What It’s Really Like To Be A Young Woman Playing Video Games For A Living
Imane Anys a.k.a. Pokimane interacts with thousands—often hundreds of thousands—of strangers a day from her tidy Santa Monica bedroom, as she broadcasts herself online for hours at a time and gets paid for it.
But Pokimane is no cam girl—although, yes, “I am a girl on a camera,” she says. People tune in for her skilled video game play and good humored jokes. “I love being able to make other people happy,” she says. “Sometimes people are having a bad day, or they are in a rut, and they can just tune into my stream and have a few laughs, and hang out with my community.”
Pokimane is signed by a management team, has 50 million plus views on YouTube, has had scores of sponsors, and is ranked in the top 0.2 percent globally of League of Legends players, which is a big deal among video gamer folks.
Her core audience is on Twitch, an online platform for people to watch or broadcast video game play. It draws millions of users from all over the world (and was bought by Amazon in 2014 for almost $1 billion dollars).
“I saw people streaming on Twitch and I was like this is so fun and cool, I want to do it,” Pokimane tells me in her bright white bedroom that’s dotted with video game posters. She not only joined Twitch, she excelled at it by building a community of followers with her charming banter, positive nature, and killer gameplay. “It wasn’t until my second year of university when I started getting sponsorships that I thought this could be a job.”
What started as a fun hobby for Pokimane has turned into a successful full-time gig playing video games. On Twitch, streamers with a large following are often offered the option of partnering with the platform. As a partner, users can choose to subscribe to a partner’s stream channel for $4.99 a month and half that subscription fee goes directly to the streamer.
“Let’s say you have a 1,000 subscribers every month; that’s a guaranteed minimum of $2,500 dollars,” Pokimane explains.
Pokimane always loved school and studying, so it came as a bit of a shock to her parents when she wanted to take a break from a chemical engineering degree at university to pursue playing video games full time. But her older brother—who got her hooked on several games and is involved in the Twitch community too—helped back up her decision to stream full time, and her parents are now proud and supportive of her unlikely career path.
“I’m really grateful my parents had an open mind, they didn’t just look at one crazy YouTube video online and say: ‘You’re doing this?’ They actually listened to me and what my ideas are and why I do what I do,” she says.
Pokimane is also grateful for her fans who cheer her up when she’s had a bad day, or travel cross country to meet her at events. “On Twitch, when you watch a streamer, you watch them for hours so you get to know them on such a close, personal level,” she says. “It’s like a friendship.”
Pokimane spends up to six hours streaming a day, as often as six days a week. But she’s also an advocate of taking days off, whether it’s to take a break from screen time for a more balanced life, or distancing herself from negative comments or trolls—an unfortunate byproduct of making your living on the internet, especially as a woman.
As you might expect, being a female gamer comes with its own set of hurdles. The medium is dominated by male viewers and Twitch remains a boy’s club. In a 2017 article by the Guardian, Stephanie Convery writes: “The majority of women on Twitch don’t see themselves as pornographers or sex workers—far from it—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t audience members who feel they are owed more than witty banter and good gameplay, particularly if they are paying subscribers.”
Some women are also naturally flirtatious on camera, or they express themselves being sexually provocative on screen. Pokimane instead is focused on gameplay and being goofy—and she’s not afraid to roast any follower who crosses a line, and hits on her. In a recent video, she warned her followers: “This isn’t Tinder, bro.”
Pokimane admits that being a female gamer is complicated. “Sometimes people will come to my stream and say, wow, you’re so different from these other female streamers—but there are good things to take away from every stream,” she says. “I try and showcase that’s there’s a variety of girls and we’re not all identical.”
She adds that she wants other women who are interested in following a similar career path as her to know that while being sexually provocative works for some, it isn't the only way to get attention or grow followers.
“The way to be successful on this platform is to just be yourself and enjoy what you do,” Pokimane says. “That’s the number one thing that attracts other people: being happy and enjoying what you do.”
Words: Sophia Kercher