What do the best online streamers have in common?

Game streaming superstar Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins playing in Paris in 2019.
Game streaming superstar Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins playing in Paris in 2019.
Image: William K / Red Bull Content Pool
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In some ways, a video game live streamer seems like the easiest kind of celebrity to become. What could be more fun, and less taxing, than gaming at home and chatting with friends online? Most gamers have probably idly (or seriously) wondered if they could make streaming into a career.

But being a professional streamer is deceptively difficult. They’ve got to be good at the game, keep an eye on the chat function, and maintain a running commentary that’s engaging for viewers. It’s like being a podcast host while multitasking, and doing it for hours a day, every day.

So what’s the je ne sais quoi that celebrity streamers seem to have? Here’s what separates them from the rest.

Be good at video games

This one seems pretty obvious—no one wants to watch someone play a game and think “I could do it better.”

Some streamers have even built their brand around being good at one or several games. “If 10 streamers are all equally entertaining, but one of the 10 is also the best player in the world at that game, there’s a good chance that person will have more viewers watching them because they cater to both casual viewers and those who want to see what the game looks like played at the highest level,” says Richard “Shibby” Webb, a talent agent focused on streamers at WME

Be good at improv

When streamers log on, they don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s no telling what will go down in the game they’re playing, or what kinds of comments they’ll get from viewers. Being able to think on your feet—and keeping it engaging for viewers—is a major asset.

“Improv is a huge skillset I think even us streamers take for granted,” streamer Valkyrae tells Quartz’s Adam Epstein. “The ability to sit in front of the computer and entertain people for six hours with no script is a skill that, over time, all streamers have developed. You have to mentally be ‘on’ the entire time.”

“I think the ability to connect with your viewers by creating a story or telling a story is the most important,” Webb adds. “Streaming happens in real time, so your ability to communicate the events unfolding from your perspective, while adding your unique personality to it and finding ways to weave your viewers into the journey or story with you, is very important.”

Be consistent

To start building a following on a platform like Twitch, streamers need to have a schedule for when they’ll be streaming. “If you change your schedule week to week, it’s impossible for your viewers to know when to watch you,” reads the Kongregate developer’s blog. Frequency is important, too, though not everyone can stream for hours every week.

Be accessible

Video game streaming, unlike some forms of fame, allows viewers an intimate relationship with a celebrity, the kind you get when you’re just sitting around with your friends, as Quartz’s Nico Rivero writes. So it’s important for streamers to be communicative with their fans, sharing personal information that draw viewers in further.

“Someone who is charismatic, opinionated, and has the confidence to be themselves are also qualities that popular streamers tend to have,” Webb says.

Understand your platform

The best streamers understand what qualities of their feeds are resonating with fans. To really make it big, they need to be able to translate that beyond Twitch or YouTube to other platforms,  Webb says. These big-time streamers “don’t only focus on their livestream content strategy,” he says. “They focus on their social platform strategy—content for TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, etc.”