By day, Mohamad Assad and Kate Strong are two typical 20-something college students trying to finish school and find their place in the universe. By night, their bedrooms transform into live broadcast studios where thousands of viewers from around the world pay to watch and interact with them.
As entertainers, they may be two of Fresno’s most famous residents.
Assad and Strong, known online as m0E_tv and KateEdge, are professional video game streamers on the mega-network Twitch, a website dedicated to live broadcasts of video game-related content. Both play the 2012 first-person shooter “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” an extremely popular PC title in the casual and professional gaming scenes.
How can two people who play video games in front of a camera be among our most popular residents? Well, if online presence is an acceptable barometer of popularity, they outshine us all.
Assad’s popularity is particularly impressive. The 28-year-old’s nearly 23,000 Twitter followers is about 18,000 more than Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and nearly 12,000 more than Fresno State head football coach Tim DeRuyter. Assad has 12,000 more followers than the City of Fresno’s official Twitter, and has a few thousand more than Fresno State, the school he is taking a semester off from to focus on his online career.
And he’s only been on Twitter for six months.
As of Thursday, Assad’s Twitch channel has more than 7.6 million total views. And his YouTube channel, which is run by a partner, has more than 106,000 subscribers and nearly 10 million total views in less than 10 months.
Strong, 23, is no slouch, either. She has nearly 11,000 followers on Twitter, and more than 25,000 people follow her Twitch channel. The channel has racked up about 472,000 total views.
How it works
Strong and Assad are each partnered with Twitch, meaning the company shares advertising, monthly subscription and merchandise revenue with them. It can be lucrative.
“In January, I made $8,000 off of Twitch (broadcasts) alone,” Assad said. “If I stream full-time, I could easily make $150,000 this year.”
Assad first began playing the “Counter-Strike” franchise in 2005. He’s been a professional player on and off since then, competing in tournaments all over the world for prize money and a monthly salary from sponsors. He’s on a break from Fresno State to focus on playing, but he plans to return to and complete his accounting degree. He hopes to one day become a certified public accountant.
Assad is the more senior and a well-established streamer. He was careful about sharing the exact details of his confidential contract with Twitch, but he admits to receiving “more than half” of the $5 that around 900 people pay each month to be preferred subscribers to his online channel. Anyone can watch for free — and thousands do during five- to 10-hour broadcasts four or five nights a week — but streamers enjoy special privileges. These include badges and emoticons usable in Twitch chat windows and entrance to special “subscriber only” games with Assad.
Much of Assad’s Twitch income comes from donations. Because 4,000 to 5,000 people are usually watching at once, the chat screen on the right of his broadcasts often moves too fast for him to keep up with while playing. Some viewers donate a few dollars to have a question or comment appear at the top of the broadcast, where Assad can easily read it and respond. Assad said he once received more than $7,000 from a single viewer over the course of a month.
A Twitch spokesman known only as Chase — even on official press releases — said more than 10,000 people are part of the Twitch partner program, and more than 1.5 million people stream on the platform each month. Twitch, which first launched in 2011 and was acquired by Amazon last year for $970 million, broadcasts to more than 100 million unique viewers per month.
Although Chase wouldn’t comment on Assad’s earnings specifically, he said that a decent number of partnered streamers do earn six-figure salaries from their broadcasts.
Assad said the rigorous schedule can be tough.
“When you have subscribers, they do pay monthly and expect you to be on,” he said. “Sometimes you feel a little bit of pressure. Maybe you don’t feel like gaming or have stuff to get done, but every day you miss is a day you lose out on subscribers.”
For Strong, streaming is more of a hobby. She studies recreation administration at Fresno State and works part time at a Clovis Unified after-school program. She hopes to work at a hotel or resort one day.
Strong began streaming in February 2014 and was recognized as a partner in June. She’s played the “Counter-Strike” series since 2007. Although she’s never been a pro herself, Strong often interviews “Counter-Strike” professionals as event staff during competitions and conventions.
Strong said she makes about $800 a month streaming four times per week, typically from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. Between 200 and 500 people watch her broadcasts on average, and she has about 200 monthly subscribers.
Assad also makes money from sponsorships. He was given a $5,000 gaming PC several months ago by computer website Digital Storm in exchange for six months of advertising space on his channel’s profile. Online retailer G2A.com pays him a monthly salary for similar ad space. Viewers can also purchase a T-shirt with Assad’s channel logo on it for $22 from Twitch’s merchandising partner Teespring.
Strong, a health nut, is affiliated with fitness retailer Cellucor, but she does not have any sponsorships. She isn’t really looking to make a career out of streaming, instead opting to play for fun while interacting with “some really cool subscribers.”
Assad’s broadcasts often feature serious, competitive games peppered with four-letter words and the occasional rage session, while Strong maintains an almost unheard of level of online positivity — often smiling and singing along with the rap music playing while she shoots other characters in the face.
Although they are quite different, Strong and Assad are good friends who sometimes play and stream together. These sessions offer viewers the chance to watch the same game from two different perspectives: the funny, edgy and R-rated m0E_tv broadcast or the friendly KateEdge stream.
The technical details behind Strong and Assad’s broadcasts on Twitch are pretty simple. Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have simple share buttons that allow players to beam their gameplay directly to Twitch. Computer gamers use one of several programs to broadcast. Many streamers, including Assad and Strong, opt to include a live feed of themselves on a webcam. Viewers are watching both the game and the streamer’s facial reactions to it, and cameras allow streamers to speak directly to their audience.
Strong and Assad credit this intimate interaction as a main reason for their popularity.
“I’m letting 4,000 people into my life every night,” Assad said. “They’re really in tune with what’s going on in my life. Sometimes, I may come off as a (mean person), but they understand and laugh. It’s like I have 4,000 friends.”
Strong said almost all of her interactions with viewers are positive, but she has been the victim of online abuse.
“I think every female gamer goes through that,” Strong said. “I handle it pretty well because I can ignore it.”
The abuse has softened as she’s become more established, Strong said, but she realizes it will never completely fade.
“There’s always going to be trolls,” she said.
Strong and Assad have also struggled a bit with explaining their unconventional occupations to friends and family.
“My girlfriend got used to the idea, but it’s very hard for older generations to understand it,” Assad said. “My brother is 12 and wants to stream, too. My parents didn’t get it at first, but I showed them my paychecks. Now they are very supportive.”
Strong said she just started mentioning it to friends.
“My girlfriends don’t understand, but my parents and guy friends think it’s awesome,” she said
Assad is hopeful about the future.
“I thought I would outgrow (playing “Counter-Strike”) in high school, but here I am,” Strong said. “I could easily see myself doing this until I am 30.”
Or, one step further.
“Twitch is still in its infancy,” Assad said. “It will grow for the next 10 or 20 years, and I want to be at the forefront. There are streamers who are in their 60s. I want to be a CPA, but I will always stream.
“My viewers will just grow old with me.”