A typical morning routine for many here in Richmond includes waking up, making breakfast and coffee, and driving through the Richmond rush hour traffic to get to an office. For those who work from home, their desk could look like pretty much any desk pulled from a cubicle. For Ryan Capps, his desk includes a webcam, a headset, and a live chat stream that features viewers from all over the world.
Capps, who is better known by his online gaming alias, “McLaffy Taffy”, is a professional Twitch streamer. He has been viewed over a million times with around 18,000 followers.
“I’ve been getting to the point where I can puff my chest out with my in-laws, [and] say ‘I play video games for a living,” he said in a recent interview.
Twitch, an online live-streaming video platform owned by Amazon, allows people to livestream themselves playing video games. Viewers can interact with one another and with the streamer in the chat stream, complete with both custom and general emoticons. As a subsidiary of Amazon, the platform evolved into Twitch Prime, which offers exclusive features, much like an actual Amazon Prime subscription, including ad-free streaming, gaming content additions, and discounts on other features. A typical subscription costs around $5, which part of goes directly to the streamer. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the entire service is the 24/7 content loop that the site has installed, which allows viewers to continuously watch a streamer immediately after one stream ends. Viewers are able to buy cheering’ bits, which start at just a couple dollars and go up to $308.
Many professional streamers can be found in larger cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle, British Columbia, or London. Capps just so happens to be located in Richmond. And he’s making a name for himself.
Capps, who grew up in Texas and went to college in Idaho, didn’t believe he’d start out playing video games for a living. “I had a friend of mine invite me to play Call of Duty on Xbox 360. I hadn’t played a console video game in a really long time, but gaming had always been something that I had been into as a kid.” After getting creamed in the gameplay, Capps went to YouTube to spruce up his gaming skills. “I discovered this weird subculture of people that were making video game content and essentially disc-jockeying it. It was all personality-driven.” At the time, Capps, who was an actor in the local Richmond community, was waiting tables at Can Can Brasserie. To blow off steam after work, he’d hop onto his computer or console and play video games.
Capps befriended a young player, Rob, from Montreal while gaming online. “He just happened to be some dude I was randomly paired with one night.” Their friendship evolved into a partnership that led them to create a YouTube channel of comedic video game content, all while the two were a country away from one another. With Rob’s knowledge of editing and video capture and Capps’ knack for writing and comedy, the pair grew a decent-sized following, eventually becoming a partnered channel.
“About three years in, I got a little bit panicky and stepped away, and he and I worked together to pull together an application package for the Brandcenter,” he said. Capps was tired of hearing patrons at the restaurant asking what he was going to do with his life past waiting tables. With Rob keeping the channel going, Capps attended the Brandcenter starting in 2012 to receive his degree in copywriting. Between his first and second year, Capps was required to obtain an internship in his field as part of his degree. “I told Rob, instead of getting an internship somewhere, I’ll come back and work with you on the channel for one more summer and really put our backs into it. If doesn’t work, we’ll split.”
At this time, the 3D building game Minecraft exploded in popularity. Content creators on YouTube created monopolies online by playing the game. Around that time, YouTube started monetizing creators, complete with paid ads, and Rob and Capps’ were caught up in that stream of popularity. But after creative differences, Rob and Capps split. “I dropped out of the Brandcenter in my second year, before things had really fired. But I saw the trend.”
The trend was gearing towards video game viewing. Capps discovered Twitch, and decided that was more his speed than YouTube, which took more thought and creation due to editing. “Rob always said we could make more money off a YouTube video with less time invested, so he never saw the point in doing Twitch and live streaming. In a livestream, you have to commit huge chunks of time to cultivate the community that’s going to show up and watch you. Twitch was more my speed.”
Bringing some of his following from the YouTube channel, Capps cultivated a following on Twitch with his constant gameplay of The Binding of Isaac, a popular battle game. With viewers from Australia to France to British Columbia, Capps streams from eight in the morning until almost four in the afternoon six days a week. A few times a week, he’ll stream in the evening for a couple of hours to make a little extra money.
Capps spoke highly of his viewership, which is mostly comprised of IT folks who are able to watch his stream while they work. A few years ago, Capps’ wife became sick with cancer, and Capps took a year-long break from streaming. “My channel stayed alive for a year when I wasn’t streaming. They were still talking to each other,” he said. “I had something like 60 odd viewers keeping their monthly subscriptions active because it was the only way they knew how to support us.” His wife ended up beating cancer, and she encouraged Capps to go back to streaming.
Instances like this are just one of the many examples in which the gaming community is full of generous, empathetic people. “The Twitch community in the month of May raised over $2 million for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. The original goal was $1 million.” Many gaming communities have yearly fundraising campaigns that use their platforms to raise money for causes, such as a children’s hospital and animal shelters. “There are viewers who have watched my kids grow up,” said Capps. “My son plays on a GameBoy Advance that was sent from Wales from a guy who was just done with it. I’ve got art made and bought for me.”
Spending the last few weeks in Capps’ chat stream has revealed the generosity, style of humor, and three-dimensional lives of these viewers. A very kind subscriber gifted me a one-month subscription to Capps’ channel, completely unprovoked. One viewer mentioned how hard his work life was and was consoled by other viewers. Every time someone entered or left the chat, people said hello and goodbye.
The image of the video gamer has been drawn into lazy, antisocial individuals that do not vacate their parents’ basement. On the contrary, people who consume these gamers are of all genders, walks of life, ages, and geographic locations. Their hearts are often in the right place, donating to the livelihoods of streamers whom they love and support. It just so happens they chose a streamer right here in our neighborhood. Watch Capps – McLaffy Taffy – on Twitch.Tv.