Twitch streamers are a new kind of reality star. They spend a huge part of their lives in front of camera, share personal moments with an audience of thousands, and often make major decisions with their streaming career in mind.
Streamers face a whole new wave of challenges that reality stars never had to deal with. There is no real editing; the real-time nature of the medium means that nothing can be hidden. Streaming culture has also brought the nasty, sexist part of gaming to the forefront, and the people who put their faces out there for everyone to see deal with harassment at every turn.
"Some people will take any opportunity to harass me since I'm a person that chooses to show my face online," streamer Bree "breebunn" Morgan tells SYFY WIRE. "People feel entitled to your time, and it's even worse as a female streamer."
Morgan is a popular streamer, with more than 16,000 followers on Twitch and 50,000 followers on Twitter. She plays a variety of games, including Fortnite, Overwatch, and the latest releases, like The Walking Dead. She also does "in real life" streams, which feature live streams of makeup tutorials, getting tattoos, and even her vacations.
She's dealt with all kinds of harassment, with users coming into her chat every day to send out random insults about her appearance, weight, and the myriad other targets that are all too common. While others may look at this abuse as part of an internet lifestyle with few ways to actually combat it, Morgan looks at it as an opportunity to double down on how genuine she is while in front of an audience.
"It's a reality show minus the show," she said. "I act the same way in real life as I do on stream. It's like a reality TV show except there is no script. I pretend like my viewers are right beside me; I talk to them like they are my friends."
Morgan doesn't just show her real personality on stream, she talks about topics that make her vulnerable on camera. She's open about her anxiety, depression, and her experience with an abusive relationship — all topics that could make her an easy target for hateful comments online.
"Actually talking about these issues, out loud, makes them so much more relatable to the people watching," Morgan said. "So many people came forward and talked about their own personal struggles after I spoke about mine."
The combination of her openness and live streams make her more relatable than streamers who just play games for every broadcast. Morgan also interacts with her following regularly through social media on Instagram and Twitter, something that's usually difficult to do, as it tends to engender a feeling of entitlement to the stream's time.
"I didn't realize how much of it was community management. When I first started out I was very active in my community," Morgan said. "I spent time off stream playing games with people and it was amazing at first, but eventually it gets really hard to be humanized from that point of view. They feel entitled: When do I get to play with you? When do I get that? Because of that I had to learn how to balance time spent with my community in a healthy way."
Morgan's community is a little been different than other Twitch families since she started out posting her artwork on Tumblr, where she started to gain a following. She then took that following to YouTube for a short time before completing her first stream in July of 2017.
She quickly gained success and was able to go part-time at her job as a board game artist before becoming a full-time streamer at the beginning of this year. While other audiences find their favorite streamer through a game they like on Twitch, a part of Morgan's following has followed her work for some time.
"l have mental health issues. I was very open," Morgan said. "A lot of people were really thankful that I was very vulnerable online. I think a lot of people felt they knew me, and they enjoyed playing games with me." That level of comfort has pushed Morgan to include her audience in more parts of her life. She has streamed with her father, her getting her first tattoo, and on several of her trips, including a recent one to New Zealand.
"Everyone was amazed by it, and some were asking 'How the hell do you have service right now?'" she laughed. Morgan posted a number of images and videos on her Instagram and Twitter, as well as a few broadcasts on Twitch.
It's a wild thing to do as a streamer who rarely gets any away time from being in front of camera, but streaming in new places creates a bigger connection between the audience and the star. It's something that reality television has always tried to do, and not all that successfully.
Now that the tools to reach thousands of viewers at once is available to everyone, streamers are trying to find new ways to both capture an audience and get them to stick around. Morgan's strategy to connect with her audience on a personal level has helped her accomplish those objectives.
"Now it's funny, I don't just travel for myself now. I consider what it can do for my audience," Morgan said. "We just want to capture this for people who may not have the opportunity to see this on their own."