Gamers earn significant income from streaming amid pandemic
Just 5 years ago, stopping college to become an internet gamer sounded like a crazy idea. But that’s what 20-year-old Jhanzen Latorre exactly did in July last year, transforming himself into online gaming personality, “Bulldog,” which helped him buy their family’s own house after years of renting.
"Sapat na pong pambayad ng bahay, ng ilaw, tubig, kuryente at pang-wifi. Tapos may pambili-bili rin ng mga gamit kahit papaano. Sa ngayon po kasi e parang ako lang po 'yung kumikita sa amin, kaya parang ako lahat ang gumagastos,” said Latorre of his current status.
“Kinakaya naman lahat, pagkain sa akin din, lahat po kinakaya dahil po sa streaming. Sobrang laking tulong po talaga ng streaming para sa amin," he quipped.
Instead of attending virtual classes as an information technology student, Latorre spends a total of 10 hours a day in a makeshift studio inside his room, playing Mobile Legends, streaming his game on social media, and providing entertainment with his antics and commentary.
With just a green screen backdrop, a customized desktop and monitor, a newly bought tablet, a microphone, and a throne-like gaming chair, Latorre’s foray into live-streaming as a money-making activity began.
Observers estimate that a streamer like him makes somewhere between P138,000 to P275,000 a month -- or five times what a call-center employee can earn in a similar period.
Live-streaming video games, which became a rising form of entertainment, accelerated when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with viewership on streaming platforms like Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Gaming doubling in 2020 alone, as shown in data from analytics firm Stream Hatchet and software company Streamlabs.
Growth began to slow down in the middle of 2021 as some economies began to open up, yet some platforms still made notable gains like all-time high viewership for Twitch and tripled the number of hours streamed on Facebook Gaming.
A recent quarterly report from Stream Hatchet and Streamlabs also show a significant demand for content.
These streaming platforms themselves have built-in monetization tools for streamers to earn directly from support from viewers, making the practice become a viable secondary, if not primary, source of income.
With the unemployment and underemployment rising because of the pandemic, streaming has become an option for many people, like Amara Ui, whose job as a model and commercial actress has become unstable because of the quarantine restrictions.
According to Ui, who goes by the name amaratv in the online world, when the pandemic hit the country, filming and commercial projects halted all of a sudden. Despite eventually receiving offers of lock-in tapings with mandatory swab testing, she had to turn them down for the safety of her family.
With nothing to do, she first turned to streaming games, playing first-person shooters and horror games with friends just for fun. But the longer she did it, the more her followers grew, and she saw an opportunity there.
"I think the moment I realized that Facebook could be a huge platform for me to actually earn income was when I started unlocking my stars, my subs, my ads. And the moment I started kind of growing my followers, I started getting a lot of advertisements, paid streams," she said.
Streamers earn through Stars for Facebook Gaming or Bits for Twitch sent by viewers that has a corresponding monetary value during a stream. One star from fans is equivalent to 50 cents each, but they can only convert these when they reach 10,000 stars.
Supporter badges or subscriptions from the respective platforms is another venue to earn through monthly payments set by viewers. Ads appearing before, in between, and below streams also fetch some earnings for the streamer as well.
More than the financial benefits, Ui appreciates that streaming allows her to build a community that helps fight feelings of isolation brought about by the lockdowns. In between rounds of the first-person shooter game Valorant, she would banter and vibe on her chat, the same way she would with people in real life.
"I also enjoy being able to meet new people because like this pandemic, it's pretty rare for us to be able to meet new people and expand our reach to other people. So streaming introduced me to a lot of people, like a lot of I've met so many people online," Ui noted.
Battle Royale streamer Jefferey Crawford Jr. shares the same love for his community. He is thankful that with streaming he can spend more time with his family, which he cherishes most.
Known for the moniker BlinK Gaming, Crawford wore different hats working for a racing circuit in Qatar since 2015 while trying to balance part-time streaming.
But with the uncertainty brought by the pandemic, being separated from his family for a year, and the growing discontent with his main job, he decided to return to the Philippines in April 2021 to stream full time and spend time with his wife and son.
“Sabi ko rin naman sa kanya (his wife) hindi din naman kasi natin malalaman kung ano ang mangyayari kung hindi natin susubukan kasi baka mangyari ulit 'yung nangyari dati. Isa naman sa magagandang perks nito is 'yung magkakasama na tayo sa Pilipinas, si Gab at saka si misis ko," Crawford explained.
Crawford also said his time management skills have gotten much better because of gaming. With his wife currently working as a volunteer for the local government in the vaccination center, he balances his time for household chores, streaming, and spending quality time with his family on a daily basis.
Despite earning less from streaming compared to his previous work as an OFW, Crawford has now earned enough to buy a new vehicle and make payments for a new home, part of it thanks to his community.
"Yung financial side naman, sasabihin ko na okay naman siya as of now kasi everything is depending pa rin sa support ng community ko. So more support parang more na magiging financially stable kami. So 'yun, nakadepende pa rin kami talaga sa suporta ng nakararami,” admitted Crawford.
Given the benefits and low barrier to entry, streaming may look easy. But enjoyable as streaming is, it requires a lot of work. Vern Bautista, Tier One Entertainment vice president for business and entertainment, said for one, consistency is what makes the best streamers stand out.
"The most successful streamers, they're very consistent... so that their audience knows when to tune in,” he said.
"It's not like you'll stop streaming for a week and then you'll come back a week later because that's kind of what may or may not be the death of your viewership. If you're gone for a certain amount of time, it might be hard for you to gain back that viewership. These people, they're looking to fill a void and they may start watching something else or somebody else," Bautista added.
It’s the streamers’ personalities, like Latorre’s energy, Ui’s laidback vibe, and Crawford’s fatherly presence, that draws in audiences, regardless of how good one is in a game, Bautista said.
“So I feel like a lot of the most successful streamers in the industry right now, they're either able to build a very distinct personality,” opined Bautista, noting that a lot of these gamers are introverted but they were able to take certain traits that they might have and mold it into their own persona.
“(It’s) like when you're in front of the camera, you can be someone else," he explained further.
Aside from the two qualities, adaptability is key as well. Bautista said that a good streamer knows when to engage their audience, try different games, possibly dress up or cosplay, or talk about a variety of topics while on stream.
Watching a streamer is like visiting a friend, he said. "If you went to go visit your friend and you talk about the same thing every day, eventually, you're going to get bored visiting your friend. Right? So, a lot of it is just being able to adapt and change your content, so it's not stale," he explained.
Streaming can have an inclusive atmosphere with supportive community, but it can also take its toll on the streamer's mental health when it becomes toxic.
“There's going to be that situation every once in a while where people are going to be toxic. There's that one viewer who's just going to try to do anything they can to ruin your day or call you names or put you down or bully you. And I think that's why being a streamer is very difficult," Bautista said, citing the experience of some of gamers.
Ui affirmed this, recalling how she cannot control the people saying bad things about her and how hard it is to keep her composure while she is live. And when sometimes she’s having a bad day and encountering a negative comment, she tries to stop herself from fighting back and be the better person.
“There are a lot of manyak people (perverts) on the internet. But those types of people, I guess they're easily banned on my stream naman, so usually I just don't mind them. And I just think, you know, I'm in a better place than them. So, it's pretty pointless for me to stoop down to their level and fight back," she added.
Despite the difficulties, the streamers thanked their fans and followers for getting them to where they are through the pandemic, more than a year later.
"Kasi alam ko namang hindi lang tayo, 'di lang ako, basta lahat tayo halos naghihirap gawa nitong pandemic. Kaya ito isa sa dahilan kung ba't ang nagpapasaya sa mga tao, ginagawa ko yung best ko para ma entertain sila," said Latorre, who is deeply grateful to the people who supported him from the beginning.
Jhanzen Latorre, a.k.a. Bulldog, reacts on camera after a play as he streams his game of Mobile Legends: Bang Bang from his home in Las Piñas City. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Latorre pretends to get shocked after an unfavorable play during one of his matches on stream. Maintaining a persona is essential in keeping your audience glued to your stream, experts said. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Latorre spends time with his girlfriend off-stream, one of the many perks working at home. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Latorre plays the piano, just one of his purchases from his income in streaming, from his home in Las Piñas City. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Latorre enjoys time with his family at home in Las Piñas City. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Amara Ui, a.k.a. amaratv, prepares to stream from her condominium unit in Quezon City. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Audiences interact with Ui as she streams, which she enjoys doing in order to build her community further. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Ui reacts after a play during her stream. Maintaining a community and growing it further is essential for these gamers as they are the lifeblood for their income. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Ui converses with her audience during play. Ui admits there are some undesirable people online but she just ignores them or simply block them from her feed. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Ui winds down after a day of streaming. She says gaming has helped her fight feelings of isolation brought about by the Covid lockdowns. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Jeffery Crawford Jr. AKA BLinK Gaming, streams from his home in Cavite City, Cavite. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Crawford shows a memorabilia from his previous work for a racing circuit in Dubai, before shifting to game streaming as his main source of his income. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Crawford streams Call of Duty Mobile from his phone. Despite the work hours spent online, Crawford says he has learned to manage his tasks well to have more time for his family. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Crawford looks at family photos from his phone after a stream. Unlike working abroad as an OFW, which kept him away from his family, game streaming from home provides a unique opportunity to be working right at your own home. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
Crawford carries his son, Gab, after streaming from his home in Cavite City, Cavite. More than the income, Crawford could not put a price tag on the advantage of being with his family as opposed to being away in a foreign country. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News
As of writing, Latorre has over 3.3 million followers in Facebook Gaming; Ui has 260,000; and Crawford has around 448,000.
With streaming -- and to an extent esports -- showing no signs of slowing down globally and here in the Philippines, Bautista offers some advice for those who want to break into the industry.
"Really think about, like, what is the reason why you want to stream. You know what I mean? Is it you just look to make money or do you have a genuine desire to become a streamer?” he said, stressing that all reasons are valid.
“Once you realize why you're doing it, you kind of have a feel of where are you going to go with it. Is this a long-term thing? Is this a short-term? Is this for the time being? And I think they have to realize that… You're going to have to have a reason for why you're doing things," he added.