Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
Five years ago, two friends sat down to talk about games using the PlayStation 4’s new Live From PlayStation feature. Little did they know that half a decade later they would have one of the most loyal and positive communities on Twitch, and that their dedicated group of viewers would help make a dream a reality.
If you’re here, there's a good chance you already know who Andrew is. Not only is he one of the co-hosts of The Level Up Show, the weekly gaming talk show that made The Level Up Network into what it is today, but Andrew is a genuinely awesome guy who recently quit his job to begin streaming full-time. While that is usually a big choice, it's made even bigger by the fact that Andrew also has a family to support. It is certainly an understatement to say that making this change to full-time streaming is a bit risky, so before it happens, I wanted to get Andrew's thoughts on the journey so far, the excellent community that he’s brought together, and everything that’s about to happen when his journey finally kicks off on January 14th.
Rick: Congrats on finally going full-time, man! What was the hardest thing about getting to this point?
Andrew: Thanks! Without a doubt, it was balance. When I first started streaming on Twitch, it was certainly a hobby and it was before I was married, before I had a house, before I had two daughters... Over the years, trying to figure out how to balance my desire to grow the channel with the time that should be devoted to my wife, my family and all the duties associated with that has been extremely difficult. To say it's been a struggle for my wife is an understatement. She's put up with a lot in my journey to make this a reality and I'll always be grateful to her for that. Fortunately, being able to fully focus on my streaming career as opposed to two careers will really help with balance. This is what needed to happen.
Rick: Over the past five years, have you ever been discouraged to the point where you considered giving up? Or did you always stay determined to make streaming your career?
Andrew: Oh yes, many times. And it relates to what I said in the previous question. Sometimes the stress of trying to find balance felt like too much. Not to the point that I wanted to stop streaming entirely, but maybe to the point where I thought, "OK, this is too stressful. I just want to take a step back and stop treating this as more than just a fun activity”. Sometimes I considered simply ditching the schedule and going back to doing it when it fit in around the rest of my life. Of course, not having a consistent schedule is a terrible idea when trying to grow a channel. I managed to push through those moments though because I knew I'd have massive regrets later on if I did. I've always been a perfectionist so it's hard for me to take steps back once I've already taken so many forward. Thankfully, I think that attitude has paid off.
Rick: If you’re going to find success streaming full-time, you’ll need a lot of support from the Level Uppers. How confident are you that you’ll be able to make this work? If and when you become a big name on Twitch, do you think you’ll be able to interact with the audience as well as you do now?
Andrew: That's a really good question. I'd be lying if I said I was sure this was going to work. That's why I've tried to be smart about how I approached the transition to becoming a full-time streamer. I admire those out there that have the courage to just up and leave their job at a moment's notice and pursue their dream. I had days where I truly wanted to do that, but when you have a wife and a family to worry about, that would have felt selfish to me. I had long conversations with my wife to determine what is the safest way to go after this, and that's how we came up with the year-long fundraising effort that would ultimately decide how long I can devote to the full-time effort. The community was amazing; $15,000 in less than a year to help me out while I bleed money at the start of this journey. I simply could not have done this if not for the generosity of the community last year. So going back to the first part of the question, the most precise I would go is to say I'm over 50% sure I can make this work. And I wasn't always so high...I'd say it started at like 25%. But as I saw a relatively small community raise that amount of money in less than a year, that's when I started to think, "Wow...maybe this is more possible than I thought." And now that community is hopefully going to grow and with that, I'm sure we will bring in amazing, supportive members that will put my goals within reach. Will I be able to interact as well with a growing community? I imagine it will be more difficult...there's no doubt about that. Currently, interacting with the 20-30 active chatters isn't too much of a struggle. But if I do get to that 100+ active chatters mark and beyond, I'm going to need to adapt and I know that. I never want to be a streamer that focuses more on the game than on the chat. I've always had a 50/50 rule and I want to stay as close to that as possible, even as the channel grows. Twitch is all about interactivity and I think our channel shows that aspect better than a whole lot of others out there.
Before I started the interview, I asked Andrew some simple questions about his favorite things. I was expecting quick answers (somewhere between one word and one sentence), but with Andrew being the type of person he is, he went above and beyond and gave some really detailed responses. Check them out!
Rick: I totally agree on that being a big strength of your streaming style, and there’s no doubting that without the community you couldn’t be making this happen. The support really has been remarkable! I can think of so many awesome things that the community for The Level Up Network has done over the years, but what event has made you the most proud of the group of people you brought together?
Andrew: I mean, it has to be Extra Life each year, especially once we started allowing tips and subs towards our channel. The fact that viewers were so generous to us throughout the year and then come October/November they still managed to raise anywhere from $7,000 to $10.000+ for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals...that's insane. In comparison to the other major Extra Life teams, we were minuscule in size. But that didn't stop us from being in the Top 10 teams throughout ALL of Extra Life in 2016. I'm very proud of that and very proud of the community that we've fostered over the years.
Rick: Yep, that really is incredible. They never stop giving, and it shows. I’ll see streamers with much higher viewer counts that get nowhere near the support that you do. Still, you deserve just as much credit for making it this far! I’ve always been blown away by how much work goes into the show behind the scenes. If you had to guess, how many hours have you put into building the show over the years? What is the hardest part about creating it?
Andrew: Honestly, it would be near impossible to count it all up. At its “worst" when I was really in the middle of building all the content, it was like a second full time job almost. There were weeks where I probably spent 30 hours working on graphics, animations, templates for videos, or even just brainstorming. Those are the hours that really add up. Even if I did get in bed at a semi-normal hour (which is like midnight for me), usually I just lay in bed awake thinking of things I can improve/trying to come up with new ideas. Those hours count... those were hours that I should have been sleeping! But when it comes to the channel, my mind is always turned on. There will always be areas I can improve. There will always be untapped potential, and I want to grab that. But that is the hardest part...trying to come up with an original idea seems impossible most of the time. There's always someone out there that's already done it. That being said, you can take ideas and improve upon them to make it original. An example of that would be our prize wheel. Prize wheels, of course, are not original in any way; I even first saw one being used on Twitch by a girl on the front page. She made a physical one and it was really crafty and cool. My first thought was, "That's really cool, but how cool would it be if it was digital, if I could change it easily at any time and spin it with the press of the button?”, so I found a way to make that work. I honestly think we were one of the first if not the first to use a digital prize wheel. Now it's everywhere (Streamlabs even offers one as a widget). I'd love to have another moment like that of "originality”.
Rick: Wow, a second full time job... that’s insane! I didn’t know that you popularized the concept of the prize wheel either, that’s super interesting. Before we get into the big questions about full time, I wanted to ask you three things you likely haven’t been asked before. First, did you ever consider a different color pattern for your Level Up logos? Second, out of all the awesome emotes for the channel, which is your personal favorite? Finally, you have a lot of different versions of yourself that come out during your streams. Between Courier Meduri, Old Man Andrew (RIP), Pterodactyl Andrew and all the others, which is your favorite to play?
Andrew: So when it comes to our logo, you probably know that it was developed by one of our original cast members, Mark. What's really cool are all the mock ups that he put together with different color palettes and ideas for how it can be used. So yes, we do have those and I consider messing with it sometimes. I might be able to send you the old mock ups. When it comes to the emotes, my favorites ones are definitely those that originated out of randomness. For instance, “<2”. That was created because one of our long time viewers Tobz would constantly mistype <3. It became a thing, and now it's Level Up's way of showing love. It's also the same for “UhOh”. That originated from me accidentally punching a horse in Red Dead Redemption 2. It might have even been you that snipped that image of me, but it was GhostGamez that said “that should be an emote!”. I didn't even consider it before he said that, and now it's one of our most popular emotes. I love those kinds of happy accidents... and yes, Old Man Andrew is dead, but in my opinion he spawned my favorite incarnation: Old Man Courier Meduri. There was a week where I did this old John Marston-type voice while reading a tweet from Colin Moriarty. Mid-paragraph I just burst out laughing in the ridiculousness of it all. That's my favorite.
This will be the last time I break up the interview, and seeing as we're about to start talking about full-time streaming, this feels like a good time to take one last look at the history of the channel. Andrew was super helpful during the interview, as he went out of his way to dig up old designs, such as the original Level Up Show logo, as well as plenty of never-before-seen mockups that I used to make the slideshow above. I thought that these were super cool to see, so if you're interested, give them a look before continuing on!
Rick: Those were some really fun answers, and I do remember getting a screenshot of you punching that horse. I think that’s become my personal favorite emote, too. Anyway, now it’s time for some important questions! You’re only a few days away from beginning the full-time journey, and everyone is expecting some changes. What are your plans for the main show moving forward, and what new content is on the way?
Andrew: The main show will always be The Level Up Show. It's what started us on Twitch and there is a legacy behind it. I think something that I'd like to get back to is introducing new personalities into the mix. Our long-time viewers know my feelings on many subjects in gaming, the same for Mike. Instead of regurgitating our outlook on the industry time and time again, bringing in new opinions and perspectives I feel is what will keep The Level Up Show fresh. However, who we bring in is very important. By going full-time, I'm hoping to cultivate relationships with other great personalities in the medium, personalities that would be a good fit for our talk show. With raids now a common tool used by streamers, it allows us to introduce our community to other entertainers so that when we do bring them on the show, there is an attachment there...and that actually is really important. As for the channel as a whole, new talk shows are going to be introduced. That includes a conversational morning talk show called Wake Up Level Up and even the return of a long dormant talk show called The Lights Up Show which will discuss movies and television. A focus on the talk show format has always been a big way to differentiate our channel from others, and I want to keep it that way. I'm not promising anything, but I'd even like to bring back It Only Does PlayStation when the time is right. All of that doesn't even touch all of the new variety gaming, either. Thanks to the new schedule, I'll be gaming for at least 24 hours a week with Tuesday nights in particular allowing the community to join myself and Mike. To finally catch up on my enormous backlog has me more excited than almost anything else.
Rick: This is all nice to hear, and I’d love to see It Only Does PlayStation return one day! On the subject of guests, would you consider getting developers on the show like you did back in the Live From PlayStation days? I feel like the community you have today would enjoy that much more than some of the random viewers did back in the early days of the show. Also, speaking of the Level Uppers, do you have any cool community events like a new Level Up Bowl or Trophy War incoming?
Andrew: So there are two reasons we moved away from developer interviews. One was what you alluded to: the viewers didn't really enjoy the discussions back in the early days. The other is that when we moved away from Live From PlayStation and lost the exposure that brought us, it made it more difficult to get developers to come onto the show. However, it's been a really long time since our show was in that state and you're 100% right. I think the viewers we now attract would very much appreciate interviews with game developers. At the same time, I'd like to work towards bringing on recognizable developers as well as ones that deserve a spotlight and may not have one. It's something that's going to take time, but I'd like to make it happen sometime this year. As for community events, we of course want to bring back the staples. Trophy War Season 4 is happening and there will be a Level Up Bowl. The bowl this year is going to bring blood. Level Up Bowl: Console Wars will give the viewers the opportunity to decide the greatest gaming console of all time. As our channel becomes more and more community driven throughout the year, especially with Discord being so important, we will announce some other fun events as well.
Rick: Sounds awesome! Back to your backlog, this new schedule opens up a lot of time for gaming as you said. The only problem is that the list keeps growing... out of all the games that have been suggested so far, which ones are you the most excited to play?
Andrew: Ironically, I am looking forward to the days I make my way through Mass Effect 2 and 3, if only so that people will stop telling me to play it. Some others that I'm really excited to play are in a similar category; that being games that I really missed the boat on...some games now considered classics that for whatever reason I missed out on. That includes Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Breath of the Wild, The Witcher III, this gen's Wolfenstein games, Nier: Automata, the Yakuza series, and many more. I'll never fully catch up on my back long, but this is my time to make a dent. What's really cool is that the community can add on to the backlog if they'd like. Patrons and Twitch subscribers have the privilege to suggest games on our Discord and higher tiered supporters can even vote on what I ultimately stream each week. It'll be a lot fun seeing what the community pushes me towards.
Rick: I’m so hyped to see you play every one of the games that were just listed. Do you plan on playing them all the way through whenever you start one, or will you be jumping around?
Andrew: So I've never been someone to 100% most games; it’s rare for that to happen and it's usually only for games I absolutely LOVE. However, I do intend to roll credits on as many of the games that I stream as possible. That will be my goal. The way it's usually going to work is that each day, two games will be streamed. One game will be for the morning period, and another will make up the afternoon period. When I roll credits on a game, I'll jump back to Discord, look at game suggestions, put together a poll and see what the community wants me to play next. Tuesdays especially will be a night for me to break out of my comfort zone. With Mike choosing the game for each Trashtalk Tuesday, you're going to see me playing stuff that's so outside my wheelhouse that it should be pretty interesting...or maybe cringy. We'll just have to wait and see.
Rick: That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear! Seeing you finish the main story in all the games you play is going to be a blast, as will watching you play more games with Mike. So, with that question answered, everything I wanted to ask you should be covered. To wrap this interview up, what is one thing you’d like to tell everybody reading this before you make the leap on January 14th?
Andrew: To our existing community, thank you. Seriously. Thank you so much. It's been said a few times in this interview alone, but we have been blessed with an unbelievably generous and supportive group of viewers/friends. It's rare that a Twitch community of our size is as kind and generous. I want to make all of you proud and that is my mission above all else. This is something that I've been working towards for five years and I do it because it's what I want to do with my life more than anything else. All of you have helped in making that happen. I hope that together, we can grow the community and welcome in new, amazing people, all while never losing our essence, our positivity. To those reading this that might be ready to join that community, know that you will be welcomed with open arms. If you have a passion for gaming, movies, television, pop culture, superheroes, or even SPORTSBALL! - we have you covered. We want to be the place where you can share your love for everything nerd culture.
That’s all, folks! I want to thank Andrew for sitting down to do this interview even though he’s incredibly busy at the moment, and I want to thank you for spending your time reading it. Take a look at the full time schedule here, and be sure to stop in to give Andrew your support this Monday when he begins his new career as a full-time streamer! - Rick