The eSports industry is huge, and growing each year. And according to a recent Nielsen eSports Fan Insights survey, 22% of eSports fans around the world are female. More and more women are making a career of professional gaming and streaming, and females currently make up about 35% of the streamer base on Twitch.
I recently had the chance to chat with Nighthawk Pro Gaming Ambassador Ally Hilliard. Ally is a long time Call of Duty lover and League of Legends queen, and has been a Twitch partner and eSports host for the past four years. I have provided the transcript of our phone interview below.
BA: So Ally, you’re a professional streamer, can you tell me how you first got interested in gaming?
AH: I started playing video games before I can possibly remember. The first game I started playing was Super Mario, on the Super Nintendo. And then from there, I branched into super old school PC games, like old school Runescape, Diablo, StarCraft, games like that. Eventually I got a PlayStation, and then I got to play and talk to other humans, people who got me, and weren’t the people from my middle school and high school, who thought video games were weird, and that I was weird. It made me feel like I had a place I belonged to in the world, and I loved it.
And then I thought, I feel that way, maybe others feel that way, so I decided to start streaming, and I built a fabulous community of other misfits, who all feel like they finally have a place where they belong, and I love that I can provide that kind of a place for people.
BA: Let’s go back, what was the first game that really captured your imagination?
AH: In some way, I feel like all of them did. The very first game to capture my heart was probably Diablo. And then from there, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. Diablo was a game that was so much fun, and I felt like it developed my mind, as a gamer. I can remember staying up way past my bedtime to play it, and it taught me so much as a gamer. Medal of Honor was a WWII era based game, and it took me over. One of my cousins actually plugged an Ethernet cord into my PlayStation as I was playing it, and I started talking to other people, and then that’s all I did for probably the next two years, sat on my PlayStation and talked to other people playing Medal of Honor. This is when I was really young, 11 or 12 maybe.
I feel like there are so many people who are going to high school, and like me, aren’t connecting with anyone around you, and feel like everyone else is in a clique. But on PlayStation, you got to feel like the cool kid for a little bit. My friends there thought I was funny, they weren’t going to spread rumors about me at school the next day. I loved it, it was such a feeling of belonging.
BA: So from there, you started a Twitch channel, and started streaming. What advice would you have given yourself on that first day now?
AH: Don’t be embarrassed by your viewer count. I had only a few viewers at the beginning, and it felt embarrassing. I was more worried about my viewer count than my content. Also, don’t click links. I got baited into clicking so many links, it was terrible. Also, don’t let boys tell you what to do and what not to do. My boyfriend used to always tell me what to do, and when we broke up, I finally started full time streaming, and I love it.
BA: You have about 40,000 followers and a pretty good size regular stream on Twitch, you’re quite successful. Going even deeper, what are a couple key things you think you need to be a successful streamer?
AH: You can’t do it for the money. Never do it for the money. When you are streaming your life to the internet, you have to be genuine, it has to be for fun. Second thing I would say is that your mentality means so much. There are 2 different ways to read everything. You can read it like you’re being attacked or you can read it informatively. If you are reactive and defensive, you’re going to keep getting attacked. If you respond like you think people are just being informative or funny, then you’re going to have a lot better of a time. Not everyone is out to get you.
BA: One thing I’ve noticed is that you always try to be very positive, is this a conscious decision?
AH: Definitely. My dad always taught me to be compassionate. You never know what someone else is going through. I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they have something going on that they need to deal with.
BA: What are the challenges in being a streamer, what obstacles have you had to overcome?
AH: A lot of people think being a female streamer may be easier, since there are less of us. But females often get more criticism. There are a lot of trolls out there, saying sexist things. Guys get harassment too though. It’s a struggle for all of us streamers.
There are a lot of beautiful things about it, and some days you’re going to feel super successful, but then, a few days later, you feel like you’re talking to yourself, and you have a lot of self doubt. There’s so much that you have to put out of your mind, and just stream and have fun.
BA: You’re a big Call of Duty fan. What are your thoughts on the new Modern Warfare?
AH: I’m actually really excited about it. I feel like for the last few, I’ve been really unimpressed. They’ve been forcing so many micro-transactions, which has been unfair. I’m seen them as a cash-grab these last few years. But this modern warfare game, all the map packs will be free, so they’re doing something right this year. They’re really putting in an effort to show fans that they are listening. A lot of developers aren’t listening to their fan base.
BA: You recently switched to League of Legends as the primary game you play. How did that effect your stream, switching it up from Call of Duty, and what advice would you give to other streamers looking to switch from one game to another without alienating their audience?
AH: It devastated my stream! There are a lot of people who come to your stream to watch you play the same game every day. It hurts as a content creator to feel stuck or trapped in one game. And when I moved to League of Legends, my stream had absolutely no idea what was going on. Luckily some of my viewers were really supportive and found things to try to like. As a variety streamer, it really sucks getting hooked on one game for so long because you build an audience on that game. Maybe some who enjoy your personality will stick around, but usually when you switch games, you’ll lose your audience.
BA: It’s like being a musician, and switching from making heavy metal to country music.
AH: That’s exactly what it is. If you’re switching complete genres like I did, it’s exactly like that. Going from Call of Duty to League of Legends was a shock. But I feel like I’ve built a deep one-on-one connection with a lot of people, so that really kept them around.
BA: So, what’s your streaming set-up? What’s in your arsenal of tools in your current setup?
AH: I have a PS4, an Xbox 1, and an Xbox 360 set up. I have a very large desk, and a dual monitor setup. I have the cutest headset in the world, it’s purple and white, way too cute. I also use my Nighthawk XR500 router.
BA: I know you’ve been using the NETGEAR Nighthawk XR500 for a while now, what benefits have you particularly seen?
AH: My ping dropped insanely once I figured out how to use it! It can be a lot to take in at first, especially when you’re as non-technical as I am, but once I played with it a little bit, my ping when from really high to really low. The thing that I preach to my streamers, it’s so important, if you’re a streamer or a gamer living in a house with other people, I feel like I cannot stress how important getting this router is, because you can allocate bandwidth! You can say, I need this much bandwidth. And your sister’s computer and your dad streaming YouTube videos does not affect your gameplay. It won’t let that much bandwidth go them. That is SO important if you’re streaming and there are other people in the house. It benefits you so much as a gamer or streamer, it’s such an incredible feature.
BA: Have you seen that it has boosted your bitrate?
AH: Oh definitely! I have terrible internet! My ISP is not great, they’ve definitely gotten more than an earful from me. But my bitrate has gone from about 2000 to 3000 now. I’m so excited to move, I’m moving to Dallas, and I’m going to have fiber. It’ll be a match made in heaven, my internet and my router are going to go on long walks on the beach together and it’s going to be magical and beautiful.
BA: Are you also seeing good ping rates now too?
AH: I play on a Dallas-hosted server, and I used to get about 110 ping, and now I have 13. One of my friends who lives in Dallas, his is 33, and mine is better than his, in Dallas. That’s crazy, I never thought that would be possible!
BA: I have one last question. What would you say to the next generation of female gamers out there? What advice would you give to them?
AH: I would absolutely say to challenge yourself. Guys were always trying to impress me, and they would brag about what they were planning to accomplish, and I’d always sit back and say “wow they’re really good at this”, but I would never challenge myself and think: “Wait, I can do that too”. If I had, I think I could have been playing at a pro level. I can’t speak for every female, but I’d say to challenge yourself, don’t just be impressed by the male gamers around us, however phenomenal they are.
I would love to see more women in the pro leagues. I’ve become friends with so many powerful women in eSports and they’re such good examples and I’m so happy about that. It fills my heart to see women in these positions, especially in such a male-dominated industry.
I feel like the main thing we can tell our girls is that all of this can be yours as well. You can be on that main stage, or you can organize that, or you can manage that social media. The opportunities will never end for you.
I feel like we are going to see more women in pro leagues and women on pro teams, because we’re challenging ourselves, and I feel like that’s something that matters.