In the 1970s and ’80s, mass media fundraising revolved around the telethon. Millions tuned in to watch Jerry Lewis and others emcee the events, as celebrities performed on camera and answered phone calls, all to raise money for a charitable cause. Since then, the event has evolved, and telethons have taken on a modern, digital-first form thanks to video games.

The rise of video game streaming in the last several years has opened up a new avenue for philanthropy. Streamers and charity organizations routinely partner up to solicit donations from the gamer’s thousands of loyal viewers. Instead of calling in like participants did for telethons, viewers funnel donations through a digital pipeline that makes the fundraising process instantaneous. Streamers hold auctions, hand out prizes, and incentivize viewers to donate with different reward tiers. The streams often involve the host playing video games for hours on end.

“Digital telethons” have become so popular that the community around Twitch, the world’s leading live-streaming platform, collectively raised more than $75 million for varying charities between 2012 and 2017, according to the company. (Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.) Events like the video game speedrunning marathon series Games Done Quick, which supports Doctors Without Borders and Prevent Cancer Foundation, has raised over $22.3 million since its inception in 2010.

Among the faces behind these charity live streams is Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo, a 32-year-old streamer who has amassed 3.6 million followers on Twitch. On Saturday Dec. 21 during a 24-hour stream, he managed to raise over $2.3 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, with Twitch itself contributing $1 million of that total. In a similar event this past summer, it took him just four hours to raise $920,000 for St. Jude.

Lupo says using his massive Twitch presence for the betterment of others has become incredibly important to him.

“As soon as the charity [streams] became a prominent feature — something that people wanted to see more of from me — I jumped on board,” Lupo said in an interview with The Post. “The goal of it is to help people that can’t help themselves.”

For Lupo’s streams, donations go through St. Jude’s PLAY LIVE via the live-streaming charity platform Tiltify. The impact is hard to ignore: Since PLAY LIVE’s debut in 2014, it has raised almost $20 million with over 20,000 streamer participants.

The money funds a number of critical functions for the hospital. A $500 donation helps provide one platelet transfusion. A $2,500 donation is equivalent to providing a patient 16 days of oxygen. According to Rick Shadyac, CEO of ALSAC (St. Jude’s fundraising organization), PLAY LIVE’s success allows the medical facility to “stay true” to its “foundational promise that no family will ever receive a bill from St. Jude for the costs of treatment, travel, housing or food.”

Lupo is one of many Internet personalities that use their massive audience for altruism. Earlier this year, Harry Brewis (who uses the online handle Hbomberguy), played Donkey Kong 64 for 57 hours straight to raise money for the UK-based transgender advocacy group Mermaids. He even caught the attention of U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who briefly called in during the stream. By the end of the video game marathon, Brewis had raised approximately $340,000. In February, YouTuber Mark “Markiplier” Fischbach, who has 24.7 million subscribers, raised more than $500,000 in 24 hours for the homeless youth charity My Friend’s Place.

While there has been an increase of charity streams in the last few years, the first ones date back to before Twitch was founded in 2011. One of the earlier iterations was Desert Bus for Hope, created in 2007 by Internet sketch comedy group LoadingReadyRun, which started on the now-defunct platform. The annual charity stream, which now lives on Twitch, involves its hosts playing the widely disliked minigame Desert Bus from the unreleased Sega CD video game Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors, for the entertainment of its viewers.

According to Desert Bus for Hope’s official website, it is the “world’s longest running Internet-based fundraiser,” and in its 12-year history it has raised a total of $4.4 million for Child’s Play, an organization that donates toys and games to children.

While many streams focus on mega charities, others decide to support smaller ones with a narrower, video game-centric focus. Among these is AbleGamers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making games accessible to disabled people. It hosts its own charitable streams, too, as well as partnering with big-name streamers like Markiplier to help raise funds. AbleGamers has been streaming on Twitch since the site’s founding: It was a “viable place where we could make a name for ourselves,” AbleGamers COO Steve Spohn told The Post. This year AbleGamers has raised over $400,000 via streaming related fundraising efforts, a 52-percent increase from last year, according to the organization.

According to Spohn, Twitch helped create an equal space where people “took an interest” in AbleGamer’s message of inclusion, and it helped the organization stand out and unify disabled gamers.

“We were trying to get attention in a world full of St. Jude and Make-A-Wish — these really big, awesome charities who have amazing missions,” Spohn said. “But we also had a good mission of trying to help people with disabilities.”

Special tools for special streams

For streamers with large audiences, donations can cycle through at a wild pace. Keeping track of who is donating, and how much, can be exhausting, but certain platforms like Extra Life, Tiltify and Streamlabs have dedicated websites and systems to help track donations. As of 2018, Extra Life had raised over $55M for 170 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across North America, since its inception in 2008. That figure is expected to top $70 million by the end of 2019, according to Michael Kinney, the managing director for digital fundraising and Extra Life at Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Further technological advancements are making charity streaming easier than ever. Streamlabs, a company that offers free streaming tool kits (which include widgets and software) recently launched a new platform dedicated specifically to those hosting charity streams. This will allow “seamless integration” for streamers familiar with Streamlabs’ suite of products. Considering 40 percent of Twitch users use Streamlabs, this figures to be a simple transition for those wishing to adopt the new platform.

“We saw that as live streaming continues to grow, we’re seeing charities get more and more involved in working with streamers,” Streamlabs Head of Product Ashray Urs said. “In a lot of cases, these distributors are already using our technology. We’ve realized that we have all the capabilities there and that they’re already using our tools for a lot of this work. So that was the motivation.”

While Streamlabs isn’t exclusive to gaming, Urs anticipates a big chunk of its audience will use it for that purpose.

“Some of the things that make our system really easy to use for video game streamers are alerts that will automatically fire when they are doing their charity streams, so they wouldn’t need to reconfigure things on their stream,” Urs said. “So, let’s say I have a cool animation and whenever there’s a donation of two dollars or more that appears on the stream. That will continue to pop up without having to edit anything on my end as a streamer.”

There is a growing market for charity streaming tools, and Streamlabs’ charity platform is promising zero fees for charitable giving beyond PayPal processing fees. Other charity streaming platforms usually require a small transaction fee, like Tiltify, which features a fee of 5 percent. Streamlabs’ new platform launched in beta this week, and it announced that it’s working with several organizations like Arbor Day Foundation, Feeding America, World Vision, Make-A-Wish, AmeriCares, the American Red Cross and others.

“The reason that we’ve gotten a lot of charities on board initially, I think is the fact that a lot of these other competitors take a fee,” Urs said. “We don’t make any money off it at all.”

A new phase for FaZe Clan

Philanthropy is so prevalent in the streaming industry. It also includes support from esports organizations, like FaZe Clan. FaZe put Jack Cizek, better known as Cizzorz, in front of a camera earlier this year to stream Fortnite and raise funds for the Gamers Outreach Foundation, a nonprofit that provides technology, equipment and software to hospitalized patients. With the accumulated funds, FaZe provided Go Karts to the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. FaZe Clan has also partnered with St. Jude, Make-A-Wish Foundation, the American Cancer Society and most recently, the Ronald McDonald House.

FaZe Clan leveraged its popularity (4.2 million followers on Twitter and another 7.3 million on YouTube) to introduce a charitable sweepstakes contest. Through a crowdfunding campaign on Omaze, anyone can enter before March 3, 2020 for a chance to hang out with the FaZe Clan crew at the famed FaZe house in Los Angeles. All proceeds go to the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House and a portion of the funds will be dedicated to creating the first-ever “FaZe Gaming Lounge,” an area where families can play together during their stay at Ronald McDonald House.

Moving forward, FaZe Clan will be “doubling down” on charitable efforts in 2020, according to general manager Brooke Grant. Grant believes her organization — along with others with massive platforms — have a responsibility to help those in need.

“Being as successful as we are in this industry and being a gaming [organization] with a significant breadth of talent, we have an obligation to both our talent, to ourselves and to our fan base to ensure that we are harnessing the power of what we can collectively do for others,” Grant said, noting also that the audience with which streamers resonate is predisposed toward charity.

“We’re talking about a generation of people that are incredibly socially conscious, probably more socially conscious than any other generation we’ve seen,” Grant said. “These [streamers] have massive reaches across their social platforms that they use to promote whatever initiative they want to support. And the fans show up over and over and over again.”

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