Live-streaming isn’t a wilderness, but it can feel that way sometimes: even if you know what you’re doing, finding your way to someone new can be daunting. That’s why my favorite thing about live-streaming is the raid, which is when a streamer who’s done streaming sends their entire live audience to another currently live streamer. (Yes, it’s opt in.) As a viewer, it feels like taking part in an event — suddenly, you, in your numbers, are a piece of entertainment. And as a bonus, now you have something new to watch after your streamer has signed off.
It’s here that I should probably mention that a lot of the time, raids are pre-planned, with raid targets already in mind and at hand. (This kind of raid can feel a little like TV, which has its specific programming blocks.) When they’re not, however, the whole thing can feel magical. There aren’t many better feelings than seeing your viewership double or triple because someone else thinks the thing you’re doing is cool.
It happened to me recently: the other day, I was streaming some Portal 2 with my friend Nicole during an otherwise very normal night, and then 401 new people appeared in my chat, sent over by Secret Sleepover Society, two streamers I really like who had just finished their own broadcast. It was overwhelming but in a really nice way. Quarantine has deadened my capacity for surprise — if only because my life in New York has shrunk to the size of a Brooklyn apartment, and I’d forgotten what it was like to have a truly pleasant serendipitous encounter. It also immediately illuminated the other reason raids are important to streaming culture: the hardest part of growing your channel is just getting it in front of new people. (This, of course, goes for everything.)
The algorithms on platforms like Mixer and Twitch are pretty good at surfacing new, small channels you might not have seen before, but the sheer volume of content means that, as a streamer, you’re better off building relationships with other broadcasters whose stuff you vibe with. On the streaming sites that have the feature, like Twitch and Mixer, raids are a way to build community and a way for larger channels to give smaller ones more attention. It’s an elegant solution to the discoverability problem and one of the most important tools broadcasters have to build intra-streamer communities. I’ve found a host of new, cool streamers from raids I’ve joined, people who do things that I wouldn’t necessarily think I’d have been interested in.
The culture around raiding is one of the more wholesome things on the internet. When a channel is raided by someone else, those new viewers tend to spam their streamers’ emotes in the chat; when it’s a much larger channel raiding a smaller one, the small streamers’ reactions are the best part. It’s also one of the best ways to build communities in live-streaming: when you decide to raid someone, you’re telling your audience that they should implicitly trust your taste in streamers and that this is a person you should be watching. The other part, which I think is important, is that it goes against the competitive nature of streaming. A raid is an act of generosity.
It’s also something to pass on. After Secret Sleepover Society sent over their viewers, I sent everyone who decided to stay over to a high-energy friend’s channel. After that, he sent the remainder to another pal. A rising tide lifts all streams, etc.
I always go on raids now, even if I can only stay for a little while. It’s nice to see streamers freak out about a bunch of new people watching their stream — it also usually comes with a flood of follows, donations, and subscriptions — and it’s also a great way to find new people to watch. But the best thing about raids is just how excited people get when they happen because excitement is infectious. It can transmute a normal night into something worth remembering.