There’s a whole lot of risk involved if a Twitch streamer tries to change their brand. Gaining a following on the platform is extremely difficult, requires a ton of work, and can take years to build. As a result, when most streamers gain a following, they’re reluctant to stray too far from what got them to that point. This can, unfortunately, lead to burnout, because it’s exhausting doing the same thing every day, but that fear of throwing away what got you to this point keeps many of these streamers doing only one thing.
Esfand, however, took that risk. After gaining popularity through World of Warcraft streams on YouTube and Twitch, he decided to start doing more with football. He didn’t stop playing World of Warcraft because he lost his passion for the game — instead, he wanted to focus on one of his first loves.
“I was making videos while I was between jobs,” Esfand tells UPROXX. “I used to work in college football and I did a lot of recruiting, I did a lot of video. Basically, digital type of stuff is what I did, and I wanted to get into coaching, but I was between jobs and looking for another job at a different school, and I started playing private server World of Warcraft. This is about five years ago. I started playing and I used to play a lot of World of Warcraft 15, 16 years ago, and I was really good back then. So, when I came back and I started playing I was like, ‘Oh there’s no good like guides out there [for my] Retribution Paladin.’
“So I started making these videos just to kind of stay in practice and then slowly, my videos started picking up traction,” he continues. “And then, honestly, within a few months, I was just like, ‘Oh, well, I’m going to start streaming.’ I started streaming because I wanted to record my raids, but I didn’t have enough hard drive space on my computer to actually record my raids and post them. So I started streaming on YouTube initially just because I just wanted to just have, like, four hour videos. I just didn’t have enough hard drive space, so I just threw them up there. And then I slowly became the most watched WoW private server streamer.”
For Esfand, this new popularity was a cool chance to break away from the grind of college football and do something different. That was until he got hit with a DMCA from Blizzard because he was streaming private servers of World of Warcraft. After that, he decided the best move was to give Twitch a try. Thankfully, Twitch had grown rapidly over the years and wasn’t just a video game streaming site anymore. He had an opportunity to put his personality on display through a variety of options such as IRL streams, variety streams, and football — he felt a strong personal connection to the latter from playing the sport growing up, working in the industry, and having friends in the NFL.
But to make football a regular part of his streams, he was going to have to take on the risk of alienating his built-up World of Warcraft fanbase.
1 year ago today, Blizzard DMCA'd me for streaming Vanilla WoW private servers. I moved to Twitch, rebuilt my channel, and a year later Blizzard invited me out to stream at BlizzCon. It's been a crazy year with ups and downs, thank all you so much for the support! pic.twitter.com/fU2f3ZQX38
— Esfand (@EsfandTV) November 15, 2018
“I always wanted to do more football on Twitch and I always wanted to do more sports on Twitch, but it was kind of hard at first because it’s a big transition, right?” Esfand says. “Going from a game like World of Warcraft to real life sports — especially football, because WoW has a heavy European audience, whereas American football obviously has a much more American audience. And it started really last year whenever the new Madden came out. I was like, look, I love Madden. I used to go to every midnight release. Me and my friends back in high school, we would just go play Madden all night the first night it came out. [I decided] I’m just gonna [stream] for, like, a week and have some fun with it. And at first, it did okay. It didn’t do particularly well on my channel, but I just kind of stuck with it and I was like, I’m just going to keep doing this and I’m gonna try and make content around football, but not necessarily make football content directly.”
Getting an audience that cares about World of Warcraft to invest their time and attention in football requires a gigantic personality. Fortunately, you need to have that in order to build a following on a personality-driven platform like Twitch, and Esfand’s bet was that he’d be able to keep people entertained regardless of the subject matter, in part because he placed an emphasis on reducing “the barrier of entry” so that anyone would be able to take in one of his streams and enjoy it, regardless of the topic of conversation.
As Esfand continued to stream Madden and discuss football, he eventually found a way to capture new viewers while making his longstanding fans happy. He created a character, a Texas-accented football coach who rattles through the coachspeak fans of the sport hear every single week. That made his streams a television show where fans were tuning in to watch a character. It would go on to become the best decision Esfand could make.
These days, Esfand is still letting his coach personality get him through seasons of Madden, but he’s starting to get the opportunity to expand what he does. In October, he began a new show called “Let’s Go Football” that mixes the vibes of a podcast and an NFL show on an afternoon slot on ESPN. He has former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier and streamer Grandpoobear as his cohosts. The trio discuss the NFL, watch highlights, and make picks in such a way that Esfand’s usual community tunes in.
“I think the big thing with Twitch that gives it a very unique experience is the chat,” Esfand says. “I think Twitch chat and having a community of people watching the show together or watching a stream, whatever it is, and building that sort of connection with not even just streamer to viewer, but viewer to viewer. My Stream is very community-centric. I have so many people in my stream who have made friends with one another and they’ve started playing games together and it’s kind of hard to explain, but I know a very large portion of my chat. I go live every day and I see a bunch of people in chat and I know who those people are just because I see them every day, right? I talk to them every day. I won’t be streaming and they’ll be sitting in offline chat. I had people sitting in my offline chat all day on my Twitch page just talking.”
It’s a story we hear constantly from people who stream on Twitch: It’s not about what is actually on the stream as much as it’s about the community they build. As fans seek out new ways to enjoy their favorite sports, many of them are turning to personalities and communities they’re already familiar with. When they want to watch a football show they don’t tune into the traditional TV shows. They go on to Twitch. When they want to watch a game they don’t go watch it on a traditional broadcast. They go find their favorite streamer and watch it with them. This is the future of sports and the community around Esfand is an example of that. They’re there to watch the game with the guy who got popular uploading his World of Warcraft raids on YouTube.