The in-depth qualitative interviews produced four distinctly unique selective codes generated from 94 open codes. The main themes uncovered through the interviews that show how streamers are perceived by gamers, Streamer as an Entertainer (Sect. 4.1), Streamer as Inspiration to Play (Sect. 4.2), Streamer as Endorser (Sect. 4.3). Each selective code or theme consists of 3-4 axial codes or sub-themes that are discussed in this chapter.
Streamer as an Entertainer
Streamers are mainly perceived as a source of entertainment by gamers, and this is the main reason why they decide to watch their videos and follow their channel. Within this theme, we found three different motivations for gamers to consume streamer’s content that are linked to different ways in which this content is perceived as entertaining. These correspond to the three axial codes: consume content for fun, consume content for relaxation and consume content as an engaging learning experience.
Fun in the form of entertaining content is seen to be a key motivator in attracting viewers to a stream and also necessary to develop a positive relationship with viewers. Fun is usually linked by gamers to the personality of the streamer and their gameplay, something that was also shown by previous research (Nascimento et al. 2014b; Sjöblom and Hamari 2017). Humor is one way of creating fun through the streamer’s own personality or the content they show on their channel. Max (24), for example, stated that he primarily watches the streamer Nickmerc’s videos because “It’s just got a lot of jokes […] and when he invites other streamers and he’s playing together with is also like making jokes with them and he just seems like a nice guy”. Conversely participants noted that when they did not agree with a streamers’ personality or style of presenting content they were less inclined to consume their videos and did not seek their advice to improve gameplay. Rodri (24), stated “If I don’t really like them and I don’t like what they’re saying, then I’d rather not watch them”. These gamers illustrate how personality is an important factor in creating entertaining content, which was also stated to match gameplay in terms of importance for perceiving a video as entertaining.
Aside from just consuming content for fun, some participants also stated that they watched a streamer’s YouTube video for relaxation, most often after work or during meals. Max (24) said “That’s what I mean by unwind, to come home after a long day and not think about the day anymore”. In this case watching streamers’ videos is a form of escapism.
A majority of participants were also motivated to consume content as an engaging learning experience with streamers and used their YouTube videos to improve their own gameplay. In this case the learning process itself is perceived as entertaining. For example, Rodri (24) stated “I do like the guy, and I’ve kinda grown with him since I started. But in general, he is a really good builder, as a player is really good, strategically speaking and how he builds, how he edits and all this. So I really enjoy seeing that part. And actually learning from him, he does also a lot of educational videos which is also one of the reasons that I got really into this guy’s stream because he actually taught you how to do what he was trying, what he was doing”. This quote shows how the learning process itself is seen as entertainment and how this encourages the gamer to consume more of the streamer’s content in order to improve their gameplay. By packing the information in an entertaining format, gamers are able to consume their content for self-improvement as well as entertainment and may become closer to the streamer.
Streamer as an Inspiration to Play
While the first theme shows that gamers mainly approach streamers because they perceived their content as entertaining, this second themes shows that watching their content becomes an inspiration for them to play in different ways. Within this theme we identified four different axial codes, that show that streamers inspire competition, inspire collaboration, inspire curiosity and inspire commitment in gamers; and this shapes their experience of the game and thus their perception.
Streamers inspire competition in gamers through their own high-level of gameplay. Gamers would watch this gameplay to use it to improve their own to achieve more wins and/or kills. Gamers noted that they would feel inspired to play after watching high-level gameplay to try and mimic the feelings they had while watching the streamer. For example Wisse (24) said: “you tend to get in like a, some sort of fugue state or at least get a really good focus in that kind of games [high-level] because you know that you can maybe possibly win or at least get a victory. And in those moments, you tend to really play at your best. And because he [Tfue] is my vision of what’s best and the way he plays, I might make different decisions on the basis of what I’ve seen in his videos”. As noted in existing literature, this sense of achievement then inspires their competitiveness amongst friends and in online matches (Boyle et al. 2012; Glas 2015).
Gamers who were less competitive, however, manifested that streamers inspired them to collaborate with friends. Many gamers noted that playing with friends or watching streamer videos with friends encouraged them to play more. For example, Max (24), said: “I do feel like the idea of playing a game together, experiencing the same battles, may create some bonding moments or some team building in a way because we need to communicate in order to win. And when you’re not fighting, you’re socializing”. In this case it was the distance separating friends as well as their combined interest in the streamer Nickmercs and SypherPK that encouraged the group to play more together and utilize what they learned from the streamer.
In other cases the streamer would showcase new game modes in Fortnite and seeing this would encourage gamers to try these new modes. The streamer, in this case, inspires curiosity in gamers by highlighting different in-game mechanics and modes that players can make use of. Recently Fortnite has expanded its game modes from the standard battle royale modes by adding a creative mode, where gamers can create their own maps and game types to share online and with up to 16 friends. Kojo (24) stated that “Actually I watched Lazerbeam do it and I was like, let me see if I can get through this Deathrun. So, I also actually loaded it up for myself.” Here we see clearly how gamers are more willing to try out things based on streamers’ recommendations if there is a high level of trust, or perception of expertise.
Finally, streamers inspire commitment in gamers through their videos by constantly keeping gamers in the loop with the latest game information. Streamers also package this information in their videos alongside humorous content that keeps players interested in the game. Streamers also promote the rewarding aspects of the game to players and show what benefits they can gain through commitment. Max (24) said, “I think it does a little bit. It adds to the incentive to keep playing” when referring to the rewards the streamer shows you and whether that keeps a gamer playing a game. Previous literature of influencer marketing (De Veirman et al. 2017; Greenheck et al. 2018) can be used to support the idea that gamers are inspired to commit to the game because they trust the streamer and are enticed by the rewards the game offers
Streamer as an Endorser
The previous two themes explained first, the reasons why gamers are motivated to follow streamers, and second, why they also become a source of inspiration on how to play. This third theme is focused on explaining how streamers’ endorsements of concrete virtual products or game mechanics in the game are perceived by gamers. This theme is formed from four axial codes being skins perceived as giving social status, battle pass perceived to provide rewards, highlighting skin choice in the player’s game, promoting new game mechanics.
Skins are outfits for a player’s avatar that can be obtained from the Fortnite battle pass or purchased directly from the Epic Games store. As gamers consume streamer video content and become more invested in the game, they simultaneously also become more invested in the community skin subcultures surrounding the game. Wisse (24) mentioned that “some people tend to have like subcultures within the game, within the skins as then the soccer players are the best players, or the John Wick skin had some type of image around it. So, it does add to the game because a lot of people play it and certain people that have certain skins will then get a certain image”. The interviews revealed that gamers perceived skins as a means of social status within the game, where certain skin choices are associated with concrete skills, such as the scuba skin, while others such as the default skin are associated with a lack of skill. Interviews also show that certain streamers like Tfue have changed this perception, by using the default skin and performing high-level gameplay as mentioned by Dennis (24) “he [Tfue] would only have a default skin. So, you know, before he did that, whenever people saw someone with no skin, they were bots, you know, people would rush them because it was free kills. But after a while when the game was out because most people had a skin, whenever you saw a default skin, people would run away from it because those were usually the try-hards”. This notion of “try hard” was brought up by many participants and refers to when a gamer becomes serious and puts all the focus into trying to win the game. Streamers therefore encourage gamers to perceive skins as giving social status by performing high-level gameplay in a certain skin. The streamer’s community then creates the status surrounding the skin and all who purchase that skin become associated with that status. Previous studies already showed that gamers who work up to a certain skin they had been looking forward to not feeling rewarded by their achievement (Guo and Barnes 2009) and expressed this was a key motivator for purchasing the battle pass.
One of the roles of streamers as sources of information on the game is the showcasing of the Fortnite battle pass on their channels. Streamers showcase items players can receive from the battle pass which has shaped the perception that gamers perceive the battle pass to provide rewards. The prospect of rewards was mentioned by many gamers as a motivator to play the game more and complete in-game challenges as mentioned by Kojo (24) “I realized that you can actually earn a whole bunch in the battle pass and you earn more than just skins in the battle pass so I’m like, okay cool, let me actually get the battle pass and work my way to get those skins”. The feeling of being rewarded was also associated with completing the in-game challenges. Gamers noted that certain challenges available to battle pass owners which unlocked specific reactive skins, skins which change appearance in-game, were other aspects that made the battle pass feel rewarding. Bartek (21) said “Now you have that reactive skins are the ones that you have challenges for. So, you know, you’ve got to work for, to extend your skin. So last season it was the pirate’s skin, I really enjoyed that one. You know, how as you progress, you know, it expanded, and it was even cooler”. This feeling of being rewarded and achieving rewards after consistent commitment to playing the game encourages gamers to play more to seek even more rewards (Guo and Barnes 2009), in some cases looking to streamers for information on how to progress.
The showcasing of in-game items by streamers not only serves as promotion for the battle pass but also provides information to gamers on skin choice in the player’s game. Most of the participants who were more committed to the game mentioned that they would watch a streamer’s showcase of new skins to visualize what it would look like in-games of their own. Going further than just aesthetics streamers such as SypherPK provide commentary on the skins’ playability, for instance if a skin has a glitch that allows it to be seen behind cover, or if it takes up too much space on the screen. Mati (24) mentioned, “I did catch myself wearing, you know, or buying skins that I saw Sypher use and I thought they looked pretty cool on him and then I would to get it myself”.
Finally, gamers perceive streamers as endorsers in regards to new information on the game by promoting new game mechanics. The rising trend revealed in the interviews noted that streamers are increasingly creating unique in-game content and game modes and showcasing it on their YouTube channel. New game modes available in the Creative mode of Fortnite such as Deathruns, or end game simulations are perceived as being entertaining and encourage gamers to try out these modes themselves. Andre (24) said, “I think they promote the game because you find new things, new, cool things that you can do in the game right. And um, yeah, they show off the games, full potential and the competitive side kind of, so that’s cool” whereas Kojo (24) even tried one of these new modes out himself after watching his favorite streamer LazerBeam fail to complete one. Streamers are therefore seen as promoting new game mechanics due to their reputation as opinion leaders in the industry, gamers who consume their content see these game modes and due to the association of the streamer being credible (Abidin and Ots 2015; De Veirman et al. 2017; Greenheck et al. 2018), they feel encouraged to try out these new modes themselves. Gamers also noted that they would look to streamers for information on the new “Meta” of the game. Meta refers to the most popular strategies and techniques within a game; for example, when Fortnite was first released the “Meta” was for players to have two shotguns to avoid slow reload times. Fortnite releases updates bi-weekly and in these updates weapons, vehicles and items are removed or added which changes the Meta. Pete (23) would check Tfue’s channel to see “if there’s any buffed [made stronger] or nerfed [made weaker] weapons, things of that nature. Like what’s the new Meta really, like I’ll just see his load out and I’ll be like alright, I’ll see if that works with my gameplay”. Here again we can see that gamers are not idle recipients of messages but take the streamers advice into consideration alongside their own needs. If the streamer is not perceived as being expert enough to understand the current strategies in the game, then they are no longer seen as s source of information but rather a form of entertainment and thus lose the perception of expertise (Lin et al. 2018; Perry 2012; Wu 2016). However if the streamer is perceived as being an expert, such as Tfue, then they create the Meta, as Dennis (24) said, “if you watch Tfue and he’s using another gun and someone asks him, why are you using that gun? It’s bad, you know, and Tfue tells you it’s good and he shows you why it’s good, you know? That weapon becomes popular in no time just, you know streamers. They definitely create the meta” and so we see that the gamers own perception of a streamers expertise and level of trustworthiness shape the perception of the streamer as an endorser in relation to promoting new game mechanics.