Meet the youngsters live streaming video-game play for a living. Earnings come from advertising, subscription fees, and special consultations. But gamers have to keep it lively with jokes, narration, and plenty of action
You don’t have to compete to make a living playing games online. Avid gamers are now streaming their play to live audiences, and earning up to `1 lakh a month, from ad revenues, paid memberships, fan donations and ‘consultations’ where other players offer money in exchange for a live demo of how to make it past a particularly tricky level.
Live play is streamed, in India, on platforms like YouTube Gaming and Twitch. It’s not just about fast fingers. While they play, gamers must keep it lively with chatter sort of like a radio jockey’s, and a narration of how they’re doing what they’re doing.
Some of their viewers are watching for entertainment — these are battle royale and MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) games, so there’s a lot of action on the screen. Some watch for tips on how to improve their own play. And some tune in because they’re fans of the player.
In a country with an estimated 120 million online gamers, the target market is large.
Fans include youngsters like Yagnya Mallick, 19, from Odisha, a student and aspiring gamer who says he tunes in about once a day to learn tips and tricks, but stays for the funny commentary. Mallick even runs a fan page on YouTube where he compiles highlights from his favourite gamers’ best moments of the day. “It’s like a tribute to them from me. I even got my internet upgraded this month so I don’t have to compromise on the quality of the stream,” he says.
The spread of cheap data has been a big boost to live-streaming viewership. “A majority of the viewers are from non-metro cities,” says co-founder of Gaming Monk, a Delhi-based e-sports and gaming media company, Abhay Sharma.
The money can be good, once you have a dedicated fan base, but the downside is the stress and physical impact of the play itself. Successful streamers play, on average, for eight hours a day, six days a week.
“Common effects of such long-term gaming usually start with frequent headaches, with later effect including eye fatigue, vertigo, pain in the neck and upper back, and eventually musculoskeletal damage,” says spine surgeon Gautam Zaveri. “Nintendo Thumb, also known as Gamer’s Grip, is a form of repetitive strain injury that leads to blisters, swelling of the thumb and fingers, and stressed tendons, nerves and ligaments leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.”
And this is aside from the stress of overstimulation. Live-streamers typically don’t expect to do this long-term, and build in breaks and screen-free hours, to offset at least some of the negative impact of their play.
Licence to kill
Aaditya Sawant aka Dynamo Gaming, 24, has been at it for three years. In 2016, he began streaming his live play of MOBA games such as Counter Strike, Grand Theft Auto 5 and Defense of the Ancients or DoTA 2. The Mumbaiite now has 4.7 million subscribers on his YouTube channel and has quit his MBA prep studies to pursue gaming full-time.
His USP? Killing an enemy in one single headshot with a sniper rifle in PUBG. “Audiences love a good kill, that’s what they’re here for,” he says. “My parents still don’t really understand what I do.”
For Sawant, live-streaming is akin to a 9 to 5 job. He wakes up every morning, turns on his PC and settles in for four or five hours of play. With regular updates, new elements and challenges added every so often to games, there’s always something new for me to try out and for viewers to watch, he says.
Still, it can feel relentless. “The formula is simple. The more you stream, the more you earn. I had to stream for 12 to 18 hours a day to build an audience initially,” Sawant says. His eyes were always red, his parents constantly had to push him to limit his play time.
Punctuality is key, so that can be stressful too. “Audiences tune in at a fixed time, so you have to log in at that time,” Sawant says. If you’re travelling or at a personal event, you have to let them know in advance. “Though I’m never away from my fans, I regularly keep them updated through my Instagram and Facebook pages too,” he says.
Chetan Chandgude aka Kronten Gaming, 24, from Pune started with Clash of Clans in 2017 and shifted to PUBG last year. He plays for eight hours a day, and in the rest of his waking hours, he’s brushing up on his gaming skills and thinking up new content to keep his audience of 1.5 million subscribers entertained.
“People don’t come here only to see me play, or to ask for tips or tricks; they come for me,” he says. So even when you lose, it’s an opportunity to win. “It’s a window to create funny content on the spot.”
To help him build a screen presence, create content for social media, get sponsorships and polish his people skills, he’s reached out to Aman Garg, co-founder of Ebullient Gaming, an e-sports and talent management company that specialises in professional gamers and streamers.
Other ways to stand out in the crowd are to riff on your personal life. Shagufta Iqbal aka Xyaa from Bengaluru makes sure her streams are a mix of games, anecdotes from her personal life and flashes of her pet dog.
After hitting 95,000 subscribers early this year, Iqbal, 25, quit her job as a computer engineer to stream full time. “I think, with me, audiences are so surprised by the fact that a woman can play, they just come to see that,” she says. “In a good month I make around `60,000, streaming for three to four hours a day. But I don’t think it’s a sustainable career. I’m already planning a vlog on my YouTube channel and an MBA on the side, so if this fails, I have a back-up plan ready.”