will take a toll on the streamer’s “mental” because there is no light at the end of the tunnel. May’s advice is to be true to one’s self. “Find a way to be you and implement the things you like or think are funny,” May said. “Be in communities that you enjoy, make yourself known, and participate in the chat.” He offers this advice to anyone attempting to grow a community. Identify who you are trying to model after and then find ways to be active in their community.
Take the advice from these two creators. It is unbelievably easy to get deterred and dejected from monitoring viewer count. But the true success comes from being content with yourself and engaging with a community that you build from members that enjoy your personality and that tune in for every stream excited to watch the games you play. The gaming industry is booming, and there are a plethora of creators competing for a sparse number of organizations, earnings, and fame. Follow the advice from two of the most genuine creators in the space, and you might just surprise yourself.