Sydnee Goodman on freelancing, gaming media, and her future

Oddball 2021-10-11 04:00:56
  Sydnee Goodman is a face (and voice) many people recognize. She was a host for a variety of game-related content for IGN and Buzzfeed. But even though these are big names that many people revere as "dream jobs," Goodman had another goal: Work independently. Here is how it's been going for this host and content creator. It’s been a few months since you announced your decision to become independent. How has it been so far working in that capacity? It's been a little bit of a learning curve. I think that I thought that all of my problems would be solved if I was fully in control of my schedule, because a huge reason why I left IGN was because I wanted to kind of... While I loved doing the Daily Fix, and I still miss it. And you know, I do gaming news, sometimes on my own channel, it can be all-consuming. And so my thought was, like, "Oh, if I leave, I'm gonna have so much time to  explore all these creative ideas I have and develop the show ideas and stream all the time." I had this idea that I would suddenly be much better at time management. It turns out that being part of the Daily Fix wasn't the only thing holding me back from doing all those things. And so I think in the first month, I quickly realized... I was working until 11 every night, which is like, "Is it sustainable?" And so I had to sit back and realize what I want to do most. What are my priorities? What needs to get done? How can I block out time to have that creative space that I was really looking for? But I mean, off the bat, another big reason why I left was I wanted to do more esports hosting because it was something that I wasn't able to take those opportunities all the time while I was at IGN.  I will give IGN credit. They did let me host Twitch Rivals Streamer Bowl. Every once in a while I could do some stuff. But I grew up watching the Call of Duty scene and the Halo scene and continued to be a really big fan of CDL. And just this week, I got to host the World Series of Warzone. So it's really exciting. And I feel like while I definitely miss being at IGN and hosting the Daily Fix and writing it and just being a part of that, and so many good people work there... I kind of have never looked back. In the past, working independent wasn’t seen that often. If you go back like five years I can maybe think of one big gaming figure that worked professionally and successfully went independent. It seems to be a progressive trend as time goes on. Do you think we’ll see more of it in the future? What can companies do to prevent that? I think yes, and no. I think it's such an individual decision. I think we've seen more people go out and do that and build these communities because of the way that influencer and creator culture has changed. I think maybe five years ago, the big influencers had to have millions and millions of followers, and you kind of just saw these pockets. There were the PewDiePie fans and then other niches. There were like five big figureheads. And I think as the creator culture has continued to grow, you're seeing brands—which being able to make money is a huge part of being able to be independent—want to invest and spend their marketing budget on more medium sized creators, in addition to micro creators. So all of a sudden, it becomes a lot more sustainable to have a career without being this like, ginormous, ginormous creator. 
I think what companies can do is they can recognize the value of a creator and realize that it's much different than being a typical employee. It's much different. The ask and the emotional commitment is so much different than being...let's just say like an accountant. And that's not to knock accountants, they're super important. Otherwise, we'd probably get dinged for all our taxes and stuff and not get paid. But then you can check out of work, right? And so I think that being flexible and recognizing that a host or a creator, somebody that's in front of the camera, and that's the main part of their job. Give them flexibility, so that mental health-wise they're doing okay. But also,  I think there's an old school mentality of kind of owning your talent, right? I think that BuzzFeed—a company that I used to work for—I've seen them evolve really well, in how they work with people in front of the camera. Where when I was there, you weren't allowed to put your social handle in the videos that you edited. You basically couldn't advertise yourself. There was no self-advertisement. And now they have a whole program dedicated to help grow their creator base so that they retain these relationships with talent. And I think that that's a great example of changing as the creator economy changes. Most people know the benefits of working independently (more freedom with scheduling, freedom with business opportunities, and of course creative opportunities). What do you think are some potential downsides people need to consider? The most obvious is probably stability. Financial stability. You're trading your stability for independence, right? You're leaving a full-time job where you always know that you have a paycheck. And so I think that that's just the number one thing and it is something that has been in the back of my head every month when I'm looking at my budget and thinking about what I want to invest in, and where I want to put my time. But the thing is, I've noticed that I just need to believe in myself. Up to this point, I've been doing great. And I have these wonderful opportunities. But also, I'm saving and I'm creating an environment where I can take that space and be creative or take that break if I need it. And that's what I'm trying to set up for myself.  But really, I think that's the only big downfall that feels relatively universal. I think maybe the other thing is being independent forced me to confront my relationship with working. Because I think up to this point I've always worked for some really awesome companies, but always worked for a company. And when I had issues, I was like, "Oh, well, it's the way that they do things." You know, it's really easy to blame the company. And I will say, I think some of my issues were rightfully aligned, and out of my control. But I realized really quickly, "Oh, my relationship with work is kind of messed up." I put so much of my value into work. I'm always working and I'm the one now there's no one else to blame for me always working. I'm the one making that conscious decision. And so I kind of had to sit down on it. I mean, I talked to my therapist, we spent a lot of weeks in therapy upfront, trying to figure out why I felt like I always had to be working. And so I think for me, and maybe for others, it all of a sudden becomes like a really big personal journey in addition to a more career-focused journey. Something that I think is cool is that you try to diversify yourself as far as social media goes. A lot of established creators say, “Okay, I have my audience, they’ll find me if they wanna find me.” I’ve seen though with you, even though you have a sizeable following, you still expand to things like TikTok or YouTube shorts? What’s your reasoning behind that? I think there are a few facets to this answer to be completely honest with you. I think part of it stems from anxiety. Because it's like, "Oh my gosh, there's this other platform, and it's really picking up steam. I should look into it! But then on a more conscious level, my background prior to being in front of the camera and focusing on being a creator was in content strategy, YouTube strategy, Instagram strategy. I ran BuzzFeed's Instagram and a few of their YouTube channels, in terms of strategy goes, and same with Red Bull. So I think that I just have an inherent interest in new platforms and emerging platforms.  And I think it's fascinating to look at their algorithm and think about how each platform is just such a microcosm of the internet. And so I think it does benefit me because I always think...I mean, we saw it with Vine, where it's putting all your eggs in one basket. Granted, the YouTube basket is built of steel. But putting all your eggs in one basket is never... It could just go away one day, and then all of a sudden, what's happening now? And so I think that just diversifying my platforms and diversifying your income granted, like TikTok you can't really make too much money from just from the platform alone, but there's a lot of sponsorship opportunities there.
I wanted to get your take on TikTok as a platform for creators. I feel as though when it comes to TikTok, you kinda have it or you don’t. Most people in gaming I know say that you have to have a TikTok but most of them have like two videos and five followers. But on the other side I recently talked with a young woman who grew a Minecraft TikTok to 2 million followers, and know she’s an incredibly successful streamer and YouTuber. What’s been your experience with TikTok? So I actually have plans to invest more in my TikTok. My TikTok has kind of just been very sporadic. But as a user of TikTok what I think is so interesting is that it reminds me a lot of Tumblr in the earlier days. But you kind of end up being dug so far into the niche that you forget the other stuff that's happening on TikTok. But I think that it's a platform that requires you to constantly be there. It's very hard to say this as I post a TikTok every 10 days. And that's being generous. But it's a platform that to be successful, there is a lot of success in just constantly posting. And I think that that's because of the way that people discover content.  What I think is really fascinating with TikTok and I don't have the answer for this: But there are some creators that cultivate this following, and that following is loyal to them and will follow them, and then there are other creators that will have these huge followings. And when they point to their Instagram, a lot in their Instagram has like 100,000 followers but their TikTok has, I don't know, close to a million. And I don't know why some people are able to cultivate a more engaged following than others. But I think that's really fascinating. And that's something that I've been thinking about.
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  How about we talk about Twitch for a second. We’ve seen you dedicate a lot more of your time to streaming. What do you like about streaming compared to your standard work?  I just love that with streaming. It's like an instant reward sort of on my end because I get to do something I like doing anyway, which is playing games. And then you get to just interact with people and talk to them in real-time. And I think that that's so obviously unique to live streaming. It's just it's something that I really look forward to. I like chatting with people.  I know that I focus a lot on engaging with my chat. And it's because that's probably my favorite part of Twitch streaming. And it's why I've always prioritized Twitch. I took some time off of Twitch while I was in college just because I didn't have time for it. But other than that, it's always been a huge priority to me to not only make sure when I take new jobs that I'm allowed to stream on Twitch, but also just making the time for it.
How do you decide on what games you want to play? For the most part you play Warzone. Is that what you most enjoy or what your audience resonates with? Yeah, I mean, I think that it's kind of a combination of both. First, it's do I actually like playing this game? And then second...I'd be lying if I said I wasn't influenced by if people didn't watch. But I love Warzone. I play it off stream and I play it on stream. I've recently gotten into Minecraft because I joined the CloutCraft SMP. And that's been a lot of fun because I've never played Minecraft and seems like my stream is invested in what's going on there.  But yeah, it's generally what I enjoy playing because I think that I learned the lesson the hard way when I was in college and would spend all my money on new releases that I didn't even really like necessarily or feel I needed to buy on the first day because I thought that, "Oh, if I stream this day one, I'm gonna get a ton of viewers and I'm gonna get like so many followers." And then it didn't really... There's very little return on investment and it was probably because people could tell that I was just kind of [not into it]. And there was an ingenuine excitement for it. I think in general just being authentic on the internet is so important. I think the internet is so big that you might as well just be yourself and be authentic about what you like and don't like because there's probably a group of people who feel the same way who would love to follow you and follow someone who has that baseline temperament or opinions. But two: The internet can sniff it out when you're just not being genuine.  What gaming community do you feel most at home in? That's a good question. Probably Call of Duty. That's always been like the underlying—I think at one point I would have said Destiny but I didn't get into Destiny 2. I actually started as a Destiny streamer and that I felt really comfortable in. But Call of Duty has always been my mainstay since the Halo days. But who knows, it might be Halo once Infinite comes out and maybe robust community forms around it. Was it ever in your mind to go really hard into League and get involved in the scene there? I know you’ve streamed the game a number of times in the past, but what made that game not peak your interest the most? So this is such an interesting question because it ties back to one of your previous questions. People don't like watching me play League because I'm not very good. And so it's one of those things where I actually deeply love League of Legends. Like I love League of Legends so much and I never play it because when I try to stream it, I think it takes so much focus for me because it's a game that I haven't been playing that long compared to other games that I play on stream or even to the community. I've been playing League off and on for a few years now. But I'm kind of a one-trick pony. I just play Jinx, sometimes I play Sivir, and I kind of just bop around. 

I'll have like a good play every, like, third game. And so it's just not very interesting to watch compared to these other creators who are just so good at League. And then at the same time, I'm not as engaged with chat. So there's not really much viewers have going for them because it's like, "Okay, she doesn't really talk to us because she's so focused on the game, but the focus isn't paying out because she's still kind of trash." So it's a game that I play off stream. It is sad. I do love League of Legends, actually, for a while I got really into watching LCS, but I haven't kept up with it more recently.  I love that you're a regular student of meditation. How has meditation helped you, and do you think it’s something more people in gaming and esports should look into? Yeah, I mean, I am so with you. Meditation has been absolutely indispensable. It's been such an important part of my mental health and my self-care. I think as far as "Should everybody do it?" Yes. But I also think everyone should go to therapy. And therapy is another thing. That's a huge part of my self-care and just maintaining my mental health. And I think that it's worth giving it like a good solid, try. Don't just like do it once and be like, "Oh, it's really hard." I have hard meditations and I've been meditating for years and years now. And the whole point of meditation is that it's not perfect. You're just showing up the way that you are in that moment. And so yeah, I think it's worth everybody giving it a try. I use the Calm app. I know Headspace is another really good app that has a good introduction for beginners. But I think meditation is investing in finding a good form of self-care for you that is healthy and positive. And how can you exercise your mental health, because I'm also a huge advocate for physical health. I think Holistic Health is something that I'm really passionate about. And you don't just go for a jog and be like, "Oh, I hate jogging. So I'm never gonna exercise." I mean, maybe some people do but it's not very good for you for your physical well-being, if that's what you're doing. So then you maybe try jump rope, or you try kickboxing, or you try jujitsu or you try lifting weights, and you kind of find something that fits what you like doing best that maintains your physical health. And so in the same way, I think it's worth investing time and figuring out what good things and good practices you can implement for your mental health as well. I wanted to mention your podcast Shut Up! Keep Going. I like the subject of it because mostly you guys just discussing lots of interesting ideas.  What subject that you guys have covered has been most memorable to you? Ooh, that's such a good question. I'm here, I'm gonna pull up our episode list. As you already know, Shut Up! Keep Going is a podcast I actually do with one of my best friends. We went to high school together. And it's interesting because I approach it in a very different way than I approach the rest of my content. I really don't put any pressure on it just because it's something that means a lot to me personally, and I don't want it to start feeling like work. And while we are starting to invest more into it—we started a YouTube channel that has a video version of it. And we're working on the production on that before possibly launching a Patreon. And it's been just like such a joy to work on. 
I think my favorite episode that we did was actually a bonus episode with our friend Mac. And we were talking about his experience with cadavers because he's a med student. And so that was just such a fascinating thing, because I actually graduated in biology and I was pre-med and so like, that could have been me, sort of a thing. And so it was just really fascinating to hear his experiences. I feel like "Is Fidel Castro Justin Trudeau's Dad?" was a really... That was my topic. And that was really fun to dig into. Because I just didn't know that that was a theory that existed. But here we are. And then I feel like Kate has had such good topics. She had one of these guys, it was the man who wouldn't die. It was like this insurance scam that just went wrong. Now that you’re working independently, what would you say is your “end-goal” for the gaming industry? Ideally, where do we see Sydnee Goodman in five years? Oh, man, I ask myself that every day. To be honest, I'm gonna give you kind of a non-answer. But it's because I don't have one. I feel like, it makes me really uncomfortable not to have this like North Star end-goal. For example, when I first started I realized that I loved hosting after I was the backstage host for The Game Awards. And I think that was 2017. I was like, "My goal in the next five years, I want to host IGN. I want to host the Daily Fix." And that's like such a clear goal, right? And so it's very...not necessarily easy. But it's very clear, to take steps to get yourself there.  Now, it's something where I'm in this place of like, "Okay, I don't know what I want to do in five years." And I think that that's because I have grown up my entire life making extremely hard, fast goals. And I think that I almost put up blinders because I was so focused on what I want for myself. And I think that as I've done more meditation, as I've done more therapy, and just gotten older, I'm realizing the merit in being open to whatever happens. And that's not to say that I'm not working hard towards other goals. But I'm open to, you know, even if I don't make those goals, I know that I'll find other wonderful opportunities. And so what's been grounding me more is focusing on the aspects that I want to get out of my career.  And so for my career to be fulfilling for me in five years, I think I would have flexibility in my time and kind of ownership of my time. I would be making a livable wage. And then I think I would figure out at that point, how to balance you know being very present in both the gaming and esports scene, as well as legitimizing the content that I make in other spaces. So I kind of want my cake and to eat it too. And I believe that I can do that. I just need to figure out how.  What was your most memorable moment during your time at IGN? It was my first Gamescom I think, which was 2018. And it was because it was the first thing that I did at IGN... Well sorry, I'm gonna cheat. I'm gonna give you two because they were kind of back-to-back. So the week before that first Gamescom, we launched the Snapchat Daily Fix, which I got to be a part of like the branding. What does this look like? What does this feel like? How are we doing this? And we would do these writers' rooms where a little bit further along, it'd be more "Hey, write this script" once we established the tone and what we wanted to do with it.  But those writer rooms were just the absolute best, it was so much fun. And there was just a group of us like Crystal who was our editor, and then Morgan later came in. And Nick Limon, who showed up a lot and produced the Daily Fix for a long time, Gabe Friedman as well. And there was just this really awesome group of really smart, funny people. And we were just all sitting there kind of like figure out the best way to do these, like, I think they're horrible, but wonderful jokes. And then we launched the Snapchat Daily Fix. And at that point, I was not hosting the more traditional Daily Fix. 
So it was kind of fun because I got to leave my mark and figure out my way of hosting the Daily Fix for an audience that maybe wasn't super familiar with the Daily Fix. And so I think that actually informed in a really good way when I did take over the Daily Fix on YouTube and ign.com, because I already had a way that I liked doing it that wasn't necessarily informed by how other hosts had done it in the past. I kind of already came in with my own point of view and hosting the Daily Fix. And then right after we launched that was Gamescom and I got to go and co-host with Damon Hatfield. And that was the first time...I had only started at IGN in April and so once E3 came and Comic Con came I was hosting some stuff. But I felt Gamescom was when I really felt, "Okay, I'm hosting this app the Daily Fix, I'm helping write it, I am here and I am co-hosting this really big event." And it just felt really real for me.
If you enjoyed this interview, follow the author on Twitter at @OddballCreator. Images courtesy of Sydnee Goodman's Instagram. Note: Minor change was added to answer regarading the IGN writer room to create a more accurate description

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