Twitch streamers are modern celebrities, ones that cater to diverse audiences through video games. But some have taken it upon themselves to innovate beyond the norm in an attempt to connect with their viewers in a meaningful and resonant way — and that can take rather odd forms. One of the more successful examples of this phenomenon happened back in February, when Daniel “RTGame” Condren gathered 200 viewers in a single Minecraft server to convert an entire biome into an islandic homage to corporate giant Starbucks.
“I started streaming in the summer of 2016, but I’ve been making videos since 2011,” Condren tells me. At the beginning, it was little more than a hobby, something to keep him occupied after school and college. However, Condren’s channel exploded in popularity last year, and since then he’s made a point to build on the endless possibilities imbued in the act of streaming.
Community projects like this Minecraft mission are the crux of the new-age relationships formed between streamers and their audiences. Some streamers can be relatively detached from viewers, rarely responding to chat and being uninterested in whether what they’re playing lines up with what they like. On the flip side, Condren consciously tries to involve them in the most engaging way possible, which is why 200 people spent hours building coffee shops in digital space.
“I wanted to involve my viewers more,” Condren explains, referring to why he decided to orchestrate a project like this. “I’d see these major streamers playing a game by themselves and not even attempting to interact with their chat.” Some streamers could have thousands of viewers tuning in at any given time, but won’t bother communicating with chat unless they’re obligingly and insincerely thanking somebody for a sizable donation.
“It always felt like a waste of potential,” Condren continues. “You have thousands of people here excited to see you, but they might as well be watching a pre-recorded video. So I wanted to present something more engaging that my viewers could actually get involved with and take part in.”
This is one of the most distinct disparities between Twitch and other sharing platforms. While the Starbucks video has since been immortalized on YouTube, people could view the project in the moment on Twitch. With streaming, you can communicate and connect with viewers in an immediate way, which is why Twitch’s chat often becomes flooded with a barrage of comments from people wanting to join in on the fun.
This is largely what inspired Condren to stream something more tangible in the first place. “I used to watch a bunch of old Minecraft videos where servers would host build days,” he explains. “Twenty or so trusted players would come together to try and create something. The end result would always look incredible because it was a closed group of people playing with specific instruction — we’re building a medieval town, you build this house, I’ll do this castle. There was a strong sense of planning and control.”
However, Condren thought he’d put his own spin on the concept of build days. “I thought it might be more fun to forsake that, and let people build with only a vague direction or theme,” he continues. “So I’d chuck 200 players onto a blank spot of land, say something like ‘we’re making a restaurant,’ and let them get to work.”
Part of what makes this special is that it assimilates a plethora of players into a single space, united by objective as opposed to discourse. “The only communication between us is the live stream itself, which is already a delayed feed that only lets me talk to them,” Condren explains. “I can’t hear them, and I have no idea what’s actually being built most of the time.
The way in which things are structured is also deliberately vague. Participating players are provided with blocks and tools that align with the proposed theme, but how they use them is down to their own volition. “It’s like planning for a construction site with no blueprint,” Condren explains.
It’s not totally disorganized, though. “I have moderators that help make sure the theme is being followed and distribute resources to the players, and I can’t thank them enough for this,” Condren tells me. “But the idea is to let the mob of players decide how to best represent the theme. It’s an outright chaotic experience, but the remarkable thing is it somehow still works. The end result is outright impressive considering there’s very little coordination and only vague direction. The build somehow always comes together.”
It’s a curious thing, seeing a project like this materialize into a creative collaboration between people who aren’t even speaking with one another. While it’s easy to dismiss building a coffee shop in Minecraft as ordinary, the communal aspect of the project makes it extraordinary. It’s also sincere and transparent about the fact it’s primarily designed to be fun. “You’ve got 200 people together and so much potential,” Condren explains. “Should we build a famous landmark, a temple in the jungle, or a city in the sky? No thanks, let’s build a franchise cafe.”
This transparency and unpretentious willingness to prioritize fun is inherent to what makes these streams so accessible. “Part of the comedy of the streams is taking a tacky theme and trying to make it look impressive,” Condren continues. “We had another session where we tried to build a mansion and it turned into Yelp’s review headquarters, and another where we just dug a hole for two hours. The stream was one of my favorites. The end result just oozed creativity.” In this case, Condren’s designated build site was located on a small hill, which players then decided to hollow out and convert into an arch structure. “Some other players branched off to build a formal cafe with a seaside view that was separate to the main island,” Condren adds. “They also built memes. Lots of terrible memes.”
While Minecraft is an instantly recognizable name, Condren also arranges sessions on Twitch that are a little more niche. “I’ve played Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes, a bomb defusal game where one person has a bomb and the other has a manual that tells you how to defuse the bomb,” he explains. “But the person with the bomb can’t see it. I did a stream where I essentially gave chat the manual, and I had a collective hive mind of 3,000 people telling me which wire I needed to cut in order to save my life. That was an experience.”
These kinds of projects are what makes streaming unique and why communities on Twitch can produce some absolute gems. “I just try to come up with new ways to get my audience involved with my streams,” Condren tells me. “I do playthroughs of RPGs where I let chat decide every major decision. I always let chat come up with things like names for characters. If a game has multiplayer support, I let my audience join and play with me. A large part of the humor of my streams comes from the back and forth between myself and my chat, so I try to get them as involved as I possibly can.”
Condren is also incredibly grateful for the fact his chat are willing to participate in these passion projects. “Honestly, the support the past year has been astounding and completely life changing,” he continues. Since starting to invest time and effort into these community projects, Condren’s regular audience has skyrocketed from a modest 30 to a whopping 3,000. “There’s a definite sense of community around the channel and I’ve made many new friends from it. I truly love being able to entertain people for a living, and I’ll forever be thankful to my audience for enabling that.”
“I’m glad it does resonate with people — it definitely makes life more interesting, and I’m thankful for it.”