They have names like Gronkh, Pewdiepie, Towellie and Trump. They build houses in Minecraft, get the creeps in Five Nights at Freddy’s and battle monsters in League of Legends.
And millions follow their exploits on live streams on platforms like Twitch and the so-called Let’s Play videos on YouTube. Playing computer games at the top level has become a spectator sport.
What makes these videos and live streams so successful? "First and foremost, it's a way of partaking in others playing a great game," says Dennis Brammen, one of the operators of Pietsmiet, one of the most successful German games channels on YouTube.
Together with four friends, Brammen plays more or less every game, from classics to new releases. "It's like going to a LAN party, where you get caught up in the excitement of the play. I think that’s the reason why people watch our videos," he says.
In this type of gaming channel, available in many languages, the games themselves are not centre-stage so much as the players' funny comments about what they are doing.
But there are other channels like the story-heavy The Last of Us where viewers become immersed in the full story of a progressing game.
For e-sports titles like League of Legends or Hearthstone, they can cheer the players on while learning new strategies.
Minecraft, popular above all with children and young people, is a firm Let’s Play hit.
Whoever wants to try producing a video or stream themselves doesn’t need expensive hardware or software. "What's great now is that you can more or less do it with a standard computer," says Florian Holzbauer from German computer magazine Chip.
The computer being played on needs access to huge data storage, ideally distributed across two hard drives. Otherwise the simultaneous reading and writing while playing and recording video will cause unsightly stuttering.
Holzbauer advises budding Let's Play stars to invest in a good microphone: "The mics on the popular gaming headsets are not sufficient." A good webcam is not so important - after all, the player’s face is only seen in a corner of the screen.
Streamers also need a fast internet connection. Upload speeds of 10 megabits per second should be enough, Holzbauer says. And a second monitor helps to keep chat streams in view while gaming.
All that’s required is the right software. For recording and streaming, Open Broadcaster is a good free option. The open source programme Audacity is useful for editing audio. Then there’s the video editing.
"Most Let’s Players use Premiere Elements," says Holzbauer. But there are also simpler alternatives such as Window’s Movie Maker and Apple’s iMovie.
More important than the technology is the content you present.
"The market for streams and videos is of course now relatively full," says Dennis Brammen. "In order for a channel to go through the roof, you need to have new ideas." He advises newcomers to try things out quietly at first without worrying about a failure or embarrassment.
Most importantly, don’t bore the public. "Good videos are those that are fun and funny," Brammen says. "They must be quiet sometimes and at other times chaotic." He also advises bringing friends aboard.
There’s no guarantee of success of course. Perseverance, talent and luck are all required.
"Many beginners see how many followers we and other successful channels have," Brammen says. "They don’t realize that we started small too. Things have to develop slowly until a critical mass is reached."