Sacriel’s guide to surviving the zombie apocalypse (and connecting with brands while doing it)
November 23, 2021 | By: Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter
It’s a weekday afternoon in mid-September and Chris “Sacriel” Ball has a problem. “I think I can hear a zombie right here in my base, so that’s a bit scary,” he tells the thousands of fans joining his Twitch stream live as he plays Project Zomboid, a hyper realistic, open world survival zombie game in which a player must stay alive against the undead threat as long as possible. Sacriel, who for more than a decade has built a passionate community of fans enthusiastic about his educational combat strategy gaming streams, has survived for months within the game. “We might die right here,” he says to his fans, some of which are trying to tell him to hop a fence or get behind a car in Chat. Exhausted and slicing through two dozen zombies, Sacriel narrowly escapes. Fans in the chat are thrilled—flooding his stream with custom Cheermotes as he survives another day. “btw you're a great streamer!!!!” one fan notes in Chat as Sacriel’s character reads some books to cheer himself up after the action. “Thanks, mate,” Sacriel tells the commenter.
It’s these types of moments that have helped Sacriel gain over 700 thousand followers on Twitch. And Project Zomboid offers a perfect example of the allure of Sacriel’s Twitch streams. “They love it,” he tells me of his community (which he’s lovingly named the 42nd in reference to The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy) a week later from his home in Canada, where he’s recently relocated with his wife from his native England. “For them it’s like watching an episode of The Walking Dead, except I’m the main character and I’m the one being chased. It’s so tense for them. And when I get away to find a car with a working engine they celebrate with me.”
“That’s the joy of the [service],” Sacriel says. “That’s what makes it better than recorded content.”
Discovering the powerful connections of Twitch
It was in pre-recorded content where Sacriel got his start professionally gaming more than a decade ago. In the early 2010s, Sacriel—then just Chris Ball—was working as a product manager at an internet service provider in England. He’d started at the company as customer support, where he’d answer phones and explain what was going wrong with customers’ broadband. He had a knack for explaining very complex technology to regular people. Sacriel had been a gamer his whole life, playing on an old Commodore with his dad as a kid. So, as a hobby, he began putting videos of himself playing video games online. “This was really early in the day before mainstream content creation was a thing,” Sacriel remembers. “And people started commenting like, ‘how did you use that item?’ And I would sit there in the comment section rapidly typing to them using the skills I had from my job.”
Around this time, in 2011, Sacriel’s company got bought out and he was offered a choice: Take a promotion or take severance and leave. He took the money, left his job, and began posting video game videos full time. In early 2012, he got a comment from a fan on one of his videos suggesting he go on Twitch and interact with his viewers live. Sacriel gave it a try, nervous at first about being live where he could make mistakes. But fans were asking him questions live and he was answering in real time. “It was really exhilarating,” he says of those early streams. Among the fans asking him questions about weapons and tactics, was the fan who suggested he get on Twitch. “Eight years later, I’d marry that one,” Sacriel tells me.
Building a Twitch brand, enterprise, and community
Today, Sacriel’s wife Shannon Plante (who also streams on Twitch as ShannonZKiller), remains part of her husband’s streaming enterprise, along with moderators, coders, artists, managers, and more. As Sacriel’s community has grown, so has his streaming operation. It began humble enough in the early days of Twitch, but Sacriel quickly established his streams by innovating with a homemade overlay that scanned his Twitch Chat and notified him when viewers subscribed. He credits these innovations with some of his early success, helping his channel stand out. Right now, he’s working on more innovations like filters that let his viewers change his face and voice.
This is all part of how Sacriel has continued to build his audience and his brand on Twitch. For him, the cornerstone of his brand has always been education—a thread from those early days as an ISP project manager. “One of the primary things that I feel is one of my unique selling points is my ability to educate,” he says. “I don’t just play and do well in the game and at the end show the scoreboard. Every time I do something well in a game I’ll analyze it, and I’ll literally load up Microsoft Paint and draw it. People realize that ‘oh wow, not only is he good at the game he’s making me better.’”
Sometimes Sacriel has been known to even get into non-gaming topics like quantum entanglement or neutron capture. He even thinks his charming British accent is something of a selling point for American viewers (he actually does a great David Bowie impression inspired by the comedy series Flight of the Conchords). According to Sacriel, some of the key ways to being successful on Twitch are having a consistent streaming schedule, having an interactive stream, and just being yourself. “Surprisingly it’s not about being good at games. Often, being good at games is literally irrelevant,” Sacriel says. “It’s about being authentic, being consistent, being interactive, and being yourself.”
Where Twitch creators, viewers, and brands intersect in meaningful ways
As he’s established himself as a leading voice on Twitch, Sacriel has turned his success into meaningful brand partnerships. One of his favorites was a partnership with Paramount to promote a new Mission Impossible movie. As part of the campaign, the studio brought Sacriel into an indoor skydive wind tunnel to play games while free falling. “My community was fully enthralled with it,” Sacriel remembers. “Then intermingled in the content with me skydiving were trailers and segments from the movie. It was just such a natural and engaging way of working together.”
Another one Sacriel remembers is working with Intel, which was something of a childhood dream, as he’d grown up using the brand’s CPUs since his first computer, he says. “20 years later to have that company say they want me to represent them … it kind of makes me feel like this can’t be real,” Sacriel says. “I’m just a dude playing games. It’s kind of strange to think about really. If I could go back in time 10 years and say ‘Hey, 10 years from now you’ll be sponsored by some of the biggest companies in the world and you’ll have your own house and a wife,’ I’d say ‘no way, you’re thinking about someone else.’”
To create these meaningful brand partnerships, Sacriel puts a lot of thought and work into picking who he works with and why. Sometimes he says a brand will approach him and other times he’ll approach the brand. He needs to be excited about the brand as much as the brand is excited about him. That’s because these relationships thrive on authenticity.
“People can immediately tell if you’re just reading a script,” Sacriel says. “That’s why I turn down over half of the offers I get. I’m very specific about who I deal with, and that strengthens my brand for my community because they know I’m authentic.” Sacriel says he looks for brands he already uses, for something he believes in, for a brand that is trustworthy. “I started this journey to make a safe space for people that I care about, and I’m never going to work with a product or service that doesn’t allow me to continue sleeping soundly at night.”
For brands looking to work with content creators on Twitch, Sacriel suggests they do their research on streamers first. Browse their videos, get to know their community and assess if it’s the right fit. “I think the value for brands, if they work with the right people, is authentic brand representation,” Sacriel says. His audience trusts him, and when he talks about a product during his streams they listen because he believes in it. He can answer questions, he can show the product in action, he can let his audience interact with it. This, he says, is a win-win partnership for brands, him, and his audience.
Going forward, Sacriel wants to someday turn all of his experience into its own survival videogame. He’s already in some early talks with some developers. But, in the meantime, he’s got to keep staying alive in the zombie apocalypse. It’s dangerous work, but he and the 42nd love it.