The Weekender, March 9, 2018

1) “How to Get Rich Playing Video Games Online” (New Yorker, 21 minutes, November 2017). This isn’t a how-to guide, but rather a glimpse into the world of video gamers who livestream their lives — sometimes, for ten hours a day, six days a week — for tens of thousands of dollars a month.


Garcia started streaming, in 2010, he’d recently been laid off from a quality-assurance job at a pharmaceutical-software company; he andhis girlfriend] Aracely scraped by on unemployment checks and her wages from Costco. Game broadcasting was new, and the business model all but nonexistent. Still, Garcia thought that he could make it work, so he sat Aracely down to convince her. “Imagine telling your girlfriend, ‘I’m going to stop looking for a job and play video games for a living,’ ” he told me. Aracely, sitting beside him, nodded. “It was a hard conversation,” she said.

Game streaming, Garcia discovered, required non-stop work. The only way to attract viewers, and to prevent the ones you had from straying to other broadcasters, was to be online constantly, so he routinely streamed for eighteen hours a day. “That’s what I had to do to grow the viewership,” he said. His ankles swelled from sitting at his computer. His weight grew to four hundred and twenty pounds.

Garcia’s specialty is the multiplayer fantasy game World of Warcraft. While he isn’t its best player, he has a knack for talking entertainingly over his play: he is funny, brash, and filled with stories about his delinquent childhood in Newark. (“I was so bad, I got kicked out of the dare program,” he told me.) After a year of broadcasting, he had a steady audience of seven hundred, but he was still desperately broke. During a stream, he asked viewers to help him hang on a little longer. One sent him fifteen hundred dollars—a gift that reduced Garcia to tears. “I had to shut my mike off and walk away,” he said. “Everyone was, like, ‘Where’d he go? Is he dead from the donation?’ ”

Six years later, Garcia makes several times that amount on a good day. Since 2011, he has been one of Twitch’s “partners,” an élite group that includes some twenty-five thousand streamers, of the 2.2 million active on the site. Between his thousands of subscribers—who pay a monthly fee for access to perks such as ad-free viewing—and his sponsorships, appearance fees, and tips, he earns a “low- to mid-six-figure” income. His streaming schedule has become more manageable, though it remains arduous: sixty hours a week, no days off except occasional Saturdays. He has devoted nearly thirty thousand hours to World of Warcraft. “I’m a grinder, man,” he told me.

2) Support Now I Know: As many of you already know, researching, writing, and (save for the daily typo or two) editing Now I Know is a pretty big endeavor on my part. Keeping the project financially sustainable is a battle, and to that end, I’ve tried many different avenues.

One of them — a major one at that — is my ongoing Patreon campaign. It’s an old-style patronage campaign, where readers such as yourself support Now I Know through a monthly pledge. A $5 a month pledge comes out to about 25 cents per article I send; a $1 a month pledge is roughly a nickel. Please consider supporting Now I Know through Patreon by clicking here. It’s entirely optional and you’re under no obligation to do so, so don’t feel bad if you can’t or don’t want to. But if you do, please know it all adds up, and I greatly appreciate your support. Thanks!

3) The Now I Know Week in Review:

Monday: How the Navy is Becoming Millenial-Friendly — or, “How Video Games are Making It Easier to Run Submarines”

Tuesday: The Land of the Really Big Vegetables — blame the 20 hour days.

Wednesday: Wine and Cheese with the Queen​ — Meet the man who broke into Buckingham Palace, for a snack.

Thursday: The Gas Station Where You Can Fill Your Belly — Eat here, get gas.

And a bonus one: Bringing the Invisible to Life — a story which came to a conclusion a year ago tomorrow. And it’s a good, uplifting story, too. (Mostly.)

4) “The Role of Luck in Life Success Is Far Greater Than We Realized” (Scientific America, 10 minutes, March 2018). The subhead: “Are the most successful people in society just the luckiest people?.”

Before you object too much, the story says early on that the “argument is not that luck is everything; of course talent matters. Instead, the data suggests that we miss out on a really importance piece of the success picture if we only focus on personal characteristics in attempting to understand the determinants of success.”


5) “Jerry and Marge Go Large” (HuffPost, 45 minutes, February 2018). This is the story about a couple which figured out how to beat a local lottery. If you want a short short short version, I wrote about the game they beat way back in August of 2011. But the deep dive is much more detailed and much better. (On the other hand, my version is 3-5 minutes long, tops.)

This particular game was called Winfall. A ticket cost $1. You picked six numbers, 1 through 49, and the Michigan Lottery drew six numbers. Six correct guesses won you the jackpot, guaranteed to be at least $2 million and often higher. If you guessed five, four, three, or two of the six numbers, you won lesser amounts. What intrigued Jerry was the game’s unusual gimmick, known as a roll-down: If nobody won the jackpot for a while, and the jackpot climbed above $5 million, there was a roll-down, which meant that on the next drawing, as long as there was no six-number winner, the jackpot cash flowed to the lesser tiers of winners, like water spilling over from the highest basin in a fountain to lower basins. There were lottery games in other states that offered roll-downs, but none structured quite like Winfall’s. A roll-down happened every six weeks or so, and it was a big deal, announced by the Michigan Lottery ahead of time as a marketing hook, a way to bring bettors into the game, and sure enough, players increased their bets on roll-down weeks, hoping to snag a piece of the jackpot.

The brochure listed the odds of various correct guesses. Jerry saw that you had a 1-in-54 chance to pick three out of the six numbers in a drawing, winning $5, and a 1-in-1,500 chance to pick four numbers, winning $100. What he now realized, doing some mental arithmetic, was that a player who waited until the roll-down stood to win more than he lost, on average, as long as no player that week picked all six numbers. With the jackpot spilling over, each winning three-number combination would put $50 in the player’s pocket instead of $5, and the four-number winners would pay out $1,000 in prize money instead of $100, and all of a sudden, the odds were in your favor. If no one won the jackpot, Jerry realized, a $1 lottery ticket was worth more than $1 on a roll-down week—statistically speaking.

6) “‘The Big Lebowski’ is 20. We reached out to the critics who panned it to see what they think now.” (Washington Post, 6 minutes, March 2018). Most of them have changed their minds. I didn’t really like the movie the first time I watched it, but it was great every time after, so I don’t really blame them.

Have a great weekend!