Life is not a video game. But the Twitch streamers and their followers who raise millions for the kids of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital might well say:
Yeah, but it kind of is.
They’d be onto something. Theirs is a community built around the pursuit of fun, the embrace of a good challenge and the knack for turning what they do into who they are: givers.
Take the power couple of LobosJr and Bloodyfaster, aka Mike and Eleni. They’ve created careers out of their love of video gaming and streaming, but they spent the month of May — St. Jude PLAY LIVE® Prize Season — raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for their favorite cause.
Mike, known for his mastery of difficult games and letting his audience donate to make them even harder, set a single-broadcaster record by raising more than $254,000 for the month.
Some hair was raised, as well. He got a creative cut, as promised, for the first $100,000, and then documented the new look — shaved on the sides, puffed up on top — via social media.
“One more week of fundraising!” he wrote in the post. “Let’s do it!”
Somewhere between the new ‘do and the double-exclamation points, the message was clear, once again: The kids of St. Jude, many of whom are gamers themselves, have some pretty special friends in the streaming world.
St. Jude PLAY LIVE Prize Season, a global fundraising campaign in which broadcasters play their favorite games on streaming platforms, and viewers can donate in real time, had its best results ever this year, raising $3.385 million — easily beating the $2 million goal.
“Twitch viewers feel a connection with whoever they watch. It’s a very personal experience, and some streamers you really get to know,” said Mike, who has raised more than $570,000 overall for St. Jude. “You experience their ups and their downs, share laughs and tears, and relate on a level unlike other mediums. I think it’s very humanizing to see how much people are willing to help out those less fortunate.
“And as streamers, we do our best to make those donations something fun for the viewer — to provide an experience that makes others feel good about donating to help these kids.”
Eleni, a variety caster whose content ranges from games to music and art, raised more than $126,000 during this year’s Prize Season — and shaved her head, to celebrate. She’s raised more than $275,000 overall for St. Jude.
“When it comes to fundraising for St. Jude, I pull out all the stops,” she said. “Singing with a mouth guard on, dancing in an avocado costume, painting as Bob Ross — anything that will make people laugh and open their wallets for the kids.”
Streamers are stars in this community of gamers and givers — LobosJr alone has 376,000 followers on his Twitch channel and 138 million views on his YouTube channel. But the stars and their followers aren’t so different, really. They’re playing the same games. They’re speaking the same language. And there’s an element of just hanging out together in this digital realm — they made virtual cool before virtual became, in these pandemic times, the rule.
“My persona as a streamer is very much just me,” Mike said. “Practically my whole life has revolved around video games.”
He went to school for a degree in graphics, gaming and simulation programming. He’s played in four — four — different video game-music cover bands. He’s worked as a quality assurance analyst testing video games. Now he’s a full-time steamer on Twitch.
But watch his stream. LobosJr doesn’t come off as a star with fans, but rather a regular guy with a whole bunch of friends. He tweeted to them, at just after 2 a.m. on the last night of Prize Season, celebrating hitting the $250,000 mark.
“Thank you for reminding me and helping remind others that there is good in this world during times of turmoil,” he wrote. “Stay strong, stay safe. Good night!”
Bloodyfaster has been a gamer her whole life, but says she never dreamed it would come to this — this self-described “World’s Okayest Gamer” has more than 60,000 followers on her Twitch channel, and nearly 50,000 Twitter followers.
“When I started streaming I was a few months away from turning 30, and going through a lot of changes in my personal life,” she said. “I used streaming as an escape, and it quickly evolved to something I loved doing so much.”
From escape to arrival as a streaming star, it’s been quite a ride for Bloodyfaster, and she’s taken the kids of St. Jude along with her. She’s visited the campus three times with the annual St. Jude PLAY LIVE Summit, which brings hundreds of streamers from around the world to Memphis to learn more about the mission, strategize ways to fundraise and to inspire — and be inspired by — the patients of St. Jude.
“Honestly, visiting St. Jude is an experience that cannot really be put in words,” she said. “I’ve tried multiple times to describe it to Mike and to my community, but my descriptions always seem so lackluster. St. Jude is a magical place, a place of hope and strength that will warm even the coldest of hearts.”
Her first St. Jude PLAY LIVE Summit was in 2017, just a few days before she turned 30.
“When I got back home,” she said, “the thought of celebrating my 30th birthday while there are kids who may not survive to be half my age just motivated me more than anything else has in my life.
“I dedicated my birthday to those kids and did my first 24-hour stream fundraising for St. Jude. I am not exaggerating when I say that visiting St. Jude back then completely changed my life and gave me a clear purpose.”
The St. Jude PLAY LIVE campaign has raised $30 million — in just six years — and is one of the best examples of how a younger generation has embraced a cause that far pre-dates personal computers and Pong, much less streamers and other digital natives.
Mike has a theory on all that:
“I would say that, in general, gamers are very closely knit. Because, at least in the past, the nerds, the gamers, weren’t always the most popular group of people. So they kind of stuck together,” he said.
“Now that we’re emerging, I think that is still in place. We’re just very human when we interact with each other. Because we have the same passion.”
Eleni has a theory, too — a theory on life, video games and how the twain meet and are gloriously entwined.
“I think that we might be seeing this as a quest, like in a video game,” she said of fundraising for St. Jude. “Something that we need to achieve. We all just band together and work towards this goal.
“And it’s beautiful, because we do reach that goal.
“Little by little, we do.”