This Twitch Streamer Shares How He Turned a Hobby Into a Six-Figure Career
Cory Michael doesn’t recall the exact moment he realized he could make a living playing video games.
Four years ago, he started streaming his game sessions and commentary on the internet as a hobby. Over time, a lot of people — more than 29 million — have tuned in to watch him on Twitch, a free video streaming service that launched in 2011. With that kind of audience, Twitch accepted his partnership application and agreed to pay him to play.
“I just know once I got partnered with Twitch and saw the ball rolling on that, it was pretty clear that I was gonna be able to make revenue on it,” Michael says. When the video game “Destiny” came out, his channel “blew up.”
“I was able to do a lot and made a lot more money than I thought I would be able to on Twitch or in general, especially [as] a guy without a college career.”
Now Michael, who goes by the screen name King Gothalion, has turned broadcasting video games on Twitch from his home into a full-time job that pays him six figures a year.
A Day in the Life of King Gothalion
On an average day, the sounds of a crying baby awaken 33-year-old Michael, who lives in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. After tending to his 5-month-old son, he’ll go back to bed for a couple of hours before helping his two daughters, 9 and 11, get ready for school. Once his wife, Samantha Michael, takes the girls to school, he heads upstairs to his office to start streaming.
Cory’s office is set up like a command center, with keyboards, gaming mouse, audio mixing equipment, a stationary video camera and microphone positioned around a curved wooden desk. He sits in his chair in front of a wall painted Chroma key green and looks at three huge TVs positioned around the desk.
Once the equipment is all systems go, he starts his stream, waits 10 minutes for people to sign in and then begins playing the game.
Michael typically streams for six to nine hours during the day, plus another two to four hours on occasional evenings, totaling anywhere from 50 to 70 hours a week. He usually streams every day and, unless he’s going out of town, only takes about three days off a month.
“You gotta do what you gotta do,” Michael says, adding that success on Twitch is directly linked to the amount of time spent online. “Your metrics are going down when you’re not on.”
Why Does He Think People Watch Him Play?
If you ask Michael how good he is at playing video games, he’ll tell you he’s “OK.”
“[If] you build your channel on your player skill, someone will eventually pass you, but no one else can be a better you,” he says. “I try to build my channel around myself and my values and humor, rather than how good I am at what I’m playing because, eventually, I won’t be… Can’t be the best forever.”
That’s not to say Michael is a slouch. You can still watch him running and gunning his way through multiplayer matches, but viewers also get to know the man behind the King Gothalion screen name. Twitch has a live comments section that allows viewers to interact with the streamer and each other. They get to hear Michael’s commentary on the match, his thoughts about upcoming downloadable content for the games he’s playing and whatever else people ask.
“I think I am pretty good with connecting with people and talking to folks, and I guess they see that as genuine and fun to watch,” he says.
And the game you’ll usually find him playing when you tune in? “Destiny 2.”
Michael says his channel started to gain popularity in 2014 with the release of “Destiny,” a sci-fi first-person shooter franchise. It’s known as a “massively multiplayer online” game, or MMO, which encourages people to play together during missions and raids. This creates an online community and gives the game a longer lifespan than others, which tend to lose popularity once the story missions are complete.
How To Make Money Broadcasting on Twitch
Michael says there are three ways to make money from playing video games on Twitch — tipping, ad revenue and subscriptions.
Viewers can send Twitch streamers tips — sometimes called donations, though Michael doesn’t like that term — directly to the player. Twitch also splits a portion of the pre-roll video ads that play before viewers can watch the stream. And viewers can also subscribe to the King Gothalion channel for $4.99 a month.
Michael won’t say how many total subscribers he has, but he makes sure to recognize them when they watch. He set up a program to play a snippet of the “Space Jam” theme to alert him when a subscriber starts watching. He also takes a moment to give a shout-out to his long-time supporters.
Michael says his viewership ranges from 4,000 to 7,000 people at any given time, and that number can spike when new content is released on “Destiny 2.” His 29 million total views and the daily viewer numbers make, Michael’s a “mid-tier” channel.
Compare that to a Twitch streamer like 27-year-old Tyler Blevins, aka Ninja. He has drawn in excess of 205 million viewers during his channel’s lifetime; on a recent afternoon, more than 133,000 watched. According to a Forbes article, he makes $560,000 per month from subscriptions to watch him play the game “Fortnite.” And that’s not counting tips and pre-roll ad revenue.
You can’t plan a path for success on Twitch, according to Michael. Streamers can grind for years before they get their moment in the spotlight, if it ever arrives. Then there’s a constant fight to stay relevant and retain an audience.
“Anybody who makes it on Twitch has gotten lucky at some point because there’s no secret sauce to it,” Michael says.
Life Before Broadcasting
Prior to his days cracking jokes and leading raids in “Destiny 2,” Michael and his wife Samantha Michael both worked at Applebee’s. Cory was a server and manager while Samantha went to nursing school and waited tables at night.
When Samantha became a full-time nurse, she worked the midnight to 8:30 a.m. shift while Cory continued to work at the restaurant. Those out-of-sync work schedules made it difficult to raise two kids and make ends meet.
During his spare time, Cory played video games. One of his friends, who was already streaming on YouTube, suggested he give it a shot. Cory and Samantha talked about his desire to stream on Twitch full time.
“It was just something he was passionate about and he really enjoyed,” says Samantha, 29. “It was just one of those leaps of faith, like, ‘OK, here we go.’ No loss if it didn’t work out.”
When the money from Twitch began to come in, Samantha was able to quit her nursing job because Cory made enough to support the family.
Preparing for Life After Streaming
Popularity on Twitch is a very fickle thing. Although Michael has developed a loyal following, he knows there is a possibility his viewership could start to dwindle. That’s why he’s already preparing for life after Twitch.
Michael and four business partners started a coffee company in September. Because of their combined internet following, it has been “in the black since day one.” The venture is part of Michael’s long-term plan to rely on businesses other than game-streaming for his primary income.
“Relevancy [on Twitch] is something that’s really stressful to constantly fight for,” he says. “I want to do it as long as I can, but I want to set myself up to walk away when I want to, not walk away because I need to.”
Matt Reinstetle is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.