Big-Name YouTubers And Twitch Streamers Aren’t Actually Retiring
Pokimane, MatPat, and others aren't quitting. They're just leaving behind the grind
6:28 PM EST on January 31, 2024
Over the years, YouTube and Twitch have given us too many trends to count, but the latest is one that will be difficult for parasocially-minded fans to imitate: retirement. The past couple months have seen numerous big-name creators announce – in dramatic and sometimes teary-eyed fashion – that they’re stepping away from their posts. But despite the grave permanence of the word “retirement,” most of these creators aren’t really going anywhere. They’re just choosing to finally do things on their own terms.
In and around the world of video games, The Game Theorists’ Matthew “MatPat” Patrick and, as of this week, Imane “Pokimane” Anys are the biggest examples of this trend, with the former announcing his departure from his immensely popular YouTube channel earlier this month and the latter bidding farewell to Twitch – a service that used her face in its most prominent advertising materials – on Tuesday. They’re not alone. Other content luminaries like Seth Everman, Jordan "CaptainSparklez" Maron, Joel Haver, Tom Scott, and more paved the way for Anys and Patrick so recently that the concrete is still wet. Their videos featured titles like “Goodbye,” “Retiring,” and “It’s Been Fun.” It’s the end of an era.
But as socialist YouTuber JT “Second Thought” Chapman pointed out in a recent video titled “Why Are So Many People Quitting YouTube?” – during which he suggested he probably won’t be far behind – many of these big names aren’t actually quitting. Instead, they’re moving over to side channels to be free from the yoke of expectation or, in MatPat’s case, transitioning into background roles on larger teams. Anys, meanwhile, is stretching her wings: While she’s going to stream on YouTube tomorrow, that’s not necessarily where she’s set to end up. For the time being, she does not plan on signing exclusively to any platform.
"Moving forward, I’m going to try streaming on other platforms. How exciting. I’m going to try streaming on YouTube and TikTok and Instagram, and now I’m just going to have fun,” Anys said on a recent podcast episode about her decision to depart Twitch. “I just want to be able to partake in different platforms and things either as I see fit or as I find excitement in doing it.”
Now more so than ever, content creation is a grind. Twitch, YouTube, and Kick livestreaming contracts come with hours-streamed requirements (and in Kick’s case, substantial monetary incentives for streaming there as much as possible). As for YouTube, Patrick released a very good – and, in hindsight, telling – video about the current state of the platform not too long ago. In it, he outlined how Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson and other modern titans have changed the game, structuring their videos like a series of rapid-fire TikToks to maintain a firm grip on audiences’ fickle attention spans. This requires strict adherence to a formula, as well as over-the-top subject matter choices – “The Most ____ Whatever,” “$1 Vs $100,000,000 House,” “I Ate One Million Bees,” etc – that result in endless escalation.
It’s a cycle that slowly but surely numbs viewers: If a video doesn’t one-up a creator’s previous opus, why watch it? Just hearing about all of that leaves me feeling exhausted; I can only imagine what it’s like to actually do. And that’s before you factor in the inherent unpredictability of content creation. You can put tens or hundreds of hours into a video, only for it to just not hit. Then suddenly you’re out all the money you spent to make it, which stings whether you’re an individual or – at the scale many YouTubers operate these days – an entire production company.
This, Chapman explained, is why creators aren’t actually quitting: They still want to make stuff! They just don’t want to spend their lives in mind-numbing thrall to The Algorithm.
"If you think about it, what's the point of YouTube? What's the bottom line in 2024? More views, more money, more recognition,” Chapman said in his video. “The information you're trying to get across, the message you send: that takes a backseat. I know a whole lot of channels in the education niche that have transitioned from making videos they think are interesting to making videos they think will perform well. And when that works, you scale up. You hire a couple people. Then some more. And then suddenly you're Linus Tech Tips with an army of employees, and then you're just running a business."
The big creators who’ve announced their “retirement” are finally breaking free of that cycle, and good for them. They’re also doing something that smaller creators – and people working regular, less glamorous jobs – cannot. Caroline Kwan, an entertainment news streamer who has risen to prominence in the past year after spending most of her adult life struggling to make it in other industries, sympathizes with viewers who don’t have it in themselves to inhabit the headspace of an overworked millionaire.
"This is so unrelatable," said Kwan during a stream this week while watching a supercut from Chapman’s video of YouTubers explaining why they're retiring. "As much as burnout is a real thing, as much as that guilt of not creating content all the time is a real thing ... I've also worked so many jobs, and I can't imagine doing what I do here as a content creator and making the millions of dollars that these guys make. I [now] make more money than I made working three jobs at once, and I am so grateful for that. I'm very lucky to be getting to do this, especially at a time when so many people are losing jobs. There are just layoffs left and right."
It would be hard to find somebody living under capitalism who isn’t burnt out. The difference here is, these creators can afford to take a step back, at least for a little bit. Certainly, they’re still subject to exploitative systems – that’s how YouTube and Twitch milked them dry of inspiration in the first place – but they’re also, in some senses, a little freer than most.
Chapman closed his video by making the point that despite class separation, everybody’s struggles remain interconnected.
"Most people don't realize that YouTube and the film industry have kind of merged into this one big content blob. Heck, our team has worked all across the media landscape: documentaries, TV, you name it,” Chapman said. “If you followed the news about the labor situation in Hollywood, you know that everything is on fire. ... And all of this is connected to the same types of things that YouTubers are talking about: crappy residuals, insane overwork, unreliable income, and now these stupid AI content farms. This is all connected. YouTubers retiring is just one tiny aspect of a larger narrative about work, art, and life in the 21st century."
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