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One of the fastest growing forms of entertainment in the world is video game streaming: people watching other people play video games.
It might also be the future of philanthropy. To wit: Direct Relief has received over $9 million from the gaming community since 2016, via 53,382 donors as well as other corporate sources.
As reported by Direct Relief earlier this year, on Twitch, the largest website for video game streaming, gamers have donated $145 million to charity since 2011, including $42 million last year alone, according to figures sourced from the Amazon-owned company.
Donations on Twitch come from fans of these burgeoning celebrities during charity events, often set up as marathons, where a gamer or team of gamers will play for an extended period of time.
Direct Relief’s Gaming initiative, led by MC Moffit and Brooke Malone and catalyzed by Steve Lange, organize charity events with various existing gaming communities of all sizes.
“We see how they can integrate charity into what they already do on Twitch,” Moffit said.
At the heart of this movement are influential gamers, who ask their audiences to help support a cause.
Here are three individuals who have used video games to help raise millions of dollars for charities that support those in need around the world.
Tim “Trick2g” Foley, 35
Foley is known for his prowess in League of Legends, the world’s most popular esports game. Since first streaming about a decade ago, Foley has built a huge fan base, including 225,000 followers on Twitter and 145 million views on Twitch.
Now streaming for between 6-8 hours per day, having scaled back from his pace of 10-12 hours — or more — Foley said that, in the early days, “the thought of making money as a [streamer] was crazy… I was just good at banging on a keyboard and talking a lot of smack.”
Foley’s childhood included two brushes with disaster: he survived the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, having gotten out on a boat, and Hurricane Andrew in Florida.
“We got back to the house and everything was gone,” he said about returning to the family’s military housing in the Sunshine State.
But Foley said those experiences were not the basis of his commitment to charity streaming.
“My Pinoy blood in me, I love giving and sharing, it’s just how I was raised. My mom taught me the right way,” he said.
And on his charity streams, Foley said, the positivity cuts both ways.
“There’s definitely a different vibe in charity streams. I stream everyday, there’s a bunch of trolls. If you let that get you… but when you do a charity stream, they just get behind it,” he said.
“Whenever I’d charity stream, it would just help me,” Foley said, adding that he struggled with getting into the “right mental state” for some time. “People just give you positive energy.”
“I know it’s kind of weird throwing money at a video streamers and it’s kind of crazy, but we have that influence and we use for good. I don’t want credit. I don’t want none of this… I feel like I don’t deserve it, I feel like the community gives back.”
About Direct Relief, Foley said, “I just feel for it, man, they’re at the front lines of all the hurricanes down south.”
Foley said he plans to continue charity streaming, along with his regular programming.
“The hurricane stuff is just never ending… We’re doing all we can. I wish we could do more.”
David “GrandPOObear” Hunt, 34
David Hunt is a speedrunner, a part of the video game community that competes in racing through games, like Mario Bros., as quickly as possible.
Amongst speedrunners, some of the most vaunted events are those put on by Games Done Quick, organizers of charity speedrunning marathons that have raised over $24 million.
“I became enamored, this is very early on in streaming, with not just the skill that everyone was putting on, but the fact that they were all doing it for a much bigger cause than their individual competition,” Hunt said. “It was just insane to me that gamers could raise a million bucks.”
Hunt said he has been a gamer since his older sister received a Nintendo console as a gift in 1988. However, his passion as a kid was snowboarding, and he moved from Michigan to Colorado, and then to the Lake Tahoe area in hopes of making a career out of it.
But a collision with a skier put him in the hospital for 3 months with infections, broken bones and torn ligaments.
During his recovery, a friend asked if he wanted to watch him play “Halo” on Twitch.
“Why would I watch you play Halo?” Hunt remembers asking. Yet, he quickly found himself “going down a rabbit hole,” on the platform. Two days later, he was streaming. Today, he is sponsored by Red Bull and has over 260,000 followers across social media.
”With charity streams, there is a lot of enthusiasm for everyone around, the feeling of being a part of something bigger, especially when those numbers start to really add up,” he said.
“It feels kind of hard in today’s age to see, but doing good feels good, there’s way more people out there doing good than doing bad. It’s almost like a selfish thing in some sense, which is ironic. It brings an extra level of fun,” he said of charity streams.
Hunt said he can relate to the mission of Direct Relief on a personal level, and encouraged other gamers to consider hosting a charity stream as well.
“Most of the times in life, we’re all going to hit a rock bottom moment, and we all need a little help, the fact that Direct Relief provides it to people at a time when it feels hopeless is very meaningful to me,” Hunt said, adding that he appreciated how Direct Relief stays focused on its core mission “They don’t try to do what other organizations do. Plus, they’re one of us, gamers.”
“Go out and do a charity stream, every little bit helps,” he said.
Jonathan “ProtonJon” Wheeler, 34
Jonathan Wheeler is a jack of all trades, streaming his play across multiple games, depending on what his audience requests.
He got involved with Direct Relief after Moffit and Malone reached out to him. At the time, they were working on Zeldathon, a marathon in which all Zelda games are played.
“It seemed like a good cause, it seemed worth it,” he said. But Wheeler wasn’t sure what the response would be, so he set what he thought was a reasonable goal: $5,000.
“In less than 10 minutes, we already doubled that,” he said. “I was completely blown away. It was super heartwarming. I was just completely blown away and I felt blessed by it, honestly.”
Wheeler’s first game was Pong, and he grew up playing Nintendo games. He started streaming to deal with a “bad break up,” he said. It has led to hundreds of thousands of followers and tens of million of views.
“I thought it would be a big deal, didn’t think it would be a worldwide competition and sell out stadiums,” he said, referring to esports—professional video gaming competitions.
Wheeler, who is also a game collector, encouraged others to give charity streams a go, regardless of their follower count.
“Just do it. There’s really nothing stopping you, if I’m honest, there’s no real loss if you start, because if you start and fail, you have no shame, you still tried to something for a good cause,” he said.
“Growing up, I was always told video games were not going to amount to anything, it’s just a silly hobby. So many people have turned it into a job and done wonderful things because of it,” Wheeler said.
“Just keep doing what you’re doing, don’t let others stop you.”