Livestreaming Should Not Be a Life or Death Scenario

Gamer with Headphones on surrounded by tombstones that say Game over

According to a report from China Daily, a young man from Zhengzhou, China named Li Hao has died after attempting a series of marathon livestreaming sessions. The report suggests that Li had been contracted by a company called Henan Qinyi Culture and Media Co. to stream for at least 240 hours across just 26 days, which works out to over 9 hours per day, with zero days off. On November 10, Li was found unresponsive at his home, and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital; media reports suggest that he worked himself to a point of “exhaustion.”

Some of the details in this particular case are a bit murky. While some sources have alleged that Henan Qinyi Culture and Media Co. was responsible for determining Li’s schedule – and even assigned him to stream overnight, when he could bring in additional earnings from larger audiences – the company claims he was working for them on a freelance basis, and set his own hours.

Not an Isolated Incident

Sadly, this is not the first report of this kind of incident. In 2017, popular “World of Tanks” player Brian “Poshybrid” Vigneault died during a marathon Twitch livestream while raising funds for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Vigneault’s death was never definitively tied to his lengthy livestreams, but friends and followers claimed that he looked “extremely tired” and had nearly fallen asleep at several points.

In 2015 alone, two deaths in Taiwan were both linked to marathon gaming sessions. A 32-year-old was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead after workers at an internet cafe discovered him slumped over in his chair just days after a 38-year-old was found dead at a different internet cafe.

With millions of people around the world livestreaming themselves every day, a certain number of semi-related deaths is inevitable, just statistically. Nonetheless, these kinds of extended streaming sessions absolutely do come with health risks. Following Vigneault’s death in 2017, another Twitch user – Joe Marino – posted a widely-shared article to Medium in which he discussed the extremely negative impact of marathon streaming on his health. 

The Demands of Internet Stardom

According to Marino, successfully building a significant audience on Twitch requires an extremely demanding schedule; he estimates that a minimum of 8 hours per day, 6 days a week, was required in order to gain any traction, even many years ago. Often, while growing his community, Marino claims he livestreamed for up to 18 hours. Not only is this level of constant activity physically and mentally exhausting all on its own, but as Marino notes in his post, streaming on platforms like Twitch is a largely sedentary activity that doesn’t allow the streamer to get up and move around. 

In 2023, some online creators have concluded that building a fresh audience on Twitch has become so cumbersome, it’s not worth even attempting. In a popular video posted last year, YouTuber Stream Scheme suggests that there’s no real viable way for a newcomer to crack into Twitch’s new recommendation system, and smaller creators are better off focusing on other platforms such as YouTrube Shorts or TikTok.

And it’s not just a question of total hours devoted to streaming online. Many creators also maintain their on-camera energy and enthusiasm – which are of course required to engage and activate your viewers, to increase your earnings – by drinking, smoking, or ingesting other substances throughout their streaming sessions, which naturally can cause additional health complications. 

In a 2015 Twitch stream, Jayson “MANvsGAME” Love told his audience that he’d been struggling with drug addiction, having used amphetamines such as Adderall to combat depression and power through his marathon 24-hour plus streaming sessions for many years. “World of Warcraft” streamer Rob Garcia told The New York Times that his weight ballooned from 280 pounds to 420 pounds after growing a large audience on Twitch and developing related unhealthy habits.

The Role of Platforms…

Actual livestream-related deaths are still relatively rare. Still, there’s clearly some kind of link between streaming for a large chunk of time every single day and a detrimental impact to a user’s physical and mental health. Just as Henan Qinyi Culture and Media Co. are assuring detractors that they simply provided the means for Li Hao to earn money via livestreaming – without actually assigning him a set schedule – Twitch doesn’t tell its creators they have to use the platform for a set amount of time. Nonetheless, the propensity for doing so is empirically demonstrable. Streaming platforms know this is happening.

Their actual response, however, has remained largely muted. Twitch’s posted community guidelines bar “self-destructive behavior,” which includes activity “that may endanger your life” or “lead to your physical harm,” but they don’t go any further into specifics. The bulk of the language in this section is geared toward more overtly self-harming practices, such as encouraging suicide, cutting, using hard drugs, sharing favorable content about eating disorders, and so forth. A Twitch Help search for “marathon streaming” produces no results. 

Clearly, the platform could be doing more to inform users about the potential dangers of streaming for days or weeks on end without taking occasional breaks to chat with a friend, eat a sensible meal, or maybe even walk around the block. But there’s also an argument to be made that these companies shouldn’t be encouraging this kind of behavior more generally. Should tech companies design their products to align with a healthy overall lifestyle, rather than encouraging creators to push themselves past their breaking points? 

Instead, Twitch earns revenue in large part based on the volume of content that gets streamed to the platform, particularly by the most popular personalities with the largest audiences. The more time these people spend online, the more tips they earn, the larger audience they maintain over a longer period of time, the more ads their viewers get served, and so on. As a for-profit venture, they’re heavily incentivized to keep streamers online for longer and longer sessions.

In 2017 – the same year that Vigneault died during a marathon streaming session – Twitch introduced the “IRL Directory,” encouraging streamers to begin sharing anything from their lives using mobile devices, even when they weren’t at home playing games. As Ben Bowman noted at the time in an editorial for Polygon, this naturally contributed to already-frequent streamers surrendering even more of their lives to the app. Now, they were expected to bring their audiences along with them on errands, in addition to livecasting their leisure time at home. When, as Bowman notes, a creator is already streaming for 12-16 hours each day, seven days a week, this additional expectation can feel overwhelming.

…And Viewers!

Part of the responsibility clearly lies on Twitch and related platforms, which benefit so greatly from the efforts of creators, and need to do their part in keeping these users healthy and safe. Still, it would be terrific if the streaming audience also did their part as well. The selfish, parasocial desire to keep your favorite streamers online ALL THE TIME, like a security blanket you can grab onto any time you feel lonely or bored, is certainly understandable.

But it’s not really good for anyone’s long-term health, viewer or streamer alike. Moderation is good in all things, including making and watching internet content, and if fans were more understanding and graceful about working within reasonable schedules, streamers would not feel so pressured to endanger their health so the show might go on.

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