How it began
“My friend Simon Williams was one of the first people to stream chess. Before I launched my own Twitch account I had already appeared as a guest on Simon’s channel in early 2016. Later that year my English team Cheddleton qualified for the European Club Cup in Novi Sad, but unfortunately there were no funds to support our participation. That’s when I decided to launch a fundraiser, set up a GoFundMe page and set up a Twitch account to support the campaign. All the players from the team took turns to join the streams, and we used all incoming donations to participate in the event. Both on the GoFundMe page and on Twitch we offered our donors small benefits – we sent them signed postcards from Novi Sad for instance. It was a successful campaign.
Establishing myself on Twitch
Afterwards I didn’t stream for a year or so. A pity, since I pretty much had to start from scratch again and didn’t have much to build on. When I started anew and streamed semi-regularly, I quickly became a Twitch affiliate. Finding time for more frequent streaming was difficult since I was travelling so much. But a regular streaming schedule, as well as a minimum number of viewers are required in order to make Twitch partner. And that is the milestone every streamer tries to reach. I got there in October 2018.
It seems to be easier today. There are many more people watching, and big chess servers partnering with Twitch helped a lot of streamers. Back when I (finally) reached partner status it was similar to fulfilling GM norms – with the notable difference that Twitch could reject your application even if you had made all the norms. Actually this happened to me the first time I applied. These days chess seems to occupy a much more prominent place on the stream scene, which is good to see.
The setup required
In the beginning my setup was amateurish: my regular laptop, a single screen. Just imagine: playing chess, following the chat and looking after the software you have running – all on one screen. This was not only a royal pain for me, but also a messy experience for the viewers. Two screens is the minimum to work with: one for playing (or anything the viewers see on screen) and another for the chat, the software and everything else I might want to look up. When I decided to become more serious about the whole streaming thing I bought a desktop, two screens, a decent camera and microphone.
By the way, my desktop was funded by the Twitch community. I had set a donation goal of 1,000 Euros and then this anonymous person dropped by and donated 500 Euros in one go, which was an incredible feeling. The whole setup that I use today cost me around 1,500 Euros. A decent amount of money, but nothing crazy.
Energy and passion
I’m a very social person. With streaming I have found a tool that lets me interact with real life friends as well as with people from all over the world who I wouldn’t have met otherwise. There’s a community element around the chess channels that I enjoy a lot.
However, it’s also important to listen to your body and mind. I think every streamer can relate to occasionally feeling a bit burnt out. When this happens in my experience it’s important to take some time off in order to recharge. Viewers will very likely pick up on a lack of your usual drive. Authentic passion and energy make successful Twitch channels, and this is something you cannot fake. If you don’t get any joy out of streaming at any moment in time, there’s no point in forcing it.
Scheduling and planning
In the early days there was not a whole lot of planning going on. I would just go live whenever I felt like it, without much of a concept of what I would do. I played chess mostly. Usually I would set up my own Lichess tournaments for the viewers to join. I also spent many hours just chatting with the viewers, or showing photos for instance. These days it’s become increasingly important to come up with a schedule and stick to it, especially with so many other chess streamers appearing on the scene. Recently I put quite a lot of time and effort into scheduling and planning. For the first time in my life I am now using an actual planner! What kind of show do I want to do and when? Whom do I bring in as a guest? Questions like these need to be answered before I publish my schedule.
People enjoy being actively engaged. For instance I was very excited to be invited to take part in Lichess’ Streamers Battle recently, and amazed at how many people joined Fiona’s Fight Club (a name I came up with during a stream, with the help from my viewers) from the get-go. The same goes for the recent Subs Battle against Simon’s subscribers, where we were commentating on their games live on stream. We had a great dynamic in the chat. People like being involved, and events like these make it easier for me to be passionate and energetic about what I am doing.
Streaming, a job?
Currently I would say I’m a part-time streamer. It’s still difficult to make a living solely from streaming. I’m currently stuck around the 200 subscribers mark, which equals about 500 Euros per month. On top of that there’s the donations and bits of course, but it’s easy to see that even with those streaming hardly adds up to a full-time salary for me. On the other hand, there are a lot of other benefits. The streaming is closely linked to all social media activity and my ‘Fionchetta’ brand in general, which in turn can lead to commentary jobs or other projects and offers. It all goes hand in hand, and my journey of figuring out how to combine all those aspects and make the most out if it is still far from over.”
As told to Conrad Schormann
Webinar “Streaming Chess: What you need to know“ with Fiona Steil-Antoni on 28 May (Thu), 14.00–15.30 CEST, €10