You end up sharing a lot with your audience when you decide to stream a portion of each day for 2,000 consecutive days. Holidays, birthdays, births. Also, bodily fluids. At one point, while battling an illness, Ben “CohhCarnage” Cassell even brought the camera with him into the bathroom. “I couldn’t get away from the toilet because I was throwing up so much,” he said.
On April 6, Cassell, a streamer with over 1 million followers who first started streaming in 2013, finally crossed the finish line. He’d streamed at least once a day for 2,000 days without missing a one. That’s more than five years without a day off. At the end of the last stream of the streak, he was overcome with emotion as a he read a heartfelt message from his community moderators. On Twitter, he contemplated the new, alien world that laid before him.
“I... uh... have no idea what to do tomorrow,” he said. “This is new.”
When Cassell first decided to stream for 2,000 days straight, his life was entirely different. He had just left an IT job at a local university and was taking online courses in game design, with lots of time to spare. He had no kids. He’d barely even found his groove with streaming, having tried for a time to play a funny-voiced character inspired by radio DJs that just didn’t work for him. After that, he resolved to do two things: just be himself on stream, and stream every day for six months.
Initially, he wanted to try it out, see how it’d go. Then, with inertia behind him, he just kept going.
“I’m definitely a creature of habit, which really helps in this situation,” Cassell told Kotaku via Discord voice chat. “And I kind of said, ‘You know what? Let’s keep going with it. Let’s turn six months into a year, and then maybe at the end of the year we’ll see how we’re feeling.’ And a year became two years, two years became four years. Four years became forever. Basically, after four years I said, ‘You know what? I’m streaming every single day, but no more goals, no more stretches. I’m just going to stream every day.’”
Streaming days included birthdays, holidays—everything. He even threw on-stream parties for holidays like New Year’s Eve, complete with countdowns. He’d usually stream from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sometimes he’d do marathons, like when he played a fantasy MMO called Dragon’s Prophet for 36 hours straight. If he had been travelling all day, he’d stream for at least 30 minutes before dragging himself into his hotel bed. He streamed through sickness and health, through snot and vomit, and eventually through baby poop.
You might think this would create an unhealthy dynamic with his community, given how demanding Twitch viewers can be that their favourite streamers keep up their regular habits. But Cassell found that, usually, his viewers would ask him to take breaks, rather than push himself past the point of no return.
“I would get on some days when I was sick, and I would have people pleading with me to get off and just go take care of myself,” he said. “It was kind of magical at times, to be honest... It’s been the opposite of, say, having a boss at a job that always expects you to be there and you have this constant pressure to be there.”
Cassell dealt with loss during his 2,000-day streak, too. He’s an animal person who owns five cats, a dog, two horses, a pony, a miniature horse, chickens, and a type of lizard known as a “bearded dragon.” Two dogs and a cat died while he stuck to his endless stream schedule. For Cassell and his wife Laina, losing those pets was like losing family members. But the show had to go on.
“The hardest times of the streak was going through these large personal losses and then getting on with the express purpose of entertaining people for hours at a time,” he said. “It’s very hard to entertain people when you are really just not feeling good. But we got through it.”
There were good times, too. Life-changing times, even. When Cassell’s first child, Roen, was born two years ago, he did not stream from the hospital, although he did stream that day. But even while he was at the hospital, his viewers were still in his Twitch chat to wish him well.
“Even though I wasn’t online, I was getting pages of chat every minute,” he said. “There were people in there chanting, Roen, my son’s name. It was basically just this amalgamation of good vibes that went on for almost 24 hours straight. It was incredible.”
Roen was born a month early, which meant more than the average amount of new-parent stress. Besides the usual disrupted sleep schedules and diaper changes, the Cassells were also dealing with health scares and extra doctor’s appointments. Still, he streamed.
“It was a really tumultuous time in my life,” said Cassell. “But thankfully, my community was behind me the entire time... I had thousands of extremely understanding people that were telling me to take my time, do what I need to do, don’t worry about your schedule, just stream when you can, and honestly, weird as this sounds, they made it a lot easier than it may have been without them,” he said.
“People always ask me, ‘How have you not taken a vacation in five years?’ And I’m like, ‘Do you see what I do every day? I’m on a vacation. My life is a vacation thanks to these people,’” Cassell said. “People feel like I’m basically just faking being happy all the time, and it’s like, ‘I’ve been doing this for over five years. Either I’m the best actor this world has, or it’s that just not the case.’ And trust me, I’m not a good actor.”
The job of a streamer is not as easy as it looks, and that’s by design. Cassell is a variety streamer, meaning that he plays a multitude of games, rather than focusing on a single game like Fortnite. He tries to create a laid-back environment buoyed by good vibes, one that feels consistent despite the fact that he’s playing different games all the time.
This means he’s got to come across as authentically chill and friendly while also putting on an entertaining show for thousands of people at once. He’s always got to be on, his personality dialed up a few notches higher than it’d normally go, his mood stable and clear despite life’s constant haze of background static. Oh, and he’s got to make sure that crowd doesn’t get out of hand in Twitch chat.
Many in the Twitch community look at Cassell and see a regular dude who’s stuck to his guns and remained improbably popular for more than half a decade. A rock. In truth, it’s been a chainsaw-juggling tightrope walk over a pit of irradiated piranhas that would’ve been impossible if not for the fact that Cassell has a secret weapon—a team of paid assistants that now numbers 16 people.
“On the outside, the facade is consistency and reliability, but the backend is research, research, research,” he said. “Where do I need to be? What do I need to be playing? How are my graphics going to be updated? Who needs to get paid? What kind of art do we need? What new emotes do we need? What shirts do we need? What stores need to be updated? What guilds need running? Who needs to run them? It is a constant growing initiative that is never normal. It is in a constant state of flux.”
Cassell’s team was along for a large chunk of the 2,000-day ride, keeping things running as smoothly as possible in the background. “Many” members, he said, are paid full-time salaries. This includes his channel coordinator, who goes by the handle “Theb0atman.” Theb0atman first started helping Cassell as a community moderator while also working as an IT business analyst for a clothing and jewellery company. These days, managing the moderation team, training new team members, and handling major issues in chat is his full-time job.
Moderation work can be a particularly gnarly thing to do day in and day out, especially on a channel as big as Cassell’s. While streamers smile at the camera, moderators sift through chat’s grimiest muck, stemming the flow of toxicity. That means seeing a lot of ugly, mean-spirited stuff on a daily basis. Now imagine doing that every day for 2,000 days. Fortunately, Theb0atman and company have delegated moderation duties so as to avoid that nightmare scenario.
“Most of our team —including myself—put in a few hours everyday, but we all need breaks as well, so it’s not uncommon for people to take a day or two off each week,” Theb0atman, who said he devotes 80 to 150 hours per month specifically to moderation duties, told Kotaku in an email. “The team is designed so that not everyone must be here at all times. The ability to have constant coverage at all times comes from the team organically modding when they can each day.”
Still, just as Cassell had bad days during his streak, so did chat. Even broadly supportive communities contain bad apples, and if you’re running a popular, highly visible channel, you’ve always got to worry about sudden influxes of wailing jerkbags. In these cases, going into lockdown was the only option.
“There have been times during our streak where chat has become overwhelmingly toxic,” said Theb0atman. This forced the moderators to activate subscriber-only mode, which prevents anyone who’s not spending money in support of a streamer from being able to type in chat. “This has always been done as little as possible,” said Theb0atman. “We really dislike having to lock out non-subs from the chat experience.”
Even with a reasonable schedule, moderation can take a serious toll on people’s mental health. Theb0atman, who says that mental health is “incredibly important” to both Cassell and him, said he does his best to ensure that nobody burns out. “We encourage the mods to take breaks when needed, sometimes even a month or two at a time,” he said. “Moderation on the whole requires a thick skin; the internet is a toxic place, and it’s our job to be the shield that keeps that toxicity back. We all need to take a breather from time to time, and when that happens the other moderators step up to pick up the slack.”
Even with a full team guarding the walls and a supportive community cheering outside them, Cassell still did strenuous work during his streak. In most cases, after all, it would be beyond questionable for a regular company to ask somebody to work 2,000 days without a day off.
On Twitch, where audiences demand consistency, up-and-coming streamers feel pressure to put in obscene hours in hopes of gaining “affiliate” and then “partner” statuses, which grant them tools and money-making options that can turn streaming from a timesink into a viable career.
During this early time period, the primary beneficiary of their labour is Twitch, which gains content and ad money while streamers have little in the way of monetisation options. It’s a troubling dynamic.
Cassell said that he finds elements of the Twitch-streamer dynamic “suspect,” especially as it pertains to how much Twitch is making and whether they should be kicking back more to streamers. But he also loves what he does and enjoys the hours he puts in. From his standpoint, the best thing he can do is be consistently realistic with his audience.
“I think it’s important for streamers like me—like I say all the time—to make sure that people know of the difficulties involving this, make sure people understand. You may not make it,” Cassell said.
He was only able to succeed because he had the time and space to tailor his life and social life around it, he said. Cassell likened Twitch streaming to acting, where you can be a top-notch talent with lots of charisma, but if you don’t get a big break, you’re stuck in the faceless crowd with everybody else. Cassell said that when he first started streaming, he actually tried the pure-hours approach, and found that it didn’t work for him.
“I got really lucky with success at the beginning, but then had a slow decline for two months afterward that almost had me leave Twitch,” he said. “My numbers were plummeting. I would stream for 12 to 16 hours and lose followers. I finally got to a point where I said, ‘OK, I need to either quit this and go get a job, or I need to completely rework how I’m doing this.’ I tell that cautionary tale all the time to make sure people understand, like, this is how you can fail easily on this platform.”
“The next chapter in my life is all about my family,” Cassell said. “It’s the primary reason I ended the streak.” After his second son was born a month ago, Cassell decided it was time to start taking days off. He noticed that the 2,000-day mark was just around the corner, and decided that would be the last day of the streak.
“Over these five years, I have become a father, twice,” he said. “My wife is now a full-time mother, so she’s at home a lot more. We have a lot more going on, and it’s just like getting to the end of a chapter in a book. I got to the point where I said, ‘You know what? This is no longer who I am. This is no longer my life. It’s time to close that chapter and see what comes next.’”
On April 7, Cassell took his first day off since he started his streak in 2013. He spent a big chunk of it with his family. He also played a video game: the classic fantasy MMO Everquest. It’s a game he doesn’t get to stream, which limits the amount of time he can spend with it. But he still likes to play it with his community, so that’s what he did.
“There’s something to be said about not being in front of cameras and just being able to just lean back in your sweatpants and chill,” he said.