Gamers are making millions by playing in front of audiences on platforms like Twitch. But when fame and money counts on you always being on, can you ever switch off?

It is June 2018, and I am sitting at a table in a needlessly fancy restaurant in LA with a bunch of teenagers. Well, some of them must be over 21 as they are able to order alcohol, but most are sticking to Coke or sparkling water with their overpriced steaks. These are some of the up-and-coming stars of Twitch, the livestreaming platform that now broadcasts about 2bn hours per month from more than 9m channels, most of which involve people filming themselves and chatting while playing video games. Later, there will be a lavish party in a similarly extravagant club, where the streamers with the most views and subscribers will be treated like celebrities in the VIP area.

And, well, they are celebrities. They have millions of followers. They are stopped in the street or at airports by people wanting a selfie and an autograph. Unlike pro gamers, whose job is to be good enough at video games to win tournaments, a streamer’s job is to be entertaining enough – while playing anything from first person shooters to racing games – to win fans. Back in 2018, streaming was already a huge deal; now, bolstered by the pandemic and an ever-growing audience that boosted Twitch’s viewership by 70% in 2020, it is even bigger. To draw a comparison that makes me feel about 4,000 years old, they are their generation’s rock stars.

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