You know that old proverb “It takes a village”? Well, it’s true when you’re a successful video game streamer or digital content creator who wants to take their brand to the next level. There’s perhaps no one who better understands this than RTS’ VP of Talent Management Sue Lee. “Amazing creators have amazing support systems behind them,” Lee said during Thursday's R29 Twitch stream. “[Talent managers] have a view of all the moving pieces of a business and can help take on a lot of that burden.”
A longtime gamer and esports host herself, Lee (OGs will know her as “Smix”) began working at Twitch in the early 2010s, where she not only had the opportunity to watch the platform and industry grow, but also work with top creators as they built their own audiences. The close relationships she developed there led her to join RTS, a talent management and brand consulting agency that launched last October. As a talent manager, Lee helps streamers like RTS cofounder Pokimane and Nihachu take a 360-degree, big-picture view of their empires, coordinating things like taxes, conversations with agents and brand partners, brainstorming project ideas, and maintaining a content calendar so that the creators can focus on doing what they love most: create.
But how does a gamer get to the point where they need someone like Lee on their team? Speaking with R29 Entertainment Director and Twitch host Melissah Yang, Lee shared what she views as the tiers of streaming growth. Tier 1 may seem obvious: It’s nailing the special formula of content that hits with an audience and feels right to you, and landing on a content schedule and process that allows you to be consistently streaming. “This is actually difficult for 99 percent of creators,” Lee said. “It’s a very difficult thing to figure out what you want to be working on, how to grow a community, and how to grow a sustainable business.” During this time, you’re developing your own voice, point of view, and trying to differentiate yourself over the tens of thousands of other creators vying for the same eyes.
Once you have that and have built your loyal following, you’re probably envisioning a path toward making streaming a full-time career. Welcome to Tier 2. It’s now time to start thinking about how you can do just that. According to Lee, this is when you should identify where you need support. Maybe you need a talent agent, who focuses on securing paid work, to find consistent revenue pipelines — aka brand deals — for you, or an accountant to handle all the BTS components of owning a business (like finances and wealth management), or people to help syndicate your content across other platforms outside of Twitch. “The nature of being a creator can feel like you’re operating on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, but you want to feel like the work you’re putting in is going to last you for years down the road,” Lee said. This is also where a talent manager can step in to fill in those gaps for you or make connections to other people who will.
If Tier 2 goes well, that means you’ve probably grown a following on multiple platforms and have resources to manage your streaming business. Enter Tier 3: What comes next? This is when you can start acting on your big dream ideas — the projects you never thought would be possible — that will grow your empire beyond streaming. Lee points to Ryan Reynolds, who on top of acting has become a successful entrepreneur with a gin brand, Welsh soccer team, and more to his name, as an example. Of course, there are a number of digital creators already doing this successfully, too: Emma Chamberlain has Chamberlain Coffee, MrBeast has MrBeast Burgers. And it can be anything — even bidets.
As streamers will tell you though, it’s not as easy as 1, 2, 3. There still is a numbers threshold you have to reach (what that is exactly is hard to define), but more importantly that audience has to be what Lee calls “sticky” — they’re not just fans of what you do, they’re truly a fan of you. “It’s one thing to be a streamer who has 10,000 viewers all the time, it’s quite another to be a streamer who can activate your amazing community and fans in a way that you are intimately connected with them so that they will follow you no matter what type of initiative you do,” Lee said.
But if you are one of the lucky hardworking few who can attract the attention of a top talent manager like Lee, be ready to answer questions like “What kind of help do you need?” and “What other goals do you have?” “We’re looking for someone who not only has proven they have the work ethic and grit to accomplish what is so difficult for most, but also has greater ambitions to grow beyond,” Lee said.
And yes, there are the intangible qualities that really distinguish one creator from the rest. As for what Lee personally wants? “One of the benefits of working for a startup like RTS is that we can be very, very careful and intentional about the types of creators we pick up,” she said. “We care deeply about working alongside good souls.”