Growing on Twitch & Becoming a Full-Time Streamer

Steve Sarumi
Feb 20, 2020 · 12 min read

I’ve been streaming on Twitch as a full-time job for about two years now, and I figured I would share my experiences and my thoughts on it. While I’d been a content creator for years making podcasts, I had no real experience with Twitch as a platform. Committing to Twitch full-time, I quickly realized the platform’s culture is much different from podcasting, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube. I’m writing this to share what I think I did right and what I think I did wrong while “making it” on Twitch. While every Twitch streamer has a different journey, I figured that sharing mine may help or motivate others.

This guide is not going to talk about the obvious, but you’ve probably heard the following from others:

  • Stream consistently, set a schedule
  • Make sure you raid other streamers
  • Hang out with other streams to network
  • Invest in graphics to have a good first impression
  • Sell your couch to buy a capture card
  • Set up at least three dog cams on your overlay

To be fair, what worked for me may not work for you, but I hope sharing my experience gives some insight. If your goal on Twitch is just to stream and have fun even if only two people are watching — awesome. However, this guide is aimed toward people who want to see growth in viewership.

Photo by Caspar Camille Rubin on Unsplash

Who Am I?

You can look up my Twitch statistics if that adds any validity to what you’re about to read. I am able to pay my bills and live comfortably off of Twitch streaming. Prior to becoming a Twitch streamer, I was a full-time front end web developer with a decent salary. Unfortunately, the company I worked at for four years filed for bankruptcy, and everyone lost their jobs. I started streaming on Twitch as something for fun a month before I lost my job, but I had a tiny audience of about 10 to 15 viewers from other content I previously made. I realized right away that even though I had a large audience that loved my podcasts — prerecorded and audio-only — translating that to a live video platform like Twitch could be next to impossible.

I wrote about my podcast journey right here.

After talking with my wife and going over our finances, we decided I had enough in my savings to survive without a job for about five months. As most people would love to make content, especially around something they love for a living, I figured this was my best chance. It’s easy to say that something didn’t work out because your job got in the way or there is just not enough time in the day, but now that I didn’t have a “real job,” I had no obstacles to use as a scapegoat.

Making It

What is “making it” on Twitch? In September of 2018 I hit 2,000 subscribers. In about one year on Twitch I went from getting a sub button to unlocking 32 emotes for my community. Nowadays, I sit at around 1,200 subscribers, which is a much more consistent number after that huge September spike. Did I “make it” on Twitch because I unlocked 32 emotes? No, not at all. The thing about Twitch is that these spikes in bits or subs, while incredibly heartwarming, are not a constant you can rely on. It would be like getting a Christmas bonus for the holidays at your day job and expecting to see that bonus the next month, and the next month. There is no single reason why I am fortunate enough to do this full-time, but I am going to lay out some things that have worked for me in ensuring why I can pay my bills and happily create content for my audience.

Define what “making it” is for yourself. Most people would be happy with 10 people watching, some with 100 people. Some would define making it by having 500 subscribers or having enough subscribers to quit their day job. Not everyone sees “making it” as the same thing.

Building an Audience

Almost all of my content is Pokémon related and convincing my podcast listeners to come to my streams seemed impossible. I guess you could say I had a slight advantage starting out by having an audience of 10–15 viewers right away, but with a decent Twitter and podcast following, this helped in visibility in the directory. That being said, the work I did outside of Twitch on my podcasts is still work any streamer would have to do in order to grow. They may just use a different medium instead like Facebook or TikTok.

I’ll touch on discoverability a little bit later, and I will say that the podcast has brought a lot of viewers to my stream, but it took time and reminding listeners that I am live. This is the same for a YouTuber telling their audience in their videos that they have another platform they make content on.

Building the Third Place

Some streamers may not have a YouTube, Twitter, or LiveJournal audience. This post isn’t really about building those up with content that people would want to engage with, but you’ll have to use more than just Twitch to see success. For Twitch specifically, we have to understand how building your community is key to seeing growth.

In community building, a “third place” is a place that someone can go to that isn’t home or work. It’s a place where someone can feel social and feel comfortable spending their time. Third places can be bars, churches, cafés, or even Twitch. If you dislike the servers or guests at the café, even though you like the coffee, you would probably find a new café. This is the same for the channel you’re building on Twitch. Your viewers might love you, but if they can’t stand the other viewers in the chat, it’ll probably push them away. New viewers may come for the game, but it’s on you to build a place for them to return time and time again. Sounds easy, but building a third place doesn’t happen overnight. Think of your third places you go to now, like a bar, a subreddit, or even a park, and think about why you keep going back to those places. Do you see characteristics in your stream that would cause people to return?

Also, your Moderators help build that third place with you. Moderators, like viewers, can push new people away or turn off daily people from being daily. Two issues I have seen with smaller streams are Moderators that over-mod and longtime viewers making the stream feel cliquey.

Let me ask you this — is one subscriber who is obviously annoying current viewers and new viewers worth the $2.49 and your growth being stunted? You can’t control everyone’s behavior every second of your stream, but you set the rules, the tone, and the direction you want your stream to head.

Photo by Seemi Samuel on Unsplash

“Why Should I Watch You?”

At TwitchCon 2018 I was invited to the Partner party. If you ever go to one of these, you’ll realize that most Partnered streamers are awkward in person. After nervously scanning the party looking for anyone I might know, I finished my mini corn dogs and proceeded to toss the trash I was holding and work up the nerve to talk to people. It was at this trash can I bumped into Trihex for the first time. He had just finished talking to someone and happened to glance at my badge. He read it, looked at me, and said, “I bet you stream a lot of Pokémon?” I laughed nervously and said I did. He pulled out his phone, opened the Twitch app, and said “I’ll hit you with a follow right now if you can tell me why I should?”

I’ll have to admit, my answer wasn’t great. I said something along the lines that I try really hard to remember something about each viewer that watches my stream — at the time in the fall of 2018 I might have been averaging ~140 viewers or so — and that I consider my streams a (third) place of comfort for a lot of people. He hit the follow button, so I guess it was good enough, and we ended up chatting for about 15 more minutes that night and we still chat today. I must have done something right when he did decide to watch me. Since typing this up, Trihex has raided me a couple times and we squad streamed a speedrun together. That question to this day still sticks with me. Out of all the streamers on Twitch, why should I watch you?

Discovery on Twitch

You’ve probably heard this before, and if you haven’t, listen up. Twitch is NOT a discovery platform (not a good one currently at least). Can people find you on Twitch? Yes. I was on the Front Page multiple times and got a ton of new followers, some who still return to stream today. Can you get raided and have people stick around? Totally. Can someone close their eyes, scroll down a directory and decide that the light from the moon and the stars are perfect to click on your stream? Of course. All of these things are out of your control, and for the most part, Twitch is bad at discovery.

If you want to grow and “make it” as a streamer you have to use platforms outside of Twitch. These platforms can be YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Mixer, Facebook, TikTok, etc. I said earlier that I am a podcaster. Podcasting built up an audience for me. I was able to tell that audience I streamed and some of those people came over to watch. You’ll see a lot of content creators do both YouTube and Twitch or Instagram and Mixer, for example. Twitch is awesome, but it’s not enough.

Top of a Directory

My stream is usually in the top four in the directory I stream in. It’s pretty easy to find my stream if you click the directory. I’ve seen streamers playing or doing very similar things in the game I am doing, maybe with 10 to 20% fewer viewers than me, but getting almost double to triple the amount of followers in a 90-day time frame. What is different here? I am sitting a bit higher in the directory, playing the same game, but their follower growth is surpassing mine. In this situation, I took the two comparable streamers with similar viewership on Twitch and saw they both had 50K+ subscribers on YouTube, were posting weekly videos that seemed to be doing very well, and had a much larger Twitter following than me. At the time, I didn’t invest any of my time or energy into YouTube and my Twitter has a decent following from my podcast, but not as big as theirs. I could chalk up this data to also say maybe I am just not as entertaining, but I have a second example.

I decided to get out of my comfort zone and play two different monster-hunting games. When I made the switch to play these games, I was number one in the directory every time I switched. Best situation for “discoverability” some would argue. Both games had momentum behind them, so it wasn’t a “dead game” on Twitch per se, but it’s pretty eye-opening to pull only one to two new follows while being top spot in a directory for several hours, whereas if I streamed my usual content, I’d pull 20 to 30 follows in the same time frame. It begs the question, even with the top spot in the directory, are some games worth streaming on Twitch?

The examples I used showed me two things. First: even if you have an audience and you are at the top of a directory, it doesn’t mean that your problems of growing your stream will be instantly solved. Second, if you are not taking advantage of other platforms, you are probably not doing everything you could be doing in order to grow. Lots of streamers put their content on YouTube to reach more people. I put my energy into podcasting, and while that has helped my Twitch content, recently I started to put energy into Instagram too. I’m not saying you need to do YouTube or you need to get on TikTok to see success, but it’s pretty clear that the content creators who make content on multiple platforms generate their own discovery instead of relying solely on Twitch.

Getting Partnered

If you take anything away from this post, I think this is the most important piece. Before I say this, I believe in Twitch as a platform. It’s why I put most of my time and energy into it. I think live content is 100% the future and I love making it and while Twitch isn’t perfect, it’s been an amazing platform for me and others to grow as creators.

Getting Partnered on Twitch isn’t it. Before getting Partnered, I thought this is what I need to “make it” on Twitch. Once I get Partnered, my search for a day job will be over, I’ll be better financially, I can start streaming a variety of games, I’ll get more respect from other streamers, companies will want to work with me. No, no, no, nope, and no. Unfortunately, none of this really matters. If anything, once you get that check mark next to your name, you almost have to work even harder to stay relevant.

Partnered Life

Let me back up. If you get Partnered on Twitch, you should be excited, your community will be excited, your friends and your cat will be excited and you should celebrate, but it changes little to nothing for you. Think of this situation like getting married. If you and your significant other were constantly fighting and struggling with money, do you think getting married solves any of these problems? Yet, the same celebration applies to both. Your friends and family would be excited that you got married, you’d be excited, but after you eat your cake, return all the extra silverware you got as gifts from Target, you are back to “normal” life with your spouse. Getting Partnered on Twitch is exactly like getting married. There are perks to getting married like taxes, and getting partnered gets you into a cool lounge at TwitchCon, but if you think getting that check mark for your stream with five viewers is going to solve your problems on Twitch, it’s not. Just like getting married, things go back to normal after the celebration is over.

Do not focus on getting that check mark and don’t think that once you get it, your problems on Twitch will be solved. I’ve seen streamers get that check mark, then fall to irrelevance afterwards because they thought “making it” was that symbol and they set no goals or aspirations after that. Although, it’s possible that they just wanted that validation for more emotes and free Red Bull at TwitchCon?

Summary

I wanted to focus on how thinking about a stream as a third place was vital for me and my growth. Discoverability is more your responsibility than it is Twitch’s or others’. Finally, I wanted to share how I was mistaken in thinking getting Partner on Twitch would solve my problems with streaming.

“Making it” for me is being able to pay my bills, being comfortable in life, and continuing to see growth month after month. I would probably make more money if I continued my career as a front end web developer, but I’m happy with creating content for a living. I am at a point now where I have hired a YouTube editor for the first time. I am investing some of the money I make on Twitch into paying a person to help me out so I can use my time to continue working on podcasts, Instagram, and other mediums.

Instead of asking yourself what colors your standby screen should be, what notifications make the most pleasant sounds, or asking if the eight PCs in your room might be generating too much heat for your office plants, you should be thinking about the bigger picture. Why should people come back to your stream, instead of someone else’s? I can tell you most people are not coming to my stream because I spin in circles over and over trying to find a different colored Pokémon. What can you do when you’re not live that benefits others and grows an audience outside of Twitch? I create an informative weekly news podcast about the games I play on stream. Lastly, why going from affiliate to partner maybe isn’t the actual goal you should be setting out of the gate.

I have a lot more to say about streaming about what I learned and struggled with after two years on Twitch. If you have any questions or comments, I am totally open and accessible! Hope this post helps!

If you’d like to know more about my content, here is my Twitter and my Twitch that you can check out.

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Steve Sarumi

Written by

Full-time Pokémon Trainer, Podcaster, and Partnered Twitch Streamer. Host/producer of It’s Super Effective. Corn dog lover.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +794K followers.

Steve Sarumi

Written by

Full-time Pokémon Trainer, Podcaster, and Partnered Twitch Streamer. Host/producer of It’s Super Effective. Corn dog lover.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +794K followers.

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