Streaming for a Cause: Chris Strickland talks St. Jude, Twitch, and more

Earlier this month I sat down with today’s guest Chris Strickland. He’s a chat-oriented Twitch streamer (@ FyrBorne) raising money for charities while playing games such as Battlefield or Call of Duty. With a background in competitive gaming, he’s been streaming for 5 years and will be a Twitch partner for 3 years this July.

If you’re unfamiliar with Twitch, it’s a streaming service focused primarily on video game live streaming and interaction between gamers & their communities. In our interview below, Chris talks about some of his experiences streaming, challenges he’s faced building a community on Twitch, and some of the silly things he’s done after reaching a fundraising goal. (Like walking his blindfolded friend through a boss fight, or eating gross jelly beans.)

An active participant in the St. Jude PLAY LIVE Event, all April and May Chris and others online raise money through donations while playing the games they love. Proceeds from the fundraising campaigns benefit research into childhood cancer.

In the last year Chris raised over $3,000 for a variety of charities, including St. Jude, on Twitch.

You can donate to his St. Jude page here: https://tiltify.com/@fyrborne/fyr-for-childrens-future

(That’s Chris, on the right. He also works as a tattoo artist.)

“We all know that the world is going through a lot, but together as a community we can kind of work through that and be a lot less, be a lot less down and be a lot more upbeat, you know — sharing the world together.” — Chris Strickland

Andrew: Could describe the nature of your work in a few words, you know, kind of what you do?

Chris: Yeah. I am a chat-based, a chat-oriented streamer who focuses on interaction, fun, and mostly playing first-person shooters on Twitch.

Andrew: So you’re also a tattoo artist. How did you get started on Twitch? What was that transition like from tattooing to streaming?

Chris: I’ve been tattooing for 12 years and so I’ve worked at quite a few different shops basically being my own boss. When I had a lapse in time between shops where I worked, the building that we were working from got bought out from underneath us from another company. So I was out of a job for about three months when I first discovered Twitch.

At the time, I was the number one marksman rifle user in the world on Battlefield Four, and one of my friends suggested that I should start streaming (on Twitch). I figured I had a lot of free time and nothing else to do so I just started streaming, and it was one of those things that I didn’t really take seriously at first. But after, after a little bit of time, I started working with EA, doing consulting stuff for them on the game and streaming for them on their own Twitch channel. After that I realized that it was actually something I could do and then I was actually good at.

So, I started using the same principles I was doing from tattooing, you know, scheduling myself so that I always knew when I would be live… I took a lot of the same discipline I learned from learning tattooing and translated it into learning to be a good streamer.

Andrew: Yeah, that makes sense. You’re relating to, you’re providing something for people. When you gave tattoos, did you do a lot of your own art or would it be things people brought to you?

Chris: Most of the time I did my own art. There were moments of course where people have something very specific they want, but most of the time I did custom work whenever possible.

Some of Chris’ work

Andrew: Yeah. That’s cool. So you’ve been working to bring together aspects of the gaming industry with charitable causes—during April and now in May you’ve been a leading stream participant in the St. Jude PLAY LIVE Event which, as you know, engages thousands of streamers and incentivizes people to donate to St. Jude as they watch. How have those been going? What’s the reception been like?

Chris: My community loves working with all of the charity stuff. It’s a large portion of what we enjoy doing, between St. Jude and then Stack Up, which is a military support charity. We usually do roughly four a year… they’re always really excited to see it when we do it because not only do we try to do something good for charity, but they also get a lot of fun incentives like making me do silly stuff on the stream.

Andrew: Like what?

Chris: So, this year we’ve got things like putting googly eyes on my face, drawing names on my body, the terrible yet funny, uh, Bean Boozled the really bad tasting jelly beans. Then anything else we can come up with that might affect how I have to play the games that we’re playing at the time.

Andrew: Is that unique to you or do a lot of other streamers do the same thing?

Chris: Uh, it just depends. There are other people who do that as well. It is a common practice to try to do things people are familiar with so that way you don’t have to spend more time explaining it than actually doing it.

Andrew: You haven’t had to play blindfolded yet, have you?

Chris: Not this year, but one year a friend and I did a Dark Souls run… and of course I had never played Dark Souls III, the one we were playing. I’d never played it before. And so my job was to, by voice, lead him through a boss fight while he was blindfolded.

I spent the entire time telling him left, right, dodge, swing. And of course I had never fought the boss, so I didn’t know what any of the mechanics were, so I had to learn the boss and then try to explain to my friend what he was fighting.

Andrew: Did you defeat the boss?

Chris: We did. It took us, it took us two and a half hours, but, but we had raised $1,500 for a children’s hospital at that point and that was our stretch goal. And so the reward for that was a blindfolded boss battle.

Andrew: That’s cool. So, are there other ways you’re using Twitch and gaming to connect with social causes, or movements or to enact a change in some form in the world?

Chris: Most of the time we do charity events whenever possible. We’ve done a few that were of course for large corporations like St. Jude and then also for Stack Up. But then I also have done a few local ones where we help the local Tennessee children’s hospital and some of the local Tennessee animal shelters. And then we’ve also done a few personal ones where, uh, we raised money for helping one of our friends through a battle with breast cancer.

Andrew: Do you think creators and artists have an inherent responsibility to their community and fans?

Chris: I don’t think we have a responsibility, but I think one of the most important things we can do, seeing as we are almost always supported directly from our own community, is to do the best that we can to give back. I don’t believe it’s a responsibility but I think it would be, it would be selfish to not consider the fact of what you can do with the platform you’re building.

Andrew: Going off of that idea of building a platform, I’m fascinated by these networks we form and connect with as we share and consume media. There’s that initial breaking out phase, from that vault of anonymity, that initial momentum, you know, to get a following. Do you want to talk about that process a little bit?, or how actively you’re marketing, or what it’s like building a community on Twitch or other platforms?

Chris: Oh yeah, I’d love to talk about that. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. With tattooing, people knew specifically what they were coming for. So that was a really easy thing to build a community around. You were providing a specific service that was something people could see long before they knew that they were coming to do it.

With streaming on the other hand, there’s very little discoverability outside of what you are actively doing. So you have to not only learn to market yourself across multiple platforms, but you also have to learn how to make yourself something people want to see within seconds of seeing you. Learning how to properly introduce yourself and interact with your community will make or break your channel, and learning to be not only yourself because you don’t want to be lying to these people who are coming to see you. But also learning to be forward and interactive is one of the hardest parts of the job.

Andrew: Do you take a structured approach to brand building? I know you mentioned that earlier, how your work with tattoos transferred into scheduling but do you do the same thing with your marketing, with community outreach? For example, from 10 to 11 in the morning send emails, and respond to comments on social media, at 3 post a video, and so on. Do you set benchmarks or anything like that?

Chris: Yeah, I live around a schedule as I still tattoo. Well at the moment I currently don’t due to the coronavirus issue, though we are about to be released back into the world to continue working again. But the majority of the time I start my morning by responding to anybody who sent me anything during the evening. Around noon is when I would normally be at the tattoo shop, and that’s from around noon to four.

And then when I leave the shop, I begin all of my prepping of posts for my streams for the evening, sharing the clips that are going to be relevant for the game I’ll be playing that evening, to be then live by seven on Twitch… with live Tweets around seven to let people know I’m there, and then posts into my Discords and my Instagrams and my Twitters.

I stream all through the evening with hopefully additionally one to two more posts, about two hours in and four hours in, so people know I’m still live and then attempting to do something to note what we did for the evening around the time that we’re done, roughly around 11 to midnight EST. So pretty much my entire day is laid out in a schedule and the way that I need to respond and way I need to post things.

Andrew: Do you save a lot of your videos on Twitch?

Chris: I actually have a wonderful moderation team that works with me while I’m on Twitch… A few of them whose jobs specifically are to capture clips and moments from the stream that can be used later for, uh, you know, social media marketing.

Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. Those little 10 to 30 second video clips. Have you done anything with videos on other platforms?

Chris: I am slowly getting better on YouTube. YouTube is a wonderful, wonderful asset for growing as a streamer. I mentioned earlier that it’s hard in discovery on Twitch, as the way that the platform is set up. But as you grow, you of course become easier to discover. So working on growing my YouTube at the same time helps me to have multiple outlets in which people can find me.

Chris (at FyrBorne) on YouTube. His channel is really great 🙌

Andrew: Right. Just as growing a Twitter following may help with an Instagram following, website traffic, and so on. So, uh, let’s see… I guess, hooking out a little bit — what games have you been playing a lot lately? Are there any new releases you’re excited for?

Chris: Most recently the games I’ve been playing have been Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, their Warzone, Battle Royale mode, and also Valorant, the new first-person shooter title by Riot Games. And those are both pretty new and they’re pretty much my mainstays I’m currently looking to play a lot of.

Andrew: Do you generally play shooters?

Chris: Mostly shooters. Recently, and by recently I mean last weekend, my community voted for me to play Minecraft. So I did play Minecraft last Saturday and I’ll probably end up playing it again this Saturday for another St. Jude stream. But most of the time it’s going to be shooters.

Andrew: Are you in the Xbox or PlayStation camp?

Chris: I own both. My first one for this generation was a PlayStation, but I promptly bought an Xbox as well as I do a lot of community stuff where I work with my community to play games with them. Having all the platforms was super, was super integral to what I wanted to do.

Andrew: And then you can play Halo, too, with an Xbox.

Chris: Right! I love Halo.

Andrew: What makes a video game iconic to you?

Chris: A video game becomes iconic to me when you can create your own level of fun, no matter how the game is going. Titles like Battlefield that I’ve been known to play for a long time have what’s called a “sandbox field.” And that’s also something that Halo did really well. So the ability to create your own fun while having the game I think is the most iconic thing again can produce.

Andrew: I like that because it doesn’t put a parameter around something based off of aesthetics, or storyline because those preferences are going to be different for everybody. So, how has the recent coronavirus impacted your community and the gaming and streaming industry as a whole?

Chris: The coronavirus has done a lot for streamers lately in the vein of view time. People have been home, and with all of the cancellations of sports and about any act or activity, people have turned to more interactive forms of media and Twitch has grown from that as well. I’m sure YouTube and all of the other streaming platforms have also seen a major uptick.

But for Twitch on our side of things, we’ve gotten to see a lot of our viewers, either new or old, more frequently as they’ve been quarantined to their homes. And we’ve all worked together to try to maintain a good, positive outlook on our situations. We all know that the world is going through a lot, but together as a community we can kind of work through that and be a lot less, be a lot less down and be a lot more upbeat, you know, sharing the world together.

“I think that the first game that can really nail both community and gameplay will make a massive change for VR.”

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. Speaking of interactive, *pauses* well, there are two sides to this coin… One is using interactive media on social platforms—3D or 360° photos and things like that for marketing. Then there’s also interactive in the form of VR — VR video games, for example. Have you experience with either of these?

Chris: I’ve played a few VR video games. I currently do not own a VR set. It’s actually one of the things I’m looking into. But, I’ve messed with a lot of the VR stuff since back in 2015 when Oculus was just beginning to become a thing. I think it’s a really cool, really cool thing.

And there are games like VRChat that allow you to just kind of go out without ever leaving. And I think that it has a lot of room to expand.

Our biggest issue right now in the VR community is that most companies don’t know what to make with VR. And I think the first company that, you know, determines really the formula is going to be the first game that really takes off. I know the game Half-life: Alyx did a wonderful job with it, but I think it’s still missing community. I think that the first game that can really nail both community and gameplay will make a massive change for VR.

Andrew: Do you think that could come in any specific genre or type of game or it’s more about the way they do it?

Chris: The game that revolutionized how a lot of people viewed gaming is World of Warcraft. And that was specifically because it was a giant moment where people could finally get together without leaving their house. It was a chance for people to see people they couldn’t see easily. And I think another, another MMO-style game like Warcraft that can also function off of VR will probably be the first thing that makes it explode.

(From the World of Warcraft website)

Andrew: Do you have a dream project or anything you’d like to do that’s on your horizon?

Chris: My, Oh man. My dream project would probably… I would love, I would love to be able to get a bunch more people together to work on doing more charity events. I love doing them myself, but I know that there’s a lot more strength in numbers. If I were able to organize a large charity event around gaming that would be one of my favorite things to get done.

Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Well, is there anything else you’d like to add?

Chris: All of this month [of May] is the St. Jude PLAY LIVE charity event. There are a bunch creators working hour on hour trying to raise awareness for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Any donations are appreciated. I mean, you can get to straight to their website and donate there, or you can find one of the creators and donate straight to one of their drives.

Andrew: Awesome. I’ll be sure to put a link directly below. Thank you so much. This has been wonderful.

Chris: Thank you for having me.

*To support St. Jude PLAY LIVE, visit Chris’ page at: https://tiltify.com/@fyrborne/fyr-for-childrens-future

*For more from Chris, check him out on: Twitch / Twitter / Youtube / Instagram / or at Ambition Tattoo next time you’re in Nashville! (His art is amazing!)

*This interview was edited lightly for length and clarity

*All images provided by Impact24 PR unless otherwise noted

Writer, runner, music enthusiast. Exploring connections between creativity + art, lifestyle, and entrepreneurship through a series of interviews.