WAKE FOREST — When Ty Comstock finishes up his full-time workday as a web developer, he likes to relax in a way many others do: By powering on his PlayStation or Nintendo Switch and getting lost in a video game.
The Wake Forest 28-year-old, however, also does what a growing number of gaming hobbyists are doing. Comstock broadcasts his gaming sessions live to the video website Twitch.
And people pay him to watch.
Comstock says he has brought in an extra $200-300 a month this way, enough to pay for his games and equipment with some left over. He treats his content production as a business and said he puts in hours each week toward branding, growing his audience and designing graphics.
“It helps that if I wasn’t streaming I’d be playing video games anyway,” Comstock said. “That kind of helps me take a look at it and say ‘OK, I am putting a lot of hours into this but what would I be doing otherwise? I’d be playing video games.’”
On his Twitch channel, Parzival91, his audience watches him work through the plots of games like “Uncharted,” “The Last of Us,” and various Pokémon games. He holds community days where he invites his fans to compete in multi-player games like “Rocket League” against him. Each October he fires up a series of horror titles filled with jump scares.
Comstock usually streams for about four hours a night, at least three or four nights a week. When he started two years ago, he broadcast more than 300 days in his first year, sometimes for several hours seven days a week. More than 1,280 people follow his Twitch account, but a core 10-15 regular viewers tune in to every episode.
To Comstock, the hours dedicated are like a casual part-time job.
But he didn’t get into it for the money; he said he was looking for friends.
“I’m introverted in real life I guess, so I thought what better way to communicate with people than to put this online, see who shows up and talk to people who are of the same interests that I am?” Comstock said. “It was easier for me than going up to White Street or a bar or something and trying to chat people up there.”
He wants to make his channel a positive, community-focused platform where people can come together, talk about their favorite games and have fun. Many of his longtime viewers are his good friends and are the people outside of his family he talks to most often, he said.
Next year, one of his viewers will be moving to North Carolina to be his roommate, Comstock said.
Comstock also uses his platform to raise money for St. Jude’s or Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. By offering to embarrass himself online — he once had to wear a Pokémon onesie while playing “Just Dance” — Comstock said he’s encouraged his viewers to donate close to $3,000.
Building a community is important from a business perspective, too. Watching videos on Twitch is free, but viewers can opt-in to paying creators — essentially providing donations — if they want to support channels they want to see more.
“I think it’s just people’s appreciation to the service that you are providing,” Comstock said.
Streaming video games online has quickly become an economic juggernaut. Although the capability to broadcast games live on the internet became mainstream a few years ago, it already generates nearly $6 billion in revenue worldwide, with more than 660 million people watching around the world in 2017.
Some content creators earn millions through subscriptions, merchandise and deals with gaming companies. Comstock said every streamer dreams of being able to make gaming a full-time job, but getting to that point “takes a lot of luck.”
Instead, Comstock is looking to grow his audience so he can pay toward his student loans and maybe take an annual trip somewhere. He’s planning streaming at least 300 days again in 2020, after undergoing a rebranding that will make his channel more unique to increase views and merchandise sales.
“I’m just trying to play games, chat with people, play games with people and just be friendly,” Comstock said. “I think there’s a lot of other people like me that are introverted and they have certain hobbies like gaming that they wish they could find more people who have those hobbies and I think Twitch is a great way to do that.”