Michael “IMAQTPIE” Santana pushes his long, dark hair out of his face and behind his ear for the fourth time. He’s sitting on a low white couch in the VIP area at TwitchCon, joking about his popular League of Legends show Beyond the Rift.
The show, which airs live on Twitch and is later uploaded to YouTube, is a collaboration between the 24-year-old former AD Carry for Team Dignitas, where he played from 2011 to October 2014, and William “Scarra” Li, the former Dignitas coach. Together, the two pros-turned-streamers are dominating what could potentially be a much bigger audience than that of League esports, the 10 million daily active users on Twitch.
When he’s not sitting down to discuss the world of League every Thursday, IMAQTPIE broadcasts himself playing the game. And his fans love it. With over 1.4 million followers on Twitch, he says he has between four and five million viewable hours per month, and makes $2 million a year in income just off his Twitch channel, mostly from subscribers, donations, and ad revenue. That’s compared to the approximately $30,000 he was making as a pro player every year. To say he’s turned the business of streaming into a lucrative paycheck is an understatement. When game companies pay him to stream a game, they can spend upwards of $7,000 per hour of IMAQTPIE broadcasting.
“Maybe everything will crash and burn, but I just enjoy playing video games.”
For a relatively new platform (Twitch launched in 2011) it has birthed thousands of celebrities. But Twitch celebrities are in a class of their own. Their generation is resourceful and entrepreneurial. Lirik, one of the most popular streamers on the site (who has only slightly more followers than IMAQTPIE at just under 1.5 million), built up his brand alongside the growth of Twitch. The same goes for Sodapoppin (who has over 1.3 million), with both streamers beginning with World of Warcraft and expanding their channels beyond just one game or audience.
And yet IMAQTPIE is different from all of them. As his brand and name become bigger and bigger, he’s on the cusp of becoming the first Twitch star to push past the boundaries of the streaming world, becoming known outside of gaming, much like YouTube superstar PewDiePie. He’s also at the forefront of a first generation of entertainers who brought together the esports and streaming audiences. While YouTube personalities have an established structure for how to make money and market themselves, Twitch streamers are still trying to figure out this whole celebrity business, from PR to revenue streams. That makes IMAQTPIE’s success on every front all the more special.
Despite his success, and the rocket-like trajectory of his streaming career, he still misses being a pro player and often jokes to his viewers about coming back. “I miss competitive play a lot,” he tells Dot Esports. “I have that competitive drive and I would love to still do it, but I feel like it would be squandering what I’m given right now… but who knows, maybe one day I will return.”
He continues: “I would really love to see how far I could go with a different team, since I think towards the end of our run on Dignitas we weren’t really meshing that well. I know I still have what it takes to at least be a top four AD in NA, but who knows man.” He says his ultimate team would consist of Faker, the Korean League of Legends “god,” ROX Tigers top laner Smeb, and former Team Liquid jungler IWillDominate, then “I guess I would just get KiWiKiD and carry the rest of this team.”
While his top-tier play is definitely a drawcard, it’s IMAQTPIE’s personality that keeps viewers coming back. With a self-deprecating, sarcastic sense of humor and a tendency to blurt out whatever he’s thinking, often peppered with expletives, fans can relate to him on a level that is much more personal than many other players or streamers. His Twitch community is called the Big D**k Club, and when asked via email where the name came from he replied with:
Add to that the iconic white shirt that he wears in just about every broadcast and his laid-back attitude, and it’s pretty easy to see why.
“My white t-shirts are just from a love of not spending money and being cheap,” he says. “My mom would always buy me plain shirts, and since I don’t really care for dressing to impress I just always wore them and started adding my own white t’s to the collection.”
For IMAQTPIE, the move into a talk show like Beyond the Rift has been a long time coming.
“I don’t want to put out stuff that’s like, ‘Wow, this s**t’s awful, why the f**k are you putting it out?” he says. “So I’m pretty happy that the community likes it, and I hope that they continue to like it. I’ve always wanted to do something more analytical, Beyond the Rift is half and half, it’s kind of fun, kind of analysis. If people continue to like it I’ll keep pumping them out.”
Even as IMAQTPIE’s star continues to rise, his daily schedule doesn’t really change that much. “I just stream,” he says, shrugging his shoulders, “there’s really not much to it.” The rest of his daily routine, as he describes it, is predictably laid back: He rolls out of bed, plays some video games, plays with his animals (he has two cats and a dog), and makes dinner. “Maybe go out with my girlfriend or something, shower, sleep, rinse, repeat.”
For most Twitch streamers, a significant portion of the day is set aside to deal with the business aspects of being a broadcaster—things like negotiating with brands and sponsors, cutting videos to export to YouTube, and coordinating with managers and publicists. But it’s not something that IMAQTPIE really thinks about (“which some might think is pretty dumb of me”). He just prefers to just stream and have fun—and that’s obviously working for him on the business side.
“I enjoy living in the now and just seeing how far I can take it,” he says. “Maybe everything will crash and burn, but I just enjoy playing video games. So even if my stream dies, at least I can still play games.”
“If people like me, great. If they don’t, that’s great too.”