Playing video games for a living? Inside the life of a Twitch streamer

Sam Brown wakes up before the crack of dawn every day and begins getting ready for work. Like most people, he showers and trims his beard and does more to make himself presentable (albeit in a very different way) than the average Manhattan lawyer. He spends time reading about business trends affecting his trade. He drinks coffee and also prepares himself a GFuel, the beverage that is one of the primary sponsors of his livelihood. And he spends time every morning getting himself mentally ready for what he knows will be a grueling day ahead.

Brown has a serious job to do. He has video games to play. And for Brown, who streams daily under the internet name Hambinooo, video games are a serious business.

Brown, who just turned 27, is just at the right age to properly understand the amazement most middle-aged people have about the very concept that people would be paid professionally to stream video of themselves playing video games.

Brown's own father was an ardent video gamer, but when he was growing up as a teenager, his father constantly stressed to him the importance of getting a "real" job and focusing on video games as little as possible.

"My old man, even though he was a gamer himself, if he caught me playing too much video games, he would give me the, you know, 'go outside and mow the lawn or learn to something productive with your life' speech. Back in that day, even when I was a teenager, the idea that someone would pay you to play video games, no matter how good you were, was completely unheard of. No one even considered that someday it might happen."

How does someone end up as a video game streamer?

Brown attempted to go the standard route himself.
"My family was big on traditional education. I have family members who went and got degrees from prestigious colleges like Stanford," Brown said. "And that was what was expected, you go to college, you get a degree, then you get yourself a respectable job, and that's how it goes."

However, he soon realized that the "standard route" was not for him.

"One day I just woke up and realized, you know, I'm not going to be in finance. I'm not going to do that with my life. And I'm not going to put myself hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree I'm not going to use. My generation was one of the first ones that was hit really hard with the conviction that for a lot of people, it's a scam, and it just ends up with you paying off massive student loans for the rest of your life for something you don't need or want," Brown says.

Even after leaving college, though, Brown still wasn't ready to take the plunge and attempt to become a professional gamer, which was just then becoming a thing, so he apprenticed at a hair salon with a buddy in New York for about a year, cutting hair for big name clients and preparing for life as a stylist.

But then, rather than go to college or continue as a hair stylist, Brown took a humongous risk on himself and decided to roll the dice on a career that would have been impossible to conceive of five years ago: a career as a professional video game player.

He and some friends decided to make a go of it on the pro circuit of the battle royale shooter PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (known in the gaming world as PUBG). They ground it out in "scrims" — gamer shorthand for scrimmages — for months until they finally broke into the pro scene with the gaming organization Lazarus. But for all but a select few who are lucky enough to sign with a well-funded organization, being a pro gamer offers a subsistence and quality of life level that is probably equivalent to a lower-level minor league baseball player. So in late 2018, Brown made another huge bet on himself and decided to quit professional gaming and make a go of it as a content creator.

For Brown, the gamble was more than just a gamble on a new career, it was a gamble on a whole new location, far away from his family and friends:

"I had to literally move to Raleigh, North Carolina, a place I had never been and a place I had never even seen, just because I knew I couldn't afford to live in a place as expensive as New York or New Jersey," Brown says. "So I uprooted myself and my girlfriend came with me, and we moved to Raleigh just because it was cheap, and we knew we were taking a risk, and it wasn't one we could afford to take there."

Brown is one of the lucky ones. After weeks and months of streaming for 10 hours a day to an audience of just a handful of people, his channel has taken off. He now has over 27,000 followers on Amazon-based Twitch, along with over 3,500 subscribers, which puts him comfortably in the range of mid-level streamers who can make a real living at it without getting rich ... yet.

Is this a real job?

And while Brown is obviously having fun at what he does, you shouldn't get it twisted: It is work. Hard work. Imagine the work that goes into producing a three-hour talk-radio show every day. The industry standard for talk radio is to have about 44 minutes of content per hour — the rest taken up by commercial breaks, traffic updates, and the like.

Brown essentially does a 10-hour talk-radio show every day, without commercial breaks, while playing one of the most demanding video games ever invented at a high level. He engages with the people who are watching him in the twitch chat, just like a radio host takes calls. He answers the same questions what seems like three dozen times a day:
  1. "How did you get started streaming?"
  2. "What headset are you using?"
  3. "What's your favorite weapon in the game?"
He answers them all, over and over, with patience and a positive attitude, always treating each person like they are the first person to ask him that question. The amount of sheer talking he does requires him to go through gallons of water each day on stream. He does this six or sometimes seven days a week, which doesn't count the amount of time he spends talking with current and potential sponsors, networking with other streamers, and working on his craft. At the end of the day, he puts in easily the same intense 70-plus hour work load as an attorney grinding to make partner.

If Brown's schedule is grueling, streamer Cody Moczygemba — who streams under the name Moczy — is borderline insane, a marvel even among people who habitually work long hours and are used to being derided as people who "play video games for a living." A short stream for Moczy goes 18 hours. On a regular basis he streams for 24 consecutive hours at a time.

Moczy personally doesn't understand the fuss.

"I relate it to a normal person [who] gets up goes to work, right? That's eight or 10 hours. Then they come home, spend time with their friends or family, socialize, whatever, so that's another couple hours," Moczygemba says. "Then they spend another couple hours doing what they want to do, which is maybe playing video games another couple hours. At the end of the day, we all spend 18 hours doing something — I just wrap it all up into one thing. I'm doing it all at once, and I do it all online."

Like Brown, the San Antonio-based Moczygemba took a huge gamble on himself a couple years ago, abandoning a potential career in computer science in an attempt to make a go as a content creator:

"I was in college at the University of Texas San Antonio for computer science," Moczygemba says. "And I had always known or felt like I wanted to do something with video games. I was always good at video games and really liked them. So I thought maybe I would make video games. But then when this streaming thing came up, I decided that I would give this an honest shot and see how it goes."

The live content creator poses an existential threat to Hollywood

Brown and Moczygemba are part of the vanguard of a kind of content creator that poses an existential threat to the entertainment industry as we know it — a threat that the entertainment industry frankly does not even see coming.

Time was, people had to choose their entertainment from whatever palate the Hollywood industrial complex decided to produce. You turned on your TV, chose from a preset number of channels, and that was it.

Now, the average person under the age of 20 probably hasn't turned on a television in years. They infrequently go to movie theaters. 

They don't even watch Netflix or Hulu or Amazon streaming shows. They watch YouTubers, and Twitch streamers, and content that is made by ordinary people, often in their own home studios. Hollywood continues to produce more elaborate and costly content for Gen X and the baby boomers, but in 20 years or maybe less, they will find themselves shunted aside by a kind of content they don't even understand, much less credit.

If you fire up the Amazon-based Twitch, you will be confronted by a dizzying array of content possibilities, as varied as the people who create it. The biggest titles at the moment are "battle royale" games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and PUBG — all of which feature some variation of a Hunger-Games-esque be-the-last-man-standing motif. But you'll also find millions of people watching Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, or MOBA, games like League of Legends or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft.

Older games like Grand Theft Auto V and League of Legends still have a huge following. Some streamers amass huge audiences playing truly old school original Nintendo games like Contra and Super Mario Brothers and finishing them at dizzying speed. At any given time, you'll find someone who has thousands of viewers playing AutoChess, which is... not really chess, and can't really be explained unless you watch it for yourself.

You'll find an equally divergent assortment of personalities playing these games. Fortnite whiz Tfue trash talks the dozens of "plebs" he blows away during every match. Variety streamer Herschel "Guy" Beahm dons the persona of a 1980s pro wrestler as Dr. Disrespect — loud, brash, intentionally campy and over the top. Michael Grzesiek, known as Shroud, has amassed a truly enormous following — over 6.5 million at last count — in spite of a low-key, borderline droll personality. Jake "chocoTaco" Throop streams as your dad, if your dad was really nice, into low-key music, and also really, really good at video games.

What about all the toxicity in video games?

Brown and Moczygemba are part of a rising cadre of streamers that cater to an audience that is tired of "toxicity" in video games.

"For a long time, there's been a stigma attached to video games, you know?" Brown muses. "A large part of that is the stuff people say to one another during video games. And that's just the anonymity of the keyboard and the mouse. People will say things to you using that anonymity that they would never say if they had to use their real name, much less say to your face. It's on the gaming community to change that stigma by their own behavior and part of that is on us as streamers to show the way."

This is, surprisingly, easier said than done. The most mild-mannered person in the world will lose his temper sometimes if things are not going well during a video game. Playing video games on camera, in front of the entire world, for 50 hours a week, without losing your temper, is a nearly impossible proposition. It takes effort and control. But for the sake of the industry, some streamers believe it's important to try.

"I think, some people, if they can't get themselves in the right frame of mind mentally to handle the grind of streaming [without toxicity], they shouldn't be streaming, you know? There's no secret sauce to it," Brown says. "You have to just make it a decision. You're going to make mistakes, but before you fire up the stream, you have to just get yourself in the mentality that you're going to do your stream right. And if you can't, maybe you shouldn't stream that day."

The light dawned for Moczygemba in a different way.

"I used to be different, I used to not care what kind of language I was using and I let it all hang out," Moczygemba says. "Then one day I was watching chocoTaco, and someone came in and sent him a message that said, 'I really appreciate your stream, my son and I watch it together and it's a great way for us to bond.' And that really struck me. And I thought to myself, 'Would most dads say that if they came to my stream and watched it?' Probably not, at that time. So I decided to change."

Any parent who has ever stood over their kid's shoulder while they were playing online video games and watched or listened to the stream of toxicity can relate. And beyond the concern that parents have about what their kids are being exposed to, there's also the fact that it makes games less fun to play.

Moczygemba is concerned that if the community cannot clean up its act, then it will cease to be relevant:

"People are often toxic because they're competitive, right? They can't keep a lid on their competitiveness. So, they're mad because maybe they're trying to get ranked in a given game," Moczygemba says. "But what they don't think about is, what if they are toxic to everyone along the way? They make the game less fun. And sure they might end up on the leaderboards, but they're going to be on the leaderboards of a dead game, because everyone who's playing it will have left because of the toxic behavior of other people who play it. So it's not very smart."

Understanding the business of streaming. How do these people make money?

Moczygemba's concern reflects a growing level of business savvy from people who have learned that there's money to be had, if the leading lights of the industry play their cards right.

Streamers — at least on the Amazon-based Twitch — make money from a variety of sources. First, their viewers just flat out donate money, as appreciation for generating content. Second, for $5, you can get a monthlong subscription to a given streamer on Twitch, which allows you to watch that streamer without ads and also use their preset unique collection of emotes, and some portion of that goes to the streamer (with the rest, of course, going to Twitch). 

Third, the streamers get a portion of the advertising revenue Twitch gets from their non-subs. And fourth, of course, are sponsorships.

Computers and video games are a huge industry. The video game industry generated $43 billion in revenue in 2018, up an astounding 18 percent from 2017, according to reports. That figure is likely dwarfed by the revenue generated from the sale of the hardware that the games are played on, including high-end PCs, gaming keyboards, mice, headsets, monitors, and the like.

The computer industry, at least, has realized the potential that streamers have as influencers. Any streamer that pulls in over 50 viewers at once is sponsored by a dizzying array of products. ChocoTaco uses Logitech keyboards. Hambinooo uses Steelseries headphones. And on and on.

And of course, everyone is sponsored by GFuel, the ubiquitous sugar-free energy drink powder that has become a company that generates tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue almost exclusively by advertising to the gaming community — in fact, GFuel even markets flavors and products that are specific to your favorite streamer or esports team: Dr. Disrespect's Black on Blackberry. FaZe Clan's Battle Juice. Team Kaliber's Twisted Kandy. Or, if you prefer, you can go with plain old Pink Grapefruit.

The power of earned influence in the video game world cannot be overstated, and the temptation for undisclosed payola has led to considerable controversy in the gaming world. People want to use the same equipment as their favorite streamer, perhaps in the belief that it will help them play Fortnite or PUBG like he does. They also want to play the same games. If someone like chocoTaco or Shroud plays a game on stream, that can make the difference between a game surviving or dying, particularly for a small, independent gaming studio. Controversial Swedish gamer PewDiePie was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2016 — probably for good reason.

Many streamers are conscientious of the power of their opinions and are scrupulous about disclosing when they are sponsored. Often you will see it disclosed in huge capital letters on the title of the stream itself: "SPONSORED STREAM: Playing the new Call of Duty" or something similar.

"I'm always careful to disclose when I'm doing something sponsored," Moczygemba says. "And I love it when I have that opportunity because to me it feels like I can tell the community that I'm already being compensated for this time, so they shouldn't feel compelled to donate subs or make donations or whatever. I can be, like, 'No, guys, thank you for your generosity but this has been covered.'"

Others, however, may not be so scrupulous, and there's nothing that forces streamers to make these disclosures. At the end of the day, it's just their own reputation for honesty that's on the line.

What's it like to have your whole livelihood wrapped up in a 'censorship industry'?

One active concern among streamers is the stranglehold Twitch has had on the industry. That stranglehold was threatened earlier this month when Microsoft-backed streaming service Mixer announced that it had poached one of Twitch's largest streamers — Fornite savant Tyler Blevins, who streams under the pseudonym Ninja.

According to Blevins himself, he earned more than $10 millionstreaming on Twitch in 2018. For those who are keeping track, that is about four times what the average NFL player makes in a season. While the financial terms of Blevins' deal have not been disclosed, some streamers have openly mused that Microsoft must have dangled several multiples of $10 million in order to entice him to leave the security of Twitch. The massive play was an earth-shattering move in the streaming industry and announced that Twitch may finally have a meaningful competitor.

The budding competition between Twitch and Mixer has both positive and negative possibilities for streamers. On the one hand, both Brown and Moczygemba admitted some level of anxiety about having so much of their livelihood tied up in a company (Twitch) over which they have no control — and which might well ban them or deplatform them if they say or do the wrong thing on stream.
The threat is not an idle one. Canadian musician deadmau5 was also a popular video game streamer on Twitch before he was permanently banned from Twitch for saying "f*g" on stream. Dr. Disrespect recently earned a month-long suspension for streaming from a public bathroom, and many streamers openly mused that if it had been a streamer with a smaller following than Doc's, it would have been permanent.

"I have always been aware that it's a censorship industry. From day one," Brown said. "You always have to have it in your mind, and I always have, that my whole career — even my whole brand, if you can call it that — is dependent on what a moderation team of people from California who I don't know think of what I say or do on stream. So it's definitely an issue."

The competition from Mixer means that big-name streamers, in particular, don't have to live in quite as much fear of Twitch moderation. And it also means that they have more bargaining power with Twitch in terms of asking for greater percentages of their subscription and ad revenue. However, it also potentially means that the streaming audience will be split. One of nice things about Twitch, for a streamer, is that all the other streamers are on Twitch. One of the main ways a streamer gains a new audience is by people surfing around twitch while they are watching other popular streamers that they already follow.

In other words, the advent of Mixer might well be a boon for established streamers. But it might harm the growth of the smaller streamers who are trying to build an audience from scratch. Competition is almost always a good thing in any industry, but time will tell how this particular competition will shake out.

Can anyone really make a living as a professional streamer?

Of course, the advent of the professional video game streamer has caused no small amount of consternation in parents who are suddenly confronted with children who have a new excuse to keep playing video games for what is perhaps an unhealthy amount of time. They are practicing, see, so that they can be the next Ninja, or the next Tfue, or the next chocoTaco.

Now, not everyone has a realistic shot of being the next big name streamer. In the first place, video gaming — like any other physical endeavor — involves a certain amount of natural innate talent.

Anyone can certainly improve at any given video game with practice, but guys like Shroud and Ninja and chocoTaco rather obviously have some physical attributes — like reflexes, fine motor skills, and hearing, for example — that are off the charts. So in the same way that not everyone has a realistic shot of becoming an NFL player due to not being large enough, strong enough, or fast enough, not everyone has a realistic shot of possessing the elite gaming skills that are a prerequisite to building a large audience — which is to say nothing of having the kind of outgoing personality that builds a following.

But that won't stop many people from trying, even though the overwhelming majority of them sadly will fail. Just like most small businesses, the overwhelming majority of Twitch streamers never crack more than 10 concurrent viewers. The number who can build a regular following of several hundred, like Brown and Moczygemba, is easily less than one half of one percent. The number who can draw tens of thousands of viewers like Ninja, Shroud, Tfue and Dr. Disrespect, at least at present, can probably be counted on your fingers and toes.

And the work required to try is not for the faint of heart. For months, it will likely involve streaming to an audience of fewer than five, putting in countless hours of work for little or no reward, financial or otherwise. And, even if you do everything right, you need an astounding amount of luck.

Brown realizes that his success, and the speed at which he has achieved it, is not typical. Less than a year ago, he was streaming to an audience of sometimes fewer than a dozen people. Even after he quit his professional career and dedicated dozens of hours a week to streaming, he struggled to crack 50 concurrent viewers. Then, even though he never changed anything he was doing, one day the people started coming. Now, he regularly tops 1,000 concurrent viewers. I asked him, "Why is this happening? How have you succeeded where so many have failed?"

"I don't know, man." Brown frankly responded. "I really don't. I've even discussed this recently on calls with my business people and sponsors because they want to know and I don't know what to tell them. I'm doing the same things I've always done. I guess it's just like anything else, like being a musician or an artist, you don't have to just be good, you have to be lucky. You have to hope the universe rewards what you're putting out there and sometimes it doesn't. I've been lucky that it has in my case."

Sounds like a sweet existence, though. Is it?

Some parts of it can be nice, once you reach the top. But the effort required to get there can be brutal and lead to a lonely existence. Moczygemba frankly admitted that his decision to become a full-time streamer led to the dissolution of his engagement with his long-time girlfriend, who couldn't believe that his dream was realistic or cope with his streaming schedule.

As research for this article, I watched several hours of Moczy's stream. By all accounts, he appears to be a perfectly presentable young man, with a trademark shock of fashionable blonde hair. He is funny, engaging, and intelligent. Based on his Twitch statistics, I can infer that he makes a decent living.

Assuming that he lived an active dating life now, I asked him, "So how does that conversation go now, when you date? When you go on that first date and the question inevitably comes up, 'What do you do for a living,' how do you explain that?"

Without a touch of sadness or regret, he answers, "You know, I'm really just not dating now. I'm not even trying at the moment. If I were to find someone, I would have to explain to them that my schedule is my schedule, and this stream is my life, and they would have to understand that. There aren't many people who can get behind that. So if it happens, it happens."

Moczygemba has no regrets, however. "Honestly, the most surprising thing to me about this whole experience is how many great friends — and I do mean true friends — I have made doing this. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Still, Brown — whose long-term girlfriend Alyssa is his marketing partner and an ever-present force in his chat and social media presence — seems to be the exception rather than the rule. The stigma associated with being a professional gamer is lessening, but it still exists. Rare is the romantic partner or potential partner who will stand by while someone explains that they are going to quit their paying job and stream themselves playing video games to 10 or 15 people at a time in the hopes that someday they can build an audience that might someday help support a family.

Which is why, for every Sam Brown who takes the plunge whole hog, there's a dozen Adam Van den Booms, grinding away a full time day job and then coming home and putting in hours of time trying to build a name as a streamer. Taking the plunge can be a terrifying experience, especially for people who have other jobs that do put food on the table.

And when that magic day does come, the fame itself comes with a price. As with any other industry that produces any amount of fame, the people who do not succeed often feel extraordinarily jealous. Unlike other industries, streaming video games on the internet allows for people to act on that jealousy in ways that can be harmful to the star.

The most frequent manifestation of this is the bane of every professional video game streamer: the stream sniper. Because these video games are streamed in real time, that presents an opportunity for people to intentionally get in the same match as a famous streamer and then use information gained from watching them on stream to know where their location is — a practice known as stream sniping.

Obviously, this gives the stream sniper an enormous competitive advantage over the streamer, particularly in battle royale games where knowing your opponent's location is at least half of winning a battle against them. The practice is widely considered unethical in the gaming world (and it can get you banned from both Twitch and most video game servers if you are conclusively caught), but the temptation for some is too great. Everyone wants to post their own clip on YouTube of the time they killed chocoTaco in PUBG, or the time they owned Tfue in Fortnite. So as a streamer grows in popularity, they have to face an increasing barrage of opponents who are essentially very determined, fame-hungry cheaters.
The frustration with stream snipers can very easily boil over when the streamer sees the same person cheating against them over and over. In fact, frustration over possible stream sniping led to the outburst that got deadmau5 banned for life. The full quote, in fact, was, "f***ing c**k-sucking stream sniper f*g."

Sometimes, the stream sniping goes beyond mere cheating for fame. Sometimes, it progresses into threatening comments and worse. Hackers have even engaged in DDoS attacks against the IP addresses of servers that chocoTaco plays on, ruining his ability to play the game for days at a time.

The level of negative attention the big level streamers receive causes many of them to exercise extreme caution with revealing even the most banal details of their personal lives. Rewind several weeks, and chocoTaco is streaming. Someone in chat asks, "Where do you get your hair cut?"

"Where do I get my hair cut?" he repeats. He pauses, and considers. The pause draws out and becomes uncomfortably long for what ought to be a fairly simple response to an eminently simple query. ChocoTaco kills a couple of people. I actually wonder for a moment if he has forgotten the question entirely. Finally, he settles on an answer, "Um ... a place here in town." It is an answer, but of course no answer at all. It is the answer of a man who has good reason to think carefully about revealing anything about his personal life to anyone online.

Then, of course, there is the sometimes brutal feedback from chat. While watching your favorite streamer, you can participate in their chat, and part of Twitch's ethos requires streamers to engage with their chat to at least some degree. ChocoTaco has spent thousands of hours of his life playing PUBG. He still spends over 40 hours a week playing it. Recently, he has taken up Fortnite occasionally as a change of pace. The constant barrage of negative comments from his chat every time he does so is truly appalling to behold — like Throop is their PUBG-playing monkey and the act of his playing a different game for a few hours has deprived them of something they are somehow entitled to.

The barrage of negative and sometimes insulting feedback from chat can be especially brutal for the relatively small population of streamers who are women. On the one hand, their chat fills up with lame come ons from obviously thirsty men, and on the other hand, they are often attacked by bitter people as being unworthy of the attention they receive.

Former model Avori, for instance, is an easy target for dismissal for many who don't look below the surface. She is bright, bubbly, and obviously good looking, which of course contributes to her appeal. When she streams PUBG, she has a neon pink sign with her name in the background. She frequently hums or sings the choruses of pop songs between matches (her chat jokingly asks for cotton for their ears during these interludes, in a running joke about her singing voice). Several months ago, she frequently groused on camera, "I'm just not very good at this game."

Of course, streaming, like any other kind of content, is about marketability. At the end of the day, what streamers are selling is a product, and the biggest part of that product is... themselves. 

There's no mystery here; Avori is putting out a great product that emphasizes what she's been given to work with — which, by the way, includes quite a lot of skill at playing video games. But that takes on a whole different connotation when women do it, even if they are obviously (like Avori is) a pretty darn good video player. If Dr. Disrespect is a little bit over-the-top on camera, and if there's a little more showmanship than you might otherwise get from a video game streamer, that's "genius production value," but if you are a woman, you are instead "an eThot."

Then, of course, there is the boredom. Some streamers are lucky enough to maintain their audience no matter what game they play, but the vast majority of them are trapped by their audience into playing one particular game, 50 hours a week — against people who are for the most part of much lower skill level.

Rewind several weeks, and I find myself watching Tfue play Fortnite. An opponent approaches. "Look at this guy," Tfue grunts, as he begins building an intricate structure around him. My untrained eye cannot tell anything about this random anonymous person's skill level, but in less than a second, Tfue has him sized up. "Look at this guy," he repeats. "Can you imagine losing to this guy?" He continues building and editing an elaborate structure around him. "Can you imagine actually losing to this guy? Can you imagine that actually happening to you?"

Finally, like a cat that gets bored with a mouse, he performs a final edit and mercifully ends the loser's misery. He slumps in his chair, and exits the game before it's even done. Then, for thirty minutes, he exits all competition and enters "creative" mode, just building structures by himself, a sullen glare on his face.

Many people criticize these occasional displays as abrasive and off-putting, but it's not that difficult to understand, in the end. If you paid Michael Jordan — and make no mistake, these gamers are every bit as competitive as Jordan — a good salary every year to dunk on middle aged guys from the Y every day for 10 hours a day, he might be thankful for the paycheck, but he'd sure develop some contempt for his competition after a while. And one wonders how long he could keep it up, no matter how well he was paid.

Still, for those who can survive the grind, and block out the second-guessing and negativity, opportunity does await. Ninja will not be the last video game streamer who clears eight figures a year by streaming video games.

Already, parents are hiring video game coaches to teach their kids how to be better players in the hope that they will be either the next big streamer or the next big e-sports champ. Colleges have even begun offering e-sports scholarships.

Are some of these dreams unrealistic? Probably. Are they any more unrealistic than the millions of kids who have dreams of becoming rich playing professional sports? Probably not. In fact, they are probably less unrealistic in many cases. Of course, one principal difference between these unrealistic dreams is that in the case of the would-be athlete, the failed effort will get kids additional physical exercise, which research would suggest is much more beneficial for developing bodies than hours in front of a computer screen.

An industry under barrage after a series of mass murders

All of this, of course, occurs against the backdrop of a weekend of particularly horrendous violence in the United States, which the President of the United States blamed (at least in part) on video games. Although discussion of politics is more or less verboten in video game streaming world, when the leader of the free world shines a light on an issue, it brings a whole new level of attention to the problem.

And there is evidence that the spotlight is working. Wal-Mart, for instance, refused to change their policy on gun sales, but did agree to remove violent video game displays from their stores.

The debate over the effects of violent video games is more or less tireless and is seldom informed by actual facts, because the facts themselves are not conclusive. There is some indication that video games, particularly in young people, is in fact correlated with increased aggression in play behaviors like kicking, hitting, and biting.

There is not, however, evidence that exposure to violent video games leads to actual violent criminal behavior in adults. Still other studies suggest that the very question itself puts the cart before the horse — which is to say that inherently aggressive or violent people seek out violent video games, not the other way around.

As with all things pertaining to the social sciences, the confident pronouncements of people who have so often and so recently had to admit error should be taken with several grains of salt. There is, at least, some level of inherent sense in the notion that playing video games in which you shoot people might lead people to imitate that behavior.

On the other hand, there's another level on which it doesn't. Probably the first video game to obtain mass popular culture status was Super Mario Brothers, and its emergence into the national consciousness did not lead to an increase in turtles being hit with hammers, or people attempting to jump unreasonable distances. 

Similarly, while first-person-shooter games are popular, so are games that feature unsafe driving of cars, or games where people hit each other with clubs or swords, and there has been a marked lack of concern about people attempting to model those behaviors after playing video games.

But when anything pertains to guns, people get weird. And so you have parents refusing to buy their kids toy guns only to see their kids fashion guns out of sticks anyway, or school kids being suspended from school because they chewed their pop tarts into the shape of a gun.

Streamers, who are conscious of the fact that they play to a worldwide audience, would likely retort that the largest video game markets aren't even in North America, but rather in Asia and Europe. Even within the context of North America, a disproportionate amount of video game talent and consumption occurs in Canada. And of course all of this ignores the somewhat salient fact that the actual number of mass shootings has remained relatively consistent over the last several decades, even since the introduction of the first person shooter with Id Software's game Wolfenstein in 1992.

Still, media attention on them, and the purported link to video games, has streamers who play these kinds of games feeling uneasy. But for now, their brand of content appears here to stay.
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