A small tripod and mic stand atop my desk, propped up by a complete series Blu-Ray set of the 1966 Batman TV series. Behind them sits my laptop: a relatively recent acquisition, though dust and a slowly shrinking battery life tell of worse days to come. Cumbersome wires clutter my carpet as I ensure my mic and headset function properly. Down to my left, I prepare an aged laptop that overheats easily as a makeshift second monitor for chat viewing. All the while, I hunch over in a small, old, and visibly stained swivel chair. This is the environment in which I have begun streaming on Twitch for the past two weeks.
Ask me where I see myself five or ten years from now, and “streaming on Twitch for a living,” is not an answer I would give. My entire life, I’ve been nothing but a soft-spoken introvert. Simply talking to people, even my own friends, poses a challenge. Suffice it to say charisma and the ability to entertain others don’t come standard with my skill-set.
Yet that is precisely why, among a few lesser reasons, I stream on Twitch now. I have to break out of my comfort zone. If I don’t, how can I grow and become better? How, I ask, will I make new friends or finally meet a romantic partner? I honestly have no idea if talking over a game and to an online chat while broadcasting it to the world can translate to interpersonal skills, but it’s a start. At the least, I can forgo my preferred method of the written word and force myself to speak my thoughts out loud. There has to be some value in that.
Self-improvement is not my sole motivation for Twitch streaming, however. If I really can achieve the dream of working as a Twitch streamer, that’d be amazing! Why not give it my best effort? Don’t think me arrogant; I do not at all expect to become popular. Ever. The thought is almost laughable. But I do know that if I go in with a failure’s mentality, I will fail. Simple as that. So in spite of my all-too-obvious shortcomings, I’m doing my best to make my little underdog stream the best it can be. If Twitch really is an opportunity to do what I love for a living, I see no reason to miss it.
Twitch so far is an interesting learning experience for me. So, in the spirit of learning a new hobby, I’d like to share this list of my thoughts and some tips on starting up a new Twitch channel.
Be Prepared for a Viewer Count Ranging from None to One
This didn’t surprise me, per se. It was more like the fist of reality clobbering me square in the jaw. My first two streaming sessions were totally deserted. Not counting my little brother, who thoughtfully remembered my streaming schedule and joined the chat for my first outing, the viewer count for my first two streams sat comfortably at zero. Being unprepared for this can easily wreck a beginner’s enthusiasm. Although, look closely enough and there’s a silver lining to be found here.
A viewer count of zero opens up some room for error and can simultaneously prepare beginners for the reality of streaming. For anybody like me, streaming for the first time will be something like diving headfirst into a cold pool. The sudden expectation to monologue over hours-long sessions of gameplay is a lot of pressure, not to mention uncomfortable and nerve-wracking. It’s strange, and mistakes will surely be made. For example, I’ve repeatedly caught myself running around like an idiot as I struggle to both talk and focus on my gameplay. And I lost count of how many times I lost my train of thought while speaking, or cracked an incredibly lame joke. Thankfully, zero viewers meant I didn’t need to break a sweat over every little trip-up. It also helped me to steel myself for the fact that, no matter the conditions, talking consistently is tantamount to an engaging stream. If a streamer can continually monologue while nobody is even around to watch or engage in chat with them, it’ll be that much easier to do so when viewers do show up.
There are More Technical Challenges Than I Considered
It’s not enough to have a computer, a mic, and capture software. Internet upload speed, CPU power, varying performance across different games, and other factors ensure streaming is complex and often challenging. Beginners should expect to perform many test streams before finding the optimal conditions for their environment.
One of my first realizations was that internet is garbage. Make sure to perform an internet speed test, because the results are likely surprising. I always assumed we had great internet here at my mom’s house… Nope. As far as I understand, a 2.5 mbps bitrate is a good starting point for a decent-looking stream. Care to guess my upload speed? About 0.8 mbps, according to the speed test I ran. And not even all of that can be used, as other processes and dips in internet service need to be taken into account. The result is that I can barely squeeze a bitrate of 0.55 mbps out of my stream. It’s amazing that I can even stream at just above 480p resolution with a mostly stable 30fps.
Deciding on a microphone presents its own challenges as well. I won’t go too deep with this aspect; I’m no expert on mics, and any research will demonstrate there are many factors to consider. But one of the most important of said factors is to choose either a condenser microphone or a dynamic one. Condenser mics, from what I’ve seen, are the more popular choice. They’re highly sensitive to sound from all directions and generally produce more accurate sound. Whether condenser mics are a good option depend greatly on budget and streaming environment, however. I personally decided on a dynamic microphone. The advantage is that a dynamic mic is only sensitive to sound from one general direction, eliminating clicks and clacks from my keyboard and mouse.
Once a mic is obtained, make sure it sounds its best. A pop filter or windscreen is necessary to limit plosives such as S sounds. And don’t forget about audio levels. Game music and sound effects should never drown out a streamer’s voice, or, in my opinion, vice-versa. So make sure to adjust a microphone’s gain (basically how sensitive it is to sound), in-game volume levels, and the audio output from any game capture software in use.
Again, expect to perform many test streams. It’s important to monitor for audio issues, frame drops, and general quality. It takes time to get it right, but it’s worth it. Viewers will appreciate a stream that was clearly designed to run smooth. Testing before scheduled streams is also a good idea. Some nasty technical or internet problems tend to reveal themselves at inconvenient times. Streaming has its own learning curve like anything else, but it’s nothing a little research and trial-and-error can’t overcome.
OBS is the OB-Best!
OBS, or Open Broadcasting Software, is a completely free (and I do mean completely) program to stream and/or record gameplay. It’s awesome! Before I considered streaming, I always assumed expensive capture cards and/or programs were necessary no matter what. Boy am I glad I was wrong. Learning what you need to start up a stream with OBS is as easy as looking up a 5-minute tutorial on YouTube. OBS seems to work very well, too. I’ve had no issues with it thus far, and it works much better for me than the free version of XSplit. My friend prefers XSplit, however, so trying each might be worth it.
That said, OBS is certainly the fastest, easiest way to jump right into streaming or recording gameplay. It’s a huge confidence booster for a newbie like myself to have something so simple and effective at the ready.
Choose Games Wisely
A streamer should pick games they enjoy, right? Right. No argument here. Both a streamer and their viewers will have a better time when they enjoy the game in question.
The thing is, it can’t be the only criteria, for both technical and viewership purposes. My first mistake in this area was to start off with Minecraft. It’s a phenomenon of a game that continues to see droves of streamers and thousands of viewers on Twitch every day. For a new streamer, it’s very difficult to break through all that noise. Therefore, games with smaller streaming communities are a great place to start. Many indie games are great for this, and they come with an added bonus: tons of them are retro-style games. That means they’re typically easy to run and can look good at lower resolutions. Despite our crappy upload speed, my little brother was able to make The Escapists look nearly flawless on his own stream. For this reason, I plan to move on to indie games when I feel done with Minecraft.
When selecting a game, keep in mind how much processing power it takes to run. Streaming itself requires a lot. Without a beefy gaming rig, low graphics settings are a must. My current laptop is capable of running Minecraft with the settings cranked up and at 60fps. But when I stream, it’s necessary to turn everything down and cap the framerate at 30. Otherwise, dropped frames occur almost consistently.
It’s a Great Way to Return to Old Favorites or Work on a Backlog
Hello, my name is Airbornebovine, and I’m addicted to games. Sometimes I see a new game that looks fairly interesting, y’know? It has good reviews and seems like my kind of game. I know I shouldn’t, but I still throw sixty bucks at it even though I have a huge backlog of games I still need to play and replay! I struggle to resist exciting new releases even though I understand the benefit of waiting to buy them used or on sale. It’s difficult to admit, but I have a problem. And I need help.
All silliness aside, it’s perfectly true that I need to stop wasting so much money on new games. Based on my experience so far, I think streaming can really help me with that. It’s already an exciting way for me to return to Minecraft for a while. Plus I plan to stream The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth’s Afterbirth DLC to collect all its added achievements. I need my 100% achievement rate for Rebirth back, dammit! Thanks to streaming, I have a motivating reason to finally do it.
My Voice and Speech Patterns Could Use Some Work
Ugh. I carry my S’s too long when I talk, my voice somehow sounds both plain and dorky, and I’ve never heard so many uses of “um…” in my life. Listening to myself talk is embarrassing, even though I do sometimes manage to talk about interesting stuff. I don’t want to force it, but hopefully my speech improves over time. It really makes me appreciate just how great the popular streamers and YouTubers are at what they do.
It Will Get Better With Time
Remember how my viewer count started at zero? To be honest, I feared it might stay that way. Thankfully, I was wrong. Upon my third stream, I saw a few people pop up. In fact, two of them chatted with me! I had the opportunity to talk to my first viewer and tell them a story about my recent college art class experience. It was fun, and I’m proud I told it coherently. My second chatty viewer, thankfully, opened my eyes to another technical challenge of streaming. I forgot that certain in-game settings might affect visibility on a stream even if the game looked okay for me. Minecraft’s render distance apparently made it difficult for this viewer to see in the Nether. To help, I turned it up, despite the risk of dropped frames. As it turned out, the larger render distance helped without any sacrifice in my stream quality! Now my future Minecraft streams can benefit from a larger render distance. So even though I still had no more than a single simultaneous viewer, my third stream was a huge step forward.
I realize this is anecdotal evidence. Not every new streamer will have a similar experience to mine. But it’s difficult for me to imagine that anyone who puts in the effort to practice and stream on a consistent schedule could go overly long with zero viewers.
A Question for Fellow Newbie Streamers/YouTubers: Has it Hurt Your Voice?
Something I never expected from streaming was that it would be difficult on my voice. I’m not the type to yell, scream, or otherwise exaggerate my reactions, so I figured I’d be fine. My voice starts to hurt during every stream, though. Is it because I talk so rarely in my everyday life? Do I have a voice that’s naturally rough on my vocal cords? Or, is this totally normal? If anybody else out there has had this experience, or knows some way to avoid it, I would appreciate the feedback. Thanks.