Press Play to Start: Ludwig’s subathon proves the power of feeling a sense of community

We finally made it to double digits!

This is the 10th installment of my column and I couldn’t be more psyched up about it. Who would’ve thought that my ramblings would make it this far? Since I’m in the mood for special occasions, today’s column will be about a historical event that just happened on Twitch. 

Of course, I’m talking about Ludwig’s “subathon.”

For those of you who don’t know, Ludwig is one of the biggest streamers on Twitch, currently holding the record for most subscribers ever on the platform — nearly 300,000 in mid-April. His popularity can partially be attributed to his “subathon,” a concept where, as long as people continue subscribing, his stream will keep going. In Ludwig’s case, he started streaming on March 14, with one sub adding 10 seconds to the stream’s duration. He also put a 31-day cap for the length of the marathon stream.

This is not, by any means, a new idea. But because Ludwig was already well known before he decided to start this journey, his “subathon” is by far the one that attracts the most attention, already allocating space for him in the Twitch history books. And also because he streamed for all 31 days. 

Ludwig ate on stream, he showered (with shorts) on stream and he slept on stream. Almost every aspect of his life was broadcasted to thousands of people. In a sense, it felt like a real-life Truman show.

So why did we keep watching?

It’s not as if every second of the stream was filled with planned content. There were many times where all he was doing was joking around with his roommates or reacting to random YouTube videos. But he still managed to attract thousands of viewers at any given time. 

So what’s the secret?

There is no concrete answer to that, since every person had a different reason to tune in. I’d wager that many joined simply to see how long it would actually go. All I can do is use my own experience as a basis.

Yes, yes, the cat’s out of the bag: I watch his streams. I’d like to say that it’s because I’m a well-attuned columnist who flocks to good stories (or any other fancy LinkedIn-able excuse), but this was genuinely out of luck. Ludwig is one of the few streamers I follow routinely, and I’ve been watching him for almost two years now. When he announced his “subathon,” I didn’t think too much of it. 

And oh, how wrong I was.

Ludwig’s stream is memorable, not necessarily because of its sheer length, but because of the community that formed thanks to it. 

Usually, popular streamers don’t develop a very intimate community organically because there are too many people to interact with on a personal basis. Because Ludwig’s never-ending stream breaks tradition and allows viewers to take a peek at his normal life, the audience seems to have developed a community on its own. 

For the first time, some of my real-life acquaintances tuned into his stream. Browsing through Twitter, I found countless posts about his content, made by people ranging from professional journalists to random students. I even made some new friends by interacting with those tweets. And when I focused only on his Twitch chat, I was still left with a feeling of unity; it is as if behind every user who was typing, there was someone who felt the same as me, happy to be a part of this moment.

I know it might seem like I’m exaggerating, but it only takes a glance at the final minutes of the subathon to truly understand what I’m saying. The overall togetherness was so palpable that even Ludwig himself had to hold back tears when saying goodbye. Later, when I talked to my friends about the stream, many admitted to also being on the brink of crying. Not necessarily because they were sad that a historic event was ending, but because each of them had a specific connection to the stream. For some, that was the place where they met their best friends. For others, it’s what made them start streaming. Regardless of what the product actually was, hundreds of thousands of people now shared a similar, deeply personal connection with this stream, even if inadvertently. And that is extremely powerful.

I could talk about what the esports industry can learn from this, but this time, I won’t.

Ludwig’s streaming career is far from over, so there might be an even more poignant lesson to learn from all of this in the long run. But the main reason why I won’t go on about that is because it simply isn’t my objective. As a rare exception to the overall trend of my articles, I wrote this column to showcase what will certainly go down in the collective memory of Twitch. I also wrote it to make sense of my own experience with the stream, which mirrors those of other viewers. More than giving a suggestion, this column is a recognition of all of those who came to watch his stream, even if it was just for a couple of minutes. 

While we may have been born too early to explore the stars, we at least watched a streamer go through his own odyssey together. And there is some magic to that. 

Guilherme Guerreiro is a sophomore writing about esports. His column, “Press Play to Start,” ran every other Wednesday.