Keen eye, busy mind

July 20 2021

Keen eye, busy mind

“One problem with streaming is that it’s kind of a lonely gig,” Jonas “AverageJonas” Navarsete says. “Then you have COVID isolation on top of it as well.”

Despite the moniker, there’s not a lot of streamers—or a lot of people—like AverageJonas. A lifelong performer, Jonas really hit his stride in his 30’s as a Twitch streamer (already a rarity in a field full of zoomer talent). He’s also one of the exceptional few who not only found a career during COVID but found community, friendship, and a home inside the strange loneliness of this parasocial broadcast era.

When Jonas says that streaming is a lonely gig, it initially feels hard to comprehend. He became one of the biggest VALORANT streamers fairly quickly. A one-trick initially, Jonas dedicated himself to mastering the archer character Sova, spending hundreds of hours in custom maps drilling out over 300 different lineups (AKA ways to shoot Sova’s arrows to hit different spots and serve different purposes). To the point where he can intuit the in-game physics behind the arrows.

“At some point I just felt like I was ready. [...] 300 lineups later and hundreds of arrows in custom games I realized that I can more or less make a lineup on the fly now and know exactly where the arrow lands just based on experience. I just feel—be one with the arrow—feel where it’s gonna land.”

Jonas is such a leading Sova main, he's helped pro players like Hiko learn the character. On top of the Sova community, Jonas also has his stream community to keep him company. He streams consistently to an average of around 2,000 viewers, with a peak that regularly pushes to 4,000 and an all-time peak that was just under 20,000. That peak is over three times the size of the small Norwegian village that Jonas grew up in.

For the Twitch Chat regulars idling in Ludwig or xQc’s stream, Jonas' audience may still seem small. In a world this crowded, on a platform built to simulate the social, It’s hard to imagine being lonely.

But for those that genuinely tried to make it on Twitch, they know these are pretty big numbers—especially for someone who’s only been at it for about a year. They also know, like many creatives, that creating anything can be lonely. Even if what you're creating is a community.

“It is a lot of work. People think it’s just turning on your PC and playing computer games and that couldn’t be more wrong. [...] I think that people don’t realize that there’s a lot more thought put into the choices I make. Maybe on the surface it looks random when in reality it’s something I planned and something I tested.”

Few things demonstrate the dissonance between the hours of testing and thought which create the result and the result itself than the lineup. By creating a Sova lineup, Jonas has also destroyed your ability to understand what it really took to creat it. You can go to Jonas’ stream or YouTube or Discord and likely find a direct explanation of how to pull it off. Then you can replicate it in a game of VALORANT after a few tries in a custom game.

90% of the work that went into the detailed methodology has vanished for you, the viewer. Almost inevitably, it appears simpler, easier to find, easier to know than it ever actually was. So it goes with every creative work ever built. The Mona Lisa is, to most who look at it, just a picture of a woman with a slight smile.

Born Performer

“I think I’ve always been a performer in my heart. When we were at home I would beg for attention from my parents. I would do, like, handstands on the couch. [...] I think that it’s partially because when I grew up I didn’t really have a lot of friends, I didn’t really get attention. So I think it’s like an overcompensation.”

“You’d be lying if you’re not craving attention when you’re a streamer or a stage entertainer. Of course you love it! You love the exposure. [...] That fuels your desire to grind this hard, because you’re working like 14-16 hours, 7 days a week.”

A middle child in a very rural Norwegian village, Jonas was generally goofy and odd given his surroundings. “I was just this goofy guy who did his own thing. I did the different sports and I was playing computer games and… I found my own way.”

Jonas has been performing so long that you can find him in short films from a decade ago. (One that ironically features him as a city boy going to live off the grid). His love for gaming and technology ran just as deep, going back to when he learned how to build PCs, radios, and VCRs in high school. Geeky and theatrical, Jonas posed a stark contrast against a backdrop of fjords and farms.

Still, contrast didn’t mean conflict—at least not for his family. Jonas and his family have always stayed close, to the point where they not only supported his creative career but they sparked it and then stoked the flames.

“You’re very heavily influenced by whatever you grow up with, right? My dad having a big passion for music, we always have music on. When we were home we were all singing along to whatever was on the radio.”

“My parents got me classical singing lessons as a Christmas gift as a surprise. I was actually too old to get those lessons at the local coach—and there was only one [in the area]. They talked to him and then he agreed to give me six lessons. He found that I had a very good ear for both music and singing techniques and I developed a very large, operatic, baritone voice very quickly.”

“We kept working together for a long time and that’s how I got accepted to the National Academy of Music in Oslo, where I would study professionally.”

In the world of traditionally trained musicians, this kind of story is rare because Jonas was in his 20’s at the time.

“Most people that get into those schools, they have had a lot of music in their high school and college first. There’s a lot of music theory and a lot of hearing tests and so on, so I basically had to prepare by Google. I googled my way to the exams. I think there were 600 applicants for 20 slots and I got one of them.”

“It was pretty sensational for me because everybody in my class came from very heavy music backgrounds and I came from like a farm in a village.”

Jonas was odd for more than just his background. Rather than finding a creative comfort zone in one part of his craft, he liked to bounce around and try to become proficient in different instruments, vocal styles, and even languages. It’s something he’s talked about in his documentary with theScore, his videos, and something you can see in his stream when he’s taking requests.

That multi-faceted focus extended well outside of gaming. By the time Jonas was going to school for music, he’d already dabbled in some extreme sports and gotten a degree in sports science. Not to mention his longtime love for gaming.

Early on, Jonas used his strength as a musical generalist to make acapella covers for YouTube. These were some of Jonas' best-performing videos early on and they were shockingly hard to make.

“Acapella is ten times harder than anything else because you have to listen to a song so many times that you can break it down into 20 to 50 pieces and then you have to record those pieces one by one. You’re just using your ear as a reference.”

That kind of rote, detail-oriented, high-effort work clearly suits Jonas in some way. After all, he has leaned into making lineups not only for Sova but for KAY/O as well—VALORANT’s most recent agent. However, in acapella Jonas would learn one of the creative world’s many tough lessons: hard work and high effort don’t guarantee success.

In the world of YouTube where a regular schedule of content rules, acapella took too much effort to do well and do frequently. Jonas found even better purchase for less work when he turned to CS:GO based, pop-song parodies. This was where Jonas found some of his earliest ties into gaming content.

“Having a passion for both music and gaming, I think it was only a matter of time before those two intertwined. I found that specifically in a game like Counter Strike there are a lot of stereotypes that people could recognize and it’s very easy to put a parody on that. And it’s also, on a content creator side of things, it’s also very easy content for the time it takes.”

In roughly the same period, Jonas had a lot more pursuits going as well. In 2016, he’d compete fairly frequently in Overwatch as a tank on the Norwegian national team. While Norway would escape Groups in the qualifying tournament, they’d end up losing 3-0 to Russia and Jonas would focus more on creative work. Still, he stayed in the Overwatch scene even if he wasn’t a pro, going on to manage the Norewegian team in later years.

Coupled with performing and working as an opera singer, Jonas was something of a creative wanderer. He’d built up a career rooted in diverse interests, dotted with all kinds of hits and misses. It was an abnormal life that, in many ways, made him well-suited for streaming.

“One thing that I think differentiates me from most streamers is the stage persona and the stage experience. It is kind of the social baggage of having entertained thousands of people on stage hundreds of times and I think that does a lot to your mindset as a performer. Thinking about how to be a performer and act naturally in those situations and handling pressure based on the expectations from the audience.”

“Sometimes there’s a lot of expectations, especially if you’re doing something that you know is really difficult.”

Now 31 years old, Jonas is past being experienced and into the point of being resilient. He’s familiar with how hard a creative life can be, how quietly competitive it is, and how much it demands from you.

Resilience from experience

When Jonas talks about the social baggage of performance, he’s referring in part to how the work can deplete you because the work is so personal. Creative work often inherently revolves around what you absorb day-to-day, how you process those influences, and how you negotiate that process with an economy that needs to milk a number from somewhere within all of that.

In streaming, the product could literally not be more personal and so the results easily plunge into becoming mental. A 31 year old who once sang opera, Jonas has built a unique resilience and wisdom that helps him stay steady.

“It’s not the same requirement from performance as a competitor but it’s more in terms of, am I actually being entertaining? My viewership is dropping, why is it happening? Am I not funny enough?”

(A good video breakdown of the mental toll of streaming. Warning: a lot of suicidal ideation and breakdowns within)

“I know that there are tons of streamers, including a bunch of my friends, that are struggling mentally with the pressure around being a streamer and delivering what the audience demands. Looking constantly at the numbers. The numbers are going down, now I’m miserable. The numbers are going up, now I’m feeling great.”

“You can’t have that kind of emotional rollercoaster on a weekly basis,” Jonas says, “I don’t think that’s healthy.”

Jonas says this with a large tinge of empathy. In his pocket of the European streaming scene he’s something of an elder and so he’s often trying to help others stay steady as well.

“The EU streamers kind of call me their dad. I’m like the old guy that kinda watches over all the European streamers making sure they’re okay. I’m calling a lot of them on the regular cause some of them, they have various mental states. I help them with their technical issues, I help them with their analytics, giving them tips on how to grow...”

“You’re in an entertainment business with young people and young people are the target audience,” Jonas says of the streaming world. “It means that a lot of them could need some guidance because they don’t have life experience before going into this world.”

That role as guide is as familiar to Jonas as his role as a creator. Education has deep roots in his background not only for his father being a teacher but for his 8 or so years of post-education and even a brief stint teaching a program all about YouTube broadcast skills to Norwegian kids. It’s something that manifests a lot in his content as well.

Jonas' discord is as much an archive as a community server. It’s full of lineup discussions for several characters, including streamables, clips, and videos that show just how you pull them off. His actual streaming blocks are very built around learning too, just featuring him as the student instead of the teacher.

“I think I have a very [big] passion for learning new skill sets. I’ve played a lot of different games and now I’m recently learning League of Legends and Rust. Last week I streamed 65 hours of Rust in 5 days and I was just constantly learning all day.”

While Jonas has continued his Rust obsession and built it into one of his new core games, in the past this is much what he did with VALORANT. Coming into the beta, he and everyone else had to be learners and his love for that process helped him grow in VALORANT’s early days.

“A lot of other people are maybe seeing the game for the first time too so they wanna learn with you. So if they see that you’re actually, really enjoying the learning—and I mean you can tell by the body language if they’re actually enjoying the learning or they just kind of find it annoying and want to get to the next stage of the game.”

As gaming becomes a massive market, it also becomes one where more games are developed and the skill for learning them becomes more valuable. In the world of fighting games, that same love for learning is a big part of how Sajam went from a big commentator to an even bigger streamer.

As the notoriously difficult fighting game genre expands its reach, Sajam positions himself well to teach people who want to join in on the fun. It’s doubly effective in the world of the fighting game, where the genre’s games will share a language but have a lot of different dialects. General skills transfer across games but each new title requires learning new expertise.

As the tactical FPS branches out and intertwines ideas, Jonas might be able to capitalize in the same way. At minimum, this is at least his goal. While Jonas came up from VALORANT, it’s never really been his home because no one game may ever be that for him.

“I think I’m like a little child that constantly needs this kind of carrot in front of me that keeps me interested. I think as soon as I get bored of something, I’ll find something else that entertains me, which is why I’ve done so many different things and also why I’ve gotten bored of so many things.”

Instead, Jonas’ true home is inside the craft that he works, the streams, the performances, the content creation. “But I think that content creation and entertainment is one of the things that have always stayed with me regardless of what shape and form it has. Making entertainment for an audience is something that I’ve always enjoyed, I think that’s kind of the red-lining through the story. It’s less random when you think about it.”

Keen eye, busy mind

Like most streamers, the true root to Jonas' career is being that showman—enjoying performance and the grind behind it on such a deep level that it can carry him across the globe and through multiple disciplines. However, actually growing in the creative world takes more than just the creative impulse. It takes strategy.

If there’s anything that Jonas stresses through the interview, it’s how much he thinks about every little detail. “I think about everything. I overthink everything and that is good and bad—it’s not good for your mental health but it’s good for your business because I’m kind of prepared for everything. I’m kind of expecting how things [will] go.”

Jonas keeps a keen eye and a busy mind in no small part because he feels he has to. He knows just how deep the streaming field is and how, in a space that competitive, strategy is the means for survival. It’s something you can see a lot in his early rise in VALORANT, positioning himself as the lead Sova.

“I knew from the very get-go that I wouldn’t have my Sova branding forever. It was a short-term strategy to increase my exposure and easily be identifiable with what I was already known for—which was my Sova plays. [...] You would constantly fuel this image of this pure one trick guy who would take on anyone, and anyone who wanted to learn Sova would know exactly where to come.”

In the earliest meta of a game still locked in beta, this was a strong idea—and one that worked for plenty of Jonas’ contemporaries and friends like Flexinja. However, Jonas knew from experience that short-term success wasn’t enough to create a career. His acapella videos had done well, even earning a shout out from Coldplay near the peak of their fame, but that was still in a space chalk full of other acapella and musical parody groups.

Actually using the momentum meant transitioning his stream slowly into something that could center him and not his character.

“Suddenly, the Sova branding becomes like the opposite. It kinda hinders me from moving forward. [...] I had to slowly work my way out of that, and that took a long time. Basically, you’re doing a mini-rebrand the entire time. You’re going from only Sova to playing more agents, from ranked to playing unranked or with your friends, and then, ideally, you wanna play more games.”

Jonas stresses the need to step away from being a “Sova main” because ultimately, the title becomes unsustainable on a personal and professional level. As the VALORANT meta progresses and the professional scene builds, the task to reach the top Radiant or Immortal ranks becomes more challenging. At the same time, the audience also becomes more demanding and more expecting.

They expect to see the continual circus shots, the double shock dart kills, and most importantly—a Jonas that’s feeling the thrill of all of that. But for Jonas, this is all just added pressure that makes VALORANT more of a struggle to play.

“I would feel less tired from 16 hours of Rust than 16 minutes of VALORANT because I’m not actually playing, I’m just learning. I’m just having fun,” Jonas admits. “I’m not even thinking about the kind of pressure around creating entertainment.”

As the beta days fall into the rear view and the thrill of learning dissipates, the dull grind of slight improvement and the heavy press of audience expectation replaces it. Underneath that, it’s not just Jonas that struggles.

For any fans of the classic slate of League of Legends streamers—Voyboy, imaqtpie, Scarra—this should all sound familiar. Many of these streamers found that, as League changed, so did their desire to grind the game. You could watch in real-time as they got worn down by the game they used to love. It’s a big part of why the current meta of Twitch is so variety or die.

A part of Jonas' analysis is understanding this trend, seeing what’s coming and taking control of his content before it’s too late.

“The moment you let them control too much of your content is the moment you stop having fun,” Jonas quotes a tweet he made just some hours before the interview. “I think that’s very important because a lot of people, they kind of dig themselves into a hole they can’t get out of.”

“If you’re having a bad day on your main game and you don’t actually have a game to switch to, do you just turn off the stream or do you just smile through the pain? I don’t think that’s gonna last for very long.”

Jonas knows that this is no easy process, either. He knows from his own streamer community how easily things can get out of hand if you’re not intentional with your approach.

“I have some friends who when they play something other than VALORANT, they lose 90% of their viewers. That’s difficult! Then they have to go into themselves and say, ‘Okay, how do I change this? Do I just play VALORANT my whole life? Or do I find some way to make the content more about me?’”

“I think if the only thing you stream 7 days a week is ranked VALORANT on one character… There’s no way [of] getting out of that.”

Even for all of Jonas’ planning and preparation, his viewer count still drops anywhere from 25% to 75% when he pulls away from VALORANT. If it’s something shooter-adjacent, with elements that play to Jonas' strengths, like Rust or Apex Legends than he retains more of the audience. If it’s a far cry away (like RPGs) the fall off is even steeper.

(On YouTube that view drop off is often larger. Jonas’ Apex Legends video here has under 15,000 views at the time of writing where his VALORANT videos tend to get at least 50,000.)

This too is something Jonas keeps a careful eye on. “Transfer value” are two words that crop up regularly in the interview—a term Jonas uses almost like a framework. What identity from Sova or VALORANT will carry to other games? What skills all the way from sports science could transfer into acapella to opera to

“Let’s say for instance, I’m playing Sova so it’s really cool to see me play a bow and arrow character in another game. That’s something I’m experiencing a lot, where people will be like ‘oh wow I bet he’s got lineups in this game too.’ That just means that you have some sort of transfer value from one game to another. It means that there is something there that you can keep playing on.”

“That’s great because even though it’s because you’re known specifically for something in one game, it makes your viewers excited about something that is not in that game because of it. That’s why you have to have a lot of strategy around what you actually do in your rebrand. What do you actually choose to do?”

“I tried to play World of WarCraft. Wasn’t worth it. I could see in the metrics that no matter how much I loved playing that game, the tradeoff between loving to play a game and how many people love to watch it was not worth it.”

Jonas tried to make subscriber guilds and build out his communal instincts into WoW but it didn’t click. Already a popular field, most RPG fans would have pre-formed communities and most FPS fans wouldn’t be keen to enter that new world. Instead, you can see Jonas' strategy now begin to click with Rust.

Over the past week or two, Jonas has built a much better core audience in Rust, where the elements of role playing, community, performance, and pure FPS knowledge fit him better. (Apex Legends as well, to a lesser extent). To him, that audience retention is entirely more meaningful than a single pop-off stream in VALORANT.

“If you can have half the amount of viewers you have in VALORANT, in playing League of Legends, that could be almost just as big a reward for you as a streamer because it means that your core audience is watching your stream for you and not for the game you play.”

“You need to be fully aware that switching games drops your viewership—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of streamers are too blind, just looking at viewership instead of looking at stuff like followers per hour, how many new viewers are there compared to old viewers, and are the old viewers actually leaving or was it just the hype wave riders that are not there because it was a new game?”

Wave riding into the future

These hype wave riders are a core component to the modern games industry. Gaming has branched out to be one of the largest entertainment industries. A recent Accenture report estimates direct and indirect gaming revenue reached some 300 billion USD this year, reaching much wider audiences than before.

In the gaming space, being “the next big thing” matters a lot—and this compounds in the Twitch space. From Among Us to Hades to hot tubs to GTA V RP servers, Twitch and gaming are both trend-heavy and many viewers are content to chase those trends. Jonas expects new trends to hit everywhere—including the FPS—and a core part of his strategy is being ready for when that time comes.

“At the end of the day, it’s a competition. Whenever there’s a new game coming out a lot of people wanna jump on the bandwagon and a lot of people want to be popular. So how do you differentiate yourself from the other people? Well, you have to have an approach that people wanna watch.”

This is where Jonas' strategizing and time spent on building a core audience comes together.

(There’s always a through-line)

“People don’t understand how important it is to invest in spending time playing other games, playing with other creators, meeting new people. Suddenly, you criss-cross all these audiences, which slowly turns you into a variety streamer. And that also sets you up for whenever a new game comes out, people wanna watch you instead of someone else.”

It’s also where Jonas finds a chance to use his established reputation and transferable skills to gain an early foothold in a new game. “I always do these kinds of big-brained things in VALORANT where I outsmart my opponent or have some sort of geometry lesson with arrows. So if there’s a game that comes out where that specific skill set is required, I have a huge chance of making a big success in that game.”

No one can be sure of what the next thing will be but Jonas is hoping that it will be Battlefield 2042, a battle royale that already has some pre-release hype. For him, it’s a chance at creating lineups, outsmarting opponents, and building community.

“When Battlefield 2042 comes out this fall, I’m hoping it’s gonna be a huge success because I can rent a 128 player server and then I can host subscriber games every Sunday, which creates a very good kind of community feel that you’re not able to get in VALORANT. You can combine esports athletes, streamers, and subscribers on one server and have a big community event every Sunday. That is one of those things that can lift your content to a new level and also increase your core audience.”

After over a decade as a creative, Jonas is not nearly as starry-eyed as he is practical, prepared, and endlessly thoughtful. He has opinions and approaches to so many things in not just VALORANT and streaming, but content creation. Creative wanderer that he was, he now wants to use those years of successes, failures, and experiences to build a home inside streaming.

Already well on his way, it’s likely he does it. But in the creative world, you can’t take anything for granted and Jonas knows that better than most. It’s why he mapped out hundreds of Sova lineups before anyone else, why he has a plan for Battlefield 2042 well before it comes out, why he’s building to variety before he hits the bottom in VALORANT, why he’s never left the often lonely and difficult creative life, and why he wants to put on a show that is all his own.

Writer // Austin "Plyff" Ryan
Design // Tiffany Peng
Art // Nicole Echeverria

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