When This Streamer Tried to Make Going Viral His Job It Went Horribly Wrong


#1

We’re taught that if you work hard, your moment will come. Most of us are forced to eventually settle and reckon with reality, but exceptions to the rule are what helps keep the dream alive. The incredibly popular Twitch streamer Ninja, who’s been riding Fortnite into streaming stardom, recently said he’s earning $500,000 per month from streaming and partnerships. Another streamer thought it was his moment, too. As it turned out, it wasn’t.

“It failed miserably,” said Ian Xplosion, who asked to keep his real name private.

Called out for a shitpost on reddit, Ian Xplosion decided to make good on a ridiculous challenge: level from one to 60 in World of Warcraft killing low-level boars. For the next two months, nearly 2,000 watched Ian Xplosion cut down boars. People were liking, watching, and notably, subscribing. Having recently quit his job prior to the Internet turning its gaze upon him, Ian Xplosion went full-time streaming—as he put it in January, “living my shot.”

Prior to streaming, Ian Xplosion’s life was “in shambles.” Strain at work bled over into his relationship, leading to what he described as a “mental break.” He quit his job, his relationship ended in a shouting match, and after spending several days in his apartment alone, he went on a road trip. It was during those long hours in the car that he decided to pursue one of his dreams: streaming games for a living. That his reddit shitpost soon blew up only served to underscore the notion that, perhaps, destiny had come knocking for him.

When I last spoke with Ian Xplosion, Twitch had only just turned on his ability to monetize his streams. It wasn’t clear how he’d pay his bills. But the challenge was just starting, and there seemed to be time to work out the details. It was time to make the most of his opportunity.

I tried to keep in touch with Ian Xplosion after writing about him in January, but communication was erratic. We’d exchange a few messages, trying to figure out a time to talk, but he’d disappear for days, weeks. I got the sense things weren’t going well for him.

They weren’t.

At his stream’s heights, as people (like me) were writing articles and he was blowing up in the World of Warcraft community, things were good. That’s where the thousands of viewers came from. During most of the challenge, his stream was in the top 10 most viewed World of Warcraft streams on Twitch, which meant a regular influx of new potential fans swarming in.

But as the challenge neared the end, the joke got less funny, and people turned their attention elsewhere. The number of viewers dropped to somewhere between 120 and 150. It was a moment where Ian Xplosion’s core group of fans, the 120 to 150 who kept showing up, were wondering “Okay, what’s next?” Ian Xplosion had been trying to do his research, figuring out what allowed other streamers to maintain an audience. It became an obsession.

“I was terrified I was going to wake up one day and it'd all be gone,” he said, “and it wouldn't have had anything to do with me specifically, just some random step nobody told me about.”

It was at this moment that real-life interjected. Ian Xplosion’s finances weren’t great when he decided to make the plunge into streaming, a misstep that came back to haunt him quickly.

“I was terrified I was going to wake up one day and it'd all be gone."

“I should have had a few months expenses saved up,” he said, “but I wasn't in a good place mentally so I was in kind of a poor place financially. I think the money I did have coming in would have been enough to live on, but the jump from my ‘managers salary’ to what I would be making as a livestreamer was shocking, and I didn't nail the landing.”

When he wrote a check to his landlord for the rent, it bounced, and he was evicted. He was forced to put the streaming on hiatus because there was nowhere to stream from.

This was an enormous setback; momentum is key to success on these platforms. The moment you decide to take a break, people will start looking elsewhere. Ninja, for example, streams for, at minimum, 12 hours per day, and often until long after midnight. It’s endless.

Ian Xplosion was not going to be a full-time streamer. He didn’t even have a home.

It’s especially crushing to seemingly achieve your dream, only to watch it crumble in front of you. Ian Xplosion had been thinking about streaming as a job for years. For nearly a decade, he’d been streaming, and several classes in college—focused on audio and video production—were meant to provide him with tools. The difference, however, was that Ian Xplosion had spent most of that decade streaming to less than five people. Sometimes one.

Life never seemed to provide the “right” opportunity for him to focus on his desired craft. He either didn’t have enough money, free time, or some combination of the two to make it work.

And then, this happened. This was the stars aligning for Ian Xplosion. He used to scroll through the Twitch subreddit, a place where thousands of people are talking about the hours of work they’re putting into their channels, many of them excited when a single person decides to start watching. One person is a brick to somewhere bigger, they told themselves.

“It took something like 160 hours doing something INSANELY boring and [I was] maintaining an audience,” he said. “That tells me that I brought something to the table, but it was a lightning in a bottle scenario.”

He was recognized at a local gas station. His stream began developing its own memes. Are these signs you’re headed in the right direction, or a smokescreen clouding your judgement?

The streamers Ian Xplosion reached out to for advice never got back to him. If there was a mysterious, hidden step to making the transition from viral to full-time, he didn’t know it.

“Maybe there wasn’t some magical series of steps,” he said, “or maybe everybody was just busy. Everything fell apart, because of me.”

And so the dream was over—for now. First things first, he moved in with some friends. At that point, he could have returned to streaming, but Ian Xplosion decided to take a break.

“I knew I had to take care of the bridges that were on fire before I kept moving forward, you know?” he said.

It was possible to see some of this coming simply by watching Ian Xplosion’s stream. He was sometimes uncomfortably honest, a form of vulnerability prevalent on all his social media platforms. Everything in his life—the personal anxiety, the financial stress—wasn’t part of a character or bit, it was Ian Xplosion laying himself out there for everyone to see.

“It was a inflatable unicorn in the middle of some troubled waters,” he said. “I knew that what I was going through, especially in the [larger] context of Twitch and the growth as a channel, was something that people could relate to. So I talked about it, and I talked with people about all of it—from my life and my story, to the steps I was taking as an entertainer. It really resonated, and made the whole thing so much more enjoyable and medicinal, in a way.”

A few months back, I wrote a piece wrestling with this same question: How much do you share with your fans, knowing we live in an age where people reward you for sharing? Ian Xplosion has decided to be an open book. I’ve decided to keep parts of my life—my family, largely—private. But I’m in the enviable position of having “made it.” Ian Xplosion has not.

He has, on the other hand, found a new job, one that moved him comfortably back into his old career path and a solid paycheck. He’s also found a creative outlet outlet in poetry—he’s currently writing some work for an upcoming mixtape—and started dating someone new.

Streaming is still on his mind, too. Ian Xplosion is planning a comeback. On Friday, the World of Warcraft “completionist’ challenge kicks off, in which Ian Xplosion will start a fresh account and do exactly what you think: complete everything in the game. Like his last challenge, he knows this one is pretty boring, but the goal isn’t trying to capture lightning in a bottle a second time. Instead, he wants to bring back the core group, those 120 to 150 fans that still reach out to him, and develop a community. It’s a brick to somewhere bigger, right?

Maybe.

“Even as I've stumbled,” he said, “I'm gonna do everything I can to make the Internet proud of me.”

You can watch Ian Xplosion stream on Twitch.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/a3yp9b/when-this-streamer-tried-to-make-going-viral-his-job-it-went-horribly-wrong

#2

I’m glad to hear this person is getting their life back on track. Streaming is such a feast or famine job that I can’t imagine having the guts to take a crack at it. I also can’t imagine streaming for 12 hours every damn day.

Honestly I just can’t imagine wanting to stream full time, I like video games too but god damn.


#3

Really good write up. I hope the guy gets it going and finds some sort of happiness with his streaming. However, this gave me pause:

I’m all for someone going for their dreams but this line made me feel uneasy. I’m just not sure that “making the internet proud” is the healthiest of mindsets to have when doing something as mentally exhausting as streaming.


#4

Yikes on that last line - the last thing anyone should want is to make the Internet proud, because that likely includes a rant about the Zionist banking conspiracy or something.


#5

There just isn’t one. It’s mainly being lucky enough to catch a headwind on some new fad, or something unique enough to stand out. Usually the most successful streamers I know had catapulted off some previous popularity. A couple examples off the top of my head:

  • Vinesauce - had spent years building a streaming network, only started to catch eyes thanks to the game corruption video compilations, and slowly built out from there; usually sits in the low four figures of viewers
  • ster and Jerma - both of them were leading the wave of TF2 YouTube content back in that game’s prime, the former went full-time into Overwatch, the ladder became a variety streamer; both average in the low-to-mid four figures

Everyone else I know/follow has been doing the streaming game for years now, but at most sits at the 100 viewer average and only rarely gets close to four figures. That entire industry is severely top-heavy in structure and I would ever recommend getting into if it was something you inherently enjoyed doing.


#6

If Ian Xplosion happens to be reading this, I really hope they’re doing well and best of luck pursuing streaming as a side hustle again. I know I couldn’t do it and I think it’s an incredibly hard gig to do if we’re being real.

Do have to agree with the above, tho:

We aren’t anything. If we can help you make a living, that’s cool, but do it because you want to and you have the time.


#7

The streamers Ian Xplosion reached out to for advice never got back to him. If there was a mysterious, hidden step to making the transition from viral to full-time, he didn’t know it.

No-one knows shit. Social media fame is basically impossible to replicate unless you are literally throwing money at it by advertising. Organic virality has no logic to it, not really


#8

I’m kind of flippant in the way I write - and maybe “the internet” means something sort of different for me than it does for most people - but I mean that specifically to the people that have invested in me, via time or emotion or money, and the people I haven’t yet met doing content creation. I grew up in Yahoo Chat rooms, moderating Dreamcast fan sites, playing MUDS - when I say “the internet” I guess I’m talking to my specific slice of it.

January and February were proof of concept. Hey, I can do this thing. I can entertain and connect with people while I do something as silly as killing boars. What happens when we put that in the context of puzzle solving, or competitive shooting, or art or music. How will that change the conversations that I have with the audience? I dunno.

I get super hyped about the potential of narrow bands of the internet, when artists or streamers or musicians or other content creators can have that community and make an impact, even if it’s only on 30 people. Thanks to the power of the internet, people can stumble in and out of these conversations they didn’t even know they wanted to have - even if it’s something goofy, it doesn’t have to be serious all the time. I just want people closing the tab to feel a little better, in some way, than when they opened it. I know it sounds cringy (maybe the adjective I heard the most when talking about stuff on Reddit/Twitter/FB/Twitch chat) but it’s how I feel and why I wanna keep pushing. Eventually, I’m sure we’ll get to a point where I can get back to doing it full time - but I want to be super healthy and super DUPER prepared for when I do it, cause those two months of chaos are gonna take about 8-10 months of hard work to undo.

Thanks for the well wishes! :smiley:


#9

That’s great to hear from you; and glad you’re still working on finding your own path to what works.

One of my favorite streamers I liked because of attitude and general state of the stream. He built his audience by doing the same thing, and I think over and over (running Diablo 2 ladders), and that seems like the most reliable way to build out without going viral. Unfortunately he had a similar experience where the majority of his audience just weren’t interested if he wasn’t doing his main thing (which he found by turns boring and exhausting I think), and has probably lost 90% of that peak audience.

I think he is much more happy now with a smaller audience and more manageable expectations from his audience, but obviously it makes it much harder to pay the bills.

I guess that is another thing to think about; I’m self employed and don’t earn much money month to month, but I also have very minimal outgoings and that is far more conducive to my mental health than earning $$$ and the “hard” work that comes with it