The Twitch community has been in disarray since the platform was hacked, putting accounts in danger and leading to tons of disclosures regarding some streamers’ massive twitch earnings. Prior to the leaks, Twitch has never publicly acknowledged how much streamers actually earn while using the platform, even if fans can deduce that some of them are insanely rich. With all of this new information out in the public eye, onlookers now have the opportunity to find out how much cash their favorite streamers are really raking in, and who among them is making the most.
The list of streamers who earned the most money from August 2019 to October 2021 (when the leak surfaced) included many names people are familiar with. xQc was the second-highest earner in that span, netting almost $8.5 million, while household names such as Asmondgold — who has expressed interest in quitting Twitch altogether — sat in 14th place, making just over a cool $2.5 million. Critical Role led the pack by far, though, making $9.6 million (per DoteSports). But who are Critical Role and why is the channel such a big success?
Who are Critical Role, Twitch’s most lucrative channel?
For the uninitiated, Critical Role is a small group of voice actors who began to livestream themselves playing "Dungeons & Dragons" — a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game in which players create their own characters — back in March of 2015. The channel eventually became successful, and what started as a group of friends from the same industry having fun in their free time turned into a huge media corporation that currently has plans for its own show on Amazon, which will be released next February. The group has even contributed to canonical D&D lore.
In an interview with Variety, Matthew Mercer — a voice actor who has appeared in "Overwatch" and "Persona 5," as well as many other anime and video game projects — said of CR’s genesis, "We thought nobody would care. And we thought, ‘Is that a good idea to put something we love online for the internet to tear apart?’" Unbeknownst to him, the channel would take off due to the immersive experience provided by the collective of voice actors using their talents to portray their characters in unique and entertaining ways.
In addition to its usual cast, Critical Role also frequently has on guests who are also voice actors. One notable example of such is Ashly Burch (who voices Aloy in "Horizon Zero Dawn", and Chloe Price in "Life is Strange"), who appeared in Campaign 2 as a dwarven fighter named Keg.
Critical Role has a built-in audience
It may come as a shock to some, but it seems one can become massively successful on a video game streaming platform without actually playing video games, or at least making it one’s primary focus. While the Critical role team does occasionally play video games on the channel, their rise to stardom is quite an interesting tale due to its main content, and might leave one confused as to how one gets so popular on a platform typically dedicated to traditional gaming, be it on PC or console.
But the answer is relatively obvious — each cast member brings in a built-in audience of fans familiar with their past work as voice actors. Included in Critical Role’s cast are accomplished voice artists such as Matthew Mercer ("Attack on Titan", "Naruto"), Ashley Johnson ("The Last of Us"), Travis Willingham ("Fullmetal Alchemist", "Sonic the Hedgehog"), and Laura Bailey ("BloodRayne", "The Last of Us Part 2") just to name a few. Other cast members, like Sam Riegel, have a background on both sides of the microphone, working in casting as well as acting. Even if one has never seen their faces, it’s almost impossible any fans of video games or anime haven’t heard the voices of Critical Role.
The group’s Twitch earnings are only part of the equation
Making $9.6 million on Twitch is an impressive feat, especially when compared to others who have used the platform for much longer and with a more conventional format. However, Twitch income is only one source of the group’s revenue, which could easily creep into the 8-figures mark when taking Critical Role’s other ventures into account.
Outside of the Twitch space, Critical Role has published several lines of comic books about their "D&D" characters, one of which — "Vox Machina Origins", a prequel story — will be adapted into an animated series in which the CR cast will all voice their own roles. It’s scheduled to premiere on Amazon Prime in February 2022. Other ventures have included their own board game, a podcast, and even a coffee table book.
One must also factor in that outside of Critical Role, each cast member is a highly sought-after voice actor, and likely maintains a steady source of income in that area as well.
What do people love about Critical Role?
A big part of Critical Role’s success could be attributed to its focused stream of content. Even if "D&D" is, in itself, a niche topic, this kind of specific approach can go far in establishing a fan base that knows exactly what they’re getting into and what to expect. This kind of specific audience isn’t unlike the ones cultivated by streamers like Dr. DisRespect or Shroud, who attract viewers due to their ability to blitz through multiplayer lobbies in first-person shooters. While streamers of this ilk appeal to aspiring virtuoso gamers, Critical Role appeals to people who value stories, lore, and character development.
The question of why Critical Role has become such an entertainment powerhouse is not a new one. As a matter of fact, there is a Reddit thread on Critical Role’s subreddit that asks this very question, which garnered over a hundred replies. A common reason given for being a fan is Critical Role’s production value, which includes high-resolution cameras and quality microphones that immerse the viewer into the story they’re telling. But the overarching narrative among the fandom is how the characters are portrayed. "I love just how into it the players are," wrote Reddit user u/SamanthaOnABantha. "The way Matt can imitate a monster skittering towards them, and have the cast screaming. I love watching Travis squirm when Matt is describing creepy stuff. Ashley and Marisha being all cute and awkward RPing falling in love. Laura’s 13-year-old sense of humour." User u/GiltPeacock called Critical Role’s show "Half gaming stream[,] half long-form improvisational theatre game", and touted the show’s ability to be different things at different moments, while maintaining the channel’s core principles and fun.
What’s in the future for Critical Role?
Critical Role stood head and shoulders above their competition on Twitch for the last two years. The channel’s massive success has transformed it from a group of friends playing a roleplaying game to a multimedia juggernaut with several projects on the horizon, including the aforementioned Amazon television show. That’s not all they have in store for fans in the future, though. The collective recently announced plans to license its own video game, based completely on the stories and characters they’ve created in their six years of existence. In addition to comic books and TV shows, news of a video game should appeal to fans who have become highly immersed in Critical Role’s content over time. The game could even play a huge role in attracting new fans who either have not heard of Critical Role before, or have not engaged with their existing content, further expanding their nerdy empire.
The CR team has also announced Campaign 3 — the newest season of its "D&D" roleplay — that will premiere on both their Twitch and YouTube channels, beginning on October 21. Campaign 3 will, according to Mercer, take place "long after" the events of Campaign 2 and will introduce new characters as well.