In partnership with Captain Morgan
This week, NME is partnering with Captain Morgan to break down the barriers between gaming and the real world, helping television favourite Sam Thompson’s dreams come true by making him the star of his own video game (as controlled by fellow celebrity Teddy Soares). You can follow that story on Captain Morgan’s Instagram. Sam and Teddy aren’t alone in building huge audiences online, of course, and one of the more interesting trends of the last few years has been the rise of well-known figures streaming video games on platforms like Twitch. But what compels somebody with real fame to let down their defences and invite random internet viewers into their home like that?
Making unique connections
“I loved what was happening on places like Twitch and YouTube because I really felt that special content was being created there,” says Inbetweeners actor James Buckley, a well-known figure who has poured himself into YouTube and Twitch streaming over the past few years, speaking to The Sun. “I can’t remember the last time something was on television or on traditional media that made me think it was new and fresh.”
Buckley’s YouTube channel, “Completed It Mate”, is named after an iconic quote from The Inbetweeners, and has hundreds of thousands of subscribers. His Twitch presence has grown spectacularly in recent years as he’s thrown himself into streaming as well.
One of the most popular and visible crossover streamers of the last two years is MacLaren’s British Formula One driver Lando Norris, who regularly streams everything from Fall Guys and Call of Duty Warzone to, inevitably, driving simulators and F1 games. His streams have tens of thousands of concurrent viewers, all of whom are free to type things in the chat window next to his gameplay, whether to catch his attention or talk to fellow fans. Interacting with the chat — streamers often address “chat” as though it’s a single person with whom they’re having a conversation — is part of the attraction for streamer and viewer, and for the affable Norris it’s been an obvious draw.
It hasn’t always been popular with his employers, though, as Norris famously discovered in October 2020. When the heavens opened during free practice ahead of the Eifel Grand Prix, he and his then team-mate Carlos Sainz began streaming and chatting to fans, quickly pulling in thousands of viewers. Formula One authorities, unhappy to learn that their audience was being syphoned away from live shots of puddles and clouds in favour of intimate discussions between often elusive race drivers, quickly shut things down. “OK I think it is time to say goodbye,” he told viewers, as a PR burst in. “We’re getting told off!”
Norris’ instinct to keep ‘chat’ informed about his situation revealed a lot about the attraction these streaming platforms have for celebrities. “I enjoy being able to speak directly to my fans and having two-way conversations with them,” Norris explained in an interview with Square Mile in less strained circumstances. “It’s been great to give my fans something to watch while we’ve been away from track.”
If celebrities were enjoying streaming before, it’s easy to imagine that the global pandemic and widespread lockdowns drove more of them to consider it, but for Twitch Ambassador and variety streamer Hannah “Lomadiah” Rutherford, that’s only part of the story.
“I think the pandemic has played a part — especially with celebrities that are isolating or are reliant on performance spaces — but the reality is that we’re seeing a reduction in the stigma placed on ‘nerd culture’, as adults with these interests age into more powerful or visible roles,” says Rutherford.
“Marvel and DC have taken turns battling for box office numbers with multiple comic book franchises. Star Trek, Star Wars and Doctor Who have all been rebooted several times at this point, and we’ve had several high fantasy novels converted for television, including His Dark Materials and The Wheel of Time. We’ve seen Geralt of Rivia [Henry Cavill] offering to teach Spider-Man [Tom Holland] about Warhammer on Saturday night television, and Lady Gaga tweeting about her progress playing through Bayonetta. It’s absolutely the time for gaming, celebrity or not.”
For some celebrity streamers, the return to relative normality as countries around the world reduce pandemic restrictions will mean a reduction in streaming hours. Despite his love of streaming, Norris in particular knows he has to knuckle down and focus on the day job.
“The key going into this year has been finding the right mix… I need to focus on the job of driving the car, and not just driving the car, being in the factory, having meetings, discussing things, doing things on the simulator, trying to exploit every different area. That takes a lot of time, it’s not just arriving at the track and driving a race car. There’s a lot more to it,” he says in an interview with ESPN as Formula One returns to the grid post-lockdown.
“Some of the time when I could have been doing stuff like that I was at home, playing games and streaming. I’ve streamed more than ever recently, but only because of the situation I’ve been in. But coming up to and around race weekends and so on, I’ve been streaming less and I’ve been focused on what I need to be focused on. It’s finding the balance and mixture of that and the pressure of this job and knowing I still have to take it seriously.”
Another well-known figure who has embraced streaming is comedian Iain Stirling, host of Love Island, who has channelled his passion for the FIFA video game series into regular streams on Twitch. His streaming output also rose during the pandemic — as a touring comedian, he was hit particularly hard by lockdowns — but he is still a regular streamer as things return to relative normality. He has become a popular figure in the FIFA community, even among people who have never seen Love Island.
For Stirling, Twitch is good not just for making connections or building his personal brand, but because it feels more intimate, and brings out more human behaviour from audiences than the average social media platform. Inevitably as a comedian putting himself out there online, he’s no stranger to abuse and trolls, but not so much on Twitch.
“People are less likely to say nasty things because a moderator will boot them out of the chat,” he tells The i on TV. “I’ve had people say things to me while live and they can see exactly how it’s affected me in real time. Twitch is how the internet could and should be.”
Of course, one of the reasons people treat Stirling, Norris and Buckley well on Twitch is that the streamers are just being themselves, and letting their guard down like that helps create and maintain a friendly, positive environment for their communities, something that Rutherford says is vital to the success of a streamer.
“A good streamer wants to create a welcoming space for viewers to enjoy whatever content it is that they’re producing, whilst engaging with them on topics that matter,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be flashy or edgy; be yourself. The worst thing you can do is put on a false persona, because at some point you’ll become exhausted from keeping it up and your community will wonder what’s going on. That’s not to say that you can’t use characters as part of your ‘act’, but make sure you leave yourself some space in there for genuine moments as well.”
The perfect blend
Be yourself, share your interests and treat people like equals. For celebrities who often experience the world differently to the rest of us, ever mindful of what they say and the circles they move in, streaming offers an opportunity to be authentically themselves, find that direct connection with like-minded people, and avoid the kind of toxicity that plagues other internet platforms. It’s no wonder that streaming is more popular than ever.
“The celebrity has stopped being such a distant concept,” Rutherford points out. “Personalities and allegiances are important in the age of social media — although parasocial relationships are a danger — and streaming is another tool in a celebrity’s belt to helping sell themselves. It’s a different side to them, and they get to showcase themselves and their viewpoints without it being part of a larger agenda, such as film promotion. Heaven forbid, they might even get to just hang out, relax and play some games casually as well!”
As Lando Norris discovered though, it’s best not to do it when your day job is broadcasting at the same time.
This feature is brought to you thanks to our partnership with Captain Morgan. Join us all this week to see how NME and Captain Morgan are taking gaming from URL to IRL.