World of Tanks streamer Brian "Poshybrid" Vigneault's recent death during a 24-hour charity stream rattled the Twitch community. Despite his unknown cause of death, the Twitch community is reconsidering the toll sleep deprivation takes on marathon streamers. More pressingly, streamers are wondering whether 24-hour charity streams are worth the human cost.
Vigneault's charity stream last Sunday raised hundreds of dollars for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a noble goal countless other streamers have pursued throughout Twitch's six-year lifespan. However, Vigneault was by no means a famous caster. He had only a handful of streams under his belt, but, in the days leading up to his death, he streamed World of Tanks under the hashtag #TeamNoSleep several times. To attract an audience to his charity stream, Vigneault put the event on blast to his 178 Twitter followers. PVP Live reported that Vigneault left his rig to smoke a cigarette around 3:30 AM, something he reportedly did often, and did not come back.
In the morning, the Virginia Beach police department sent officers to his house to investigate his death. Vigneault's 8,000 Twitch followers, and the Twitch community at large, mourned the passing of their colleague and friend. Vigneault's moderators have deemed his channel a "memorial" channel. A GoFundMe in Vigneault's name has raised over $US6,000 ($7,783) to help support his three children.
Marathon streaming has been a sort of long-standing fad among the Twitch community. Twitch titans like Sodapoppin and ManVsGame regularly game for a day straight, pausing only to eat, use the bathroom, stretch and respond to their chat. Hitting every time zone is an effective strategy for building your audience, which can lead to more donations. Also, sponsored streamers can drop ads every hour or so, again drawing funds to support their gaming careers.
Charity streaming is no different, except the money doesn't end up in the streamers' pockets, at least in the short-term. Charity streamers' bodies are, by the end, in a dire state, so they need to take the same health precautions. But, as opposed to the typical marathon stream gimmick, charity streamers suffer an added pressure: the moral obligation to follow through.
Brian "Poshybrid" Vigneault
Retired Counter-Strike: Global Offensive streamer Dan "Wootystyle" Kelly thinks Vigneault's death could serve as a wake-up call to marathon streamers. Kelly has pulled 15 24-hour streams in the span of two years. Fresh from an Air Force deployment, Kelly's body was in top form when he launched his Twitch channel, so he could afford a few sleepless nights. To game through them, Kelly's regimen was simple: exercise, game, drink water, game, take a shower break, game, change clothes, game. Quickly, he learned to split his 24-hour streams in half.
Kelly noted that while larger streamers like himself had people taking care of his needs or entertaining them IRL, up-and-coming streamers often pull marathons alone. (According to Polygon, Vigneault was alone during his stream.)
"Even though your intentions are well and good to do a charity 24-hour stream," Kelly told me, "you don't have the support that a major streamer would have. They have people living with them to do that, but you don't see that because they're a part of that 5th wall, the man behind the curtain thing. You just remember they did that 24-hour stream, it was awesome and you wanna do that."
Kelly recently quit streaming with an impressive 1,200 concurrents in part because of its physical costs and emotional pressures. After his marathon streams, Kelly was out of commission for a whole day. "You're sick, you're tired, you can't move. You're not really physically able to do much. It really is a killer to sit in a chair and play video games for 24 hours," he added.
On streaming-related subreddits and forums, veteran marathon streamers trade tricks on how to stay awake and mitigate the pain of sitting in a chair, hunched over a keyboard, for three times longer than an average workday. They urgently warn each other against going hard without seeing a doctor first. Generally, these streamers try to plan their meals, sleep well the night before and drink plenty of water. Those who take the healthier route suggest eating vegetables and exercising in spurts throughout the stream. Others, like ManVsGame, succumb to Adderall and amphetamine use to stay awake and alert for 24-hours.
Michael "Kiratze" Yee, who has done the 24-hour Extra Life charity stream the last four years, thinks big streamers like Sodapoppin or ManVsGame just need to convey to their fans, and smaller streamers, what health precautions they take and how their support system factors into the stream. Yee has always been an advocate for healthy streaming practices, but he says Vigneault's death has added urgency to his views. "For first timers; please do your research, prepare, and see a doctor. Start with a 12 hour stream and build up to 24 hours. Listen to your body and don't be afraid to end early. Your viewers will understand," he said.
It appears that Vigneault took a break to drive his son to soccer practice, according to a tweet. "IRL comes first," he wrote. "I am now live to knock out the last 12 hours."
24 Hour Charity Stream for Make-A-Wish Foundation Starting NOW !!! Help our kids with life-threatening medial issues https://t.co/m4qgkNHeZt
— PoShYbRiD (@PoShYbRiD_WoT) February 18, 2017
SHOUT OUT TO ALL WHO DONATED! JUST GOT OVER $500 IN LAST 10 MINS. 8 HOURS LEFT MAKE-A-WISH CHILDREN'S CHARITY STREAM https://t.co/m4qgkNpE7V
— PoShYbRiD (@PoShYbRiD_WoT) February 19, 2017
Despite the recent influx of tweets and Reddit posts about healthy streaming practices, several other longtime streamers, like Stephanie ("MissHarvey") Harvey, say their views on 24-hour streams haven't changed. Streamers always had to be healthy, and they still do. Besides, Vigneault's cause of death is still unknown. "Like anything in life, anything you do in excess is not good," Harvey told me. "Whether it's eating broccoli for a month or doing 24-hour streams, you have to research it."
Harvey's charity streams, she said, were mostly for fun and to raise money for causes. It's the day-to-day streaming, for her, that's a bigger pressure. "If you don't stream every day, sometimes you do feel the difference in the money and the income and the views," she said.
Harvey's comments suggest marathon streaming will remain a reality for career streamers as well as charity streamers. Charity streams encompass the goodness in the gaming community. It's combination of passion and empathy so galvanizing that the taxing streams have become incredibly popular among fans and streamers alike. But, for many streamers, charity streams are also about breaking into an industry that's already saturated with rising stars. Kelly said, "Whether it's for a charity stream or for himself, it's a guy who's trying to break out and get to that next tier where you're a celebrity. It's rough."
Of his charity streams, Yee said, "I would be lying if I said viewership didn't play a factor. 24 hours will bring in the most viewership since you're live for a whole day and night."
For streamers who want to lead the push against 24-hour charity streams, these marathon events aren't the only way to raise money for those in need by gaming. Streamers and charity representatives could better attend in-person, local gaming events. More physical and personal support from charities could help remove the incentive for streamers to destroy their bodies gaming. It shouldn't just be on streamers to generate this money.
"There's a way to get what charities need in a way that's not so dangerous for people," Kelly told me. "The lazy thing for charities is to be, "OK, cool, you guys have got it from here!"
Twitch could also do their part to deter streamers from overextending themselves. The platform has no obligation to police their users' wellbeing, but on the heels of Vigneault's death, they could choose to take a firmer stance against unhealthy streaming practices (Twitch did not respond to requests for comment).
Twitch benefits from the revenue and good press produced by these streams. With 24-hour streamers' known amphetamine overuse and a streamer's death behind us, albeit for unknown causes, it's time to start talking about safer streaming practices and, more importantly, how to handle the influx of streamers hurting themselves in an attempt to carve out careers on Twitch.