Behind the Streams: 2018 in Review

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been streaming for a year now. It seemed fitting to say a few things about both the process of growing as a streamer and some of the logistics behind making it all work. It’s been a pretty wild ride, and I didn’t necessarily expect this degree of success by the end of year one. This is part reflection, part advice for other streamers, and part looking forward to the future. This is more of a train-of-thought article than usual, so I’m just going to roll with it and say what I have to say. Let’s do it!

Scheduling and Time Commitment
When I started streaming, I just did so when I felt like playing Magic. There’s nothing wrong with that, but your viewers don’t know when to tune in. While the push notifications from Twitch are great and all, it takes a little more than that to grow an audience and get/maintain subscribers. Consistency is a key to success, and that’s pretty obvious. Something that wasn’t initially obvious to me was that I’d have overseas fans. Now I try to mix up my stream times a bit so that some of my other fans have a chance to catch me live. If you wondered why I do those morning streams on the weekends, it’s so I have a more Euro-friendly stream once a week.

My average stream probably runs between 2 and 3 hours. I stream three times a week. Math says that I’m going to spend 6-9 hours a week streaming. That’s really just the tip of the iceberg though. I underestimated the amount of off-stream time that goes into streaming. I usually sit down in front of my computer 30 minutes ahead of time to get the decklist, import it to MTGO, borrow the cards I’m missing from Cardhoarder, upload the decklist to Cardboard Live, change my stream title, post on 3 or 4 different social media sites, update my upcoming streams infographic if I haven’t recently, prep audio and video settings if I have a guest that day, figure out what to discuss during my deck tech… you get the idea. Then after the streams, I need to upload video, return cards, and add new donation decklists to the queue. At other random times, I’m usually scheduling my guest events, responding to Youtube comments, and trying to keep up with the website. If you’ve noticed a drop off in the number of articles on Thraben University in the past year, this is why. More of my time is being pushed towards the stream these days, as growing and improving the stream is my current Magic-related focus.

Collaborative Content
Perhaps more so than anything else in the past year, I’m really proud of how the collaborative content I’ve been involved with has turned out. The Legacy Premier League was a smash hit, the English coverage of GP Shizuoka was well-received and appreciated, I appeared as a guest on a few podcasts and on Ark4n11’s stream, and I had a good number of streams with guests of my own. It’s been a little hectic trying to coordinate all of that, but it’s been 100% worth it. Expect to see regular guest content on my channel from here on out.

I’m still learning about the logistics of streaming with guests. I’ve encountered some interesting problems along the way, but I’ve largely solved them now (hopefully). I’m always happy to hear suggestions for future guests, so don’t hesitate to contact me if you are interested or if you’d like to see someone on stream. As a teaser, I do have a few collaborative projects for this month; I wrote a piece for, I’ll be appearing as a guest on a podcast (we’re recording Sunday), and I’ll be playing some exhibition matches vs Anuraag Das later this month (tentatively scheduled for the 23rd).

Balancing the Stream with Real Life

This is hard. I’m not going to lie, I still struggle with this a bit. There’s pressure to put out great content consistently. I have viewers who support my channel via subscriptions or donations, and Cardboard Live has sponsored my channel. I want to make sure that everyone supporting my channel is happy with my content. I don’t want anyone who has supported me financially to feel like they didn’t get their money’s worth. I try not to cancel or change stream times, but that often means that I’m planning my week around streaming. I sometimes turn down social events due to conflicts with the stream, and I definitely schedule my date nights around the stream. My girlfriend is used to getting kicked out of my room on Saturday morning while I stream at this point. Hmmm, I probably should take a Saturday off from time to time so I can actually have a lazy weekend…

My Magic playing has changed a bit over the past six months or so. I used to play about 5 or 6 leagues a week on average. I frequently spent a Saturday or Sunday playing D&T the entire day and “building my own GP” worth of matches. Now it’s rare that I play off stream. Streaming is a blast, but there is a decent amount of “work” associated with it too. I often find myself wanting to play board games or play something on my Switch instead of jamming more Magic. This is probably partially a result of putting in more time on the stream and partially due to my own social circumstances changing a bit after my move at the end of the summer. I also don’t want to overload myself with Magic and burn out. A non-energized streamer isn’t something fun for anyone!

The Best and Worst Parts of Streaming

The best part of streaming is unquestionably the positive interactions with my viewers. I’ve said this many times, so I’m not going to beat the dead horse here, but you all really make my day brighter. I’ve gotten so many messages from people telling me how they were able to 4-0 their first weekly event after learning so much from watching me play or how they top 8’d a big event and got to use some of my tech or tricks. Those are really validating and always make the hours I put in seem worth it.

The worst part of streaming is when you get stream sniped, the term for when your opponent is watching your stream while playing against you. Luckily this does not happen often. I probably played about 1000 matches on stream this year. I’d estimate that this happened only 5 or 10 times. It happens only a tiny fraction of the time, but each time it does, all of the energy is just sucked out of the stream. I have to cover my hand, stop talking about my plays in detail, and decrease the quality of the content for my viewers; the alternative is just letting the opponent cheat. Don’t be this person. The couple of tix you might gain by doing it isn’t worth it. You’re ruining a streamers day, decreasing the viewing experience for tons of people (which in turn often causes players to leave the stream), and in some cases I’ve even just seen streamers end a stream after this happens. Don’t be this person. Also, you know what’s waaaayyyyy more valuable than a few tix? Being able to watch the match after. Having a high level opponent break down their side of the matchup, walk through their plays, and identify moments where they think you are misplaying is invaluable.

Stats and Numbers
Data is great! Let’s take a look at some of my numbers.

Current number of Twitch followers: 1682
Current number of Youtube subscribers: 1165
Number of 2018 videos: 198
Most viewed videos: Arena Rector Nic Fit (1.8k), Post-DRS/Probe Banning Metagame Discussion (1.3k), Brightling D&T (1k)

Future Plans for the Stream
Streaming is profitable for me now, which is crazy. I always sort of dreamed of getting paid to play video games when I was growing up, and that’s a reality for me now. My parents still get a kick of that. I really do want to thank my two sponsors for making that a reality. Being a part of the Cardhoarder Network allowed me to borrow cards, which lead to the donation decklists; my viewers then effectively funded my streams from there on out. This was a big moment for me, and I appreciate the support so much. Cardboard Live has shown me an incredible amount of support as well, and I can’t imagine streaming without it now.

Looking forward, the donation decklist model will continue. I’m not playing quite as much D&T as I might like on the channel these days (and that is common feedback as well), but people seem to be getting kick out of the assorted Legacy decks. If you want to see more D&T on the channel, please support that content financially and make it a reality. I’m hoping that before major events like “GP: Why is this on Easter?” people will donate to see D&T in action. When that happens, I’ll push D&T to the front of the queue. In the event that I am preparing for a major Legacy event, I reserve the right to put donation decklists on hold for a little while to make sure I’m practicing enough. I want to rework my donation queue a bit as well. Right now I’m juggling all the info between my website, a handful of Paypal emails, and a donation queue file on my computer. I probably just need to make a good spreadsheet and consolidate all that. My current system is inefficient, so this is close to the top of my priority list.

Legacy content will continue to be the focus of the channel, though I’m open to other options for the occasional variety stream. I’m a Legacy player. That’s not changing. I won’t be jumping ship and streaming Arena. People have asked me if I’ll take donation decklists for other formats, and I’m willing to give that a go. If I enjoy them (and if viewership is fine), it’s something I’ll continue. So, to whomever wanted me to stream some Vintage Dredge and be a bully, you know what to do! Standard streams aren’t happening though, let’s be real. I currently have no plans to stream anything other than MTGO.

I’m still unsure what to do for donation goals. I’d love ideas and feedback for that. My current plan is to continue to make guest content my primary donation goal, but I’d be open to making some more non-gameplay streams donation goals as well. People have really enjoyed my metagame breakdowns and brewing/sideboarding videos, so having some of those as goals might be good as well.

I also want to do a little something special to mark the one year anniversary of the stream. I’ve got something special planned for my last January stream (Wednesday the 30th). I’m currently trying to track down the oldest D&T decklist with a good tournament finish for a D&T throwback stream. We’re going to take an old version of D&T through a league and see how it fares in the 2019 metagame. It should be fun. If you happen to have an archaic decklist, let me know. I’ve got an old D&T list, but I don’t currently have one that put up a large finish. I’d love to track down the D&T list with the first GP or SCG Open finish (or equivalent).

Streaming Advice

This final section is for streamers or aspiring streamers. If you don’t plan on streaming, there probably isn’t much content here for you. Look at some cute cat pictures or something instead. Anyway, here’s some tips for streaming based on my experiences.

Don’t do it all on your own. You might be great at Magic, but do you understand broadcasting software, how to make emotes, how to entertain and captivate an audience, how to make a stream layout, how to market yourself, Twitch extensions… Get feedback or help from others when you need it. It’s not weakness to admit that something is out of your skill set. Ask more experienced people for help with settings or features you don’t understand. Pay someone to do quality work if you need to get a commission. Please do something to compensate those that help you though. Don’t ask someone to spend hours making you an emote and then pay them with “exposure.”

Put at least a minimal amount of effort into your setup and layout. Magic doesn’t really require anything fancy, but having a couple of scenes or some useful on-screen info is important. I recommend using an extension like Cardboard Live that will put your decklist on screen; this minimizes the number of simple questions you’ll have to repeatedly answer. You should probably have some sort of bot for your channel that pushes out notifications every now and then about channel info. Your stream info and schedule should be below your stream and easily accessible. I also recommend having a few scenes available. I have a “Normal Stream,” “Be Right Back,” and “Stream Starting Soon” scene that I regularly use, as well as a few more specialized ones that I use for guests.

When you stream, you’ll have to make a choice about what software to use. OBS and Streamlabs OBS are probably the most popular options. Streamlabs is probably easier to get set up and more user friendly as a whole. It is a bit limiting sometimes in terms of advanced options (layering, audio, etc.). OBS lets you muck around with the settings a bit more, but setting up some things is a touch trickier than on Streamlabs. I still use both. I use Streamlabs for my regular streams. I use OBS for my guest streams since the audio options are better there. If you noticed that some of my functionality disappears when I have a guest stream (e.g. no bit cup or on screen sub notifications), this is why. Both programs have their strengths, and I’m glad I know how to use both now.

Before your first stream, do a practice run. I know this sounds silly, but like anything, streaming is a skill. You have to learn to balance your gameplay with entertaining with breaking down plays with interacting with the chat. It can be a jarring experience until you get used to it. Many new streamers time out because they are still trying to learn that balance. If you practice talking as if you were streaming for a league or two, you can start building that skill up. Then your first couple of streams will be less awkward and feel more natural. Streaming can also be exhausting if you aren’t used to it, and you can get a feel for that.

Finally, don’t get into this for the money. You have to want to do this, and you probably can’t expect to make money for quite some time. Many new streams have less than 10 people in their channel at any given time, and many times they only have one or two viewers. I’ve had great success and growth this year, but a huge part of that is because I am already a known player and I’ve already regularly been producing content that people follow. You probably can’t expect to get the same degree of growth I got if you’re looking to stream Legacy. If you want to grow, you need to talk like the room is full, even when it isn’t. You need to show people that there’s something here worth watching. If I tune in to a channel and the person isn’t talking at all, I don’t stay. If I can see your enthusiasm and I’m enjoying your commentary, I’m likely to stick around and watch for a little while. If you’re interacting with chat and having a good conversation, I might interact. Engagement is key.

Okay, I hope some of that was helpful to you new or potential streamers! That’s all I’ve got for today. Good luck!

About the Author

Phil Gallagher

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