For better or worse, being a full-time streamer means willingly giving a part of yourself up to your audience. When you regularly broadcast hours-long blocks of your life to the public, it’s inevitable that external factors will begin to influence your thoughts and actions—at least to some extent. But when I called Melissa for our interview, I was struck by the level of introspection behind her words. Clearly, this was a person who had put a lot of thought into her chosen vocation.
But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the first video game Melissa ever played—a game that remains her favorite to this day—is one that has always allowed its players to customize their identities and reinvent themselves as they please. “When I was six years old, I got my first PC,” said Melissa. “And from there I started playing Runescape.”
Eventually, Falador Castle became too small for the young Melissa, who branched out into other PC games before graduating to a PlayStation 3 that she shared with her sister.
When Melissa was 12 years old, she acquired an Xbox 360, the first console that she could proudly call her own. “I started playing Call of Duty,” said Melissa, “and then from there, I got into the Call of Duty community.”
That’s how Melissa met her boyfriend, CoD pro and New York Subliners member ZooMaa. It’s a relationship that has had a considerable impact on the course of Melissa’s life and career.
“Actually, he’s the one who got me into streaming,” said Melissa. “He recommended that I try it, because at the time, I was working at Adidas for like three years—and I hated it.”
Melissa kicked off her Twitch career in October 2016, starting out in her comfort zone by streaming Call of Duty. Before long, her streams started to gain traction, and in March 2017 she was inspired to upgrade her entire setup, purchasing a more powerful gaming computer that made it possible for her to stream additional first-person shooters such as H1Z1 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Recently, Melissa has begun to expand into different genres, transitioning into full-on variety streaming with titles such as Pokémon Sword and Shield, Dead by Daylight, and even the occasional Cooking Simulator. Though she hasn’t forgotten her origins as a CoD streamer, she hardly ever plays the gritty first-person shooter anymore.
Melissa’s turn to variety streaming has given her access to many new opportunities, but it also means she isn’t able to game with her boyfriend as often as they once did. “We actually don’t play much. We used to, when I first started playing, but not so much anymore, because he pretty much focuses primarily on Call of Duty,” said Melissa. “It’s his job, he doesn’t really like to play anything else, because he wants that to be his main focus. But I really don’t play CoD anymore.”
This separation between Melissa’s gaming life and her personal life has been a welcome change for the streamer. In the past, Melissa has experienced the dark side of the deep scrutiny experienced by streamers—scrutiny that is arguably intensified by her gender. “People are more interested in you, because you play games, and you’re a woman, and that’s not as common as you’d think,” said Melissa. “But there obviously are other disadvantages, because people just look at you like you’re an item, or like you’re just abusing your viewership.” To make her point, Melissa pointed out the friction experienced by her comrades on Gen.G’s all-female Fortnite squad.
Gen.G’s push to support female gamers was one reason why Melissa was excited to join the organization earlier this year. “It’s different from other organizations, because a lot of organizations just use your likeness,” said the streamer, “and they mostly care about what you have to offer them. But I feel like with Gen.G, it’s like they want to help us. So it’s like what they can offer us, instead of taking from us.”
Melissa is currently taking a year off from college, but her experience in Gen.G is another type of education—a time to figure out her own goals and plans while working under the umbrella of a top-tier esports org. It’s a path that fits well with her studies: her college major was public relations, and her minor was business management. “I wanted to do something behind-the-scenes with PR,” said Melissa, “and it’s helped me with my brand, because I know how to approach certain situations better.”
That’s not to say that being part of Gen.G hasn’t been a fun experience for Melissa. “I feel like we have similar interests, and we all get along well,” said the streamer of her Gen.G teammates, naming them as some of her biggest inspirations as a streamer.
She’s also quick to point to Valkyrae as a mentor and an influence on her work. “Obviously, she’s very accomplished, and she has her craft together,” said Melissa. “I feel like she’s somebody to look up to because she did a lot of variety streaming at first, and now she’s really established herself.”
Whatever the future holds, Melissa is ready to meet it. Having gone through the flames of public scrutiny, she’s stronger, wiser, and better at gaming than ever before. With Gen.G and G FUEL at her back, and a variety-streaming strategy that allows her to experiment with a wide array of titles, 2020 is looking to be this streamer’s best year yet.
“The internet is very unforgiving, so any time you do something you’re going to have to live with that,” said Melissa. “But at the same time, if you just don’t show people that you’re affected by it, then they move on. Because it’s like, who cares at this point?”
Top image via Instagram/@mnufo
This article was written by Alexander Lee, an esports journalist, lifelong Nintendo fan, and proud cat dad. Follow him on Twitter @alexleewastaken, and check out more of his work on his website www.alexlee.work.