Ludwig Ahgren: The Twitch Livestream Subathon

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On Sunday afternoon around 2 p.m., Ludwig Ahgren, a Twitch streamer in Los Angeles, turned his camera on and began streaming. He hasn’t stopped.

Over the past five days Mr. Ahgren has maintained a near constant livestream of his life. He plays video games, chats, cooks, eats and sleeps, all on stream. In the evenings, he hosts movie nights with his viewers. Mr. Ahgren lives with five roommates and his girlfriend, and some of them also play a role on camera, helping him cook or working out together.

He even streamed himself in the shower (with shorts on).

All of this is part of what is known on Twitch as a “subathon.” A subathon is a short period of time when a streamer will engage in certain activities or stunts to accrue paid subscriptions to his or her channel. Some streamers set numeric goals. For instance, if they reach 2,000 new subs, they’ll eat something spicy on camera or play a particular game for fans.

Mr. Ahgren, 25, structured his subathon so that every new subscription adds an additional 10 seconds to a clock that dictates how long he’ll stream. When Mr. Ahgren set things up this way, he imagined that he’d be streaming for 24 hours max, maybe 48. Five days later, his subathon stream has blown up and become the top stream on Twitch, driving tens of thousands of new subscriptions daily as fans pay to see how long he can go. He has gained more than 40,000 new subscriptions since he began streaming.

“The weirdest thing is every time I wake up, it feels like it gets bigger and bigger,” Mr. Ahgren said. “Last night, I went to bed with 30,000 viewers and 60,000 subs. I woke up and I was at 70,000 viewers and 70,000 subs.”

That’s because as Mr. Ahgren sleeps, an army of fans works overtime to maximize his subscribers. They chat and play YouTube clips and videos for one another to keep the channel entertaining. Mr. Ahgren’s name has trended on Twitter twice in the past week, both times while he was asleep.

“At night, the rest of us do his content for him,” said a 21-year-old college student who goes by Happygate and acts as one of Mr. Ahgren’s moderators. “We try to keep everyone excited and highly motivated to see this go on as long as possible.”

“The sleep streams have been really interesting,” said Stephen Seaver, 15, a high school student in Georgia. “Basically what happens is his mods” — that’s short for moderators — “get on a Discord call and they’re calling and talking the entire time, shilling out of their mind for subs. The idea is that it’s funny, while he’s sleeping the timer is going up.”

Sleep streams have become popular throughout the pandemic on Twitch and TikTok, where fans say they enjoy the late-night pop-up communities that sleep streams facilitate. Creators like them because they’re able to make money literally while they sleep.

“I fell asleep on stream last night and became the most watched streamer on Twitch,” Mr. Ahgren tweeted on Monday. “What the hell is even that.” Later Monday evening, Twitch wished Mr. Ahgren “Goodnight” from its official Twitter account.

Twitch, which has been owned by Amazon since 2014, has seen a rapid surge in popularity over the past year. The site had already expanded from a place where gamers could broadcast their play of Fortnite and Call of Duty into a broader platform that included lifestyle, cooking and political streams. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated that growth as people stuck at home looked for online entertainment.

Erin Wayne, head of community and creator marketing at Twitch, said that streams like Mr. Ahgren’s were becoming more prevalent on the platform. “It’s the idea of multiplayer entertainment, where the community is able to impact the content that a creator makes, will continue to grow in popularity,” she said. “The person consuming the content is able to directly impact, and, in some cases, dictate what happens in the content they consume. It’s so inherently unique to Twitch. I think that’s why these types of marathons or subscriber streams are so popular.”

Mr. Ahgren’s stream can be seen as an extension of the trend of creators monetizing more and more parts of their lives, from daily decisions on what to eat or wear to who they should hang out with. Streams like his can generate a deeper connection with fans, who view the subathon as a collective community experience.

“No matter what time of day you tune in, his stream is up and running, and you’ll see many familiar faces in chat,” Nathan Grayson, a gaming reporter, wrote at Kotaku. “It’s only been running for three days, but it already feels like comfort food.”

It was this type of comfort and connection that Mr. Seaver said drew him in. “Even though the content of the stream might not be particularly special, it’s the fact that you’re all part of this community watching this really rare event,” he said. “You get to watch Ludwig’s entire life for days. It’s not great for him, but you get so much content out of it and you get that you as a community got together and were able to see this thing happen.”

As a result, more and more people have been able to earn a living through streaming on the platform full time, with a handful of the highest-earning streamers making more than $1 million a year, according to a September study by the online lender CashNetUS.

Twitch’s growth mirrors the overall boom in the gaming industry in 2020. Stay-at-home orders combined with the release of a new generation of video game consoles from Microsoft and Sony in November led to a financial bonanza; gamers spent a record $56.9 billion last year in the United States, up 27 percent from 2019, according to the NPD Group.

While Mr. Ahgren has already made six figures off his stream, he has encouraged his young fans to be responsible with their money. “I’ve been just telling them, ‘Hey, don’t use your stimulus check on me,’” he said. “Make sure your bread is right before giving it away.”

No one knows how long Mr. Ahgren can go. Other Twitch streamers have streamed relatively continuously for over 31 days, but Mr. Ahgren said he couldn’t imagine things would get to that point.

He does have a trip coming up to visit his girlfriend’s family in a week several hours north, so he’s hoping things will end before then. If it doesn’t, he’ll have to figure out a way to take his stream on the road. “I think this is a cool, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Mr. Ahgren said of his stream. “I’m kind of excited every day to wake up because it’s never going to happen to me again.”

Kellen Browning contributed reporting.