Trying To 'Make It' As A Twitch Streamer Almost Killed Me

Some days, I wake up and everything feels just ok. By the time I get down to my office, I have some water and take 12 of my 19 daily medications, check my blood sugar and check my email. My wife and two kids are upstairs, still sleeping. I don't sleep so well anymore. Most other days, I get up and I can feel strange pains along my sternum. The pain is bearable, but sometimes I wonder, Is this it? Should I go to the ER?

Joe Marino pre-op

(This story was originally published on Medium)

I started streaming on Twitch in Spring, 2013. It was an offshoot of my YouTube career. I hated working on YouTube vids for 8 hours, only to have people thumbs-down it and give no commentary on why they didn't like it. Twitch was great. I could get real-time feedback when I sucked! I then decided to go full-time when I was offered a partnership.

It was a ton of fun, but I could tell the only real way to grow was to bust your arse. You needed to spend a minimum of eight hours a day, at least six days a week, to get anywhere. I was never recognised by Twitch, no matter how much hype was surrounding my stream. I had some fantastic days with 1,000-plus viewers and thousands in donations. The money and fame were coming in, but Twitch failed to even front page me (something Twitch streamers vie for). This only made me work harder. Maybe if I streamed longer, they would care? Who knows, maybe a fat, old guy was not the demographic they wanted to highlight. I did my best and my viewers enjoyed the energy I put into my stream. On I went for around 8 hours every day.

That was just the live portion of my day. Next, I was on the phone with companies like Steelseries, Lootcrate, G2A working out deals for sponsorship, constantly whoring myself out to try to make a business of this. I did well. I averaged middle-to-high 5 figures every year.

This was an average 2014-2015 day:

  • 6:00 wake up

  • 6:15 prep for stream

  • 7:00 go live

  • 3:00 go offline

  • 4:00 -- 6:00 social media, sponsorship requirements, chat with viewers

  • 7:00 make dinner

  • 8:00 spend time with kids

  • 10:00 go to bed

Repeat this 7 days a week. I live in a 2-story house. What part of that list did you see me walk? At all? This was my life that year in 2014. Move ahead to 2015 -- similar schedule.

Joe Marino interviewing Chris Roberts Pax East 2014

I was working harder in 2015 because I also had new software going live. 18-hour days were the norm. I could start to feel it getting to me psychologically and physically. It's really hard to be "on" all day. People do not want to see someone grumpy or raging all the time when they visit your stream. You kind of feel like you must perform for them so they will want to stick around. This lead to me faking it most days. Your mind and body cannot keep that up for too long without consequences.

On the treadmill in Winter of 2015, I was having a hard time walking more than two -- three minutes. I am ex-military, so I used to be in really great shape until my thyroid was cooked by the nuclear ship I served on via radiation leak. This made me fat, but really never affected my health in any serious way. I decided to try to work it out and ignore the shortness of breath and burning in my limbs when I worked.

Then, April 12,2016 happened.

Dalsarius82's last live stream

Dalsarius82 was found dead on the floor by his wife. He was a streamer who always raided me when I started in the early morning. This hit home for me. He was in his 30s. I was in my 40s. I put it off a few days, and then when things did not get any better, I decided to go see my doctor. They prepped me for a heart work-up. I was given a few tests. I failed.

Within two days, I was in the hospital getting an angiogram. I had 100% blockage in an anterior artery surrounding my heart. I also had 75% blockage at the major three-way junction affectionately called "The Widowmaker." These three blocked arteries would need to be bypassed before I had a drop-dead event like the one that took out Dalsarius82.

Reality hit home. I was in for something I did not want, something that was going to be hard and quite literally something I could possibly die from. I said goodbye to my wife, and my children as they wheeled me into the operating room. I took a deep breath from the oxygen mask as the room got dark, maybe for the last time. Six hours later, I woke up. Tube in my throat. Pacemaker leads going up from middle of my stomach attaching to my heart. There was a catheter tube putting fluids directly into my heart. Another catheter so I could pee in a bag.

Glamorous, right?

How did I get here? What happened? Could this happen to you?

Joe Marino pre-op I got here because I was trying so hard to make it on Twitch. It is a literal grind. For you to succeed, you need to spend most of your time streaming. Streaming is hard. You have to sit there and not move. Say you busted your arse all day to get 400-500 viewers and you need to go pee. What happens is people don't have long attention spans, so when you get up, you will 100% lose a portion of your audience. Sometimes, it can rebound but other times, no. Why is that so important? Well, Twitch ranks you on a game's page by the number of viewers you have. So, if you are on the top row of streams for a popular game, say Conan Exiles, you have a good chance to bring in more new viewers to your channel. If you fall down to the lower rows, it is very unlikely you will get new viewers in.

Why is this important? It is because viewers = money. Whether it is through donations, subs or sponsorship deals (Believe me -- sponsors watch your numbers like a hawk), you need to keep your numbers up. This adds to the stress. Ever hear of a streamer freaking out on their viewers? It is very real. Maybe you think, Oh, they are just playing games, why be stressed?

Joe Marino

Most streamers want to be entertaining. That means either putting on an act, yelling, acting crazy, being goofy or even just trying to interact with your viewers. All of that means you are "on" for the duration of the stream. Not everyone can do it. It is why some streamers rise to the top while others never get more than a few viewers, ever. Doesn't mean they do not try but really, it is an art, plus a hell of a lot of luck.

This is where the obsession with Twitch came in for me. I was busting my arse on my own. Doing everything I could, making the money getting the deals but Twitch never noticed me. I went to PAX East in 2013 a fresh partner and they refused to let me in the partner booth. Fine... I was new. Next year in 2014 I was doing great. Average 500-1000 viewers per stream, sent in the note I was attending PAX East again and when I tried to go to the booth they wouldn't let me in.

Later back at home I asked several times to get front page so I could move up to next level. Most of the time my requests were for the charity drives I was doing or maybe a streamaversary. Nothing. It was as if I was killing myself for someone who didn't appreciate me. I was.

I decided to write this today after I heard that another streamer has died after doing 24 hour streams. This guy had a wife and 3 kids.

In the end, it just is not worth it, guys. I've got a 50/50 shot to make it to 80. It's gonna be a hard trip.

Do it for fun if you like, but never succumb to the pressure to become the next Lirik or Cohh. Twitch is not the problem. It is the industry. It is extremely hard to move ahead. Like a musician or artist, it takes planning, preparation and some fixed luck. What is fixed luck? You cannot win the lottery if you do not play. You can't become a famous online entertainer if you do not put the work in.

The takeaway here is: Balance. Find that balance. Get up, move around, do something other than sit. Standing desks help, but it wont fix it. You have to move. This is me now:

Wednesday mornings 4 hours, Saturday mornings 4 hours, walking 5 kilometers every day. I took up photography. I now see a different world. Don't get a zipper to see it a new way because it hurts. Every. Day.

Joe Marino (aka Geekdomo) became an online entertainer after being inspired by Day9 and Total Biscuit. He was a full time streamer on Twitch TV from 2013-2016. He now spends time with his wife and kids. He has started his own photography business rekindling a love from his youth. You can catch his stream Wednesday and Saturday mornings 5am Eastern to about 10am Eastern.

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Comments

    It's terrible to see what people willingly do to themselves to "make it". I'm glad you realised before it was too late, barely though by the sounds of it.

    I've found since losing weight I can no longer sit around playing games as long as I once could, even watching TV for a long stretch is hard.

    I think k the worse thing is people look at these most popular streamers and think "oh that's easy" but as mentioned, it takes a lot of work to get anywhere, just like every other thing in life. There are some who have been lucky and just got the right strides and seem to cruise through, but eventually even they stumble and fall, and the higher you are, the further you have to fall.

      Bloody oath, man. Congratulations to you on your weight loss. :)

      I'm in a similar boat. Used to be very overweight when I was younger, spending so much time playing video games/watching TV. Now that I'm active and healthy, I don't spend nearly as much time playing games/watching TV. I just can't do it anymore. Sometimes I can spend like, a Friday night or Saturday afternoon binge playing/watching, but it can't go much further than that.

      I can't imagine how hard it must be to be a Twitch streamer. This article was absolutely mind blowing and eye opening. I feel bad for this guy... but at the end of the day, he's still alive, he is still with his family and he has re-ignited an old passion (photography) - so good on him.

        Thanks, still about 10 to 15 to go but hitting the gym for that and getting there.

        I find on weekends I allow myself more time to watch TV or play games, M-F though is all about gym, exercise and keeping active, work helps with that. Congratulations on the lifestyle change, and weight loss. It's not always easy to make drastic changes.

      How good does it feel to be free of extra weight.

    As someone who spent their 20's playing games a LOT I would encourage people to have a hobby that involves exercise.

    I am currently a healthy mid 30's bloke who now competes in local races and the like and very active in the racing community.

    I still enjoy gaming but I don't need it as an escape anymore. I play casually and cannot bring myself to play for hours on end unless I'm super crook.

    You got one life folks. Don't realise that any later down the track than you have to.

      I'm very capable of binge-gaming, but in saying that, I can only do it once or twice a week, at that. I completely agree, we spend a lot of time playing video games and such, we do need to balance it out with physical activity, exercise and a decent diet.

      I'm nearly thirty years old, exercise three days a week (weight lifting as well as judo), eat a relatively healthy diet and I probably play games every day. During the week, I'll probably play an hour or so, while on the weekends I'll be able to spend more time on 'em.

      When I was younger and overweight, God, I spent WAY too much time playing games, eating/drinking so much shit and doing zero exercise.

      Trying to do these sort of things (e.g. Twitch) must be extremely challenging. I never knew about the difficulties, e.g. just leaving to the bathroom can lose viewers. Crazy!

      People using video games as an escape from reality, as opposed to a break from the daily grind, is what needs to be addressed first before they can make the needed lifestyle changes required to not drop dead with a controller in their hands.

      When I was at my fattest I used games and TV to close off my mind to what the real problem was. It wasn't until I had a health scare that I knew I had to do something about it, but it shouldn't be a night in hospital that wakes you up to that realisation. I just wish it hadn't taken me until my mid-30's to do something, I feel like I have wasted so much of my life.

        I wouldn't say you've "wasted" so much of your life, man. Don't be so rough on yourself! At the end of the day, you learned a valuable lesson and you have applied said lesson to improve the future of your life. You're doing a lot better than many other people across the world.

        Starting late is better than not starting at all. The first step to change is always by far the hardest step to take. You've done a great job.

        Words to live by for sure.

        But I will never say I've wasted my life, not a single second.
        To have lived past 30 and had even a single positive experience is already doing it better than some.

    Would have been nice to also know about his diet and habits (i.e., alcohol, smoker...)

    Umm, your thyroid didn't make you fat - eating excessive calories made you fat. Streaming for 8 hours per day didn't block your arteries, but having a shitty diet and inactive lifestyle did. People do much more difficult jobs than play video games and talk to strangers for 8 hours a day and still live perfectly healthy lives because they incorporate some semblance of activity and healthy eating into their lives.

    Your health problems stem from your unhealthy lifestyle in general, not just your attempt to 'make it' as a streamer.

    edit: I am genuinely glad you do see the need for balance before it was too late.

    Last edited 27/02/17 2:49 pm

      I fully agree with this, while the thyroid does play a part in weight control, and an under-performing thyroid can result in weight gain, it comes down to having the right diet and lifestyle to counter or minimise the negative impact.

      I would say the unhealthy lifestyle and the desire to "make it" as a streamer goes hand in hand. The need to be constantly performing for the camera results in poor eating habits. It's easier to order up a pizza while streaming than it is to prepare a nutritious meal, unless your stream has a cooking segment I guess.

      Sadly a lot of people are more willing to sacrifice their health for less important things, and the understanding of a balanced life comes too late, or is a harder challenge to undertake later in life.

      I think the thyroid issue would have had something to do with the weight gain. According to HealthDirect.Gov.Au, "Hypothyroidism – when your thyroid does not make enough thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism can go on for years without showing any signs. When symptoms do appear, they can be quite varied and include fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, weight gain, thinning hair, poor memory and depression."

      You probably already knew that.

      I do agree with you, though. Even if he unfortunately had an issue with his thyroid, I can imagine that, given his schedule, there was probably no exercise (he mentioned he didn't do any exercise) and he probably ate very quick and "easy" food, which we could assume would be not very good stuff.

    I don't think this is just a Twitch streamer issue, but a men's health issue. Unfortunately majority of men have a unhealthy attitude when it comes to going to the doctors and this isn't isolated to unfit men either. You're gym junkie is just as likely to avoid going to the doctors at your 8 hour a way twitch streamer.

    If something doesn't feel right, don't ignore it or wait to see if it goes away. Just go to the doctor.

    Also, I believe Twitch really should be stepping in and introducing time limits that people can stream for. The race to fame and money will be paved with more stories like this one.

    I have 2 full time jobs, being a surveyor and having children. Between the 2 of those I am able to lead a healthy lifestyle and game as much as I want (once everyone is asleep). For me the way I understand life atm as someone entering my 30's FAMILY IS EVERYTHING, why anyone would risk not spending as much time with your children or spouse is beyond me. This social media and streaming fantasy people get sucked into is obscene.

      It's all about balance... sounds like you've achieved exactly that!

        Balance minus the appropriate sleep LOL.

          You don't need sleep! That's what coffee is for! ;)

            Yes that certainly does help :p

              And make it worse because routinely losing sleep actually shaves years off of peoples lives. Their has been plenty of studies!

                Indeed hence why I will only binge once a week and that is if I even feel upto that. Otherwise I will game 1-2 hours a night, which isn't usually an issue as having a child with type 1 Diabetes I have to be up at 12 and 3 am to check blood sugar levels and what not.

    I watched an interesting video by Kerwin Rae, discussing the issues entrepreneurs face, especially during their start up phase (the first twelve to eighteen months).

    In a way, we can think of Twitch streamers as entrepreneurs.

    Kerwin suggested that yeah, in your first twelve to eighteen months, it's going to be hard and you are going to be doing a lot of work (in this case, streaming). In saying that, Kerwin states that there are a few things that you must absolutely do, in order to not burn out and crash.

    One of things, was to set aside time to exercise, basically something to maintain a level of physical health. I completely agree. A lot of people will say "I don't have time" or something, but the truth is, most people do have the time, they just choose to not prioritize certain things. I know, sometimes you come home from a long, stressful day of work and you're tired, the last thing you want to do is more "work", e.g. exercise.

    He also recommends that these people should take a few hours every week to just do nothing but "defrag", so basically, do things that are not related to your work (in this case, streaming). Long story short, entrepreneurs (and streamers) need to take care of themselves.

    If anyone's interested, here's the video I'm talking about - https://www.facebook.com/kerwinrae/videos/1273575116022896/

    Twitch's fix is Twitch IRL I guess?

    I'm sure there's some people out there who want to watch a fat old guy exercise 3 times a week.

      Who's gonna stream their heart op first?

    An unhealthy idea is streamers expecting to make a living from streaming of themselves sitting on their asses all day playing videogames and the like. Real creative and real productive. You do this type of stuff with friends... not looking for monetary gain. This is a psychological problem and it should not be supported unless it's seeking therapy.

    1. Plan 1 hr a day to push your body. Be that cardio, lifting weights, doing chin ups, etc.

    2. Plan a plate of greens once a day. Buy them organic and frozen in bulk. Make a plate a day. You can add whatever you like but the plate of greens is mandatory.

    3. Lastly, if you sit at a desk like most people make sure you get up and stretch and wiggle out those kinks for a minute. Plan to do this 1 minute exercise every half hour.

    Those three things will make sitting all day just fine. The greens will ensure your digestion is solid and your appetite is sated. Plus you will reap a ton of nutrients from them. The periodic activity will keep circulation going and the exercise will keep your heart strong.

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