The family friendly consoles we grew up with are now multi-billion dollar social networks that allow us to captivate an audience across the globe. This explosion of growth in gaming has spawned a new type of gamer, one who has been able to achieve an almost mythical dream of playing video games for a living while being lauded as the celebrities of their time, Streamers.
Brandon Stennis (aka IamBrandonTV) is one of such streamers. For the past few years he’s turned his bedroom into a stadium filled with 30,000 viewers that hop on his channel to see him play video games about once a week. Horror, first person shooters, the genre is unbounded.
Some innocuous viewers come to watch Brandon play his favorite games, but a toxic few seek to uphold the discrimination that the industry is known for. Being a high profile streamer has lead Brandon down a path that’s never really existed before. So how did he end up here and where is this all going?
Video games have always been integral to Brandon’s life. Brandon and his brothers would constantly play with each other growing up and during one eighth grade career aptitude quiz Brandon even said he wanted to work for Ninentdo (despite ironically only ever playing Sega at home). As he grew older, professional gaming slipped away for another career option.
“I went to Northern Illinois University to be a teacher and then I took the teaching test and I failed it by two points. And I was like, you know what? I’m just gonna do journalism. I had my own gaming blog five years ago in 2012, and I wanted to be a gaming journalist. At the time I didn’t have a job, so I didn’t have any experience writing. I wrote about video game news for a long time and Twitch was one of the social media networks that I just happened to get with. Well, I tried streaming to see what it’s like. I got like a really cool knack for it and started to meet and talk to different people. After a year and a half of streaming I became a Twitch partner.”
Becoming a Twitch Partner is a prestigious title given to those with a sizeable viewership that allows them to more effectively monetize their fanbase. Brandon became a partner, but his emotional and mental capacity were pushed to the limits in the process. Isolation became necessary as he grinded for hours streaming, building an audience, while simultaneously losing friends in the process. Overexertion and burnout inevitably took course, forcing him to reassess his priorities. What’s worth celebrating when you have no one to celebrate with?
“I sacrificed a lot. I wasn’t seeing my friends. I wasn’t doing much of anything because I was streaming, streaming, streaming. I go to work, I stream, go to sleep, stream, go to work again, then stream. The burnout is real. I didn’t want to stream anymore. I just turned off my computer, did stuff in the outside world and met people just like the people I met online. But meeting people in real life helped out a lot. So now it’s just a combination of two. I would never recommend anybody be a full time streamer without support behind you.”
To foster support among gamers, Brandon’s cultivated a community of like-minded streamers called TwitchChicago. Every few months they host a community meetup where attendees hangout, play games, drink, and have a good time. Communities like TwitchChicago allow Chicago to become a truly welcoming city for all types of gamers. Although, not everyone is as invested as Brandon in opening up the doors to more and different types of gamers.
The video game industry has long been run by white males, and as a result has often been hostile to anyone that doesn’t look like them. Being black in the video game industry has its challenges, especially when the systematic racism hasn’t been fully addressed. Platforms like Twitch repeatedly fail to take racism and hate speech seriously, forcing streamers like Brandon to deal with it themselves. With the constant threat of racial harassment around the corner, Brandon’s astutely aware of the emotional toll it’s taken on him but he keeps streaming for something greater than himself.
“There was a time where I wanted to quit because I would deal with people just coming into my channel and saying racist things to me every single day of streaming. It got really bad, one time someone came in and said something like
“I remember when Fallout 3 was for whites only.”
Yes, and that was the one that took me out. I turned off my stream and I’m just like, you know, I don’t know if I can do this anymore if I have to deal with this every single day.
Something in me told me: ‘You know what, they want you to feel like this.’
I can’t stop right now. There’s a black boy somewhere who’s not going to ever see himself in this aspect if I just give up because I can’t handle it. I decided from there that I’m not going to let them affect me anymore and ever since then, it’s just like that. It doesn’t bother me anymore.”