A Starter’s Guide to Casting

At some point in the recent past you’ve gone from someone who watches Twitch to someone who would like to give casting a try for themselves. Here’s some things that I’ve learned in the last six months of casting that might give you some insight. I’m a strong believer that everyone’s journey is different, but there’s certainly something that can be taken from those who have traveled the same path before.

The information here is more to do with the approach to casting, rather than the technical aspects of it. It’s presented with a mind towards cultivating a viewership. With that said, on with the advice.

YOU ARE THE PRODUCT

When you cast, you are essentially playing a game to an audience. More than that though, it’s you that are playing that game. People are coming for one of a few reasons; they’re watching you because you’re outstanding at what you do, or you’re entertaining them in another way. You don’t necessarily have to be the worlds best Battlefield 4 player, you can fail at doing that, as long as you’re engaging and entertaining. Your cast is more than about you, but ultimately you’re the one driving it.

There are countless things to consider when you realize that you are the product. You’ll want to be mindful of your appearance. Your attitude. How you act on cast. What you say and how you respond to different things. All of these things are what make up you, and are ultimately the cornerstone of your cast. It’s a good thing to reflect on while
thinking about all the other things cast related.

The casters I love best are the sort of people I like to associate myself with. They’re the sort of people I’d want to hang out with (but then I am in a way). I’ve seen my favorite casters at their best and their worst, celebrating victories, and haggard from sickness and lack of sleep. They are all genuine people though, who are who they are without pretense, all of them capable of making mistakes and admitting them.

SAME TIME, SAME PLACE

We’re all creatures of habit. We like our entertainment to be there when we want it, and we want it regular. If I know my favorite program is going to be on at a certain time, I’m more likely to allow for that in my busy life. You want to break down every barrier you can between yourself and your audience’s ability to access you. One of the most important things you can do is be there regularly, be there when you say you’ll be there, and never deviate.

This will mean you can’t pull a sickie on a cast. It means you can’t succumb to the mood of not being bothered tonight. Yes, you have a day job, but you’re a caster and not a viewer. Every other caster in our position also has a day job (well, almost every other caster). If your audience knows that at this time on this day you’re going to be there and they trust that you will be, then they’re more likely to tune in. You want to become their entertaining habit.

That’s not to say there aren’t casters who don’t cast all over the place. I’m likely to tune into ManVsGame whenever the hell he wants to do his thing. We don’t yet have his cult of personality and charismatic pulling power. It’s still our audiences that make the rules. I cut my favorite casters slack though. I listen to them when they need to change their schedules up, or somethings happened in life that means they can’t make it. The important thing is that they’ve communicated that to me, and my expectation is set correctly.

A small note here about cast length. Same time, same place also extends to this. You’ll want to try and keep roughly the same length of cast each time. It’s about expectation again more than anything. It also leads directly into the next point.

PACE YOURSELF

This piece of advice ties into so many things that are hard about casting. It’s almost impossible to explain to someone in a viewers position that what you’re doing is work. As far as they can tell you’re just sitting there playing a game. We know better. Consider the long game in this, it’s not a sprint. All communities grow at different rates, and yours might not grow as fast as someone else’s. Your viewer count might be in a place you love one week, and down at levels that
make you want to quit the next.

You have to play the long game in a number of areas. The reality is that you’re working a part time job, it’s just one that you really enjoy doing. The physical effort builds up over time and will get to you. Get regular sleep. Eat well. Spent time away from casting. Make sure your casts have regular breaks in them too, and keep to them even if you don’t feel like breaking. You want to give 100% to this particular cast, but you also want to give the same effort to your ongoing career.

The mental game is one you will have to pace yourself in as much as the physical one. You can’t let things get to you and affect you, whether it be trolls, break downs, broadcast quality or any number of hundreds of things that will dog you.

Around the time I started casting I asked CDNthe3rd what advice he had. He just replied with his usual smile; ‘prepare to never sleep’. I know that he meant I was going to be casting a lot and sleeping a lot less, but I’ve adapted that sentiment a lot since then. It ultimately boils down to knowing your limits and remember that like the game we are playing on cast is just a game, casting is just casting. Pace yourself. You’re in this for the long haul.

NUMBERS AREN’T EVERYTHING

This draws as much on the previous advice in terms of the mental game, but there’s some specific advice I think needs to be given its own weight. You need to know your motivations, and they can’t be the numbers. Twitch presents you with plenty of them at all times, and there’s even more subtle number indications throughout every cast. The numbers will eat them if you allow them to. Watching your concurrent viewer numbers going up and down during your cast cannot do anything to how you deliver your cast. Same is said of follower numbers.

The truth in this matter is something that will become apparent if you think about your own Twitch viewing habits. People have lives. They need to prioritize your cast in amongst that. That means your numbers will fluctuate a lot, and this variation will seem more pronounced when you start due to your innately smaller audience base. You have no control over this other than making sure you’re doing your job right. Instead of comparing yourself to like casts, consider whether you’re presenting the best product you can.

Never make goals of numbers. They’re unachievable given your lack of control over them. Rather let the numbers surprise you and learn to think about them less. You will have nights where you are casting to one person, but you better make them feel like the most important person in the world. You’re just as likely to have viewer spikes as well, and you better make sure its all about the community that you’re building. Whatever you do, never cut a cast short because you feel like no ones watching. They are, you just don’t see that reported for about 30 seconds after they’ve entered, and possibly already left.

It was a YouTube video I watched on the basics of casting that gave the advice of taping over the viewer count while you’re casting. Ignore the numbers and pretend that you’re casting to an audience of 1,000 every night.

NEVER STOP TALKING

It might well have been the same caster that gave me this one, but its probably one of the most important points I’ve seen about casting. One of the strongest features of Twitch as a format is its interactivity. This goes beyond the one to one communication of caster to single viewer, it’s as much the mere fact that the caster and audience haven the ability to interact. It’s just as important to talk to your audience for those who aren’t interacting with you, because that
interaction is half of the format. It’s half the reason I’m fine with sitting in Subscriber only chats, unable to talk. I can see the caster gives a shit about me, not just his game. If I wanted to see just the game, I’d watch YouTube.

Never stop talking to your audience, even if they don’t reply. No matter if you have one person or one hundred people. Direct questions and interaction with your audience is important, but if they don’t reply or they sit silent, change it up. Talk about what you’re doing on the game. Talk about what you love or hate about the game. Tell a funny story you heard last week.

The most important thing about this is that you’re not just talking to your audience, you’re proving to the person who just tuned in that something’s happening. Something they want to be a part of. First impressions count. Better they come in on the tale end of some fantastical MMORPG story than to see you staring stony faced at the screen. The new viewer will often give you little more than 10 seconds for them to form their opinion of whether they’ll keep watching, or find someone else who is playing exactly the same game.

Don’t be discouraged by the lack of response from your audience. More often than not you’re a background to something else they’re doing. They are listening, and they do remember. Leap at the interactions you can get, greet everyone who comes into the channel and says hi. Occasionally check your viewer lists and call out those who haven’t spoken, you’d be surprised how many of them start talking. Everyone wants to feel special, and its your job to make them feel like this is
their cast as much as yours. You’ve been a viewer, you know what you don’t like seeing from a caster in terms of their interactivity.

A final few notes on this point; turn off your cellphone. Eliminate distractions of Facebook messenger or Skype. Get rid of anything that’s going to be a barrier between you and your audience. And as much as you might hate it, make sure you have a camera. Sure, Lirik gets away with just his voice, but he’s in a different ballpark from us. You need to do yourself the favor of making interactivity easier with your audience, and let them see your physical reactions to things.

ITS ALL ABOUT US

Alex Valle is an older professional Street Fighter player from the west coast of America. He once said about communities that its best you take your time with building them, rather than rushing it and risking them falling apart. This goes along with the previous point, and the idea of pacing yourself as well as so many different aspects of casting. Twitch isn’t just about playing a game on a cast. It’s about community. You need to focus on yourself and how you conduct your cast, but its not about you. It can’t be. It’s all about us.

This is my favorite thing about Twitch, and it’s the thing that I find is both my motivator and the thing that I come back to when the cast hits the rocks. We’re essentially building a community around ourselves, people who share our own love of games, who enjoy hanging out with us and the others in our community. This takes time. It’s the hardest thing to do, its also the most rewarding. You’ll have casts where you don’t give a fuck that it’s just two or three viewers, because you love hanging out with them. You’ll have casts where you have everyone suddenly turn up out of the blue for the most incredible
cast you’ve run, and you’ll hate the point you have to hit ‘stop broadcasting’ on your software.

These people are the reason you can cast. They’re your audience. Look after them. Protect them. Give them the safe environment they need to spend the hours with you. Make the new members feel welcome. Be mindful of how you speak to them. Treat them with the utmost respect, and set the correct expectations with them in regards to your casting. Interact with them. Have time for them. Treat them right and they will have your back against even the worst of situations.

Ultimately you’ll be building your cast around something you like or something that you’re good at, but make sure you give your community the opportunity to be a bigger part of it. Ask them what they want you to do. Organize community evenings and events. Do everything you can to make sure your audience feels when the cast ends that they’re looking forward to the next time. The best compliment you can get from your audience is hearing them say “I was meant to be in bed an hour
ago, but …”

You’re building rapport with your audience on a one on one level, which might be hard depending on your skill sets. If you ask them something directly and they give you an answer, you better try and remember it. It will come up again. Knowing that the username that hasn’t logged in since last week is actually someone from Bristol shows you care about them as a person, not just a number. That care and attention will have them logging in again next time.

HAVE FUN

I’ve done a good job in this article of explaining how Twitch casting is absolutely nothing like the effortless ride that we as viewers see. You might even be having second thoughts about all this business now with the weight of things. Don’t. Do your thing, and most of all have fun with it. Know why you want to do it, and find your reason to keep doing it. If it’s not fun any more, either swap things up or consider whether it’s something you really want to do. Your audience will be able to tell if you’re treating this as something you have to do rather than want to do. They’ll know if you’re not having fun. No one
wants to watch that.

As an addition to this, don’t spend money to start your casting career. You don’t want to spend money on an expensive headset, camera and rig, only to discover a month later that casting isn’t your thing. You can still adhere to all of the above advice on the most basic of setups, and it won’t affect your ability to grow. I’ve seen Eddie Ruckus run a top notch looking cast with green screens and overlays, I’ve also seen him run a cast with just his game and his camera in a box in the corner (complete with bedroom behind him). It’s the same cast, the same caster.

Casting is certainly one of the tougher things I’ve done in life, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding. Start your journey with baby steps, and before you know it you’ll be six months in, walking on your own feet.

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