My Road to Success – A Case Study

I'm nobody special. Really.

Who Am I?

My name is Zach Nguyen, also known as Zeenigami. As of April, 2016, I work a full-time job in IT and Software Development, and I stream on Twitch and make YouTube videos as a hobby with an eventual goal of it becoming a full-time job. While that dream is still quite far away, I’ve achieved some moderate success in distinguishing myself from the cacophony that is the general masses of Let’s Players and Twitch streamers. This will be a brief history of how I got started with Twitch and YouTube, and hopefully you’ll be able to take something out of what I’ve done to help propel yourself into the stratosphere of success.

Right now, I have about 15,000 followers on Twitch with an average of 300+ concurrent viewers. I also have almost 20,000 subscribers on Youtube with over 21,500,000 minutes watched and 4,700,000 views.

The Early DaysStay Sharp!

June, 2014 – For the longest time, I had wanted to start a career in video games. I’ve won a few awards through game development of a mobile game in the Microsoft ImagineCup Competition, but when it came to making YouTube/Twitch content I had always made excuses with myself that I it was too impractical for me to stream during college. I was living with 3 roommates, and we all had our computers in the same room so streaming and generally being active with all of us in the room would get annoying very quickly. After college however, I didn’t have any more excuses and started streaming.

The decision between Twitch and YouTube was simple for me. I have no experience with video editing, and I’ve never felt like I could cater to the YouTube demographic with fast editing, quick jokes, funny voices, or any of your regular ploys. My audio/video quality isn’t the best out there, and I felt that in general I’d be more entertaining directly interacting with my viewers.

In the fall of 2013, I started out streaming on twitch a few times a week, in some of the most popular games on Twitch. I played League of Legends, Diablo 3, The Binding of Isaac, Hearthstone, and others. At this time, I wasn’t convinced that I could stand out in the sea of Twitch streamers, and wasn’t too motivated to keep up with a regular streaming schedule, or even streaming on a regular basis. I would average fewer than 5 viewers, and often would begin and end streams without a single person visiting. After a year of struggling, it was clear that I had to do something to distinguish myself, and since I didn’t want to go towards the pure entertainment route, I decided to make myself a more informative streamer. Two of my favorite content creators of all time are Day[9] and TotalBiscuit, and I’ve kept them in mind when building my community and the style in which I present myself.

Finding Our Niche


If you told me two years ago that I’d be a popular (enough) Twitch streamer with our main viewer base in a mobile game, I’d tell you that you’re stupid. It started when I was looking for something new on Twitch, something that had a growing community that I could grow with, that I could plant my roots in and really make my home. On this particular day, Clash of Clans was the 10th top game being played on Twitch, with over 3,000 viewers. Curious and confused, I had to stick my toes into those waters. Who was this person? Why do these streamers have hundreds of viewers for a mobile game which I can only see myself playing for 10 minutes before having to wait for hours for things to build? After sitting in the most popular stream for over 30 minutes, something was clear to me: I had no idea why Clash of Clans was popular to watch. However, there clearly was a viewer base for casual mobile games that was untapped on Twitch. There are plenty of viewers, but only a handful of streamers.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford

I am a nerd. I like video games, anime, and other nerd culture. While browsing the Google Play Store looking for the next game I think would become popular, my eyes settled on a game that was in the top of the “Free To Play” section, One Piece Treasure Cruise. I like One Piece. I like Treasure. I felt mediocre about cruises, but we can give the game a shot I guess.

Growing A Community

Pew pew pewFebruary 2015, One Piece Treasure Cruise (OPTC) had a great mix of features I enjoyed. It’s a gacha-style game where you build a crew of 6 characters and have to time your attacks to deal optimal damage and fight your way through hundreds of stages. After playing for a few days, I felt like the game had enough depth and complexity in its strategy to warrant a look into some guides before progressing further. This led me to the leading fan-run guide for the game, now www.optc-guide.com. They had amazingly detailed written guides for the game, but a few searches on Youtube and online resulted in a dearth of video guides. I took some time researching how to stream from a mobile device to Twitch, and eventually reached out to the fan site to officially make video content for them. I get viewers, they get hits, everyone wins.

At this point, I was streaming regularly every other day or so. The community for OPTC was small, but from the number of downloads on the Google Play Store I knew it would grow quickly. Twitch didn’t even have the game as an official category so myself and a few other streamers were playing under a similar game until I put it into the Giant Bomb database. With my videos hosted on the most popular guide site for the game, I grew in legitimacy. Our Twitch streams now had 30+ average concurrent viewers, and I actively posted to Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and anything else I could to start building myself up as a source of reliable, accurate information about the game. I wanted to make my name synonymous with OPTC strategy guides.

AverageViewers1YrTwinge

Average Twitch concurrent viewers from http://www.twinge.tv/zeenigami/growth/#/359

Becoming a Pillar

August, 2015 – Half a year after starting to stream OPTC, we’ve grown to be one of the top streamers in the game. I had applied for a Twitch partnership several times by now, and we finally got approved while around 3,000 followers and around 100 – 150 concurrent viewers on average per stream. For me, the journey never involved hosts from big streamers. I never got a windfall of viewers all at once, I never got a huge post on Reddit to shoot me into the spotlight. It’s always been a slow, steady growth, with numbers improving each month. I continued to grow my videos on Youtube, slowly improving their quality. I spent hundreds of hours learning about Search Engine Optimization, which I also got to apply at my job so that some nice double-dipping for me. On Twitch, I’ve begun streaming for several hours a day, although I still didn’t have a set schedule for when I’d start and end.

Looking into YouTube’s algorithms and how to properly tag your videos is incredibly important to growing your subscribers. Once again, the name of the game isn’t to make a video that suddenly boosts us into the stratosphere of fame. It’s to grow a dedicated community who enjoys our content. I decided not to go for Let’s Play videos on Youtube, but instead try to put out a video a day about OPTC, all focused around tutorials and news updates. OPTC updates and rotates content often enough to give me plenty to make relevant videos for, which was very useful to allow me to post constant, new tutorials. I always made a conscious effort to space out my videos, and post on a regular basis, especially with how often YouTube changes their algorithms for what videos show up in your subscription feed.

YouTube currently values Watch Time as it’s main statistic for how prominently your videos are shown in the sidebar, suggested videos, and other related features. Using click-baity titles will only get you so far, but instead you’ll need to draw in the viewers and keep them enthralled enough to at least stay for a majority of the video. That’s why Let’s Play videos work so well on Youtube, they have a high retention rate of viewers who often binge watch many episodes in a row.

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Youtube growth charts from http://socialblade.com/youtube/user/zeen09

Continued Growth & Game Selection

October, 2015 – I started a new job at a 9 – 5, which let me finally settle down on a set streaming schedule. My days got long and stressful, but the payoff was worth it. Our community was full of regular viewers, and it was clear who would make excellent moderators by their chat activity and how helpful they were to the general community. My days are stupid long, and the schedule is basically as follows:

8 AM Wake up 8 PM Start streaming
9 AM Arive at work 12 AM End streaming
6 PM Home from work 1 AM Edit videos
7 PM Dinner / Relaxing 2 AM Go to sleep

Weekends are more relaxed, and let me clear up my schedule but while everything is a lot of work, it’s all incredibly rewarding. Our viewership has grown on Twitch, now with around 5,000 followers while pulling on average 200 concurrent viewers. I always wanted to maintain my values while streaming. I don’t want to put on a personality when I stream, and become someone who I am not. Especially with the long hours I’m on camera, and how much time I spend with my viewers, they’ll be able to tell if I’m not being myself. I also promote an atmosphere of answering questions in our Twitch channel and YouTube comments. While there are plenty of questions that annoy me, (They are the questions that are usually answered with text floating above my head) I try to remind myself that many of our viewers are brand new and will be seeing content for the very first time.

FollowersGained1YrTwinge

Total Twitch follower numbers from http://www.twinge.tv/zeenigami/growth/#/359

A large portion of my success I have to attribute to lucky timing, and a very lucky game to play on Twitch/Youtube. Surprisingly, I don’t find myself bored of One Piece Treasure Cruise even though I play it every day for a few hours a day. Playing the more popular games like Hearthstone, League of Legends, and others at this point could be a viable path for me. I have a large enough viewer base that if I went to a different game I have a chance of at least being on the front page, even though I would lose a large sect of our viewers. However, making a jump to a different game without continuing with OPTC would not only mean I lose out on many loyal fans, but I’d also estrange myself from many of my viewers who have come to expect a certain style of content from not only the Twitch stream, but also the YouTube channel.

Expanding to the Future

April, 2016 – When I first started my Twitch & YouTube journey, I set out to be a variety channel who focuses on high level gameplay and providing the gaming community with tips & tricks for whatever game we play. I draw a lot of inspiration from the Day[9] Daily, a show that focused on creating daily strategic looks at Starcraft 2 gameplay and strategies, and breaking down the game. In general, I feel like I’ve succeeded in what I set out to do. I make walkthrough videos for a game, and promote discussions about strategies that work and don’t work, and help newer and experienced players make their way through the most difficult content in the game. However, there’s a question that I always keep on my mind, “What comes next?”.

When OPTC ends, or when I eventually grow tired of the game, how do I keep my viewers? I still desire to be a variety channel, and with that goal I understand that many viewers will only stick around for a certain game. I have started making it a habit to start with OPTC where our main viewers come from. I now run around 300 concurrent viewers when streaming OPTC, but when we move onto something else we’ll lose about 2/3rds of our viewers. I want to start making game review videos on YouTube and really improve my video editing, but that’s something that I’m currently learning and hoping to improve upon.

There will always be those viewers who will stick around no matter what. Those amazing few, upon whom the entire channel is built. If you’re one of those viewers, from the bottom of my heart I thank you. If you’re a content creator, I hope that one day you’ll find those viewers for yourself. The First Follower theory holds true to streaming. Not many people will stick around for a stream with 0 viewers, but once you start getting some momentum it really starts to roll. The problem is taking that first step. Do you have the willpower to stick with it, even when nobody watches?

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Twitch growth charts from http://socialblade.com/youtube/user/zeen09

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” – Ira Glass

Suggested Reading:

The 1000 true fans theory. A little out of date as it was written in 2008 before the rise of large YouTube stars and other creatives on the internet, but it’s an amazing look at something that has been proven true by the internet. – http://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/

First follower theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fW8amMCVAJQ

 

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