Review: Before We Go Live, by Stephen Flavall

Russ Allbery eagle at
Mon Sep 4 21:27:42 PDT 2023

Before We Go Live
by Stephen Flavall

Publisher: Spender Books
Copyright: 2023
ISBN:      1-7392859-1-3
Format:    Kindle
Pages:     271

Stephen Flavall, better known as jorbs, is a Twitch streamer
specializing in strategy games and most well-known as one of the best
Slay the Spire players in the world. Before We Go Live, subtitled
Navigating the Abusive World of Online Entertainment, is a memoir of
some of his experiences as a streamer. It is his first book.

I watch a lot of Twitch. For a long time, it was my primary form of
background entertainment. (Twitch's baffling choices to cripple their
app have subsequently made YouTube somewhat more attractive.) There are
a few things one learns after a few years of watching a lot of
streamers. One is that it's a precarious, unforgiving living for all
but the most popular streamers. Another is that the level of
behind-the-scenes drama is very high. And a third is that the
prevailing streaming style has converged on fast-talking, manic,
stream-of-consciousness joking apparently designed to satisfy people
with very short attention spans.

As someone for whom that manic style is like nails on a chalkboard, I
am therefore very picky about who I'm willing to watch and rarely can
tolerate the top streamers for more than an hour. jorbs is one of the
handful of streamers I've found who seems pitched towards adults who
don't need instant bursts of dopamine. He's calm, analytical, and
projects a relaxed, comfortable feeling most of the time (although like
the other streamers I prefer, he doesn't put up with nonsense from his
chat). If you watch him for a while, he's also one of those people who
makes you think "oh, this is an interestingly unusual person." It's a
bit hard to put a finger on, but he thinks about things from intriguing

Going in, I thought this would be a general non-fiction book about the
behind-the-scenes experience of the streaming industry. Before We Go
Live isn't really that. It is primarily a memoir focused on Flavall's
personal experience (as well as the experience of his business manager
Hannah) with the streaming team and company F2K, supplemented by a
brief history of Flavall's streaming career and occasional deeply
personal thoughts on his own mental state and past experiences. Along
the way, the reader learns a lot more about his thought processes and
approach to life. He is indeed a fascinatingly unusual person.

This is to some extent an exposé, but that's not the most interesting
part of this book. It quickly becomes clear that F2K is the sort of
parasitic, chaotic, half-assed organization that crops up around any
new business model. (Yes, there's crypto.) People who are good at
talking other people out of money and making a lot of big promises try
to follow a startup fast-growth model with unclear plans for future
revenue and hope that it all works out and turns into a valuable
company. Most of the time it doesn't, because most of the people
running these sorts of opportunistic companies are better at talking
people out of money than at running a business. When the new business
model is in gaming, you might expect a high risk of sexism and frat
culture; in this case, you would not be disappointed.

This is moderately interesting but not very revealing if one is already
familiar with startup culture and the kind of people who start
businesses without doing any of the work the business is about. The F2K
principles are at best opportunistic grifters, if not actual con
artists. It's not long into this story before this is obvious. At that
point, the main narrative of this book becomes frustrating; Flavall
recognizes the dysfunction to some extent, but continues to associate
with these people. There are good reasons related to his (and Hannah's)
psychological state, but it doesn't make it easier to read. Expect to
spend most of the book yelling "just break up with these people
already" as if you were reading Captain Awkward letters.

The real merit of this book is that people are endlessly fascinating,
Flavall is charmingly quirky, and he has the rare mix of the
introspection that allows him to describe himself without the tendency
to make his self-story align with social expectations. I think every
person is intriguingly weird in at least some ways, but usually the
oddities are smoothed away and hidden under a desire to present as
"normal" to the rest of society. Flavall has the right mix of writing
skill and a willingness to write with direct honesty that lets the
reader appreciate and explore the complex oddities of a real person,
including the bits that at first don't make much sense.

Parts of this book are uncomfortable reading. Both Flavall and his
manager Hannah are abuse survivors, which has a lot to do with their
reactions to their treatment by F2K, and those reactions are both
tragic and maddening to read about. It's a good way to build empathy
for why people will put up with people who don't have their best
interests at heart, but at times that empathy can require work because
some of the people on the F2K side are so transparently sleazy.

This not the sort of book I'm likely to re-read, but I'm glad I read it
simply for that time spent inside the mind of someone who thinks very
differently than I am and is both honest and introspective enough to
give me a picture of his thought processes that I think was largely
accurate. This is something memoir is uniquely capable of doing if the
author doesn't polish all of the oddities out of their story. It takes
a lot of work to be this forthright about one's internal thought
processes, and Flavall does an excellent job.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-09-04


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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