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Twitch star DrLupo signs exclusive YouTube deal, now ‘secure for life’

(The Washington Post)

In 2019, Ben “DrLupo” Lupo, a Twitch star with 4.5 million followers, admitted that he couldn’t keep at it forever. Lupo knew he’d one day grow tired of plugging sponsors and playing whichever games the ever-changing winds of popularity dictated, he told this reporter for an unpublished interview. When that day came, he wanted to travel the world with his son, Charlie. Two years later, he’s getting his wish — or a version of it. On Monday, Lupo announced the signing of a deal to stream exclusively on YouTube, that he says will bring a life-changing windfall and the opportunity to spend more time with his family.

A Twitch mainstay since the 2018 “Fortnite” explosion catapulted him to popularity, Lupo, 34, is departing the Amazon-owned streaming platform for YouTube’s greener pastures. (Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

While Lupo could not disclose the exact terms of the exclusive deal, he said it was a life-changing proposition.

“Family time is crazy important, [as is] reducing the amount of pressure, because mental health is crazy important,” Lupo said in an interview with The Post, adding that he spent years streaming for 60-70 hours per week. “Everybody’s just trying to secure the bag, right? There’s no shame in that. That’s literally why everybody gets up and goes to work, right? So of course, the financial situation that YouTube presented me without a doubt is like, you know, I’m secure for life. Everybody’s trying to get to that point. Why would I say no to that?”

Lupo plans to continue streaming on YouTube, but he’s hoping for something a little less all-consuming than his Twitch schedule. He’s going to supplement this with a greater focus on prerecorded, produced content — which will also allow him to devote more energy to family oriented pursuits.

“Obviously, I’ll still be playing video games on YouTube,” Lupo said. “But we have a chance now to do some new stuff. We’ve got some trips coming up, so there’ll be behind-the-scenes stuff. I can record some vlog-style content, and a lot of people who are at my level that are dads don’t really put out that kind of stuff.”

Transitioning platforms isn’t as simple as waking up in the morning and logging into a different website. While die-hard fans will undoubtedly follow Lupo to his new digital base of operations, he stands to lose quite a few followers to the gravitational pull of the streaming behemoth that is Twitch. For example, when Twitch megastar (and personal friend of Lupo) Tyler “Ninja” Blevins moved to now-defunct Microsoft streaming platform Mixer in 2019, his viewership fell precipitously, with his follower count going from over 13 million to just 3 million. Blevins has since returned to Twitch.

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YouTube is a bigger platform than Mixer — and Twitch, for that matter — but Twitch still commands the majority of livestreaming market share with over 65% of streaming hours watched compared to YouTube’s 23%. Lupo knows he’s going to take a hit, but he believes it will be worth it in the end.

“On Twitch, I’m a pretty big fish in a lake,” he said. “When [I] move to YouTube, I’m a little fish in the ocean. There’s so much room to grow, and there’s so many opportunities to do incredible things with all sorts of content creators on YouTube. I think if it were any other platform, I might be concerned. But YouTube is, like, it. I think people underestimate the size of the platform and how much you can do with it.”

Over the years, Lupo has influenced not just Twitch viewers, but fellow Twitch streamers as well. His regular charity streams have become the standard by which other charity streams are judged, and his unique mixture of curmudgeonly humor and genuine insight have turned him into a dad-like figure on the platform (not to mention that he’s also actually a dad). He’s used this status to make authoritative statements about everything from unruly kids in chat to last year’s George Floyd protests. Moving on from that is a bittersweet prospect, but Lupo doesn’t feel like he’ll be entirely cut off from the culture that shaped him and which he shaped in return.

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“The example I try and set means just as much regardless of what platform I’m on,” Lupo said. “Twitch is without a doubt the king of livestreaming. YouTube is huge, but the livestream gaming side is a little smaller. Same with Facebook. As those things get refined and built out and fleshed out better, and they’re more adoptable for viewers, it’s gonna matter less and less what platform people stream on. It’s more about supporting the content creators themselves.”

In some ways, Lupo is glad to move on from Twitch, which has heaps of its own baggage. Lupo cited the recent scourge of hate raids — in which malicious groups use bots to overwhelm marginalized streamers’ chats with hate speech and slurs — as the sort of problem that motivated him to help show that other platforms are viable for streamers.

“[Hate raids] are wild,” he said. “I think putting more of a spotlight on other platforms is important to try and push for all platforms to grow and adapt and be this safe place for people to be able to enjoy gaming. Gaming for me has always been about being inclusive and fun. I think it’s important to keep that diverse, inclusive nature of gaming across streaming platforms as well. It’s a huge thing to make people feel like they’re part of something.”

Lupo is also just ready for something different, and it’s not hard to see why. Streaming is a grueling career. Spending 8+ hours on camera with your personality turned up to 11 every day takes a toll — one that Lupo said he spent years ignoring to the detriment of his own mental health. In the past few weeks alone, big-name Twitch streamers like Blevins, Imane “Pokimane” Anys, and Asmongold (who has not publicized his full name) have all openly discussed burnout, with the latter saying he’s considering quitting altogether.

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Lupo isn’t done yet, but he’s not some fresh-faced kid with boundless enthusiasm for streaming anymore, either. On Twitch, some viewers see even slight declines in audience as a reason to pounce on streamers, tracking numbers and firing off constant digs about how streamers are already past their primes. This, too, takes a toll.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that I fell off — that I’m not as popular [as I used to be],” said Lupo, whose viewership has declined since the “Fortnite” boom, but is still consistently high by Twitch standards.

Lupo, however, is proud of what he’s accomplished — no matter how much the peanut gallery tells him he’s over the hill.

“If after six years,” Lupo said, “my list of accomplishments includes raising almost $10 million for St. Jude [Children’s Research Hospital], being on countless websites and in tons of advertisements, being able to commentate the ‘Fortnite’ World Cup, being involved in Make-A-Wish events and meeting kids in person at St. Jude — if I’ve fallen off, then man, it sure sounds like I did a damn good job during my heyday or whatever you want to call it.”

Now all that’s left is to try something different. Lupo is excited to have his family on board, but he doesn’t want to overdo that part, either.

“If I continue being popular, at a certain point [Charlie] is gonna get to the age where there’s kids that have seen me and know that he’s my son,” Lupo said, noting that his son is currently 6. “I don’t ever want him to feel like he’s growing up in my shadow, because I don’t want to predetermine for him what his future is. He’s his own human being, and he makes that very apparent, and he’s very vocal about things he does and doesn’t want to do. I don’t want to jam him down my viewership’s’ throats or force him into this child actor-style spotlight or anything like that.”

It won’t be an easy balancing act to pull off, but Lupo wants to ensure that his life as a content creator does not come at the cost of his life as a father.

“Not to quote ‘Interstellar,’ because I just recently watched it on a flight back from Los Angeles, but we are here to be ghosts for our children, memories for them,” he said. “If I spend too much time doing this and not enough time being that memory for my kid, I don’t know what he’s going to grow up with.”

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