She is living a dream life, where her coworkers are just other streamers or other gamers. She’s part of the Leisure Economy, where one day we will all get paid to play games.
Gamers watched more than 1.6 billion hours of livestreams on Twitch alone in October, according to stream tech firm StreamElements. That was up 99% from 839 million hours watched in October 2019. And Twitch recently re-signed Anne Munition (not her real name) and other stars as it strives to stave off challengers such as YouTube and Facebook Gaming.
But being a streamer isn’t all — you know it’s coming — fun and games. Streamers like Anne can’t go out to in-person events anymore or meet fans. And the pandemic is stressful for everybody, including streamers, and getting through the long days without having mental health issues is challenging. On the internet, too often, there are a lot of haters, whereas in-person fans were often far more supportive.
Anne’s favorite games are first-person shooter games like Rainbow Six and Escape from Tarkov, but she’ll take time to try out anything for fun. She isn’t the most popular on Twitch, but she has done well carving out a sustainable life where she doesn’t have to worry so much about being online all the time.
Anne has also spoken out about diversity issues and wishes that more of her colleagues — including those with much bigger followings — would do the same. She does frequent charitable events and talks openly about mental health awareness.
Anne recently appeared on a panel at Chicago Ideas about the gaming industry, and we talked to her just ahead of that.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: You’ve had a long career already. How many years would you say you’ve been doing this?
Anne Munition: I’ve been streaming for six and a half years. But I don’t play competitively in the sense that I’m a pro esports player. I’m just a streamer. There were a lot fewer people streaming at that point. I do play a lot of FPS games and try to be good at them.
When I first started streaming, I was actually playing Minecraft full time. I guess it was more an entertainment aspect than a skill aspect at that point. Minecraft is more about creativity than quick reactions. At that time, a lot fewer people were streaming, and I was pretty obsessed with it when I first started. I’m naturally a hard-working person, so I was putting in a lot of hours. I was committed to it.
I always feel weird answering that question. It’s awkward to say something like, “I think I’m very entertaining.” I’m not trying to brag about myself. But that is an important aspect of being a streamer.
GamesBeat: Do you think starting that early was part of building up such a big audience?
Munition: I don’t know. There are a lot of streamers who have started more recently, in the last couple of years, who have skyrocketed to stardom. I don’t think it’s impossible for people to become successful at this point, even though streaming in general is saturated with a lot of people. Twitch just had their GlitchCon event, and I think there were something like 8,500 new partners this year alone. And that’s just partners. There are around 500,000 new affiliates. Tons of people are trying streaming. It’s very saturated now, and it’s more difficult to get started at this point.
GamesBeat: Is it tougher for you right now than it was in the beginning? Or do you think you have a sustainable position?
Munition: Streaming has its ups and downs. You go through periods of success and increase in viewership, and then you go through similar periods of decrease in viewership. Things go up and down. It’s hard to maintain the same numbers, especially when you’re changing games. The trends on Twitch are changing constantly. Fall Guys was big, and then Among Us was big. Things are always evolving and changing.
GamesBeat: Do you often switch games, or is that relatively rare for you?
Munition: I think I switch games less than other streamers who are variety game streamers. I specifically get stuck on first-person shooters, like we were talking about before. If you want to get good at them, you have to commit to it. It’s not something you can play once a week and get good at it. Things like Rainbow Six Siege and Escape from Tarkov, I play those for months on end. Every once in a while I throw in different games. I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which is a lot of fun. I enjoy doing those single-player story games as well. But I think I hop around much less than other people.
I’ll play a game — Siege I’ve played for years, and I still play it occasionally, but I did get a bit burned out on it. Now I’ve picked up Tarkov and I’m fully addicted. I’ve been playing that pretty much every day. I’m sure I’ll get to the same point where I’ve had enough of this game, and I’d like to try something different.
GamesBeat: When that happens, does the viewer base change over a lot? Do you have people who are there to watch you, or people who are there to watch the game?
Munition: There’s both. There’s the core audience that sticks around no matter what you play, and then there are people who follow certain games. They’ll start watching because I play Tarkov, for example. Either they don’t like to watch me play other games and they prefer to watch me play Tarkov, or they started watching me play Tarkov, but they’ll stick around while I’m playing other games. I get all different types of people.
GamesBeat: What motivates you at this point? What keeps you going?
Munition: This year has been pretty tough on motivation. Not just for me, but for a lot of people, because of COVID. Personally I enjoyed the moments where I got to travel and do things like conventions, meeting fans in real life. That’s very motivating for me. They’re really kindhearted people. They want to tell you that they enjoy your content. It can be tough when you’re streaming, because you have a lot of positive comments, but also a lot of negative comments. I feel like for me — TwitchCon and E3 are a kind of recharge. Okay, people do actually like my content. It can be hard to stay motivated, for sure. Streaming is a marathon, not a sprint. Especially for me, after doing this for so long.
GamesBeat: The people you meet in person tend to be the more polite ones, then?
Munition: Yeah, they don’t have the anonymity of the internet. If you want to say something negative to someone on the internet, it’s easy. But you’re not going to fly to TwitchCon and go to someone to say it to their face. The people who go to your meet-and-greet and wait in line are people who want to say nice things, and that’s motivating.
GamesBeat: How have you dealt with the kind of people who behave badly? You can always ban them, but how do you come back to that every day?
Munition: You have to learn to put that aside, to put that negativity aside. Learn to tune out the vocal minority and focus on the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of other people watching who are enjoying your content. They’re just not as vocal about it all the time. I think about it a lot with things like restaurant reviews. People don’t usually say anything when things go well. “That’s good. That’s how I wanted it to go.” When things go wrong, when people have something bad to say, that’s usually when they speak up. It’s the same with streaming. When people enjoy the stream, it’s just in the background while they do other things. They don’t feel the need to constantly type in the chat that they’re enjoying it. People who are negative want to come in and get a reaction.
GamesBeat: How do you get used to paying attention to the chat and the game at the same time? That seems like a difficult balancing act.
Munition: It’s second nature for me at this point. Very rarely do I play games off stream right now, but when I do, I catch myself looking at my camera, or looking for a chat reaction to something that happened, even though I’m not streaming. It’s just become part of playing games for me.
There are some channels where I don’t expect them to chat very often. When you have something like 20,000 viewers, you can’t really keep up. But when you’re someone whose channel is around the size of mine, I can and should be able to keep up with at least some of the conversation that’s going on in the chat. That’s how I build that human connection with people.
GamesBeat: If you had advice for people who are worried about burnout as streamers, what have you learned there?
Munition: When you’re a freelancer or a contractor or otherwise responsible for your own time, people see the hours that you spend on your computer as your work, but it’s important to also think about the fact that the time you spend recharging yourself mentally is also a part of your job. It’s your job to take care of yourself. If you are stressed and tired and unhappy, it’s going to be difficult for you to stream and be entertaining. That’s our job, to be entertaining. You have to take care of your mental health, so you’re in a good mood when you stream.
GamesBeat: Do you struggle with that, or do you feel like you’ve been fairly steady on that front?
Munition: I’ve had my moments where I can see and feel — okay, I’m getting burnt out. My temper is short. I’m not excited to stream today. Those are the times when I have to take a step back and figure out how to fix that before it goes into a full-fledged burnout. This year, like I said, has been challenging. The monotony of streaming has started to get to me, because I haven’t been able to go to any conventions this year. Normally I’d go to four or five conventions or different work things. This year has been pretty tough.
GamesBeat: Have you gotten to know a lot of people at game companies or elsewhere in the industry?
Munition: There are definitely contacts I’ve made with developers and publishers and different peripheral companies, that kind of thing.
GamesBeat: Is this something you want to continue to do as it is? Do you see yourself as a solo streamer, or have you ever thought about joining a larger group?
Munition: Yeah, like 100 Thieves. They have six or seven content creators that are a part of their organization. I don’t know, honestly. I’ve thought about it in the past. I haven’t completely turned down the idea in my mind. It’s just something that I haven’t done up to this point. Who knows what the future will bring?
GamesBeat: How did you find Red Bull? Or did they find you?
Munition: Even as a kid, before I was a streamer, Red Bull was a company I wanted to work with. I always admired what they did with pushing boundaries in extreme sports and that kind of thing. I was excited at the opportunity to build a relationship with them. My agency, Loaded, they made some connections with Red Bull through — Red Bull also worked with Ninja, who’s with Loaded. We built the relationship up over time, and eventually I was able to sign a contract with them.
GamesBeat: What is working with brands like? I guess you really have to like them first.
Munition: I always tell my audience that it’s important for me to feel like I can genuinely promote a product. I don’t take sponsorships or try to promote products that I don’t personally use. That authenticity is important. Otherwise I feel like I’m just trying to push a product on people that I don’t care about, and that doesn’t feel good.
GamesBeat: We’re seeing new ways of how people can make money. One of my big things is this idea of a leisure economy, where all of us will one day get paid to play games. We’re not there yet. But I’d like to see more people get to that point. It seems like it always requires some kind of innovation to happen in how you pay people, how people get rewarded.
Munition: As it is on Twitch, like I mentioned before, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people streaming. Streaming and trying to make money out of it as well. There’s only so much content that people can consume. I still think there’s room for Twitch to grow. Plenty of people have no idea what Twitch is. It’s expanded a lot in the types of content that they provide to people. Back in the justin.tv days, the early days of Twitch, the whole thing was around gaming, but now it’s expanded to IRL content. There’s cooking and baking and woodworking and all sorts of different streams. A lot of different audiences still haven’t been hit by the Twitch streaming experience.
GamesBeat: Do you stream only on Twitch, or do you have other platforms as well?
Munition: I have a YouTube channel as well. I stream live every day, and then we take highlights from that and put that on YouTube. But I have a contract with Twitch. I’ve seen other types of services like Cameo, and maybe this makes me a bad businessperson, but I feel weird about making people pay to hang out with me. I don’t know. It just feels a bit weird to me. I’d rather have days where, say, today is a day where I play with my viewers. There’s a queue and people can just cycle through. That kind of thing. I don’t think there’s something inherently negative about it. It just feels a bit weird for me personally. Plenty of streamers could make some really cool content for things like that. Patreon, for example, people do a lot of cool stuff with Patreon. It’s just not for me.
GamesBeat: Is there anything you remember as your most successful video, one of your best performances?
Munition: It’s usually things like that are like blogs or ask-me-anything types of videos.
GamesBeat: I know you do some charity streams as well. How do those do for you?
Munition: I love doing charity streams. I was a part of the GCX charity stream on Twitch, which is a pretty big deal. In about four hours we raised around $50,000. It was great. I mention sometimes on my stream that when I went to college, I could barely afford food. I had to call my mom to ask for 20 bucks to buy food. Having those experiences where I had to struggle to make ends meet makes me very appreciative of what I have now. It makes me want to use what I have to help other people when I can.
GamesBeat: Do you think about what you would have become if you weren’t a streamer?
Munition: I went to school for graphic design, and I was working in design when I started streaming. I assume I’d still be working somewhere in that world. I’ve always had an interest in video games, so I could have done UI design at a game developer. That would have been cool.
GamesBeat: Is that a useful skill to have as a content creator?
Munition: Yeah, I make a lot of the artwork for my channel, things like that.
GamesBeat: Are there ways you’d like to see streaming evolve? Is there a road map you’d like to see for the future?
Munition: I like seeing the evolution of IRL content. That’s really interesting. Right now, of course, everyone’s worried about the DMCA stuff. What would be nice would be an evolution of video game streaming which doesn’t include us having to mute game soundtracks. It would be great for there to be the possibility of the music industry working closely together with video games and with companies like Twitch so we can enjoy games as their full experience without having to turn the music off.
GamesBeat: Yeah, the music situation is a disaster. I upload my little videos to YouTube and they’re intercepted before they even go up. Do you feel like there’s a long future in this for you? Or do you feel like you’re in a stage of deciding whether or not this is a career?
Munition: If I’ve been doing this for six and a half years, then it probably counts as at least a career that I’m going to experience. I plan on doing this for at least the next few years. I feel like every year, something different and new happens in streaming. It’s hard to predict. Whether or not I’ll be in this in 10 years, I don’t know. But I see it as an opportunity to forge connections with companies, game developers. Maybe if there’s a day when I get tired of being on camera all the time, I can move sideways into the game industry rather than stepping out entirely.
GamesBeat: Did you ever think about pursuing esports professionally?
Munition: Not particularly. I competed in a couple of little Halo competitions before I was a streamer, but it wasn’t anything serious. I like playing games, and I like being good at what I do, but I get too stressed out when it comes to actual competition. I’ve done Twitch Rivals events, things like that, and I’m too hard on myself personally when I lose, or when I’m not performing at my best. It’s bad for me mentally.
GamesBeat: When it comes to putting yourself out there and starting to play games that you’re not good at yet, how do you get over that challenge? Showing yourself when you’re not as skilled yet. It’s certainly what stops me from going out on Twitch.
Munition: You just have to accept that no one ever starts out as an expert right away. You have to go through those struggling moments where you’re learning how to do something for the first time. It’s like in school. You can’t shame people for asking a question because they don’t know yet. The only way you’re going to learn is by asking, by doing, by practicing and getting better. You just have to accept that you’re going to fail before you succeed.
GamesBeat: That sounds like a level of maturity that can be hard to maintain in the moment. You have to think before you react. “I’m in front of 20,000 people right now.”
Munition: I think that’s what makes live streaming entertaining and interesting for viewers. It’s live. None of this is edited content. But it also makes it challenging from my side, to remember that this is all happening. And now, with the advances in Twitch technology, people see your reaction within a second of it happening. There’s no time to censor yourself.
GamesBeat: What do you think of the new consoles? Have you been able to play any of them yet?
Munition: Microsoft sent me an Xbox, but I haven’t had a chance to set it up yet. I’ve been very busy for the past week. Most of the games that I play are on PC. I do like quite a few console exclusives, so I like having consoles for that.
GamesBeat: Have you tried Cold War yet?
Munition: I have access to it, but I haven’t gotten into it yet, because I’ve been so addicted to Tarkov. Every day when I get on, I think, “Should I play something else?” But I really want to play Tarkov.
GamesBeat: Have you felt a difference in what you want to do because of what’s going on in the outside world these days?
Munition: Not really? I was playing a lot of Rainbow Six Siege before I started getting into Tarkov, and that was already pretty social for me. I play a lot of multiplayer games these days. Sometimes people will make comments about how there’s too many voices in the Discord channel, or they’ll say that they wish I was just playing solo. Especially Tarkov. Some people play Tarkov with the idea that everyone should play solo and suffer. They think the game is easier if you put more people in your team. But for me, it’s like hanging out with my friends. I don’t want to play a game that’s already really hard, struggle with it, and also be alone while I’m playing. I’d rather have people that I can talk to and hang out with, like my co-workers.
GamesBeat: Do you have a circle of friends that you usually play with, then?
Munition: It depends on the game. Tarkov is very challenging for people to get into. The amount of people who play it regularly is much smaller than the number of people I know who play games like Siege or Minecraft. But with Tarkov I do have the same group of six or seven people — I play with at least the same three people at least every day so far.
GamesBeat: If it were, say, 10 years or more from now, and we were playing in something like a virtual reality metaverse, what do you think you would or wouldn’t like about that?
Munition: I don’t know how my social anxiety would handle that. Now I have to suit up to pretend to be in person with someone? That seems pretty extreme. I feel like a lot of people my age now don’t even like talking on the phone very much. If I’m having to put on my headset to meet you in the metaverse — I’m not sure how I’d feel about that. But there’s a lot of that blowing up on Twitch nowadays. You have what they call VTubers, where they have a character that’s modeled in some way such that they’re not actually on camera, but it mimics their emotions.
GamesBeat: Can you talk more about the panel you did recently? The Chicago Ideas panel?
Munition: That was really cool. The other speaker was Anastasia Staten from the ESA Foundation. She talked a lot about their scholars and the other programs she works with. It’s one of those experiences where I start to feel imposter syndrome. She’s this very professional woman talking about working with a bunch of scholars and doing all these cool things with the foundation, and on the other side, “Yes, I play video games. I don’t have any scholars to share with you.” But it was a cool experience. I’m excited to see the final panel.
GamesBeat: I had a long conversation with her not long ago. We had a lot to talk about when it comes to diversity and the ongoing conversation there. In some ways I was expressing a little weariness about how long it’s taken to see real change happen, both across the board and in the game industry. It’s a great cause, and everyone seems to nod and say, “Yes, I’m all for it,” but then you look at what’s changed and it feels like a mismatch.
Munition: There can definitely be a sense of performative activism, especially on the part of large companies. When it’s pride month they all change their emblems to rainbow versions of whatever it is, and then as soon as it’s over, well, what are you doing on a regular basis to support people? Sometimes things are happening behind the scenes that aren’t always apparent to us. We don’t always know how companies are being run.
In the gaming world in general, it’s always felt to me like one step forward, two steps back, or two steps forward, one step back. There’s a push and pull. If you try to look at the big picture, I’ve been playing video games online for 20 years now, and I think it’s gotten better. But it bothers me that I can’t for sure, that this has gotten better. 20 years is a long time for me to still feel like I see a lot of problems. People are still rude to me sometimes when I’m in multiplayer games. People still think that joking about gender is hilarious. How is it taking them this long to get it?
It’s hard for developers. They can’t monitor voice chat. They can deal with text chat pretty easily. But it’s difficult otherwise. You don’t want to make an automated system that punishes people for the wrong things. You don’t want to be too heavy-handed.
GamesBeat: I think of the matches I play in Call of Duty. It’s every time I play. If you booted out everyone who was inappropriate, you’d run out of players.
Munition: Yeah. But even if they’re not dealing with people who are saying things in voice chat, why do you still have people with hateful usernames? How are they even allowed to create that in the first place? There’s no way you can’t have a system in place that checks the spelling of words and prevents that. Those kinds of tools will hopefully improve in the future.
GamesBeat: It feels like it’s sad, too, that people who speak to this and make it their issue, who speak common sense, are often just attacked as well. They’re out there by themselves.
Munition: It makes people not want to put themselves out there, because they’re worried about how people will react. They’re worried about losing audience because of being a person who spoke out.
I mentioned this on the panel, actually. I get asked a lot about what I can do or what I’m doing. I think the people who should be asked more about what they’re doing are the top one percent of streamers, the ones with the most influence. It’s often young guys who have 20,000 viewers. They could be doing a lot more. A lot of the guys that I look up to, that are very successful, I almost never see them talking about any issues of substance. Maybe that’s why, or part of why, they’ve become so popular. What’s allowed them to become popular is not taking political or social stances.
I’ve seen it before. Any time anyone says anything remotely positive about women or minorities or anything like that, you get a lot of people in the comments coming back with, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were a social justice warrior,” just being rude to them. So why would they say anything? The hard thing is to stand up for other people. It’s easy to not say anything. I hope that in the future, more people do the hard thing and stand up for others.
I wouldn’t consider myself close enough friends to bring up that kind of conversation with them directly. The people I have spoken to are people who I think do a good job of trying to stand up and say the right thing. Otherwise, I don’t want it to seem like I’m accusing someone of not doing anything. Then you have a person with a tiny fraction of their audience pointing my finger and saying, “Why aren’t you doing anything?” I’m not trying to accuse anyone of not caring. But I’m hoping that more people will be encouraged by the behavior of their peers to use their influence for good. Rather than just basking in the glow of your success and not using that influence to do what the word suggests — to influence people to be better.