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'Dark Souls' Is Hard, But Playing It Professionally Is Much Harder

It's a hard job, but someone has to do it.

by Matthew Gault
Apr 10 2016, 1:00pm

Image: LobosJR getting intense. YouTube screengrab

Dark Souls III is out this week and the streamers are ready. In the coming weeks, fans will gather online to trade strategies, discuss lore, and watch Twitch. Dark Souls' unique challenges and flexible play style make it perfect for streaming, but only the best gamers do it well.

Few professional Dark Souls players are as popular as LobosJR and as notorious as Oroboro.

I caught up with the two streamers to find out what it takes to play games for a living and what makes the souls series so intriguing and so challenging.

Oroboro is a college student named Brandon who makes cash on the side chasing other players down in Dark Souls and murdering them. In Dark Souls, monsters aren't as dangerous as other players and some gamers live for the thrill of invading a fellow player's game to kill them and harvest their hard won souls.

Oroboro is one of the best and most entertaining hunters. More than 90,000 people subscribe to his Twitch channel.

"Back when Fallout 3 was announced, I was obsessed with finding everything about it," he told me when I asked him how he got started streaming. "I was just looking on the internet for every little tidbit … and eventually I found Justin.tv [Twitch's precursor] and started watching these Fallout streams and I realized 'I could do this. I really wanna stream too.'"

That was eight years ago and the streaming community has changed a lot since then. Justin.tv shut down and Twitch replaced it. Oroboro found Dark Souls and went to college. He still plays a lot, but he schedules his game time around his classes.

A natural performer, LobosJR sticks to the single player challenges of the Dark Souls games and interacts with his fans using a menagerie of voices. He slipped in and out of different accents while I spoke with him.

Image: Bandai Namco

Lobos got his start on Justin.tv too and came to it because he wanted to simulate the childhood experience of playing games with his friends. "I was gonna play Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger for the first time and I had bunch of friends that were super into video games and one of them was like, 'Dude! I'd watch that!' And I was like, 'Well OK, I'll see what's going on.'"

The simple idea turned into a hobby and that hobby turned into a habit. Pretty soon, LobosJR was streaming everything he played. The habit got serious when he played Dark Souls for the first time.

"I started doing speed runs and challenge runs," he told me. The Souls series has a lot of mysteries and playstyles. LobosJR explores all of them to keep his viewers entertained. He's beaten the game dozens of times in a dozens of ways.

In one of his favorite challenge runs, Lobos beat Dark Souls without healing, leveling up, or warping between levels. He removed all the little things that make the hard game bearable. His channel really took off when he played blindfolded. In the videos, friends surround the blind LobosJR and describe his surroundings, helping him through the game. It's impressive.

"If you're playing it, you might as well stream it. Somebody will watch it."

"It suddenly got a bunch of viewers and we were like, 'Oh, we should keep doing this,'" he explained. "And then it started to snowball. And I was all, 'Let's keep doing challenge runs,' and people kept joining and I went with it."

He was so good at playing Dark Souls that he quite his job doing quality assurance testing for Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic. It sounds like an easy trade to make, but playing games all day is still a job.

"I do seven hours a day on average," he told me. "I keep it to a job-like schedule … 11 to 6 or so. It was taking me the longest time to edit highlights and put stuff up on YouTube." Now he pays someone to do that. That's right, LobosJR's stream require so much work that he had to hire part-time help.

Oroboro is no different. Because of his college schedule, he plays at irregular hours but when he does sit down to play he commits to a seven hour stretch. Both stream every game the play. There's little time gaming spent away from a camera.

Image: Bandai Namco

"My outlook is: if you're playing it, you might as well stream it. Somebody will watch it," Lobos explained.

Both of the guys play other games, but their Dark Souls videos gain thousands more views than everything else. "It's what I built my following on," LobosJR told me. "From the get go, souls was kind of a cult thing. People were super attached to it."

He explained that people love Dark Souls because it's full of mystery, doesn't hold the player's hand and allows for a variety of playstyles. "It's exciting to be able to explore," he said. "People are super attached to that sort of gameplay now."

"Nothing is quite as dynamic as Dark Souls," Oroboro agreed. "Every single stream you watch, every single time you play the game, something different is going to happen. That's what keeps people watching."

But it takes more than just a great game to keep people watching. Twitch provides a space for viewers to chat with the streamer and LobosJR and Oroboro are masters of interacting with their fans. Which is impressive because you literally can't pause Dark Souls. These two have to juggle one of the hardest games on the market alongside talking to their fans.

"That's almost as important as streaming itself," Oroboro told me. "Just talking to your viewers and helping them out as much as you possibly can."

"That's what Twitch is all about," Lobos said. "Interacting with the person who's watching. Without that my channel wouldn't be what it is. If I just sat down and only interacted with my chat every couple minutes I don't think it'd be nearly as popular."

It's not just that the two interact with fans, but how they interact. Each has a persona. Watching LobosJR feels like sitting next to an excitable friend, the one who's so funny and so good at games that you never want to take the controller away from him.

"If you step away, just to go to the bathroom, 200 people leave. If I take a food break, there go 500 people."

"I'm much more vulgar on stream," LobosJR said. "But when it comes down to it, that's pretty much who I am in real life, minus the obscenities."

Oroboro is that friend you desperately want to take the controller away from because he's better than you. You know that once starts playing he'll be impossible to stop. "I'm 100 percent who I am in real life in stream, with obscenities."

Image: Bandai Namco

It takes a big personality and a lot of stamina to succeed in streaming. "People think, 'Yeah I could sit there and play games all day,' but being live and interacting with people for hours is exhausting," Lobos explained. "I do a lot of other stuff too. Marketing, emotes, branding. All that outside stuff [viewers] don't see on stream."

"Either you got it or you don't," Oroboro said. "You have to be able to talk to yourself for hours on end. Some people underestimate how difficult that really is. You have to be able to entertain tons of people and interact with as many as you can, all while playing video games."

This is extra hard in the Souls series. "You have to glance at your chat while trying not not die in Dark Souls, the worst game to try and multitask."

I asked the streamers if playing games for that long was physically demanding. It's not healthy to sit for hours on end. It's rare, but some marathon gamers develop deep vein thrombosis and even die.

"I'm not going to lie to anyone," Oroboro said. "I don't do anything except sit there and just play until I almost die. I should [take breaks] but there's too many people to kill in Dark Souls."

"I'll take a break for lunch [and] usually one other break just to go to the bathroom," Lobos said. "Unfortunately, the way Twitch works is the less you are away from the stream, the better the stream is. If you step away, just to go to the bathroom, 200 people leave. If I take a food break, there go 500 people. It's surprising how much you need to be glued to everybody to keep them there with you."

I couldn't do it, especially not with the souls series. I love the game, but it's too punishing to play full time. But it's that perceived challenge that allows these two to thrive.

"That's how I can build my channel on challenge runs," Lobos explained. "People put the game down and say, 'Man this game is too hard. Wait, this guy beat it with no weapons? Ok, maybe I can do it.'"

"That's the beauty of the Souls games," Oroboro agreed. "You can beat the game no matter what. Lobos has proved that time and time again."

When we finished our interview, both jumped on Twitch and started streaming. I had cut into their work day and they needed to make it up to their fans.