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Logging on: Twitch gamers cash in on big growth in Austin and beyond

AvaGG is one of many Twitch video game streamers to make it big in Austin. (AvaGG/Twitter)

Want to become an influencer, a business-savvy marketer and content creator while doing what you love?

For Austinite AvaGG and thousands of others, that dream unexpectedly became reality as they dove into the ever-evolving world of Twitch, a video game streaming platform. Ava now only goes by her gaming name after facing safety issues.

Ava's original goal was simple: Make money and connections while playing her favorite games, including Apex Legends, Magic the Gathering and Animal Crossing, on Twitch.

Now a 10-year streaming veteran with over 450,000 Twitch subscribers and well over 200,000 followers across Instagram and Twitter, Ava said the industry has changed exponentially in ways she never expected. As a longtime Texan who joined Twitch when it was around a year old, Ava's watched the industry transform—for better or for worse—from a hobby to a more than full-time job.

"You are a content creator, you're an influencer," Ava said. "It's hard because you still just think of yourself as a person who's just playing video games, and you also have to come to the realization that you have a platform that people do follow."

Through subscriptions and tips, sponsorships with national brands and a grueling streaming schedule that can well surpass the typical 40-hour workweek, Ava has been able to skip the office lifestyle, become friends with notable people and travel the world.

But it wasn't always this easy—for years, Ava said the job was just enough to pay the bills.

Through years of growth and a boost in the COVID-19 pandemic, Ava and over 8 million other Twitch streamers have gained the ability to diversify their business ventures and profit from large sponsorships. By 2020, 26.5 million viewers were logging into the streaming site daily, and over 8 million streamers were on the site in July 2021. Twitch gods like Ninja, who broke all-time streaming records in 2019 as he played Fortnite with rapper Drake, have made big-money sponsorships with brands like Adidas and Ubereats.

That growth has been especially evident in Austin. Streamers Lululuvely (1.1 million Twitch followers), TeaWrex (265,000 followers) and Nokokopuffs (265,000 followers) are just a few Austinites who have cashed in on the site.

The city's web of influencers has only grown more tight-knit—Ava, for instance, has friends that range from fellow streamers to prominent local food blogger Jane Ko, otherwise known as Koko—and many streamers decided to make the move to Austin to hang out with their virtual friends.

"I think it just started because, like, one or two people moved here, and then once a couple of them moved here, then everyone else followed," Ava said. "I convinced so many friends from like the (Grand Theft Auto game) World to move here... You game together with them for years so you want to hang out."

Ava said it's nice to have friends that understand her unique employment status. But it's also hard to strike a work-life balance in a world where your every move could be monetized.

"It's the entertainment business, right?" Ava said. "If you're not doing something, then someone else is going to. It's a harsh world."

Some cracks are beginning to show in the fledgling gaming world. Gaming addictions are now making headlines, with Austin online gambling streamer TrainwrecksTV (195,00 subscribers) recently coming forward about his own addiction. Ava's dealt with stalking, misogyny and racism, though she's managed to turn incidents into teaching moments for her followers. At 30, she's even seen premature effects on her health—from back pain to mental health issues from staying inside.

But the nature of gaming still stands true. Due to its inclusivity and widespread interest, she believes Twitch streaming and E-sports industries will soon become more popular than sports.

"I feel like it's going to explode," Ava said. "Because that's what's cool about gaming is, you know, for as noninclusive as people try to make it, it can be very inclusive, right? It's women, and men, young and old. I'm going to be 80 years old, probably still paying attention to Twitch."


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