Started From the Bottom Now We Here

While they might be some of Twitch’s biggest names, a few of the most popular streamers and YouTubers didn’t start out with a dream to become famous. Content creators like Sonja “omgitsfirefoxx” Ried and Meghan “Strawburry17” Camarena were simply passionate about games, and wanted to share their interests with others. “I was never passionate about making content for games,” Meghan said of her start in the industry. “I just became a girl who really sucked at Minecraft. I didn’t get it. I grew up playing Nintendo games, then got into World of Warcraft and Starcraft. Minecraft was a game like, ‘What are we doing?’”

The ESA Foundation’s We Are movement invited Meghan, Sonja, and Mari Takahashi of Smosh Games to describe their experiences in games-based content creation at E3 2018. For each woman, content creation in games wasn’t something they exclusively sought out--it simply happened over time, affording them the ability to influence the space in a way previously unheard of. “I think a lot of us who get to do this never thought we would have a career [in the industry],” Mari stated. “It wasn’t until my second year with Smosh that we decided to start a gaming channel. We came together and said, ‘We already spend a ton of time, energy, and money in to games. Why don’t we start a channel to get free gaming codes?’” 

Creating a Community

For streamers and YouTubers alike, building an audience is paramount to success. Creators like Sonja often feel that their viewers are more than numbers in a counter on the screen; they’re a community of people, who want a space to express themselves and build relationships. “I started streaming and saw that it was creating a community,” Sonja said. “People kept coming back, and I kept seeing the same names. I would try to remember their names, and something about them that stood out. When they come back, it’s like a community and a family. They have a place where they can feel safe, play games and be nerds.”

For many content creators, their channels act as safe spaces for audiences to reach out and discuss mental health. All three women on the panel champion mental health on a regular basis, believing that honesty and straight-talk is tantamount to spreading awareness, and helps create healthy environments for their viewers to engage with. “The fact that people feel happy when they’re having a bad day, and they watch a video of us being silly, is an amazing thing,” Meghan stated. “But I think none of us ever try to pretend that we’re super happy or live a perfect life all the time. We’re really honest with our audience and I think that makes them even happier, knowing that they’re not alone.”

Defeating Streaming Difficulties

Mental health is one of many major life aspects impacted by the content-creation lifestyle. Sonja recognizes that regular streaming can present constant stress and hyper self-awareness. “You have to be on camera all the time, and you’re constantly ‘on’ and putting yourself in front of everyone,” she explained. “It’s hard to pretend that every day is one-hundred percent.” She therefore uses her platform to encourage viewers to seek out help, knowing that, by being honest about her own difficulties, others will find the strength to open up about their challenges, as well. “Know that there’s help out there,” she said. “There are people you can talk to.”

Meghan knows firsthand that streaming and creating videos is not all sunshine and rainbows. It requires a balance of hard work and self-care, which can be difficult to maintain in an ever-evolving industry such as games media. “We do work twenty-four-seven,” she admitted. “If I’m not filming, I’m writing emails. When you aren’t busy, you feel bad. Our job is fighting to be relevant. That’s the truth of what we do, and it sucks. If you’re off one day, you might have missed something. It’s a weird grace thing you have to have with yourself. You need to have a super hard work ethic, but also stay healthy and not lose your mind.”

Following a Passion

Although working in the realm of games-centric content can be overwhelming, it certainly has its benefits: Sonja earned the title of Most Followed Female Streamer in the Guinness Book of World Records during 2017, landing in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 that same year. Meghan has made the transition from internet media to television more than once, appearing on shows such as The Amazing Race and hosting major games events. However, these achievements weren’t handed to them; they came at the price of hard work, dedication, and a never-ending passion. “Work hard and earn it,” Meghan encouraged. “You’re not owed anything. At the end of the day it’s always worth it, and even if it’s been done, you’ll do it better.”

Their hard work and ambition have opened up new avenues for games media, and continue to further grow the gaming community. With their focus on mental health and community engagement, these women are positive role models for the gaming world, and inspire a new generation to use their voice in forging their own paths. You can hear more of the group’s advice, as well as learn more about their backstories, their work, and achievements on We Are’s E3 panel discussing content creation in the gaming sphere.