Esports and Streaming: The Dark Side of the Dream
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What a year. 2020 has easily been one for the record books. This introduction is cliche and overdone, but one I can't help but include. From pandemics to revolutions, we are truly living out something generations will learn about in school and be passed down to our children.
Another thing that will be new for future generations' history books is the absolute boom of gaming and esports in recent years, 2019, to be specific. Whether you like him or not, Tyler "Ninja" Blevins became the face of gaming during Fortnite's overwhelming surge to mainstream media. Fortnite is a name that can be said to just about anyone regardless of age or nationality and be understood at least on a minimal level.
I worked in banking from 2016 to the very end of 2019 before leaping to esports and journalism full-time, and let me tell you, grandparents came in often talking about "that dang Fortnite game" when noticing a charge to Epic Games on their bank statement. And, more than a few know who Ninja is. This mainstream explosion has brought so many new faces to an ever-growing industry. Whether a young kid who was passing the time after school with friends to mega-celebrities like Drake investing in them, gaming and esports are in the limelight, and they are here to stay.
Living the dream
So, what has this explosion really done for gamers? Sure, with more interest and exposure comes more money, and, usually, more money means more product quality. I said usually, okay. But, it has done so much more than produce better games. It has created a plethora of true career possibilities in a field that was previously no more than a hobby. Now, we could spend the next 1,000, hell, maybe 2,000, words talking about all of these possibilities; I truly believe there are that many, but the agenda for me today is to really focus on esports and streaming.
I believe these are the ones that most resemble the true action of the hobby and fit into two easily understood categories: competition and community. They are also the dreams of so many gamers. Go over to Twitch and look at how many viewers and streamers there are. It's insane, right? Playing games in front of people for livable, or even life-changing, wages? Or traveling the world with three or four of your friends to compete and prove that you're the best for six or seven-figure salaries? Where do I sign?
Well, we all know it's not so simple, right? Countless hours with no pay or recognition are expected even to have a slight chance of achievement, but we'll do it. Momma didn't raise a quitter.
All of these sacrifices seem to be understood, but there is one that isn't stated in any contract or rulebook. One cost that is hard to gauge or put a price tag on.
The value of self-value
Mental health is a topic that is rising around the world and finally getting the recognition it deserves. We are nowhere close to the levels of understanding and acceptance needed to combat it, but we seem to be getting there. Progress is progress and, despite my wishes that it would hurry the hell up, at least it's on the radar, and society is actively seeking to embrace it.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, is one of the few major personalities that helped further this to a mainstream issue. In an interview with the NFL, Prescott opened up about the issues he faced and said, "If I wouldn't have talked about those things to the people I did, I wouldn't have realized my friends and a lot more people go through them -- and they are as common as they are."
Dak Prescott had some powerful words on the importance of mental health awareness.— ESPN (@espn) September 11, 2020
More on how he sought help for anxiety and depression this offseason: https://t.co/GbmNUQzn5Q pic.twitter.com/Cop44KC8H6
I can only imagine the levels of stress and pressure that an NFL player must feel to perform on the field, maintain his appearance off it, and maintain a social and family life while traveling the country for a majority of the year. Fair warning, don't anyone dare come in here with the "but they are millionaires" b******t comment. Yes, money may not be much of a stress for highly-paid professionals while employed or in an active contract, but money isn't everything. What about work pressure, work-life balance, personal health, family health, and so many other things that go into maintaining a happy and fulfilling life? They matter too, and in many cases, more so than money does.
So, you're probably wondering how being an NFL player relates to being an esports player or streamer. I believe there are obvious mental similarities, but there are also important mental differences to realize.
Staying plugged into a toxic source
The life of a streamer or esports player is one that many envies. On the surface, they are definitely careers that look more like a dream, but people don't often consider what it feels like on the other side of the camera or what it's like when it is off. Streamers and esports players are under a lot of pressure from many sources, whether contractual obligations, maintaining activity and obtainability to their fanbase, necessary offline preparation, and many others. You could argue that almost all these things have to be done in a normal career, and, once again, you would be right. But, what if you stacked all those "normal career responsibilities" on top of hundreds of thousands of people shouting at you the entire time you're working and even when you punch out to go home?
A vitally important part of being a successful streamer or esports player is link and engagement with their fanbase. The people that make up this base range from people who are there in the hard times to pick you up to people who send death threats or degrade you for simple things like dying in-game. Then, there are the disgusting, vile people who attack based on things like gender alone. This toxicity has seen many massive influencers take extended breaks for mental health, while even some had to step away due to violent threats.
Take a break from the internet/social media. The same way we all need physical breaks, give your mental a break.. it’s important— Rachel (@Valkyrae) June 26, 2020
After this break I’m going to come back with the best mental, high energy and a renewed drive 😤 But I do already miss you guys 🥺— NRG Lulu (@LuluLuvely) August 1, 2020
I am so grateful for those who support me and show me kindness everyday! It really helps me get through the hard stuff. Unfortunately.... pic.twitter.com/mi7MHo80P9— brooke (@brookeab) July 21, 2019
It's not just streamers, however. Mental health is also affecting many esports players, with some even receiving death threats for losing a match due to viewers placing bets on outcomes. I, unfortunately, couldn't find any tweets stating this to add to the list, though.
Toughest decision of my life.— Lukas Rossander (@gla1ve_csgo) May 19, 2020
Obviously, these are only a few examples of the issue we are speaking on. But even obtaining these examples was easy since it is so widespread.
Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, the good suffer for the bad in situations like these. These toxic voices always resonate the loudest. While they may be the minority, they become impossible to ignore when they amount to numbers in the thousands or hundred-thousands.
While playing, the chat is flying with opinions, perspectives, and toxicity from little, anonymous fingers saying whatever they want for the full 8-12 hours for the streamer to read and absorb. Then, they get offline to see that same stuff on their social media platforms, you know, the things they have to maintain to stay connected and relevant to their viewer base.
It is inescapable. "Just ignore it" is not a viable solution either. They can't ignore their live chat, donations, or socials for reasons we spoke on earlier. They have to stay plugged-in damn near 24/7 to maintain this business they have built. I'm sure just about every other small business owner or freelancer would agree with me that there is no "punching out" and going home. Work is always on your mind, and you are always at work.
The end of this article may be anti-climatic for many. I do not have a clear-cut solution or process to offer to help with this. As someone who is always actively seeking out answers to issues and doing his best to provide applicable solutions to problems, this really bothers me. But I'll give you the one I have.
Realize that the people on the other side of your computer screen are people—someone with feelings, thoughts, and self-doubt like the rest of us. Think if it was your sibling, parent, or friend on the receiving end of brutish, grotesque, or threatening comments before you send one. Your comment could be the feather that breaks the camel's back and perceive all of them that way before you hit send.