Do you enjoy video games and esports? Do you enjoy a good rapport with fellow gaming nerds? And are you looking for a fun hobby that has the *potential* to earn money? If so, you’ve probably already heard of Twitch, and if you play your cards (or your keystrokes) right, you could develop a tidy side hustle for yourself.
That’s exactly what lured expert gamer Branden Westlund (StealthAssault7) to the platform. “I got started on Twitch over three years ago as I saw the opportunity and possibilities,” he says. It paid off big time, too — Westlund was actually able to pay off all of his student loans by livestreaming Fortnite games.
It’s an idea that sounds like Midas himself — turning gameplay into cold, hard cash. But being good at games and running a Twitch business are two separate skills. If you’re good at the gaming part, you’ll need to know how to make money on Twitch, too.
How Twitch Works
First, a primer: Twitch is a livestreaming platform. It’s sort of like the livestream option on Facebook or Periscope (RIP), except it’s all-livestreams, all the time. And it’s massive: according to Twitch Tracker, as of writing, there are nearly four million people watching. In December 2020, alone, people watched 1.8 billion hours of livestreaming content.
Anyone can join Twitch and start up livestreams on whatever topic they want (within limits, of course). People use Twitch to stream cooking shows, book club discussions, arts and crafts, and more. However, Twitch is really known for its most popular livestreams: esports and gaming.
“It’s like watching a football game on a local channel,” says Westlund. “The difference with Twitch is you can chat with the person you’re watching, and they can read your chat and interact with you in real time!”
Anyone can stream on Twitch, and there are ways you can earn money outside of the platform which we’ll break down below. But to make the real bucks, you’ll need to become either a Twitch Affiliate, or a Twitch Partner.
Twitch Affiliates and Twitch Partners
Just like with YouTube, you unlock new earning abilities once you reach a certain threshold. The first threshold is the Twitch Affiliate, which you can join once you reach these milestones for at least a full 30 days:
- Have at least 50 followers
- Stream for at least eight hours
- Stream on at least seven different days
- Have an average of three viewers per livestream
The highest level is the Twitch Partner program. Twitch Partners are generally more popular livestreamers or ones who reach these milestones for at least 30 days:
- Stream for at least 25 hours
- Stream on at least 12 different days
- Have an average of 75 viewers per livestream
This is the tricky part, though — meeting these milestones only allows you to apply to become a Twitch Partner. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll get it; Twitch only approves certain livestreamers after a review.
How to Make Money on Twitch: Techniques and Options
The potential for earning money on Twitch is huge: the uber-popular streamer Ninja (aka Richard Tyler Blevins) reportedly signed a multi-million-dollar contract with Twitch itself in September 2020. Obviously, not everyone will make that much. Your options for making money are also limited by what type of streamer you are: a regular user, a Twitch Affiliate, or a Twitch Partner.
Regular Twitch Users
As a regular user, you don’t really have access yet to any of the tools that bigger names use to earn money directly through Twitch itself. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t earn money. Here are some other ways you can earn money by livestreaming on Twitch:
- Donations. You can ask for donations directly from your followers via Paypal, Venmo, etc. You can also set up your own Patreon account off of Twitch and ask for recurring donations that way.
- Affiliate links. Twitch is owned by Amazon, who makes it super easy to add in affiliate links for products you like directly in your channel. Keep in mind — having affiliate links is separate from being a Twitch Affiliate.
- Selling merchandise. Just like Instagram and TikTok influencers, you can create your own branded merch on print-and-ship sites. Streamers commonly sell things like t-shirts, mugs, hats, and other items that are branded for their channel.
- Sponsorships. You can partner with a company that offers products for gamer culture, like gaming chairs, computers, or other items. This is different from affiliate links in that you form a direct partnership with the sponsor, rather than getting a percentage of referral sales.
Anyone can use these options to make money on Twitch at any time. But in practice, you’ll still need at least somewhat of a following to really make money. No one wants to wear your shirt if nobody knows who you are, for example. And companies won’t pay for sponsorships if no one’s watching your channel.
To earn real money, you’ll usually want to gain enough of a following to at least work your way up to the next level.
Once you reach the affiliate thresholds, you can apply to become a Twitch Affiliate. This unlocks two new ways to earn money directly through Twitch itself:
- Bits and Cheers. Viewers can spend real money to purchase “bits,” a sort of in-game currency. Viewers can then spend these bits to get special emotes and badges that highlight their comment in the chat better, so that people can see them. Spending more bits unlocks better emotes and badges. For each bit viewers spend, you — the streamer — get $0.01. Get more people cheering you with bits, and you’ll earn more money.
- Subscriptions. Viewers can pay money for a monthly subscription to your channel at one of three different levels: $4.99, $9.99, and $24.99. Each level offers something new to subscribers, such as special emotes and chat badges. Twitch then splits the cost 50/50, with the streamers getting half of that monthly fee.
- Video ads. You can opt to have ad videos play during your livestream. You’ll get a cut of the ad revenue depending on how many people watch the ads.
Streamers who reach the highest level also have a couple other ways to earn money through Twitch:
- Ad-free viewing option for subscribers. You can choose to offer ad-free viewing as a perk for subscribers. This could help boost your subscriber count.
- Custom emotes for Cheers. People using bits to pay for Cheers in the chat can get access to custom emotes just for your channel. This might spur them on to throw more cash your way if it’s something different and shiny.
- Special emotes for Subscribers. People who subscribe to your page get access to up to 60 new emotes for Cheering you on in the chat.
Becoming a Twitch Partner also has some other benefits, too. For example, you’ll get priority customer service from Twitch, and you won’t have to cover the cost of your payout fees.
How to Make Money on Twitch: Strategies and Tips
“I remember my first stream was using simply the Twitch app on my Xbox after I set up my Twitch profile and got to hit the go live button,” says Westlund. “I believe I streamed for three or four hours with a grand total of zero views.”
Knowing how to make money on Twitch is a different story from actually doing it. You’ll need to learn how to attract a loyal audience who keeps coming back and enjoys watching your streams enough to pay you. A good way to do this is by studying other channels with a critical eye.
Focus on Your Streaming Game
“I took the time to research what Ninja was doing, what set him apart, what worked and what didn’t work,” says Westlund. “I really dove into every aspect of what would make me successful. From learning about proper ways to light my stream area, to my background, to upgrading my camera.”
It’s also important to pay attention to what makes for engaging content — and sometimes, what doesn’t. “I also did the little things like never looking at my phone when I was streaming and always trying to interact with my audience,” says Westlund. “You wouldn’t believe how many people, after a break in a game reach for their phones and just stare at it while they have people who are watching them!”
It’s easy to want to invest in all the best equipment from the get-go. But Westlund advises against that, since it could cause financial stress that ultimately impacts the quality of your streams.
So, Westlund upgraded his equipment step-by-step, and that’s how he advises others to follow. “My first $100 payout allowed me to purchase my green screen to upgrade my stream quality.” Later, Westlund added a new PC and a DSLR camera, too.
Focus on Streaming as a Job
“The biggest thing is the consistency; so many people start and stop and start again. They don’t put forth that consistent effort day in and day out,” says Westlund. “I had a set schedule and I kept showing up even when I didn’t want to.”
And here’s the part that’s maybe not so fun about making money by playing games on Twitch. Just like with any other hobby-turned-side-hustle, the boundary between being a fun hobby and being a job can happen real quick.
If you like the social side of gaming and can turn that into a money-making opportunity, it’ll probably still be a lot more fun than working a part-time gig at a retail store. But it also means that something you used to do just for funsies might become real work, and a little less (or a lot less) fun.
And for some, that can easily lead to burnout. Even Westlund himself is taking a break from streaming right now, possibly for good.
How Much Can You Make on Twitch?
“I think when people set out to earn money on Twitch they are setting themselves up for failure,” says Westlund. As with any money making venture, you need to have a passion for it first, and the money will follow suit. That said, it’s still possible to earn real money. How much you can earn depends entirely on your dedication and your skill. And there are other benefits, too, that aren’t money-related.
“I met some amazing people and have remained close friends with many of them to this day,” says Westlund. “I often feel a bit of guilt when I know that I won’t be going live again for a long time, potentially ever again, because I built a community that was centered around positivity, acceptance, and having fun.”
And for Westlund, that was the real win.