Big Streams Like Critical Role
Let's start with the big gun. A lot of people like Critical Role. I've seen D&D's resurgence attributed largely to this show. I've also seen the surge of live streamed games attributed to Matt Mercer and company. I'm a fan of the show myself. It is, without a doubt, some amazing D&D to watch and I would absolutely love to be in a campaign run by Matt Mercer, or to play alongside any of the Critical Role cast. However, there are aspects of Critical Role that you need to keep in mind - especially when judging your own game against it.
- Everyone on Critical Role is a professional actor
- Critical Role is a performance done for money
- Critical Role is those specific people.
Number 1 is the important one to calm yourself down if you're feeling bad that your story elements, NPCs, or character portrayals don't compare. Everyone involved in Critical Role is a professional voice actor, and many of them have real professional acting credits as well. They're actors. They've trained to portray characters and is in fact how they feed themselves and pay their bills. Honestly, unless you are also a professional actor they should be doing a better job than you at portraying their characters. After all, that's their job. I don't know your job, but I'm not an actor.
Number 2 is a bit edgy. I honestly don't know if Mercer and the players get paid for putting on Critical Role but I would imagine they do. Their time is valuable, even if it is a fun game, and Geek and Sundry is definitely making money off of them. Critical Role drives subscriptions which is money. Also, those give aways are paid for somehow and if nothing else all of Critical Role's people are getting a lot of high level exposure for both them and their products from the show. I don't say this to discredit the show, but it is important to remember. Why do the players in Critical Role just focus on the game for 3 hours and don't have random side conversations? Because for them it's not just their for fun game, it's a money making vehicle that helps their careers. That is a hell of an incentive.
Finally, number 3. Unless I miss my mark, Liam O'Brien and Matthew Mercer are not at your table - or reading my blog. This means that whomever is at your table is a different person. They have different wants, needs, ideas, and characters. Which means that even if one of your players is playing a half elven assassin/paladin devoted to the Raven Queen that said character is not Vax'ilidan, nor is it going to play like Vax'ilidan - even if it is based on him too.
Other streams may or may not have professional actors like Critical Role. However, almost every stream is a potential money making vehicle. Channels can get subscriptions - or ads - and those make money for those involved. Also, the nature of streaming in and of itself makes the game as much a performance as a game. That helps keep people focused on the game, go the extra mile to play their characters, and keep quiet when the GM is doing something 1 on 1 with another player.
Also, odds are if a game is being streamed the people playing are comfortable being on camera while playing. This can mean lots of things. It suggests more extroverted players. This matters because, by definition, extroverts tend to be better at "acting' out their characters on the spot in a social setting, where introverts tend to shy away. Check the players at your table, got some quiet people? I bet you'd never catch them on a stream. Right?
I don't know how your other games are going, but if different people can change a game you best believe different roles around the table can change the game too. Just changing who GMs can make a huge difference in a game, and some people are the first to try things as players they'd never allow as a GM so you need to watch out for that.
If you want to be a better GM you should watch as many games as you can. However, you shouldn't be watching those games to compare to your game. You should be watching to see what you can learn from the other GMs - or players. What are they doing that works? Why does it work? Would it work in your game? Can you do it? If so, why aren't you? Should you?
I've learned a lot by watching shows like Critical Role. I've learned even more by paying attention to how my friends GM in games I'm in. Even a bad GM can teach you what not to do. So keep your eyes open, but try to spare your game the harsh judgment just because it's not these other games. As long as everyone is having fun, your game is just fine as it is.