"Gernader Jake" Straus, 24, left Willamette University in 2015 with a communications degree and moved to Vegas to try his hand at professional poker. He'd been live-streaming his Destiny gameplay on Twitch since February of that year, around the time of the Dark Below expansion, but he considered this a simple diversion – something to pass the time between study sessions. Outside the high-stakes world of gambling, after all, gaming was just a hobby.
Fast-forward two and a half years, and Straus's attitude toward video games has taken a turn; he now understands them as a viable career path. Having once worked a summer internship as a minor-league baseball announcer, he's long known how to work an audience with play-by-play commentary. But it's his gift for first-person-shooter domination that's earned him the notice of most anyone familiar with the Destiny directory on Twitch. With roughly 3.4 million views and 178,000 followers, he's quickly built a reputation as a humble giant in the world of competitive Destiny. Being skilled at a particular game is sometimes impressive on its own, but what gives Gernader Jake such stature among his fellow Guardians is how he made his name: by helping countless players achieve flawless 9–0 victories in the original Destiny's intensely competitive elimination arena, Trials of Osiris.
With the arrival of Destiny 2, he's doing it all over again in Trials of the Nine, which features a weekly map rotation and either of the Crucible's two newest modes, Countdown and Survival. Viewers who tune into Jake's stream for any length of time accrue "carrots," a digital currency that qualifies them for participation in online raffles. Those whose names are drawn get to play alongside the Gernader himself, which results, without fail, in a flawless ticket for him and his teammates. Upon winning seven consecutive games, they are deemed "worthy" and granted entry into the mysterious Third Spire, located somewhere in the heart of Unknown Space.
Straus called me from his home in the California Bay Area to chat about how he got started with Twitch, his surefire Crucible strategies, and the various ways Destiny's changing for the better.
Did you start streaming around the time of House of Wolves, when Trials first came out?
I started streaming in February of 2015, which in Destiny's world is like two months after [the Crota's End raid] came out and two months before Trials came out. And, in my world, it was my second semester of senior year in college.
What games did you play before that? Were you a Halo fan?
Yeah. So, my first-ever Xbox game was Halo 2. I played like Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart as a very little kid, but then in eighth grade I got an Xbox, I got Halo 2, and got very addicted to it. I played Halo 2 and Halo 3, and then transitioned into a little bit of Call of Duty leading up to Destiny.
So the N64 would've been your first console, then?
The 64 was my first console. I was four years old, playing it with my brother and my dad.
A lot of Destiny streamers tend to focus on PlayStation, but one of the things about your stream that caught my eye early on was that you play on Xbox. Does that come out of your love of Halo?
Yeah. I've always had an Xbox – never had a PlayStation until very recently. And, honestly, people were very okay with me being Xbox-only, just because so many other streamers were PS4-exclusive. And it just started with me playing. I had an Xbox because of Halo, and then as the stream started developing, I didn't see any reason not to keep it simple and just play on the console I know and love. So I just stayed with it.
Is it fair to say Trials is what's kept you coming back to Destiny after three years?
Oh, absolutely. Yes. Very fair to say that.
When you started streaming, what was your thought process? Did you see other streamers running raids and such, and think maybe there was an audience hungry for Crucible?
When I started streaming – and I honestly give this as advice to people who ask, you know, "What makes sense for people starting out streaming?" I advise them on exactly what my mentality was. I went into it treating it simply as a hobby. I was very, very into Destiny, and enjoyed playing it like crazy during my off time – when I wasn't studying or doing whatever else I might be doing in college.
But I had people messaging me. I had two people message me over the course of about a week, asking me what my stream was. Because I did stupid well in Crucible, and they're like, "You did amazing. Where do I watch you? What's your stream?" I'm like, "What the hell is a 'stream'?" And they're like, "What – you don't know about Twitch? Are you messing with us?" And so after those two messages, I researched Twitch, made an account, and then just treated it as a hobby. Purely a hobby. I streamed whatever it was I was doing naturally in the game, and so I would stream raids, regular Crucible, stuff like that. For about four months, I had an average viewership of between three and six viewers. It was purely a hobby, maybe making about ten dollars every other stream because one of the three people watching wanted to support me.
What happened next was very perfect timing. The same weekend that my [college] graduation was held, Trials launched. And I happened to be taking a year off anyway. So, two things lined up really well: I moved to Vegas, because my plan was to try to be a professional poker player. During my year off, I was just gonna enjoy myself, play poker, see if I could do it professionally.
But Trials was taking up some of my time, because what happened was, I would start streaming myself going flawless, and people would come into my chat and say: "Hey, you think you could take me to the Lighthouse?" And I was like, "Sure. Grab a buddy, and we'll both go." So I was doing double carries without knowing that was even a thing. I was just taking two people from my chat room and trying to get them flawless. Interest just blossomed. It went from an average of three to six viewers to, OK, now next weekend there's twenty people, and they're all telling their friends they went to the Lighthouse with this guy named Gernader Jake. And suddenly next weekend there's forty-five people, and people are tipping and donating and giving me support, and – holy shit, there's now a hundred people watching.
So it kind of just naturally happened. People saw my ability when they checked into the channel, and asked if they could basically use my abilities to get them rewards, and I said: "Sure. Why not?" And I stopped playing poker and invested time in the stream instead. Specifically, I did twelve hours every Trials day – so Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday – and then Tuesday through Thursday was my downtime, for the most part. I put myself on a schedule, told people I'd be on at a specific time, and I stuck to it for the entire first year of Trials, got partnered, and I kept my routine. And still do.
Bungie's made a lot of changes on the PvP side of things with Destiny 2. Do you think they're moving in the right direction, generally speaking, with four-v-four and the new modes?
I do think they're moving in the right direction for their player base as a whole. And what I mean by that is, what they have done caters to the 99 percent. Meaning, anybody can do well in Crucible now, knowing that you can just kind of hold hands with your teammates and shoot somebody once, and you'll get credit for a kill. It's sort of an ego boost for people who aren't very good at the game, because they see their KDA post-game is 1.2, and in Destiny 1 they were always 0.4 and they never went positive. So they get to feel like they're contributing more, they're improving, and for people who really care about that kind of thing – you can just stick with your teammates.
Now, I think they've also done a good job setting themselves up for the potential to go into esports. Because four-v-four is a much more recognized format for competitive play, and the teamwork elements in Destiny 2, which are so much stronger than Destiny 1 – the necessity to work as a team and coordinate and not be a solo player – will definitely make for really interesting matches.
I do wish that they had brought back the simple Elimination. The thing that basically kept Destiny 1 afloat, the Elimination playlist – people found it very exciting. No objective besides kill, and when you kill somebody they're down, and you just have to kill the rest of their team. And I think it's a little bit interesting that they didn't bring that back. The overall community wishes they did, and I hope one day they will, but, overall, I do think the Countdown and Survival modes are pretty cool and will keep people interested in the game.
You'd like to see a live competitive scene, then, with people playing Destiny on stages?
I not only want that to happen – I think it will. I think that Bungie is setting themselves up for the capability. By not including private matches in [D2] to begin with, the way they did with Destiny 1, they're kind of forcing people into the Crucible playlists and whetting their appetites for that extra step that would allow them to do those kinds of competitive tournaments. Unfortunately, they delivered that a little bit late with the first game, where most people's interest in Destiny 1 had already vanished. So I think what they're doing this time is getting people eager to do tournaments, and I think they're gonna allow us to do it a lot sooner than they did in D1. It just seems obvious that they're setting themselves up for that kind of gameplay with four-v-four matches and a PC version.
Some people have criticized the loot system and weapon upgrades in D2, though that's almost certainly a way of maintaining balance for the Crucible meta. Are you a fan of those changes?
Yes. I think the loot system's better, and I think the people complaining about it are kind of the one-percenters – and I'm included in this, too, but I'm not complaining. Those who do this as a living and get to spend, you know – the hours that most people spend working, they spend it gaming. And people have collected all the guns, and it's only week three, and that's concerning for someone who, in Destiny 1, would spend years trying to get a specific Eyasluna ["god-roll" hand cannon] to drop, with specific perks. The knowledge that a perfect gun might possibly come out of a random Crucible game kept people excited, and kept people playing and grinding – and without the need for that grind, I think people are nervous. But for 99 percent of people, there's still a lot of guns. There's a lot of loot.
Is there a bigger emphasis on skill over luck in the sequel, do you think?
I think that individual skill is less obvious in D2 than it was in D1. In Destiny 1, I'd be able to roam around in Crucible, completely on my own. And if I slid into a room that had three enemies, I actually had a chance of killing all of them and getting out alive. I could slide in, snipe one, throw a Wombo Combo – which would kill the second – shade-step out to get my health back, and then slide in and Palindrome the third. And that ability doesn't exist in Destiny 2. If I turn a corner in Destiny 2 and there's three people, I run away. I have to retreat and find my teammates. So the skill in D2 comes into play when you're talking teamwork elements – more callouts, positioning yourselves strategically on the map, and knowing when to push specific angles.
You just got married. What's the trick to balancing work and life, and creating those boundaries, when your job is essentially playing Xbox for hours on end?
There's no real secret, I would say. But there's a few tips. I line up my schedule with my wife's, so I'm working when she's working, leaving us both with time in the evening each day to be together and do whatever we need to do. I have days where I don't work as much, and that gives us the freedom to go to a baseball game, or go for a long hike in the middle of the day, so we take advantage of the days that I do take off and do things that most couples would be able to do.
Also, I give her very fair warning and allow her to schedule around it when I know my hours are going to increase. For example, right now. I've been warning her for a year, "You know, in September when Destiny 2 comes out, I'm going to be basically nonexistent. And you're just gonna have to kind of deal with it." And because she had such advance notice, she understands that's part of it. There's times when streaming isn't important as others, and there's time where I've gotta be in there eighty hours in a week. So just being open and communicating with her, and kind of planning ahead, as well as prioritizing her when I'm not streaming – it works pretty well. And I find a lot of time to exercise, by going for runs or lifting weights, right after I end my stream. So: end stream, work out, shower, have the rest of the night to lay low with her or go out and have fun.
Does she play at all?
The golden question. Oh, I wish she did! No, she hates it. She gets motion sickness, actually, because she's so unaware of what her own movement is gonna do to the screen.
I did do one fun event in Destiny 1 where we got her flawless. I had two of my highly skilled friends carry her to the Lighthouse while she kind of just aimlessly walked around. She sat in the chair that I stream in, identical to the setup that I have – and it was live, so there were actually like 2,900 people watching it.
You mentioned that Destiny 2 requires more "team-shotting" and less lone-wolf gameplay. Have you ever been doing a raffle and discovered that the carry was going to be a real challenge?
I haven't really had an "Oh, God" or "We're screwed" in Destiny 2. The ability to have three really strong players out of four is much, much, much better than having two strong players out of three [in Destiny 1]. So in Destiny 2, if I find a carry via a raffle who's just really obviously bad, I make sure I have three people in total that are good players, instead of two.
In Destiny 1, that'd happen a pretty good amount. I would usually just make it clear, like: "Hey, chat, this is a little bit of a tougher carry. I'm going to focus more on communicating with them and trying to get these wins than I am with chat." And just making that disclaimer so people knew why I was focused more on the game. But I've never had anybody I couldn't get flawless. It might take a few tries, but we did end up getting every single person who wanted to get flawless to the Lighthouse, or the Spire.
What tips do you give to people looking to go flawless in Trials for the first time? What's the secret to just dominating in the new Crucible?
My tip in general – not specifically for Trials, but for getting better – is just to practice by simply playing and then watching people who are better than you. I think those are the two best ways to improve in any game. That's how I've improved in any game I've ever played – I've watched people's gameplay who I'm amazed by, and I play it myself. That's the number-one rule.
And that does apply to Trials, because if you're really not a good player, you're not gonna go flawless. So you kind of have to take those two steps first in order to get to a place where I could help explain how to go flawless in Trials. But kind of the golden tip – especially in Destiny 2 – is just sticking together. And also, very important: play your life. What a lot of players make the mistake of doing is, they'll shoot somebody once or twice and get really greedy, and want to finish that kill – where they've already been hit once or twice themselves, too. So, because you're with your teammates if you're doing it right, you shoot someone once or twice, get hit once or twice, then you take cover and let somebody else continue that fight. You don't try to finish it yourself – because you'll likely get greedy, they'll take cover, and the other team will just kill you.