Throughout the past few years, I’ve followed a variety of streamers and content creators on platforms like Twitch, YouTube and Mixer. In my role as a gaming journalist, it's impossible to ignore big names like Ninja and PewDiePe. But in these ecosystems, there are a number of smaller streamers who also attract audiences. Some creators will see video viewer counts in the tens of thousands every day, while others will never stream to more than one or two friends.
Throughout this time, I’ve noticed there’s something extraordinary about these interactions: There’s nothing else like them.
Before the concepts of streaming or quick-hit YouTube videos took off, the Osbourne family changed television with their hit reality show, The Osbournes. It was a reflection of their family life, though no doubt amped up, chopped up and edited to create something extremely unique to the era. Later, others, like the Kardashians, would follow suit.
A streamer or YouTuber is a natural evolution of that.
What is it that we see in these people? Well, humor, inspiration and excitement, for starters. But more than that, there’s a sense that the personality is within reach. The creator doesn’t even have to be particularly famous as long as they mean something to the person watching.
There are several factors at play. Entertainment aside, there’s also an even playing field. Anyone can stream on Twitch, even though few of them will ever reach the threshold of someone like Pokimane or Tfue. There’s also the element of communication. When a favorite streamer interacts with a fan, it feels like a two-way street, even if the streamer or YouTuber is merely doing their job.
Streamers’ and YouTubers’ relationships with their fans reflect a level of connection we haven’t seen in any other form. In the case of the streamer, they live much of their lives on display, showing both their good and bad sides to crowds who are hungry for real-time interaction. YouTubers are more polished in their interactions, but the best ones are the ones who seem to put their authentic personalities on display. These dedicated creators offer a seemingly endless supply of entertaining content, to the point that their fans start to identify with them and think of them as friends.
But perhaps one of the biggest draws is the rawness of this content. Traditional film and TV creators seek bigger budgets, projects and opportunities. Streamers and YouTubers are the antithesis of this.
Unlike the majority of mainstream celebrities, these YouTubers and streamers can’t fake it. Trying to fake your own personality for more than 40 hours a week for years on end would be grueling, if not impossible. Perhaps this is why people love the unpredictable nature of streamers or the simplicity of YouTube creators. Fans can also access this content from computers everywhere for free, while cable packages cost upwards of $100.
It’s hard to understand the bond between a fan and a content creator unless you’ve experienced such a connection. In this era, some creators go on to become friends with their fans. A person can live anywhere, discover a creator with a unique take, and then later end up playing or co-streaming with them. Eventually, they’ll go on trips together or hang out at conventions. This effectively bridges online and offline worlds.
One might liken it to loving an indie band before they were cool. But the difference is that a person can watch all of a band’s music videos and listen to all of their albums without ever having a meaningful interaction with the performers. On the other hand, a streamer who ignores their fans is asking to lose viewers.
Certainly, it’s a cool feeling when a streamer shouts our your Twitch name while thousands of people watch. But more so, these platforms offer an exchange. It’s company, or thoughtful dialogue, or the feeling of going to the local watering hole without having to experience all the awkwardness that goes along with it.
Late last year, I interviewed DrLupo for Newsweek’s Fortnite Special Edition. I considered myself a fan of his even before I spoke to him. When I think about why, it’s because he reflects qualities I appreciate in my real world friends. He’s not only funny, but he’s committed to his community, an endeavor that’s cyclical as his fans continue to come through in support of his charity efforts.
Months after the interview, I met him at GuardianCon (now called Gaming Community Expo). In spite of having no real relationship with this person, I felt like I was catching up with an old friend.
It’s some mixture of celebrity, repeat exposure and interaction that makes streamers and content creators feel like friends. The connection becomes even stronger in the case of a subscriber, who now has a financial incentive to remain invested in that relationship.
I subscribe to far more channels than I probably should. But I take comfort in the fact that this money typically goes to the creators themselves, with only a cut going to the platform itself. I like them because they’re entertaining, but flawed. Their lives aren’t Instagram perfect. In fact, a great deal of them publicly share rage moments, personal “fails” and struggles with burnout or depression.
For streamers, dialogue isn’t scripted. There are no programming hosts telling them what to say or no standards and practices teams telling them what’s off limits. YouTubers cut videos quickly, making it tough to create extremely polished content if they want to continue to capture fan attention. The audience sees them as flawed humans. And for that, we feel closer to them.
And then there’s the repeated exposure. If I find a creator whose content I love, I can see new videos from them on a regular — if not daily — basis. Compare this to network television, where a person gets a new hour every week for a few months, but then sometimes has to wait years between seasons.
While traditional film and television celebrities seem untouchable, streamers and YouTubers are never out of reach because their personas live on the web.
It would be tough to give a sole reason why people love streamers and video creators. It’s a very unique thing in an era where brands are historically more concerned with logos and color schemes than authentic relationships. These creators are their own brands, frequently built from scratch. Perhaps if traditional celebrity is all about luxury and status, one might say this new era is about authenticity. And that’s something I love to see, even if that means following my favorite creators to Mixer.