VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (AP) — Police are investigating the death of a popular Virginia gamer who died during the home stretch of a 24-hour marathon video game session he was streaming online to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Brian Vigneault, 35, had spent about 22 hours playing the online wargame “World of Tanks” on the streaming platform Twitch.tv. He told followers watching him play the game that he was raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
But early Sunday, he stood up from his computer to take a smoke break. The father of three who played under the name PoShYbRiD never appeared on screen again.
“He was in rough shape,” said Jessica Gebauer, 29, a friend of Vigneault’s and fellow streamer who lives in Humboldt in Canada’s Saskatchewan province.
“I watched him until about half an hour before he said he’d be right back,” she said. “He just looked really, really tired. We were telling him, ‘Go to sleep. The stream can wait.’”
Virginia Beach police said they responded to a 911 call for cardiac arrest. Vigneault was pronounced dead at the scene.
The cause and manner of his death remain under investigation, the medical examiner’s office said.
One of the most popular websites in the United States, Twitch is a “congested marketplace” in which streamers are vying for eyeballs, according to Nicholas Thiel Taylor, a digital media professor at North Carolina State University.
“There is pressure on a lot of these folks to go to extremes to build an audience,” he said. “It doesn’t seem that grueling on the surface, but you’re interacting with people and playing a video game and temporarily putting off your biological needs.”
Gebauer, Vigneault’s friend in Canada, said 24-hour marathons are not uncommon. She did one herself.
“By doing it for so long, you get people from all different time zones,” she said. “There’s more opportunity for donations.”
Gebauer described Vigneault as funny and sarcastic, someone whose anger at the game was as entertaining as he was. He told his friends he used to work as an auto mechanic, she said, and loved his three children.
Gebauer said Vigneault appeared to take enough breaks to prevent a blood clot during the marathon. She said he even took one of his kids to soccer practice.
“I have a hard time believing that streaming for so long was the cause of his death specifically,” she said. “But at the same time, I know it wasn’t good for him.”
Vigneault’s Twitch profile says he had raised nearly $11,000 for various charities during his five-year streaming career.
Make-A-Wish spokesman Josh deBerge told The Associated Press in an email that the organization is “looking into whether or not Brian had entered into any agreements, whether formally or informally, related to his fundraising efforts.”
Gebauer is now the administrator of a GoFundMe page set up for Vigneault’s children. As of Friday evening, it had raised more than $17,000.