Two years ago Chelsea quit her job as a pharmacy technician to play video games.
“I went to work one day and I was like, ‘I would actually be making more money if I had stayed at home and kept playing video games than coming here,’” she says. That week she handed in her resignation.
Chelsea is one of a growing number of Australian women making a living from Twitch.tv, a live-video streaming platform that allows people from all over the world to watch one another play games. It’s also a social network: chat rooms are embedded into user pages next to video streams, allowing the broadcaster and audience to interact in real time. Going by the username Xminks, Chelsea has become renowned for her skills in Call of Duty – so much so that playing it online has become her bread and butter. Every night about 10pm she turns on her webcam, chats to some of her 330,000 followers and gets to work.
Twitch has somehow escaped becoming a household name despite its phenomenal popularity: the company claims it has 9.7 million active users on its site every day and more than 2 million streamers a month. Amazon saw its potential in 2014 and bought it for $970m, even though the decision left many business commentators scratching their heads at the time.
The company doesn’t only deal in online interactions: it also livestreams some of the world’s biggest video game tournaments, in which professional gamers compete in stadiums in front of thousands of people and millions of online viewers. Audiences for game tournaments routinely surpass those of mainstream television – yet somehow the scene manages to retain the illusion of being a subculture.
While a tiny number of gamers become tournament megastars, more garden-variety streamers make their money through fan donations and sponsorships. Popular streamers are offered the option of partnering with Twitch to install a subscriptions feature on their page, which gives users the opportunity to pay a fee of US$4.99 a month to the streamer’s channel. Twitch, of course, takes a slice, but half the subscription fee goes directly to the streamer and most users subscribe to support their favourite gamers.
“It becomes a base salary for streamers, instead of just relying on tips, which one month could be $100, which next month could be $4,000 – you never know,” says Mia. She is a relative newcomer to the world of livestreaming. Although she has been playing games since she was kid, she only discovered Twitch about 18 months ago, through an online friend.
“I didn’t have gamer friends … and it’s not something that you would just stumble across,” she explains. “When I found Twitch and saw that so many people have all these friends and were doing amazing things and sharing their experience together, I just really wanted to get on board.”