When Yassuo, the popular League of Legends Twitch streamer, shouts to his video editor that he will receive a bonus three cents for every YouTube like on the future clip, it’s hard not to feel a little sad for him. The editor, Pinoy, takes it as a challenge though. He jumps into frame and commands anyone watching the video to slam both the like and dislike button to maintain balance as he imitates Thanos in a surprisingly well-acted, yet low quality remake of a scene in Avengers: Infinity War.
Pinoy is unforgettable as he zig zags around the screen with, frankly, more charisma than the streamer he’s supposed to be promoting. This isn’t a Yassuo video, this is a Pinoy video, if only for a moment. That attitude and willingness to insert himself into the video is why Pinoy is a rarity among the usually invisible editors behind the biggest names on Twitch. Yassuo fans know who’s putting the videos together and that’s why any time there’s a bonus involved, they help get him paid.
Pinoy’s videos, which feature snappy compilations of moments from Yassuo’s streams, bring in 50,000 to 100,000 views each. Even if a lot of those viewers don’t click through to his Twitch channel, they’ve helped the YouTube channel gain enough traction on its own to gather around 1.5 million subscribers.
Pinoy wouldn’t tell me how much money he makes creating these eccentric videos for Yassuo and other streamers like Vienna, but, given the comments from all the editors I spoke to for this story, I doubt it’s as much as he deserves.
The editor’s role
Every big Twitch streamer has to take YouTube and other platforms like TikTok seriously. It’s part of building the brand, introducing people to what you do in a short-form way that Twitch simply doesn’t have the means to. Many streamers are live for six to eight hours a day, which leaves no time for the long editing process, so they hire one of the many freelance editors out there ready to bite.
Several of the editors I spoke to for this story not only make the videos and thumbnails for YouTube, but they also manage entire YouTube channels. That means publishing anywhere from six to 10 videos a month, writing descriptions, moderating comments, making “Community” posts, and watching analytics.
That’s all alongside the immense amount of work it takes to make the videos. Some editors have to scrub through full streams to pick out funny or skillful moments, a process that can take several hours and sometimes even longer than the stream itself. Others get clips handed to them from the streamers, but not every streamer is directly involved in the process. Once the editors have the clips, they bring them into a video editing software like Adobe Premiere and start laying in effects, subtitles, and memes. You need a good eye for comedic timing and for the sort of moments that not only sell the streamer’s personality but keep a YouTube viewer’s attention. And given YouTube’s unceasing thirst for video drops, you have to do all of this in a short amount of time or risk losing precious views.
“[The time it takes] depends on the video. I’ve made some in four hours, others can take days. A lot of the time really comes from the tedium of cutting a VOD down to EXACTLY what you need/want for the video,” Pinoy said.
“By the time you can start adding the fun bits, you’re already exhausted mentally and physically and it can be hard to find any creativity. I’ll often wait until another day to even start on the next part unless I’m under a deadline. And then afterwards I’m dead for at least a couple days,” Lug, a video editor for popular Twitch streamer Snuffy, told me.
To call them editors is an understatement; they are producers and sometimes full-on content creators, making all the same decisions they would on their own, except most of the credit and pay goes to the streamers.
In other media, the amount of work Twitch editors do would make you a respectable salary. Video editors outside YouTube, freelance or not, often do less work for a lot more pay. In the US, they can earn around $50,000 to $120,000 a year working in film, depending on the size of the project. And there are unions too, something that is still only grassroots for YouTube editors.
The accessibility of streaming, the precarity of the platform, and the niche they operate in, makes being an editor for Twitch streamers often exploitative. Twitch requires streamers to hit 75 concurrent viewers and to stream at least 25 hours a month before they’re eligible to become a Twitch Partner to get a larger cut from subscriptions. But pay from subscriptions and ads fluctuates based on a number of factors, from the game they’re playing to the times they choose to stream. Without a massive, established audience, it’s impossible to make streaming a steady job.
Small streamers want curated videos to push toward those goals and expand their ways of making money, but can’t often pay their editors fairly, and the big streamers that do are few in number. What’s left are a ton of skilled editors who have little individual power to negotiate their rates, whether it’s because the streamer doesn’t make much on their own or because they’re so successful that it feels like they could find anyone to make videos for them.
The struggle to stick out
On the streamer’s side of things, getting an editor is like making a long-term investment that might not pay off for years or at all. All it could take is one clip exploding on social media or YouTube, but it’s only getting harder to stand out as streaming continues to grow. Success in an algorithmically-governed media landscape requires luck for most people.
“In the beginning, you have to understand that you’ll be working at a loss since you won’t generate much revenue. But investing in a channel that will slowly grow and make back that money is important because visibility is ultimately how you grow as a content creator,” Bao, a popular VTuber on Twitch, told me.
“It’s important to think about the portion of your audience that only perceives you through bite-size clips and think about why they might be interested in catching your streams live,” she said. “Right now, they’re only window shopping, but what do you think will make them stay?”
The problem is that nobody knows how many people stay. It’s difficult to formalize the conversion rate for how many YouTube viewers—let alone viewers from any other platforms—click over to Twitch. Many streamers are forced to treat YouTube like its own audience. Doing so requires you to grapple with the complexities of trying to grow in a completely separate space, where the algorithmic trends might not align with the kind of videos you make. Add in TikTok and Instagram and Twitter and it all becomes a lot to manage by yourself. To be a content creator in 2022 is to stretch yourself across the internet and hope you don’t get torn apart.
Twitch as a platform is hyper-competitive, where streamers spend every second trying to grow the viewer count, or at least keep it stable. With thousands of streamers live on Twitch every day, only the top 0.015% of them make enough to live on, according to data leaked from Twitch’s internal records last year. Popular streamers like DrLupo and TimTheTatman move to other platforms where the pay is more consistent, untied from the frontline for attention on Twitch. But many don’t get those opportunities and are stuck searching for what game or topic or gimmick will bring in viewers this week.
The editors below them pick up the crumbs. They take on jobs at a rate and a workload that would be unfathomable in any other industry. And they’re often invisible to the people who watch their work. The relationship between streamer and editor is fraught because nothing on Twitch is stable.
Even in the best scenarios, like Pinoy showing up in Yassuo’s videos and becoming a known part of the process, the onus is, however jokingly, put on the audience to keep him paid well. Pinoy, for what it’s worth, is happy with his job and said he views himself as “supplementary,” but said he has several friends who do incredible work that don’t get recognized in the same way.
“The issue is it’s harder for them to strike good deals [with streamers] since it’s harder to stand out with stream highlights and I think that’s a shame,” he said.
Editors frequently get hired because they’re already fans of a streamer or follow them in some way. When Ninja wants an editor, he can just tweet for one. Much like how chat mods dedicate a lot of their time to streamers for no pay, it’s common for editors to do the same simply because they’re a fan and want to help someone they already like. It’s easy for a streamer to take advantage of this dynamic and refuse to pay editors at all. And even when they do, negotiations happen in Discord DMs and rarely involve any kind of contract, so jobs can fizzle out any time or end abruptly.
What can change
Earlier this month, I posted on Twitter about my short experience as an editor for a fairly popular Twitch streamer. I wrote that I got paid $100 for what would often be four to five hours of work cutting a video together. The response to the tweet was overwhelming, with many streamer editors expressing their frustration with the job’s underappreciation and relaying their own experiences. And many non-editors were surprised to hear about the hours of work that goes into it all.
The volatility of streaming on Twitch obfuscates the labor that goes into content creation from the thousands of people that visit the site every day. Streamers become their own independent businesses that have to find a way to fight in the arena for attention, and that trickles down to all the underpaid editors they hire. For things to materially change for both editors and streamers, Twitch would have to fundamentally alter the relationship it has with streamers and begin treating them more like its own employees. With the company reportedly looking into increasing the amount of ads and lowering how much Twitch Partners get paid, this doesn’t seem like it’ll happen anytime soon; not as long as the streaming platform continues to rapidly grow.
Short of that, streamers should better recognize the role of editors and make a more responsible decision on whether or not they can afford one. The Twitch clip economy thrives on the backs of the skilled editors making way less than their worth, and it’s only through recognizing their efforts that the job of being an editor can hopefully start to improve for everyone.
“I’ve been editing for a long time now and since I was a kid I loved making people laugh and smile as corny as it sounds,” Pinoy said. “Seeing hundreds if not thousands of people’s days be just a smidge better is a feeling I can’t really describe, but you can be damn sure it’s motivating.”
“Maybe not everyone needs or maybe even wants recognition for their work, but I think a lot probably do and could use a little love thrown their way,” Lug said. “I definitely couldn’t work if there wasn’t very much recognition, but like all things there is a balance of course.”
“If I work too much for myself and nobody else, I’d fail. If I work too much for others’ recognition, I’d fail. That’s the case for me, anyway.”
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