Tanner Tomassi is a Fortnite streamer who has really perfected his craft. His setup is crisp, with a cutout of him on the edge of the screen and a second shot of his fingerwork below so you can watch as he WASDs his way around the map. His energy stays high throughout every broadcast—each kill is exciting; each win is an explosion. Every follow, tip, and comment hypes him up further, and promises of dance parties and other celebratory antics abound. Frequently self-deprecating humor and raps of new followers’ names complete the experience so viewers are treated to a constant but entertaining barrage of goofiness, right up until it’s time to get down to business and win the game. You really feel like he loves what he’s doing every second the camera’s rolling, and, darn it, he’s really good at Fortnite.
Tanner streams Monday through Saturday for a couple hours both in the morning and evening. His streaming page on Facebook, BalencisBattles, has over 2.5k likes and 21 thousand followers. He notes on the page that “when you tune into one of [his] streams, you will witness the MOST ENERGETIC stream to date.” He guarantees “you will instantly fall in love and mistake [him] for your morning coffee” and that “you will smile within the first 10 seconds of joining and never look back.” And I’ve got to tell you—he’s right. I was an instant fan.
But even a streamer who loves what he does can’t be there every single day, and while Tanner immediately won me over with his off-the-wall antics, boisterous personality, and genuine connections to his viewers, what led me to him in the first place was a rumor I’d heard and something I had to see for myself: when Tanner can’t be there, his mom streams in his place.
Now, most people reading this likely have parents who still don’t understand you can’t pause a multiplayer game, so you can understand why I found this so exciting. To play something as complicated as Fortnite while keeping up with a live chat is pretty impressive no matter who you are, of course, but I had to know how Tanner and his mom came to this unconventional and delightful arrangement, so I reached out.
First of all, and perhaps unsurprisingly, streaming isn’t the only thing that takes up Tanner’s time. Not only is he finishing up at college for business management, but he also loves playing pickleball and has been taking part in paintball tournaments competitively for many years. With paintball, he says, comes an amazing feeling of brotherhood and the opportunity for travel. And with travel comes, of course, being away from your stream.
But for Tanner, streaming is a priority, as are his fans. Not to mention he knew being away for days at a time during the five times a year he leaves to compete in paintball tournaments would be a detriment to his brand. “The way the Facebook algorithm works for gaming,” he explains, “is the more you are online/active, the more it rewards you with sending you more viewers.” Tanner explains that the days he might take off for paintball would result in the possibility that his viewers would no longer be notified that he’s live, and he’d have to work hard every time he got back to build his viewer count back up and get the algorithm working for him again. So rather than lose those viewers, he and his mom came to an agreement: she would stream in his stead. And it works really well, Tanner says. “Having my mom stream helps with [the algorithm] aspect, as well as gives the viewer a new perspective and change from what they are normally used to.” Basically a win-win. But what of Tanner’s mom, lovingly titled MamaBattles when she streams under the BalencisBattles umbrella?
A MamaBattles stream
MamaBattles, who goes by Pam offline, is a craps dealer and certified tax collector. She spends her free time biking, hitting the beach, and playing pickleball, which Tanner taught her, as well as reading and baking. She says she is almost never found without her Kindle and reads even as she fills up at the gas station. As for her cooking, “I’m not that great of a cook,” she says, and adds “just ask Tanner,” but she enjoys making fresh muffins for her family every week as well as “all kinds of biscotti.” Pam also takes time to knit and crochet for Heaven’s Baby Angels, a South Jersey group that donates bereavement outfits, blankets, and hats to local hospitals.
When I asked her about streaming, she admits she “definitely had reservations.” In the beginning, she didn’t even know how to play the game, though Tanner assured me they spent some time playing off stream so she could get the hang of things. “I couldn’t figure out the keyboard,” Pam says, but one of Tanner’s moderators sent her a controller, and that made things a lot easier. “Being a streamer is so much harder than you can imagine,” Pam continues. “I had no idea the amount of work it takes.”
And work it is. Tanner says right now streaming is his job. He's also got a twice-a-week gig working for his dad’s vending business, which he says he enjoys as a way to break up the gaming sessions, but streaming is number one for him right now. “Although it seems like an easy gig,” he says, “it can be extremely taxing on your body gaming right when you wake up and right before you go to bed every day.” With the amount of engagement and energy Tanner puts into each stream, not to mention the tense, heart-pumping excitement of the game itself, I can believe it.
Tanner’s been a playing games since the days of Halo 2, but his mom says gaming wasn’t quite the family affair in those days that it is today—back then, she only watched. Tanner stopped gaming in high school, but then, similar to what happened for so many of us, the pandemic hit and changed everything. Tanner’s sophomore year of college, he and his classmates were sent home to do school online, and Tanner found himself with a lot of time on his hands. “I started playing Fortnite,” he said, "and reconnecting with people from college/high school virtually.” After a while, Tanner says, “I figured I might as well stream it,” because he was playing what he calls “a fair amount” (and what I personally assume is actually “a whole heck of a lot,” but no judgement here!), and the rest is history.
A clip of Tanner's first ever stream. Get ready for lots of frustrated cuss words.
Watch more BalencisBattles streams here.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing from the start. “For my first experience streaming,” Tanner says, “you may think as it being super cool and nostalgic; however, it is quite the opposite.” Tanner explained how his computer couldn’t handle gaming and streaming at the same time, and it took some work to get the settings optimized. He adds that, “since you have to build your viewers up,” he had nobody watching his first stream. “It felt as I was just playing the game normal,” he says, but it didn’t stay that way. “As my community began to build,” Tanner explains, “I started averaging 5-10 viewers and I absolutely loved it!” So he kept at it, and now he truly does run one of the most fun and high-energy streams I’ve seen, and his view count on his videos has ballooned into the thousands. “I saw a future in it for myself, so I stuck with it” Tanner says, and that now, “people look forward to me being online as well as look forward to getting to know me better and see what I had in store for the day.”
MamaBattles’ first stream wasn’t exactly smooth either, but she says “Tanner's community is full of great people and they seem to have liked me from the beginning.” His setup has advanced a lot from those days where his computer couldn’t handle two things at once. “Tanner has three screens set up, and that is a challenge for me to have my eyes everywhere, play, read the chat, make sure the green screen is properly situated make sure my face is in the camera, make sure the microphone is positioned properly,” etc., Pam says. She adds that despite having done it several times now, she’s still a nervous wreck at the start of every stream. However, she appreciates the community her son has built and adds that “luckily, Tanner has great moderators and they calm the crowd and get me going.”
In spite of her nerves and the fact that MamaBattles isn’t the expert at the game that her son is, she is a crowd favorite nonetheless. She also often ends up surviving pretty late into the game. “I am very basic in Fortnight,” she explains. “I rarely have any kills and I do a lot of hiding, but it works out ok because I think I placed second one time and usually am in the last 15 people alive.” Despite that unconventional success, she says “I get so nervous when I have to shoot someone that I can't aim and I miss them.” I honestly don't blame her for that one, though. I’m the exact same way any time I play a battle royale too! That stuff is stressful.
But even though it seems all fun and games, this is still a job for her son, and Pam explains that “Tanner takes pride in having everything just perfect.” In fact, she says, “the last stream I did while he was at a paintball tournament in Florida did not go as well as he planned and he canceled me!!! Lol.”
MamaBattles streaming while Tanner was away.
Despite that, Tanner says “I knew it would be a good idea for her to stream, because everybody on my stream knows who she is because of skits I’ll have her do. Whether it’s her cracking an egg on her head, dancing, or telling a joke, people love to see it, so having her stream gets the viewers to know her better as well as build a connection with her.” He explains that this also leads to them appreciating Tanner more “because it makes them feel like they know me better [too].”
From what Tanner tells me, though, Pam is perhaps being humble when it comes to her streaming skills. Tanner says “she picked it up immediately.” He adds that he wasn’t worried about it, though, because that it didn’t really matter if she ended up not being great at the game. “I had no stress because I knew people would find it entertaining either way.” It was less about her skills and more about providing “just a different experience,” and he was right not to worry. Tanner told me that his viewers’ reaction to the maiden MamaBattles stream was that "everybody loved it!" He says "they showed her huge appreciation with giving her tips for questions she had in the game, as well as boosting up her confidence with positivity and making her laugh. People also sent her plenty of stars (a form of tipping) so she enjoyed it and felt loved.”
A quick sampling of the stream chat while MamaBattles is signing off. Catch BalencisBattles streams live here.
It’s no surprise Tanner’s fans were kind to his mom, because Tanner seems to be kind to his fans. They’re important to him, and it’s clear he values and appreciates each and every one. “For me, I love streaming for being able to meet new people literally every time I log on and potentially add them to our community for future streams.” The admiration truly goes both ways. “People treat me with great respect and look up to me,” Tanner says. “Having fans message me really motivates me to keep playing and trying my best to be the best I can be.”
Tanner’s love for his fans is made clear in the way he tries to include a little something for everyone during his streams. “Everybody enjoys my banter and competitive gameplay,” he says, but he also likes providing tips and tricks that his viewers might not know unless they’re extremely experienced players like himself. “There are humorous as well as instructional aspects of my stream depending on the mood I am in,” Tanner says. In the end, Tanner also enjoys being the conduit through which people can enjoy the game in a new way. “The majority of viewers of my stream,” he says, “are somewhat newer to the game or simply don’t have the time to be the competitive player that they aspire to be because of work/kids/ responsibilities, so they live that out through me!”
And the fact that he has the privilege of having none of those responsibilities right now is not lost on Tanner. “I’m a super firm believer,” Tanner says, of "traveling as much as a I can and doing as many things as I can before I have any real responsibilities, such as a job, kids, and bills.” Tanner believes in celebrating all stages of life, and this one, it seems, is about taking advantage of the things that might become difficult to enjoy as fully later on. This is something I think a lot of us wish we'd had the same wisdom to do at certain points in our past. “Life is so short,” says Tanner. “I’m a huge advocate for taking risks, because who really knows what the outcome can be?"
Watch Tanner play more here.
And for Tanner, despite his youthful, seemingly carefree take on life, streaming isn’t just a fun thing to do on the weekends. Since he’s made it his job, at least for now, he also sees the hazards that come with that decision. “A challenge I face,” Tanner says, “is definitely the mental aspect of it. Streaming is a huge risk, especially at my age.” Tanner’s 21 and will be graduating college next year. When he imagines a life where perhaps he is a successful streamer for five years—an impressive run—he understands the possibility that it could eventually all come to an end. “Then I am 26 years old with no job experience in my field of study from college, looking for a job,” Tanner says of this imagined scenario. Even when focusing only on the present, he says “days and weeks with poor performing streams, it really makes you think and question what you are doing wrong.” He explains that a lot of times, low points like that aren’t necessarily your fault. “The algorithm just favors another streamer for that time period,” he surmises. Nevertheless, this mental hurdle can be a hard one to clear. “The mental game is HUGE for every streamer and no viewer understands it until they personally experience it as a streamer themselves.” But despite worries for the future and questions about the present, Tanner says it’s all worth it. “I am a big advocate for risk like I said earlier, though.” He says that nobody knows the future, so going with the flow is best, and if nothing else, COVID showed many of us that sometimes, that’s the only choice we have. For Tanner, though, that choice worked out, at least for now. “If you are at a 9-5 job, you know what to expect. Every day until you quit that job, you are in that office living only for the weekends. With my stream," he says, "I can live every day to the max, because with no set hours and boss, I’m free to do whatever I please whether the day is Tuesday or Saturday.”
And, of course, Tanner couldn’t do it without his mom. “I believe I have the most supportive mom in the world!” Tanner says. “My dad as well. They both believe in me and do believe I can stream as a career. No matter what I chose, they both always are supportive of me and want me to succeed whether it’s school, sports, a hobby, or streaming!”
MamaBattles has her own final thoughts to share. “I think it's really important to support your children in whatever they are doing,” says Pam. “Sometimes I am like ‘what is this crazy kid doing now?’ but once I figure it out, I am IN.” And, sounding a little bit like just about every mom I've ever known, she adds that “sometimes I might get a little too involved, but I am working on that.”
From where I’m sitting, though, it looks like they’re both doing everything just right.
You can see Tanner stream at BalencisBattles on Facebook Monday through Saturday at both 9:00am and 8:00pm. There's also a chance you might catch a glimpse of Pam joining in for a celebratory dance, singing happy birthday to a fan, doing an egg challenge, or even strapping in for a whole MamaBattles stream when life calls Tanner away from the computer.
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