Streaming Magic The Gathering: Arena

Learn how to stream Magic: The Gathering Arena. Get tips on setup, strategies, and engaging with your audience while playing MTG Arena.

Why Stream?

If you clicked on this headline, I’m guessing you already have an interest and motivations of your own. I want to start this article with a simple reality check that everyone should face before really going all-in into a streaming career, which is the simple question of: why?

Obviously, the idea of making money while playing a video game is very enticing for a ton of people, but that’s not all streaming is. While you’re live, you’re putting on a performance to an audience while also sharing your gameplay with them. You will be playing distracted while trying to entertain. This comes easily to some people while being very difficult for others – be honest with yourself and your aptitude. It’s just like picking up a guitar for the first time knowing you won’t be the next Eric Clapton. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick up the guitar, just have the right expectation so you can enjoy the process.

What Platform to Choose?

Every livestreaming platform has its pros and cons. YouTube, for example, is amazing for creators who supplement their livestreams with edited videos. The videos live on in perpetuity, attracting subscribers and potential fans who can catch the livestreams without leaving the video platform. It also saves VODs indefinitely. Those who have built a following on YouTube should certainly stream to it, but if you’re starting from scratch, it might not be the best fit.

Twitch, conversely, is just built differently with livestreams being the primary form of content on the platform and every mechanism and algorithm is designed to push livestreams. Discoverability on this platform is difficult, but if you enjoy going live primarily over making structured videos (like I do), the platform is simply built for it and the audiences are conditioned for all the flaws, bugs, and impromptu moments that happen during a live show that would never make their way into an edited video. Also, there are pre-existing communities that you can join that can help you grow. It feels very interconnected and welcoming which is why Twitch is my format of choice.

Other platforms like Kick or Facebook Gaming exist, but don’t have the kind of audience you can find on YouTube or Twitch, so I would recommend looking at these two first, but ultimately, either can get the job done. You can also try both and see which you prefer.

Open Broadcaster Software (OBS)

There are a ton of resources talking about which OBS to use with two major contenders in the mix: Streamlabs OBS and OBS Studio. Honestly, both programs are good and can absolutely work. I used Streamlabs for years. It was very user-friendly and it worked well. I ultimately switched and am using OBS Studio now because it uses less memory while active and my machine only has so much of that to go around. Either will absolutely get the job done and you can even migrate your settings from one to another making a switch easy if you need to down the road. Don’t let this decision point slow you down. Simply grab one and keep moving.

If you want a good breakdown of OBS, Gaby Spartz put one together years ago you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbbsBBaWgkg

To Face Cam or Not to Face Cam?

The audience of a livestream is trying to connect with a presenter first and foremost, believe it or not. Even the gameplay is secondary to you as an individual. As a result, face cams are a powerful tool and I would recommend having one. It doesn’t have to be a top-shelf DSLR that costs a down payment on a house, though. You can use onboard or inexpensive webcams at first without any issue. Simply make sure to center yourself properly in the frame and have your face a good relative size to the game.

If you don’t have a camera or the means to acquire one, don’t let that stop you, though. You can still go live without, just know that audience retention might be challenging. Also, on Twitch, a random screenshot of your stream will be the thumbnail on the browse page. A face appearing in that thumbnail will help it stand out amongst everyone else who’s live at the same time.

When determining where to place your face over the gameplay, I recommend using Magic: the Gathering Arena’s Bot Match functionality. Sparky is very patient and doesn’t have any kind of timer, so you can fire up a game and move yourself or any other overlay assets to see how they line up with the in-game flow. In general, the bottom right corner works well as does the spot over your pet (the left-middle of the screen) because it’s purely cosmetic. Generally, avoid covering your opponent’s pet, however, because that’s where spells on the stack are displayed and that screen real estate is critical when watching a match.

Audio

When looking at stream setups or companies advertising stream upgrades, a lot of emphasis is placed on cameras, with nowhere near appropriate being paid to the microphones. Bad audio is about the only 100% deal breaker for most stream audiences. People can overlook no camera or dumpy gameplay, but if the audio is too hot or the game audio is significantly louder than your voice, they will simply leave. Get used to reviewing your VODs and doing test recordings to make sure your audio levels are in a good place. This is difficult to get right but it’s critical.

Also, if you hate the sound of your own voice, sorry to tell you that you’ll have to get over that at least a little. Listening back and adjusting as necessary is crucial at first. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The microphone itself doesn’t have to be super fancy, nor does it have to be a “streamer” microphone. If you see the mic on my stream, you’ll notice it doesn’t look like a typical Blue Yeti or Shure “streaming microphone.” Because it’s not. It’s an Audix i5 piped into an outdated Steinberg USB interface. These tools are primarily advertised to musicians. I bought it years ago to mic an acoustic guitar and have just repurposed it. Don’t hesitate to pick up used equipment or budget gear even if it’s not designed for spoken word – they can absolutely do the job and often very well.

The Performance

Magic is a turn-based game, but it is very mentally taxing. Talking through each play as its happening can help you learn why you make certain decisions and help you improve your game, however, it also adds a level of processing to an already mentally stressful action. Once you add people in chat conversing and possibly talking about unrelated topics, the issue exacerbates. Streaming is playing distracted, but you should prioritize the stream if you want it to grow and be successful.

If you make a mistake but identify it after, just call it out and discuss it. It’s okay for that to be part of the show – heck, you can even plan for it. I use MTGBot on my stream and it has a ‘!punt’ command where members of chat can log a mental error and it keeps a counter. As of today, almost 600 punts have been logged on my stream and every one of them has been a learning experience or, at the very least, theatrical and memorable (I hope). Just because you’re losing the game doesn’t mean you’re losing your audience. Give them big, funny reactions. That’s what they’re there to see.

Also, you may want to pick what segment of the MTG community you’re targeting. Are you a casual EDH/Brawl player, or do you prefer draft? There are thousands of people who would log into a constructed stream who would never choose to watch limited and vice versa. That’s okay, just realize these game modes make a huge difference and if you’re doing well with Standard content, switching to draft for a few stream might hurt your numbers.

Speaking of….

The Numbers

Don’t take your viewer count seriously, especially at first. Turn the viewer counts off while you’re live and, instead, focus on putting on a good show to the people who are there. If you do this, you’re far more likely to retain anyone who does discover your channel and help improve your concurrent viewer number. This counts when you have zero viewers, by the way. You have no control over when the first viewer will pop in – make sure they’re greeted with an energetic and fun show.

These platforms will send emails with stream summaries and dangle achievements in front of your face at every turn. Do your best not to get hung up on them because they often measure how often you’re recommended to people rather than your skill as an entertainer. This changes a little as you scale up, but it’s still a good idea to not fixate which is much easier said than done.

Scheduling

Live streams are different from videos because they can only be consumed as intended in the moment when they’re going on. Having a consistent schedule allows your audience to develop habits around when you’re live. For example, I stream in the mornings and have a consistent crew of regulars I see most days. I happen to know that a lot of them are people who work 9-5 desk jobs in the states or Europe and they have me on a secondary monitor or their phone as their background noise as they’re starting or ending their work days respectively. Because I’m live every workday at the same time, it allowed them to work me into their daily routine. I’d recommend a consistent schedule to help you find your audience and do the same. Also, take advantage of opportunities to publish that schedule on your platform of choice and/or social media.

The Bottom Line

If you are interested in trying to stream, for any reason, just go do it. You might really enjoy it, but you might also find it exhausting and unpleasant. Either way, be honest about how you respond and adjust accordingly. I’ve seen many stream viewers feel obligated to stream themselves and express frustration about not liking it (this isn’t any one person either, I’ve seen this happen many times). If that happens, know that you don’t owe anybody anything. If the process of going live doesn’t enrich you and fill you with joy, you can absolutely put it down without any shame or guilt. It’s not for everybody, but if you never try it, you won’t know if it’s for you.

You’ve got this. Good luck out there, and happy brewing!

The author’s twitch channel: https://www.twitch.tv/hamhocks42

Graham, also known as HamHocks42 on the internet, is a Twitch streamer who adores Magic: the Gathering in all its forms and tries to find the fun, even in the most competitive and sweaty environments.
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