It all started with a shitpost.
Ian Xplosion has been playing World of Warcraft (WoW) on and off since 2005, and was patiently waiting for Blizzard to add some new features, like allied races. There were rumors these features would come in a new patch, but no one knew when the patch would drop. After a few people from WoW’s subreddit suggested it might come in the next 24 hours, IanXplosion made his infamous shitpost, promising to “speedrun” from level one to 60 killing low-level boar enemies—if the patch hit in 24 hours.
“About five hours into that post,” said IanXplosion to me recently, “which took off on its own, Blizzard dropped the patch notes, and then things got out of hand.”
IanXplosion had to pay the piper. On Tuesday, over the course of more than 12 hours, he started making good on a joke rooted in a South Park episode. (In the show, the kids try to grind to a high level by only killing boars.) Other people were paying attention, too. Big Twitch streamers, like Sodapoppin, were pointing people towards his stream. During the first day, more than 1,600 were watching him slowly slaughter boars.
A week prior, Ian Xplosion had streamed for 12 hours straight. Two people watched. Before things blew up, he announced a viewer goal: if 20 people started watching the stream concurrently, he’d dye his hair blue. Naturally, 1,600 is a lot more than 20.
“I usually post my Twitch links in my personal Facebook and Twitter, thinking maybe friends and family will swing by if they're bored,” he said. “I mean, I guess this is the definition of viral exposure, but at the same time I don't want to throw away my shot. I've got this little baby flame going, and I want to stoke it. I don't know what is too much.”
It comes during an especially rough patch for the suddenly popular streamer, who, alongside announcing he’d make good on his dare, published a video about his life.
Six months ago, he received a promotion at work that he “thought I could do.” Unfortunately, he was now working 60 hours, instead of 40 hours, and the schedule was straining his relationship. The stress only escalated. Pressure at home stacked on top of pressure at work, feeding off one another. This culminated in what Ian Xplosion called a “mental break,” as he worked through a panic attack. A few days before Christmas, out of nowhere, Ian Xplosion left his job and had a relationship-ending fight with the girlfriend he was living with. His life was “in shambles.”
“I sat in my apartment alone for a couple of days,” he said.
He went on a road trip, trying to clear his head. Alone and unemployed, Ian Xplosion had a bunch of free time. He’d always dreamed about being a “content creator,” but there was never time or opportunity. Though there was no guarantee anyone would care about what he was streaming or talking about, he did, at least, have time. This was before the Internet’s unpredictable randomness decided to turn its eye towards him.
“Anyone who knows me knows this is something I've always wanted an honest shot at,” he said, “and anyone who has ever tried to do this knows how incredibly hard it is to break in, to build that community. I'm not really that different when the cameras are off. What are my options, right? You gotta pick up what you've [got], put on that brave face, and move forward.”
Ia nXplosion described the last week as “living my shot,” a chance at a personal “What if?” It also means he’s been waking up, playing WoW all day, and then sleeping. That's it. He takes 10-minute breaks every hour—that's when he would answer my questions—but it’s more or less been a marathon since he started streaming Tuesday. He acknowledges there are “unhealthy” aspects to what he’s doing, but remains committed to it.
“I don't know if this is gonna pay my bills, honestly” he said. “If I wanna do this and do it right, there are going to be a considerable number of lean months in my future. There are tons of hours to put in, but if you're doing what you love…”
Ian Xplosion expects it’ll take 72 hours to hit level 60. After nearly 30 hours, he’s level 22.
Because everything happened so fast, Ian Xplosion has been forced to scramble. He was only recently given affiliate status at Twitch, which means people watching can pay $5 per month to ditch ads on his channel, join subscriber chats, and financially support him.
The money part is, unsurprisingly a big question mark. It makes him uncomfortable.
“I’ve waited tables before, you know,” he said. “I’ve put down cash for street performers. If people think I’m providing a service, entertainment, whatever, and they want to tip, by all means.”
“I don't know if this is gonna pay my bills, honestly. If I wanna do this and do it right, there are going to be a considerable number of lean months in my future."
One problem: Twitch payments take 45 days from the end of the month they’re earned. Any money generated in January, for example, won’t be paid out until sometime mid-February. Ian Xplosion considers this the “real scary part.” Remember, he’s otherwise unemployed, and while 1,600 viewers seems like a lot, it’s not 1,600 subscribers.
“I’m gonna have to get my life in order and seriously cut my expenses,” he said. “You get accustomed to a salary. There are things that I’ll cut whether or not this works out, and I’m okay with that. I can rebuild my life, whether I’m living the dream or working temp jobs.”
More importantly, he argued, the experience is helping him work through his problems.
“Baby steps, be humble, have fun,” he said. “I’m motivated, I’m looking forward to something again. That’s super refreshing.”
He still hasn't dyed his hair blue. You can watch his stream here.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: email@example.com.