Valkyrae Gets a Big Chair in the Gaming World

In the on-demand world of live games, few are as in demand as YouTube creator Valkyrae.

Last month, more than 650,000 fans watched her play the space cartoon multiplayer game Among Us. A few days earlier, she played the role of the blood-spitting heroine in the new video for Machine Gun Kelly tinged with horror, “Day Walker”. Valkyrae, who goes by Rae, also announced a web talk show, “Q and Rae,” and has been declared “Queen of YouTube” by online esports news site Dexerto.

Stream Hatchet, a game analytics company, estimates fans spent 24 million hours watching it during the pandemic. “Rae is the fastest growing live broadcaster in the world, and now the greatest female game streamer in the world, ”Ryan Wyatt, head of the YouTube games division, said on Twitter in October.

The 29-year-old can now add a business executive to her accomplishments. Valkyrae, real name Rachel Hofstetter, was named today as one of six owners of 100 Thieves, the esports team giant and lifestyle brand in Los Angeles. Jack Dunlop, 26, better known as megastar Fortnite CouRage, was also named the owner.

They join Scooter Braun, the musical director; Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and co-founder of Quicken Loans; rapper Drake; and Matthew Haag, known as “Nadeshot” and who is the former Call of Duty champion who founded 100 Thieves. “One of our core beliefs is to create a brand that is by the players, for the players,” said Mr. Haag.

As co-owners, Valkyrae and CouRage will receive equity in the company, which Forbes magazine recently valued at $ 190 million. Part of their role is to speak nicely and recruit new talent in the fickle, youth-oriented world of top players, whether as esports athletes or as live personalities.

They’ll also be looking for lucrative initiatives beyond the actual game, including expanding the company’s popular line of street wear (think Supreme for streamers) and working with the Creative Artists Agency, which signed 100 Thieves in October, on entertainment contracts in film, television and podcasts.

“Rae and Jack have such great instincts in the gaming community, which matters more than ever because so many young children want to be artists in the digital space,” said Mr. Haag.

The appointment of Valkyrae, the company’s first female owner, is also recognition of the growing influence of female gamers, who now make up nearly 41% of video game users in the United States, according to Statista.

“My girlfriends and I have been playing video games since I was 6,” said Valkyrae. “It’s not that the players are new. What is new is that we are more visible now. “

In an interview with Zoom last month, Valkyrae was still reeling from his title change. “Yeah, apparently I’m part owner of 100 Thieves, which is insane,” she said, putting on a toothy smile well known to her fans.

She was sitting in her usual place: a white ergonomic Mavix gaming chair, in front of a 27-inch HP Omen gaming monitor in the bedroom of her new modern home just outside Beverly Hills. Her blue light glasses and big wireless headphones made her look like an air traffic controller, tasked with handling an endless live stream.

“I started broadcasting at 23 and just didn’t stop,” she said. “I’ve been doing this every day for years and years.”

Women like Valkyrae and Pokimane, a 24-year-old Moroccan-Canadian streamer with over seven million Twitch subscribers, are part of a new generation of high-profile gamers who have a cultural footprint that rivals that of Hollywood actors. and professional athletes. among Generation Z.

Businesses have noticed. Valkyrae recently partnered with Sweetgreen, a salad chain, as the face of its Crispy Collections menu, and Totino’s, the frozen pizza brand, sponsored its streams. On Tuesday, she joined Jimmy Fallon, Questlove and the cast of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” on “The Tonight Show” Twitch channel.

Increased visibility has been accompanied by increased misogyny and harassment, including an incident in January where Valkyrae was doxed on Twitter by a stalker who tweeted her home address. “There’s a difference in the verbiage that some trolls will say specifically to women, that men will never hear,” she says.

Being upfront about online threats makes it accessible to its streaming audience, which is almost half of girls and young women.

“When you look at the number of barriers to participation that women face, including outright harassment, you started to see that women are among the most dedicated players,” said TL Taylor, sociologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of “Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Live Gaming.” “These are players who work a lot harder to stay in a culture that often actively pushes them back.”

For Valkyrae, play has long been a way of overcoming obstacles. She grew up in Moses Lake, a rural town in central Washington. Playing Super Mario Brothers on his Nintendo 64 was a way to drown out the screaming fights between his parents.

She supported herself through community college while working at GameStop. Access to the latest PlayStation or Xbox titles has made good fodder for Instagram. “I was depressed and alone,” she said. “All I had was work and video games.”

Encouraged by her online followers, she joined Twitch in 2015, where she found her tribe in the player-versus-player arena of Fortnite and the action role-playing game Dark Souls. At 23, she was making enough sponsorship money to become a full-time player.

Fans weren’t just drawn to his superhuman reflexes and mastery of various titles including Fortnite, League of Legends, Teamfight Tactics, and Valorant. Her bubbly, unfiltered personality and goofy nature have earned her millions of followers, many of whom embrace her like a big sister.

She talks openly about her autoimmune protocol diet, which requires her to eat foods that reduce inflammation and be a workaholic. She shares stories about her family and isn’t shy about telling viewers that she needs to take a break from streaming.

“There isn’t a lot of yellow tape or privacy around his life,” Mr. Haag said. “In my mind, her ability to open up and be authentic is probably the genesis of her success.”

She is also the breadwinner. After her mother lost her job at a food factory, Valkyrae bought her a house in the Philippines, where she is from. Before her father died of cancer in 2017, she paid for her end-of-life care.

“Everyone thinks the people they see online every day are living perfect lives,” she said. “I hope I can help people see that things are difficult for everyone.”

A year ago, YouTube signed Valkyrae to a major multi-year live broadcast agreement. As part of the deal, she agreed to quit Twitch and effectively rebuild her subscriber base from scratch.

For the first few months, people were slow to migrate to his new channel. Twitch, which is owned by Amazon and hosts around two-thirds of the online gaming audience, is like “a pond,” she said, while YouTube, the world’s second most popular website (after its parent company, Google), is “more like the ocean”.

For three months starting in August, she spent six to nine hours a day playing among us with half a billion players around the world. Celebrities as diverse as Lil Nas X and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have joined her streams. In December, the Game Awards (the Oscars of the game, basically) crowned her as content creator of the year.

As she approaches her thirties, she takes stock of her future in a company which, like other organized sports, is the game of young people. “I recognize more and more how unhealthy the industry is,” she said. “You never leave your room, there is no socializing or coworkers except online. I mean, you sit in a chair all day. There will always be another stream or game to play. “

The deal with 100 Thieves may allow her to balance being a gamer and a businesswoman. “As I get older I try to plan how I’m going to get out of it, what am I going to do next?” she said as she sat down in her Mavix chair. “It makes me so happy to be a pioneer and role model for many women in this industry.”

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