Careers forged through livestreaming and recording video games are becoming increasingly common, thanks to platforms like Twitch and YouTube, which allow anyone to set up a stream of regular content and reach millions of people from the comfort of their own home.
But as gaming entertainment makes its way into the mainstream, so do the darker sides of the gig. In an industry that has never been particularly friendly toward women and the LGBTQ community, the small but growing pool of non-male streamers face many additional obstacles on the road to success.
This week, we caught up with Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, a full-time video game streamer, to talk Fortnite, internet fame, sexual harassment and girl power.
Her experience is one of many, but offers an inside look at the struggles and rewards of being a prominent woman in the gaming world in 2018.
Check it out:
Rachell Hofstetter said she got her start by streaming role-playing, story-focussed games on Twitch, while she was going to community college and working at Gamestop.
“I’ve been playing games my whole life, so I decided to start a gaming channel on Instagram,” Hofstetter explained in an interview with Business Insider. “People kept telling me that I should stream on Twitch, so I eventually was just like ‘Sure, why not?'”
Now, she’s been streaming full-time for three years, and has made enough money through paid subscriptions, fan donations, and sponsorships to pay off her mother’s debt and help fund her childcare business, all while keeping the rent paid and lights on while living in southern California.
Hofstetter says while her audience is mostly male, she’s seen her percentage of female viewers triple since she started playing “Fortnite: Battle Royale” back in December, and uploading her streams to YouTube.
“I don’t know what it is about Fortnite,” she said. “But it’s true, I see so many more female viewers and streamers compared to other video games.”
She says her audience has also gotten significantly younger since she started hosting videos on YouTube in addition to streaming on Twitch.
“The one thing I regret the most is not uploading to YouTube sooner,” she said. “That’s where so many people in the Fortnite community have found me, mostly because the audience is younger there. Kids can’t watch the stream in the middle of the day, so it helps that they have videos to watch when they get home from school or wherever they are.”
She says while connecting with fans can be incredibly rewarding, being an internet celebrity — particularly, a woman playing video games — comes with its challenges.
“It would be very foolish to say people don’t come into the stream simply because they see that I’m a female,” she said. “Twitch is a mostly male website, so being a female, people come in expecting that I’m going to be taking advantage of that. Because you know, if you wear a tank top on stream, people will go nuts, regardless of the game or your skill level. I try to stay away from that.”
Hofstetter says she goes out of her way to dress conservatively when including a view from her webcam in the stream, and yet, “No matter what you do to cover up, it never ends. There’s always going to be trolls, judging based on your looks, just saying sexist things because I’m a girl and they think it’s funny.”
In one particular instance, Hofstetter told Business Insider that one troll harassed her for weeks across multiple social media sites, creating a new account each time she tried to block him.
“It was every single day, just spamming racist and sexist things in the chat. I think he made like 30 Twitch accounts throughout the whole thing,” she said. “You’d be surprised by how much time people have.”
That particular troll didn’t stop until Hofstetter had a private conversation with the troll, and threatened to get law enforcement involved.
“The harassment is never-ending, so you can’t take it personally,” she said.
Determined not to let negativity impact her high-energy streams and bubbly on-camera personality, Hofstetter says the key to not being discouraged by harassment is to simply acknowledge its inevitability, and not take it personally.
“No matter what you do in life, people are going to harass you, so you just have to do your thing anyway,” she said.
In the same breath, Hofstetter immediately assured me that despite a few bad apples, she really loves her job: “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“It’s just amazing. Streaming is about way more than entertainment,” she said. “I’m not a pro player, but do a lot of talking and reacting, so people say it’s just fun to watch, and it gives them hope that they can play better, or feel better about their playing.”
And for some viewers, she says, hearing an entertaining and friendly voice can make a huge difference in their day. “I get thousands of emails and messages from people who say I’m helping people with their depression and anxiety, just by playing Fortnite,” she said.
“I wouldn’t do it for as long as I have, if I didn’t realise what am impact it would have on people,” she added. “I’m just very happy with it.”
One of the ways that she combats the negativity is by teaming up with other female streamers, and seeking out a more female audience, particularly through Fortnite content.
In fact, Hofstetter will often dedicate entire Fortnite streams to playing with a dedicated “girl squad,” like the one in the video pictured above.
“I like playing with other girls because I get to show other people that girls can dominate as well,” she said. “And usually the streamers I play with are all really good, and I get to see other girls are commenting on the videos and it’s all about girl power and it’s just heartwarming to see.”
She says the comments reveal that these videos are particularly popular among teenage girls, and even mothers watching with young children.
When asked if she has any advice for other aspiring streamers, she says “to be aware of the audience that you want to build,” and above all else, “you just have to be your own number one fan, because this can be real hard on your mental health.”
“And definitely don’t quit your job to do this right away,” she laughed. “Streaming isn’t a job, it’s more like a charity in a lot of ways, since you’re relying on subscriptions and donations, so it should definitely just be a hobby at first.”
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