Retiring from Extra Life and the future of my charity efforts

It’s time to move on.

Since I was young, I always had a standing promise to myself that when I became a person of reasonable means, that I would make giving back a major focus in my life. Many people have been good to me when I’ve been in need and I consider it vital pay that forward for others. Of course, I get personal satisfaction from it, but I also just think it’s what people should do who are able. Some of this is through direct aid, but most of it is through helping charities.

I first discovered Extra Life in 2011 from a podcast I was following at the time. I loved the idea because it let me combine my love of gaming with my desire to help charity, plus it was showing how constantly and unjustly maligned gamers can do huge good for the world. I’ve participated in the event without interruption for 10 years and in 2 of those, doing multiple marathons and streaming every year except the first.

While I am still devoted to helping charitable causes as much as ever, I’ve decided that it’s time to move on from Extra Life and that 2021 was the last year I’ll be participating. I’ll talk about why that is, and also some of the rough ideas I have for the future.

Before I go any further, I need to give a thank you to the true heroes of Extra Life: All of you who watched my streams, spread word and of course, those who donated. I may be the guy playing video games on camera, but without all of you, my efforts accomplish nothing. Together, we have raised $27,703.42CDN for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Think about what that kind of money can buy. It’s a staggering amount for only one participant to raise and that’s because of all of you. I am truly humbled by all your generosity and it’s something I can never adequately express by appreciation for.

So, why have I decided to move on? There are two main reasons:

First, Extra Life has grown from a small, grass roots effort started by one guy in 2008 to a phenomenan that generates millions of dollars for dozens of hospitals every year. It’s now considered a major component of Children’s Miracle Network fundraising. I am thrilled to see this growth and success, but with it comes some frustrations. Like many things that get big, the organization has started focusing more and more on amplifying big names and big brands. Participants like myself, who have raised way above the average, can’t even get our streams retweeted by the official account, but streamers with larger audiences–who sometimes don’t raise as much–are heavily promoted and often given special front page placement on Twitch. I brought this up one year and was graciously offered such placement, only for it to fall through without explanation.

This has the effect of making long time, successful participants feel that we aren’t important to Extra Life and that our efforts mean less to them because we didn’t happen to win the Twitch popularity lottery. I can confidently say that I’m not alone in this sentiment. Truthfully, it’s hard to blame Extra Life for this. They seek to maximize engagement and creators with bigger reach can do that more easily. I think large creators choosing to back Extra Life is a great thing and they should be recognized for that, but there needs to be a balance which makes smaller creators feel valuable as well. I’ve pitched this to Extra Life before and had a positive response, but nothing seems to have changed.

Second, while I still think CHEO is an incredible organization, it has never felt like the administration has taken Extra Life that seriously. We tried running an official guild for a while that failed for many reasons, and I will take my share of the blame for that. However, it has always felt like a struggle to get CHEO to engage with local participants, some of whom are bigger fundraisers than I am. The hospital never tried to involve them more, or get their feedback on how to improve things. After I pushed, they arranged a meeting where several participants discussed ways we could connect and collaborate more, only for it to not go anywhere. You can only do this so many times before you feel there isn’t much point. The organization has also decided to keep someone in a volunteer leadership position who contributes very little and actively stalks and disparages other participants, myself included. I have raised this issue as well–with receipts–and nothing has come of it. That’s the extent I’ll speak on that.

To be clear, I still think you should donate to your favourite Extra Life participants and that if you are in Ottawa, CHEO is a great charity to contribute to. I intend to keep doing both going forward. But I also feel that after years of trying to effect change on the above issues with no success, combined with a desire to help more broadly, that it’s time I retire from the event and focus my efforts elsewhere.

So then, what does that look like? Well, I’m actually not sure yet. This is something I’ve been considering for months and I have many ideas. For starters, I’d like to start supporting an array of charities. Children’s health is important, but I’m also passionate about food banks, mental health, animal welfare, veterans aid and climate change to name but a few. I’d like to do multiple events throughout the year, where I might not play for 24 hours straight, but where there could be incentives and challenges to help raise funds and awareness. Think like what a lot of people do with Twitch subathons, but directed to charity.

I’d also like to involve my community–both local and remote–in the events. Maybe that could be a virtual or in person LAN party. Maybe that could be a couch gaming stream with rotating participants. Maybe that’s an online score attack tournament with prizes. I’d like the community to feel like they’re a real contributing part of the event, rather than just sources of donations. With this kind of thing, I believe success and gratification is strengthened, not diluted when it’s shared among many. All of this is just in my head at the moment, but it’s something I want to actively start planning soon. If you have ideas or would like to be a part of it, I encourage you to join my Discord, where I will have a channel dedicated to this.

Again, I want to thank all of you who have made my decade of Extra Life efforts a greater success than I could have ever imagined. Whether you’ve been here since the beginning or just joined in last year, if you donated $1 or $1,000, even if you you just rewteeted or watched my streams, you are a hero to me and so many others. While this personally feels like the end of an era, it’s also the start of something new and potentially awesome. I’m excited for what the future holds and I hope you are too. As always, feel free to voice any questions or concerns in the comments, on Twitter or on Discord.

There’s more coming, count on that!

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