In the face of economic collapse, millennials and Gen Z are earning through streaming

The familiar image of an influencer is that of a rich, successful, twenty-something with millions of followers and product endorsements of the country's biggest brands. If you couldn't reach this seemingly impossible goal, you could bid your content creation plan goodbye. You would probably be better off landing a “normal” nine-to-five job to pay the bills. [READ: Social media’s influence on Filipinos]

This was probably true when Instagram was first launched in 2010, but with more people online now than ever, the thrill of following a specific kind of internet celebrity has dwindled. Micro and nanoinfluencers are reclaiming the digital scene, simply because they aren’t as untouchable as their peers in the million-user follower count. Most of them only have an average of a thousand followers – similar to the friend count of an ordinary netizen with a Facebook account. This approachability makes for better engagement and conversion.

Every time they go online to stream, people tune in, comment on their every move, and even donate hundreds of pesos at a time. Multiply this amount by 30 days a month, and most streamers have now taken to streaming for a few hours every day. 

Amid a worsening COVID-19 pandemic and gloomy forecasts for unemployment, millennial streamers found an ingenious way to earn – and their viewership doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. 

My own entry into the world of streaming

I first discovered Facebook Gaming when I chanced upon Yulchella Games streaming APEX Legends – a free-to-play "battle royale" (games which have dozens to hundreds of players eliminating each other) that’s taken the gaming community by storm. 

Having known Bea Gatmaitan aka Yulchella as a close friend in real life, I tuned in immediately and was surprised to find her earning a considerable amount every day from stars. Stars are the currency Facebook uses for their streamers to gain donations – and her follower count hasn’t even passed the 1,000-mark as of this writing. 

Curious about the platform, I immediately made a gaming creator profile, naming myself Mage Hand Gaming after my favorite cantrip (a kind of spell) in Dungeons & Dragons. Through test broadcasts that took days, I discovered that streaming was rife with technicalities that were difficult to learn on the fly. 

Bea Gatmaitan aka Yulchella Gaming

If you were a gamer, you had to navigate through streaming platforms like OBS or Streamlabs, each sporting an interface, not unlike Adobe Photoshop. An upload speed of 5 Mbps was essential to stream with minimal lag, and a standard 10 Mbps internet plan wouldn’t cut it. Your device’s RAM matters too, and streamers need a minimum of 8 gigabytes to stream iconic titles like DOTA 2 or League of Legends

While I’m still in the process of understanding all the nuances (and getting the necessary upgrades), more and more streamers are navigating this new landscape with ease. I spoke to Gaia Royeca, Justine Narciso (@mudraearth and @jnarseesaw on Kumu), and Yulchella Games (@yulchellagames on Facebook) to talk about the ins and outs of online streaming. 

A career put on hold

Gaia Royeca didn’t always dream of pursuing music and almost permanently shelved all her dreams of being a recording artist when real life got in the way.

“Ever since I was young, I really loved music,” she said. “But as a career, I thought of it as a career when I was in grade school pa. But when I was in high school, with college applications and stuff, I tried to forget music.” 

Gaia didn’t think about pursuing music until her third year of college when her mother introduced her to the local music scene. Her mother’s boyfriend at the time loved going out to gigs and immersing himself in bands that had regular gigs.

“The first-ever band that sort of encouraged me to sing was Juan Pablo Dream,” Gaia recalled. “They let people jam with them so it was welcoming. I became their regular jammer and then it started there.” 

After Juan Pablo Dream disbanded, Gaia decided to form her own band. 

Medyo chopsuey 'yung bandmates ko,” she said with a laugh. “There was this metal guitarist who was trying to play soul; ang weird! But he was good as a guitarist. He’s good actually. Ngayon jazz na 'yung tinutugtog niya."

(My bandmates’ backgrounds were all different from each other. There was this metal guitarist who was trying to play soul; it was weird! But he was good as a guitarist. He’s good actually, and he plays jazz now.)

Gaia eventually parted ways with her original band after the other members decided to focus on music school, and they all still remain friends to this day. She knew she needed to find a new bassist first, and asked an audiophile Facebook group if they knew anyone fit for the job. The father of her current guitarist replied, and vouched for his son, Andrei. Andrei would then form a musical duo with Gaia and become her partner. They now have a child. 

After 3 years of office work, Gaia decided to pursue music full-time and finally fulfill her dream. This came to a halt when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and she was left up in the air. 

The same can be said for Justine Narciso, a theater actress who was slated to star in Tabing Ilog: The Musical, produced by ABS-CBN. The production has since been suspended indefinitely following the pandemic. 

Luckily, one of her castmates in a previous production she was in told her then about a streaming platform called Kumu, which would soon take the online scene by storm. (PODCAST: Tech and livestreaming with Kumu)

“She was part of the campaign management of Kumu, and she was telling me I should join,” Justine said. “I should go to Creator School. I should sign up for these lessons and be a part of this new community ‘cause everyone’s streaming now. I didn’t even know about what the pandemic would do at that point.” 

New ways to earn

Justine would then sign up for Kumu’s Creator School, a program they designed to teach users how to be successful entertainers and content creators on the app. 

“I was able to learn about, like, how to make quality content for streaming, the kind of topics I need, and the work I have to do,” Justine said. “There’s a specific quality or things that you have to achieve in order to get featured or to gain a bronze badge on Kumu. That just basically shows that you’ve done this many hours, you’ve done this much work, which makes you a more quality streamer than anyone else. Because anyone can join the app and be a streamer.” 

“For streaming on Kumu, it’s kind of like this right now – talking to a friend on a webcam,” Justine said. “Except it’s just you and people tune into your room – so you have your own special livestream setup and they can talk to you through the comments. Kumu has a feature where instead of just commenting or sending hearts, you can also send virtual gifts (VGs).” 

These VGs are purchased via coins in-app, which followers pay for with real money via various payment methods. The VGs Justine receive can then be converted to cash.

“You can send certain VGs to a streamer especially if you like them,” she explained. “For example, if you want to send a song request, there’s a GIF [for that] and someone can just send it to you. You would see a VG effect of a microphone pop-up which means that the follower who sent this wants to see a song request.” 

Yulchella, for her part, earns differently through Facebook Gaming stars. Having found herself with too much time on her hands, she gave in to her family’s suggestions to start streaming when gaming. 

“First, the most basic thing is to create a page with the Gaming Creator option,” she said. “And then, your Facebook needs to be two weeks old before you’re eligible for streaming. There’s a certain amount of hours that you need for going live. Once you’re eligible for stars, the currency in Facebook Gaming, you’ll get a Level Up badge displayed on your profile.”

“One star is equivalent to 10 US cents,” Yulchella said. “That’s how it works, and then for you to be able to cash it out, you need to earn at least one hundred stars. You can only claim it 30 days after the stars were given to you.” 

Despite knowing that more popular gaming platforms exist like Twitch, Yulchella specifically chose Facebook because of the advantage she would have tapping into a local audience. 

“The major factor as to why I chose Facebook is because I’m from the Philippines,” she explained. “Based on the people I follow on Twitch, the really famous ones there, they’re mostly Westerners or they’re not even Asians. So I think Facebook as a Filipino is the best platform to use, mainly because I know every, most – if not all – Filipinos are on Facebook. The first market that I need to tap into is the local market before venturing to the international market.” 

Yulchella discovered that most Filipinos she found online are into gaming as well, especially mobile gaming, which she described as the most accessible kind of gaming one can get into. 

Streaming ethics

Being broadcasted online comes with its own set of risks, and Yulchella isn’t a stranger from untoward advances from complete strangers who watch her streams. She cited one particular instance, wherein a stranger almost forced her to give him her number by saying his depression would worsen if she didn’t. 

Based on the people I follow on Twitch, the really famous ones there, they’re mostly Westerners or they’re not even Asians. So I think Facebook as a Filipino is the best platform...

Bea Gatmaitan aka Yulchella on streaming via Facebook Gaming

“Since I was caught off-guard, of course, I couldn’t take what he said for granted,” she explained. “I just mentioned that there are hotlines he could probably contact for that.” 

“I actually haven’t tried reporting any of them,” Yulchella said. “Usually when I stream, I have two of my admins watching so they kind of, they’re the ones replying for me. I’ve never tried reporting anybody who’s been kind of invasive in my stream.” 

Yulchella also emphasized the importance of gaming ethics, and how a toxic stream could turn the tides for a game that’s supposed to go well. 

“I say this because not many people know, but my 'clan' was involved in an infamous incident that happened within the community,” she explained.

“You have to know the ethics. Some people call it teaming. In a battle royale, you go squad versus squad right? I think this is wrong to team up with another team to kill others. You also have to learn about game ethics because it’s gonna hurt your image as a streamer,” she added. 

The key to a good reputation in the industry is knowing what does and doesn’t qualify as toxic behavior when playing with others. Yulchella prides herself on being on top of all this daily. Her streams often contain a reminder in the caption to keep things friendly, and her clanmates can always rely on her to play well and ethically.

Your wants versus what the people want

“The most basic thing a streamer would want to do is to play the games they actually like,” Yulchella emphasized. “That’s super important. A lot of people are gonna ask you why you started playing and why you like the game you’re playing.”

Yulchella genuinely loves APEX Legends, even though it doesn't exactly have a story as compared to the narrative-driven games users want to see. Although she initially just wanted to use her account to stream APEX, she understood that her audience wanted a bit of variety.

“You have to be able to try new games,” she said. “Along the way, you notice that the growth of your page sort of slows down. So you have to be willing to try new content so you can attract more viewers.” 

Gaia, for her part, cautions against playing to the favor of the crowd too much and emphasized that no matter how obscure your chosen games or songs may be, certain groups will still pay attention to you.

“Just do your thing. Be yourself and be genuine,” she said. “I think, I believe that 100%, the audience sees through you. People are smart and you cannot fool them. Some people think that they can, but no. People have intuition. That’s what I think.”

“Just do it!” Gaia said. “Be consistent! Tuloy-tuloy mo lang gawin. And for sure, makukuha mo 'yung blue check. (Just keep streaming. And for sure, you’ll get that blue check). Technically if you get that, you’ll be a Kumu celebrity."

A good crowd around you matters too, and Gaia credits a part of her success to her stable support system, whether they be fellow streamers or family members who continuously support what she does. 

For Justine, being genuine is all well and good, but like any other job, streamers must be prepared to market themselves appropriately to a wide audience. 

“When I say that, it’s out of personal experience also,” Justine explained. “I’m actually quite shy. And I just really enjoy it when other people enjoy my streams. But at the same time, you want people to stick around and stay. And in order to do that, you kind of have to know yourself a little more. Find out what people find pleasing or relatable about you. You have to hone those skills of marketing yourself.” 

This could be in the form of trying out a new online challenge or something completely different. Justine compared this to a streamer who loves to sing on Kumu, trying out TikTok challenges, and gaining an entirely different audience from this pivot. 

“Encourage engagement,” she said. “Switch things up every now and then. Marry the two concepts of streaming what you want to stream and finding out what your audience wants to see from you.” 

Answers have been edited for clarity. 

Justine Narciso is @jnarseesaw on Kumu. She would like to thank Bebang, Adie, Chu, the Kumuyaters family, and everyone from Tatak Underdog for helping her with her streaming success. Yulchella Games is @yulchellagames on Facebook Gaming. Gaia Royeca is @mudraearth on Kumu and is one half of the musical duo, Gaia & Andrei. 

Erika Villa-Ignacio is a full-time junior copywriter and freelance contributor. When she's not buried in another book, catch her bringing fantasy worlds to life as a fledgling Dungeons & Dragons DM or advocating for equal rights. Her works have been featured in TEAM Magazine, Purveyr, /ESCAPE, and Cosmopolitan Philippines.