Originally Posted Sept 4, 2015

Back in August, the internet was introduced to YouTube’s new network for content creators called YouTube Gaming, designed as a platform for both game streaming and video game video archiving. While i’m most people would expect a good deal of back and forth between the supporters and nay sayers, one particular person decided to toss his two cents in, comedian and late night show host Jimmy Kimmel. Kimmel mocked the idea of watching others play games, likening it to “..going to a restaurant and having someone else eat your food for you.” While this was mostly done for the comedic value, he certainly stirred a hornet’s nest. The idea is, i’m sure, not an isolated one. A good deal of main stream media looks on at the growing esports community with a mix of confusement and ridicule, as professional gamers continue to make money from the fans that watch them. Is this really such a ridiculous notion, or are some people not seeing a sense of hypocrisy in their belief?

Watching people play video games is nothing new, most people probably did it during their youth, be it at an arcade, watching that one kid rack up his newest high score, or sitting at home watching a sibling have their turn on the console. The internet is only the newest way to partake. While not the ‘inventor’ of the Lets Play style video, YouTuber Michael “Slowbeef” Sawyer started the trend of making videos of himself playing a game and talking over it, typically with a variety of commentary. This scene has exploded, with the internet now inundated with Lets Plays of any game someone can get their hands on, and even dominated by its own celebrities. Ever heard of Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg? Probably not. How about Pewdiepie? That one likely rang a bell. Kjellberg is a wildly popular YouTube Let’s Player, with 38.8 million subscribers at the time of writing this article. Videos on YouTube generate income for the channel owner in the form of advertisements. From his gaming videos alone, Felix made $7.4 million in 2014.

So YouTubers clearly have a nice little market for themselves, but what about those that play games for a living outside of it? Avenues for streaming video games exist in websites like Twitch.tv. Twitch allows people to stream themselves live to audiences which can range from a few hundred for smaller channels to millions for live, professional events. Twitch allows several avenues of income, including the streamer running ads, accepting tips, and subscriptions from viewers, which typically allow additional participation from the viewer in exchange for $5 which is split with Twitch and the streamer. For a very entertaining and popular streamer, this can add up quickly. On April 18th, 2015, Ray “Brownman” Narvaez Jr made over $18,000 in a single afternoon of gaming. Keep in mind this is donations, not ad money or subscriptions. In subscriptions alone, at that time he was nearing 2k subscribers. Because streamers keep half of the $5 fee, this means he was making almost $5000 a month is sub fees alone. Pro gamers, like those that play at the tournament level for Riot’s game League of Legends can make even more, making upwards of six figures from tournament winnings, streaming revenues, company salary (pro League players are contracted by Riot, and thus receive payment for playing), and sponsorship.

So we know that Let’s Plays can be lucrative, but that just makes it a benefit to the player. What about the fans? Why pour money and time into watching someone else play a game, when you can go play it yourself? Well, think on this a moment. Professional sports, themselves just games, are a very profitable business. Fans come from miles around to buy tickets and over priced food and drink, to sit and watch other people play a game that they themselves can just as easily play or have played. Even from the comfort of your own home, people dedicate certain days of the week to watch ‘the game’, to see the pros make big plays, cheer as their team wins, or rage as they bumble plays, all the while following commentator input on the action. Video games are no different. The viewer watches on as someone else plays a game they could easily play themselves with friends, while following along with and being entertained by the comments of the announcer, for pro games, or streamer for Let’s Plays.

I personally believe the stigma against Let’s plays can come from many sources. Some may not want another person talking over the game, instead desiring a straight showcase of the game itself. Others may simply miss the hypocrisy of enjoying traditional method of watching someone else play baseball or basketball, but scorning someone that watches a person play Counter Strike or DotA 2. Or perhaps they are simply too out of touch with the idea of someone enjoying something that they don’t understand. Since his jab at Let’s Players, Kimmel had the chance to chat with YouTubers Markiplier and Missesmae, who talked about what they do and, as Mark put it, how there can be joy found in watching others have fun. So what do you guys and gals think? Over hyped, or under appreciated?

Stay Kultured, everyone!