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Game over? Why some Twitch streamers are burning out

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We hear a lot about employee burnout these days, and it is affecting even people whose work quite literally is play.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: First try, baby!

KELLY: Video game streamers on Twitch and other live streaming platforms are burning out and logging off. And unlike many other workers, they don't have benefits or structured resources to fall back on. Keller Gordon reported this out for NPR's Join the Game column, and Keller joins us now. Hey there.

KELLER GORDON, BYLINE: Hey. How's it going?

KELLY: It is going well. I got to say, being a streamer, playing video games for a living, that sounds like fun at work. Why are people burning out?

GORDON: Well, people are burning out because platforms like Twitch aren't just playing video games in a vacuum. People are playing video games in real time on the Internet for anybody to watch. That means they're also interacting with hundreds or thousands of viewers at a time. And this can be up to 50 to 60 hours a week. And if they want to retain their viewers, it can be really difficult to take breaks, too.

KELLY: It's funny. I mean, I hadn't thought about it that way. But in a sense, it's something like an actor on stage. And that you're on, and you're performing live for an audience. But in the case of a streamer, the audience is interacting with you. It's a ton of pressure.

GORDON: Yeah. It's a lot of pressure. There are a number of challenges - having to keep a schedule, not taking those breaks and having to deal with difficult viewers on your stream. Here is Steven Flavell or Jorbs, as he's known on Twitch.

STEVEN FLAVELL: I actually wanted people to be there talking with me while I played. And that worked really well for me when I had 15 viewers on Twitch. Around about when I had 200 viewers, that started to get exhausting. Since then, I've had, like, 2,000 people. And when you have that many people asking you questions and telling you what to do, it just becomes absolutely unmanageable. And I actually started having panic attacks.

GORDON: I spoke with another streamer who preferred we only use his twitch name, Halien. He told me that he was getting really tired of playing Hades, a game where you literally battle your way out of hell. The monotony really started bringing him down.

HALIEN: As I ran out of things to do, I became more bored, which made me less animated. And other people started to notice. So it kind of slowly devolved into that over time.

KELLY: I can imagine that having to battle your way out of hell day after day after day would get tiring. One other thing that occurs to me, Keller, this - it's an independent gig. Most streamers are self-employed. Of the people you spoke to, did any have support resources to fall back on?

GORDON: Some do have support, like Steven Flavell, who you heard earlier. He's got a couple of folks that keep tabs on his email, assist with promotional stuff - which definitely helps his work-life balance. But a lot of streamers don't have that support system. And I even spoke with a manager from a gaming entertainment company who said that having a support system is one of the key things that can help you maintain that work-life balance.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, that's probably true across many industries. The other thing I think going on here - or at least I wonder - is on a platform like Twitch, on a platform like YouTube, these are - they're competitive. You have content creators jockeying with each other for viewers, for attention. How does that influence the kind of pressure you're talking about?

GORDON: It can definitely make things harder, especially early on in a streamer's career when they're trying to gain more viewers. Flavell told me that when he first started streaming, he was nervous because he didn't want to leave his computer for more than a few minutes at a time because he didn't want people logging off. Luckily, as his popularity grew, it was easier for him to take breaks because his audience was more loyal, and they had a better understanding.

KELLY: So is that the way forward here? Or - other Twitch streamers will follow in Flavell's footsteps?

GORDON: I think so. Burnout is an increasingly important topic these days. And I hope more full-time streamers get the chance to focus on their mental health and well-being. But it does matter how popular you are, which is another issue in itself.

KELLY: Keller Gordon, contributor and reporter for NPR's Join the Game. Thanks, Keller.

GORDON: Thanks, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Keller Gordon