Jake "ChocoTaco" Throop was making a decent living as an educator in Chicago, but he's decided to leave it all behind for a career streaming PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on Twitch.
Just a few weeks ago, Throop, 29, put in his notice. Mere months ago, he was streaming for five viewers, if he was lucky. Then, ChocoTaco's humble PUBG channel ballooned into a respectable, medium-sized affair. For a while, he had the number one kill rating in North America.
Yesterday he told hundreds: "The dream is real. It's all because of you guys."
Lots of Kotaku's commenters look at full-time streaming with scepticism, as I've found from reading comments under our articles about Twitch. The idea that some people make real, good money playing video games all day comes off, to some, as an insult to more traditional lines of work. Streaming isn't easy, though.
It takes streamers hours upon hours of playing a game competently and entertaining hundreds of viewers to get to a point where a their channel is big enough to provide some financial stability. Lots of streamers hurt their bodies or crack under immense pressure to make their dreams come true.
To give readers a sense of what it's like to quit a well-paying, stable and happy job to game full-time, I spoke with Throop via phone this week.
Cecilia D'Anastasio: Quitting your job for full-time streaming is a bold move. Did you put your notice in yet?
ChocoTaco: Yeah, but I didn't announce it until yesterday publicly. The company I work at is just a bunch of nerds. Everyone was so supportive. There's a blurb in the newsletter about me.
D'Anastasio: Has anyone had questions about full-time streaming? Your parents, maybe?
ChocoTaco: There weren't a ton of questions. I was expecting people to ask 'how much money can you make,' but no one asked. It's a hard thing to describe to someone. Most people know what YouTube is. Saying "It's like YouTube, but live" is a good way to explain to it to someone.
My parents are excited about it. They watch me. My mum loves it. She can see me every day. My dad's been in chat. I was nervous, honestly, though. Maybe not nervous, but worried about telling my parents I was gonna quit my job to stream video games.
I don't want them to worry about me. Bu I waited to tell them until I was making more money streaming than I was at my regular job. That helped. They were just really supportive.
I'm super excited to announce that I will be transitioning to full-time streaming at the end of year!!!! Big thanks to everyone for all of the support. You guys are the best, and I owe it all to you. #blessed #thedream
— chocoTaco (@chocoTacogames) November 9, 2017
D'Anastasio: Why are you doing this?
ChocoTaco: My thought process is, "Why the hell would you not do this?" At the end of the year — January, 2018 — I'm gonna be playing video games for a living. Like, I feel like that's every little kids' dream. When I was a kid and beat games on the Sega Genesis or N64, they'd tell you the game testers at the end credits. I wanted to be that guy, although I'm sure those guys didn't get paid much.
D'Anastasio: What did your day look like before you started streaming?
ChocoTaco: Right now, I'm an area manager for a company that teaches engineering to kids using LEGOs. My job's very challenging. I'm in charge of hiring, firing, marketing and scheduling programs. I also teach. My current job is eight hours a day. Many weeks, it's more than that.
D'Anastasio: How'd you manage to carve out time to start your channel with that intense schedule?
ChocoTaco: My schedule is jam-packed. The past four months I've been streaming, I haven't had a lot of tree time. Work eight hours, eat, and then stream for six to seven hours. And then I go to sleep.
I also make YouTube videos for LevelCapGaming, a big YouTuber. It's been a serious grind. My girlfriend is a huge supporter of all this. She's in law school. It all works out, but I am gonna be very excited to be able to only focus on streaming and content creation.
D'Anastasio: It sounds like you were making some money at this job.
ChocoTaco: Yeah, definitely. A comfortable salary. I'm super happy with my job. My "real" job. Even if I make less money — and as of right now I think I'm making more money through content creation — even if I make less money, I'd rather do this, hands down.
D'Anastasio: So I know you can't tell me exactly how much money you'll make, but….
ChocoTaco: It's against the rules. But I'm partnered. By default, a Twitch streamer gets 50% of subscriber money, so if someone subs for $US5 ($7) [per month], you get $US2.50 ($3). I'm just shy of 800 subscribers. That number's gone up a lot very quickly. Once I start full-time, I'm gonna have a separate schedule for earlier in the day. It's a whole separate audience — people at work and in Europe, where PUBG is really popular now.
D'Anastasio: Why did you start streaming?
ChocoTaco: I always thought that gaming as a career would be the dream. I haven't really tried being a pro gamer or anything like that, but I've always played the games I play at a high level — Counter-Strike 1.6, Source, and once DOTA 2 came out, I played a lot of DOTA.
I have 7,000 hours of DOTA played. I was ranked in the top 50 in the Americas at one point.
D'Anastasio: I've noticed that streamers often brand themselves either as high-level players or as entertainers. What route did you decide to take your channel in?
ChocoTaco: One you didn't mention. I do a lot of commentary while I play. Lots of people do, but I talk about my decision-making. A lot of people come and talk about how they're improving by watching me.
That's really valuable to a lot of people and it's not something a lot of people do. It doesn't matter how crazy a situation is — say, it's at the end of the game and really intense — I'll still talk through what I'm doing.
I've had the rank 1 kill rating for PUBG the past 3 seasons. So, my channel is half high skill and half skill-teaching. I played a lot of competitive games in the past, but esports was never in a place where more than a few people could make a living off it, like .0001% of players.
D'Anastasio: Who was the first Twitch streamer you got really into?
ChocoTaco: Dr. Disrespect. I'm always happy when I'm watching that guy. I've never been that much of a stream-watcher myself. I've always preferred to play rather than watch. Now that I'm streaming, I watch a lot more than I used to.
D'Anastasio: Did you always know that streaming would be such a grind, or did you have dreamy ideas of it being cushy?
ChocoTaco: Usually it's quite a grind to get going. I knew that. A lot of people stream as a hobby. I never wanted to stream as a hobby. I looked into it as a career. I went into it knowing I wanted to make it my career. Otherwise i wouldn't do it. I'm definitely not streaming just for the fun of it.
Not that I don't like it. I like it a lot. I love it. But I saw an opportunity. I could get a decent amount of viewers quickly. I have been super lucky. I was high-ranked so I could get viewers super quickly. I tried to do it with DOTA when I was ranked in the top 50, but it was slow.
D'Anastasio: Everybody and their mother plays PUBG. It's conventional wisdom for new streamers to play niche games and build their audience that way. How did you manage to make it work when the market is so saturated with PUBG streamers?
ChocoTaco: When I can have my stream title say, "Rank 1 Kill Rating North America," that makes people click. Now, I say "Top 10."
D'Anastasio: Adulthood looks like a specific thing to a lot of people. To self-actualise, you have a 401k, you go into an office, you pursue a career path that's already been paved by thousands of others.
You save money for your kids to go to college. Your job is stable. To a lot of people, streaming doesn't fit into that by any stretch of the imagination.
ChocoTaco: Do I see myself doing this 5 years from now? I have no idea. That's fine. The gaming industry is just growing. Who knows what other opportunities like this could open up in the future.
I'm also a pretty laid back person. My future — I don't worry. I'll be fine. I don't know. I'd rather spend time doing something I love rather than worrying about whether 20 years from now — 30 years from now, can I retire? Who knows, maybe I won't be alive in 30 years.
D'Anastasio: So, say it's the 1980s. And you're putting "I quit my job to do full-time streaming" in 1980s terms. What's the analogous career choice — "I quit my job to be an artist" or "I quit my job to start my own business"?
ChocoTaco: I'd say it's like starting your own business. There's a lot of risk involved. I'm pretty care-free, but what I'm doing involves a lot risk. I'm quitting my job I could keep and be happy with forever.
D'Anastasio: What are your anxieties about this?
ChocoTaco: I wouldn't say there are anxieties. I think most streamers probably have gotten their main following playing a certain game. Maybe PUBG will die and no one will want to watch me play other games. Maybe I'll get really bad all the sudden and no one wants to watch me.
PUBG will be around for at least a year, and it will be the hot game. It's so fresh, even though it's so buggy and terrible. The gameplay is so great. It's the most watched game on twitch. I'm not worried about the game going out of style super quickly because I think there are gonna be more battle royale games.
D'Anastasio: Are you afraid you'll get sick of the game?
ChocoTaco: I don't think so. I'm such a competitive person. If I get sick of the game, it's because the game is dying. I don't think I'd get sick of it before that. I truly love the game even with all its bugs and issues. Every day, I'm excited to play it.
D'Anastasio: What will your day look like?
ChocoTaco: Wake up at 10, no breakfast, shower, get ready and play games. I'll start streaming at 11 a.m. Central. I'll stream until mid-afternoon, 3 p.m. I'll take a break and come back at night and follow my current schedule of 7 to midnight.
It'd be great if I could spend that time in the middle of the day to work out or do something productive.
D'Anastasio: Will you want to play games after streaming for your job?
ChocoTaco: My girlfriend and I have been playing Super Mario Odyssey together. When we have 1-2 hours, we'll sit down and play whatever.