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The inside story of DrLupo, one of the most popular video game players in the world
Jamie Olsen Photography
- Ben Lupo, 31, is one of the most popular broadcasters on Twitch, the Amazon-owned service that lets people live-stream themselves playing video games to an online audience.
- We talked to Lupo over the phone to learn more about how he got to where he is today.
Ben Lupo sat in the basement of his house, in his favorite chair, watching home movies.
It was around 9 a.m. His father, James, had just passed away a few hours earlier. He had suffered a heart attack while alone in his office at Creighton University, where he'd worked as a professor of psychology for 40 years. He was 68 years old.
"I basically sat there and bawled my eyes out," Lupo told me on the phone, recalling that morning.
Lupo said he sat in his chair for over two hours before he did the only thing he knew how to do in that moment.
"I kicked the stream on, with no alerts, no webcam, no nothing," he said. "I just sat, and I played 'Fortnite,' and I talked. I talked for a little bit, and I cried for a little bit. It was the only thing I knew to do to escape from my own mental black hole."
Lupo, 31, is one of the most popular broadcasters on Twitch, the Amazon-owned service that lets people live-stream themselves playing video games. On Twitch, where he is known as "DrLupo," the Omaha, Nebraska native has over 2.5 million followers; thousands of people watch his channel at any given moment.
Lupo says he plays video games on Twitch for around 80 hours a week — a little over 11 hours per day.
Lupo is also popular among other Twitch streamers, who showed their support on the morning of his father's death along with the thousands of other messages from fans and viewers.
Twitch is full of smaller, tight-knit communities focused on specific games, but many people watch Lupo regardless of what he's playing, whether it's "Destiny 2" or "Fortnite" or "Call of Duty." Perhaps that's because so many people, through watching his daily game streams, have come to know Lupo for the person he is, and not just the entertainer in front of the camera.
One of Lupo's biggest supporters is Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, the most popular streamer on Twitch and one of the biggest names in the world of gaming.
Lupo and Blevins met while playing "PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds" against each other: Lupo perfectly lobbed a grenade that killed Tyler, who then messaged him afterwards offering to play "duos" together. Lupo called it "the luckiest stroke of my life" — Ninja's massive viewership on Twitch helped Lupo grow his own nascent channel to where it is today, and his real-life friendship with Blevins "feels like family."
Lupo, similarly, treats his viewers like family. He regularly opens up on camera; when he's not thanking donors and subscribers, he's talking about his life, his schedule that day, his wife Samantha, his three-year-old son, or his exciting work opportunities coming up. Watching his Twitch stream feels less like watching a random gamer play a game, and more like hearing from an old friend.
Jamie Olsen Photography
Lupo grew up playing games with others. As the youngest of four — all boys — his three older brothers turned him onto tabletop games like "Dungeons and Dragons" and "Warhammer 40,000." Lupo even remembers his mother, Regina, playing Tetris with him on his NES every morning before taking him to kindergarten.
But their father, James, rarely joined in on the fun. He was more into solo activities, like playing solitaire or reading one of the hundreds of science-fiction and fantasy books he collected over the years. And even when he played games, Lupo says he chose single-player titles like "The Sims."
"He always kind of watched from afar," Lupo said. "He didn't like fast-paced stuff because his brain just wasn't wired that way; gaming was never a thing for him when he was younger."
Lupo said his father grew to appreciate games, though, especially in his later years and as his son pursued a career on Twitch. On one occasion, Lupo, his father, and a handful of family members all played a game called "Starbound" together — and his father had a blast. "I stood up a server and we all had fun playing it," Lupo said. "It took my dad until he was in his 60s to ever play something with us like that. It was silly and fun, and I do desperately miss that."
The elder Lupo didn't understand Twitch at first, but gradually came to appreciate it when he saw how many people were watching his son play games like "Fortnite." The day before James passed away, Lupo called his father from a Target store and told him that he'd planned on streaming a phone game that weekend. "Where was this when I was your age?" Lupo's father asked him over the phone. "How did you get so lucky?"
"I could tell he was super proud of me, and that meant a lot," Lupo said. "There's a big portion of my career where I would've loved to hear what his thoughts about it were."
Jamie Olsen PhotographyIn 2007, Lupo was heading over to his friend's duplex to watch a movie: the Star Trek film "The Wrath of Khan," but the Rifftrax version, where audio commentary (from the people who made "Mystery Science Theatre 3000") is played over the movie for comedic effect.
When Lupo arrived at the duplex, though, he spotted a woman outside yelling at her car because it wouldn't start.
This was Samantha.
One brief meeting and 11 years later, Samantha and Ben are happily married — for eight years now, since 2010.
"We still make the same jokes, still act the same way, we're still the same people, and I'd be frustrated actually if that ever changed," he said. "Being married to my best friend is still being married to my best friend. But now, she gets to watch the stream, and she's part of the business."
In addition to her work as a photographer, Samantha also manages Lupo's Twitch channel, fielding inquiries and overseeing the entire "DrLupo" operation. The two also have a son together: three-year-old Charlie.
TwitchCharlie has already appeared on Lupo's Twitch stream numerous times, as a cameo and an occasional participant in games like "Fortnite," and Lupo says he's excited to get his son more into video games when he's old enough to appreciate them.
"I’m making him play through my generations," Lupo said. "If you stick a kid in front of all of these super-high resolution games with tons of polygons — put him front of 'Fortnite' — he won’t appreciate back when it was 8-bit, and all the audio was done on MIDI. It sounded like butt but it was what we had, and we appreciated it! I want him to have an appreciation for the history of how I got to where I am now. He’ll play Nintendo’s entire lineup before he starts getting too crazy."
He also said he would have no qualms about Charlie getting into game-streaming — the Lupo family business, perhaps — if that's what his son wanted to do when he's old enough.
"If he was serious about it, what is there to warn him against? If he’s not an idiot, it’s easy," Lupo said. "If he’s serious about it, and wanted to give it a try once he was of age, and he actually had intent to do it and do something positive with it, then it would be ridiculous of me to say no. Because why would you say no? Why not just let him try?"
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