All images by Zachary Tang for Rice Media.
Can a 24 year old Singaporean earn a good living just by rambling to people on a live stream? It turns out you can.
Only if you work hard and strategise what to twitter about, of course.
The super cat, Kei
supercatkei is Singapore’s fastest-growing Twitch streamer. At her peak, she was the top 10 Twitch streamer worldwide.
However, she wasn’t always supercatkei. Slightly over a year ago, she was just Denise, or Jia Qi (pronounced in Cantonese as kah-kei).
I first ‘met’ Denise virtually over Discord, an instant messaging and digital distribution platform. There, Denise gave a presentation about personal branding as part of an e-sports mentorship programme.
I didn’t need to see her during the voice-only talk to understand why she has so many fans. Denise’s voice is soothing, engaging and sweet. And as she spoke, she actively left written responses to queries in the group chat. How she multi-tasks so effectively, I don’t know.
I had entered to listen to a presentation but left feeling like I had just chatted with a friend.
Fast forward to many months later, I got to meet Denise in person. While she appears a cheerful, chatty and petite woman in her Twitch streams, the person I met was somewhat towering at 173cm and seemed relatively quiet.
The Switch to Twitch
When asked how she got the courage to base an entire career on a relatively new social media platform, especially one with a name semantically synonymous with fleeting spasms, Denise laughed.
“I wanted to take a risk to build something of my own.”
Before switching to Twitch full-time, Denise had quite an unconventional career. She graduated in Film, Sound & Video in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, then rejected three degrees from Laselle, NTU and NUS to spend the next two and a half years developing startups in Singapore and New York. It wasn’t until the Covid-19 lockdown that she returned to Singapore.
Then, like most of us, she became sian.
Stuck at home, Denise got a little bored and decided to start streaming in August 2020. When she noticed her numbers grow steadily over a couple of months, she realised there was potential for her own Twitch account to do more.
“Looking at the trajectory of my growth, it made sense for me to take the side hustle more seriously. I knew that my stats were too good to ignore.” Her account’s growth solidified the decision to make streaming her full-time job. Denise thought she was not creative enough as she was always the ‘operations girl’ when helping to build startups. Denise knew it was time for her to start her baby. After all, she had spent over two years of her life helping others make their dreams a reality.
The transition to Twitch was a well-calculated move. As lockdowns and circuit breakers hit, the restrictions drove people to scout for entertainment online. The pandemic had accelerated the global growth of the live streaming market. When Covid-19 began in March 2020, Twitch saw an average of 1.5 million tuning into the platform at any one time. After a year, this number shot up to 2.5 million in May 2021. The Amazon-owned platform also started gaining traction in Singapore since it hired its first APAC Head in February 2020.
Denise was early enough to the platform to be a pioneer but late enough to reap the rewards of an environment with an active user base.
The amazing algorithm
When it comes to attaining internet fame, personalities often recount having a single moment where they were suddenly shot into the limelight.
Denise’s moment came when, by some unknown magical propulsion, her stream was featured on the home page of Twitch. She speculated that it could be due to the consistency of her streams and her high account engagement. It could also be, of course, due to luck.
“Luck is about opportunity and preparedness. Are you ready to fully grasp it when it comes?”
Denise shared that some top streamers like to raid random small streamers to show support to the community. Raiding refers to the act of redirecting all your viewership to someone else at the end of your stream. If you were to receive a raid of, say, 5000 viewers suddenly, will you be equipped with strong enough content to maintain their interest or convert them into followers?
Raids are not just about showing support but can be used strategically to help accounts grow. For example, streamer A can raid streamer B, who has a similar following. Following this, streamer B can raid streamer A at a different time.
I frantically typed away as Denise explained the different strategies used to grow on Twitch.
“Let me know if I’m rambling, okay? I’m a streamer. I ramble.”
Indeed, Denise rambles, but she can explain complex concepts in a layman way. Maybe, it’s her ability to extend this sensitivity to her audience that has helped her build a loyal bond with her followers.
The discoverability of a Twitch account is affected by numerous factors such as rank, niche, streamer’s personality, views, chat velocity, and more. Essentially, the more discoverable an account is, the more likely it gets exposed to viewers who are non-subscribers.
The science of streaming
For the uninitiated, there are four key ways to build your career and earn money from Twitch.
While anyone can watch for free, fans can choose to pay money to subscribe to you. Besides showing support, these subscribers also get some perks, such as premium emotes, which are emoticons that viewers can use to express their feelings.
Both 1. Subscriptions and 2. Donations in the form of Twitch Bits (Twitch currency) contribute to what Twitch calls a ‘hype train‘, which gamifies the process of donations. It is a celebration when community members unite to support a streamer the love.
3. Ad revenue
According to CNBC, in 2016, the average Twitch streamer made USD250 in ad revenue per 100 subscribers. However, ad revenue has been dropping due to the rise in ad blockers.
4. Brand engagements
Like any other social media influencer, Twitch streamers can be offered brand endorsements opportunities.
Other countries also have other means of earning money through bounties, where high profile creators can earn above USD7,000. Bounties are paid sponsorship opportunities available to select partners and affiliate Twitch streamers in some countries.
Twitch will divide you into various tiers with different revenue models based on your streams’ average number of viewers. Before you reach the highest tier of ‘partners‘, Twitch will take a 50% cut of your revenue. After becoming a partner, Twitch will take 30-50% of your income, depending on which tier you are at.
Bringing home the bacon
Asking about income is tricky and almost always rude. Unlike regular careers with undisclosed salaries, any interested party can calculate the rough income earned based on a Twitch streamer’s number of subscribers. There are also various online calculators to help anyone curious obtain a rough figure.
When I asked Denise how much she earned, she told me a data leak revealed the Twitch payout of various streamers. Denise’s Twitch payout was reported to be SGD86k.
“This amount includes subscriptions and ad revenue but excludes donations and brand endorsements. I’ll leave it as that,” Denise laughed.
Holding events and donations can both add to a streamers revenue. The highest donation that Denise has ever received was $1000.
While Denise shared that she didn’t spend any money on streaming when she started out, she has now chosen to hire an admin staff and two videographers to support the expansion of her brand.
When asked, Denise was too uncomfortable to share how much her costs roughly tally to now. With her revenue details leaked online, I got the feeling that she was understandably trying to keep the little she could private.
She did, however, open up about how she was prepared for her Twitch career to end at any moment.
“I’m not sure if it’s something I will do forever because of the pressure and demand. I never intended to be an entertainer,” she said.
“I have been branching out into education and building businesses within the live streaming space,” she continued, referring to a mentorship arm she has initiated known as CATDOJO, which runs workshops for aspiring live streamers.
As if kickstarting all these were not enough, Denise is concurrently taking a part-time Masters in Digital Management. Despite not having a degree, she was accepted based on her prior experience and became the youngest student there.
“The Asian in me is a bit worried that I’ll still need some form of higher education.”
While I wondered if this was because of the pressures she receives from her parents, she was quick to add that they support her career.
After all, Denise had rejected degree offers and had worked abroad previously. “My family is used to my unorthodox behaviour. They are supportive, although they might not understand what they are supporting.”
“Now that they see what I do, the impact I can make from streaming and the money I’m earning, they get very excited to share that I’m a live streamer with everyone.”
The Weird and Wondrous World of Twitch
The craziest thing that Denise has done in her Twitch career was holding a 33-hour live stream where the stream duration extended according to the new subscribers gained.
Throughout the subathon, she slept for only four hours. While she slept, her stream partner took over and streamed other live gaming content.
“The amount of preparation that went into the subathon was insane,” she confessed, telling me how she converted a chalet into a streaming studio for the event. Her stream received 3.3 million views, and she gained 4000 new subscribers from it.
While 33 hours may seem excessive, other Singapore streamers have done more extreme and permanent activities such as getting tattoos for subscriptions.
When asked if she faced any stalkers or feared for her safety when streaming live outdoors, Denise said, “Oh yes. It’s called IRL stream sniping. There’s a term for it.”
In Real Life, stream sniping refers to the act of using a streamer’s live broadcast to actively seek out the streamer in the real world. Needless to say, this breaches privacy and disrupts the live stream.
To prevent this, Denise makes it a point to remind her viewers to avoid mentioning where she is in real life at the start of her streams. Her moderators will also delete any location-specific comment. So far, Denise has not been stream sniped thanks to the clear boundaries and a great community of viewers.
Playing catch up
Live streaming is not something new and started back in the 1990s. It was social media that found ways to adopt the technology in the 2010s that blew the industry out of proportion. After all, we now know that there are many ways of using live streaming to communicate – Live auctions or live selling flourished in countries like China long ago, and the live streaming of company townhalls or school lectures is widespread. Needless to say, Covid helped to expedite the uptake of all these new technologies.
If anything, Singapore was behind. But that is not to say that there isn’t a vibrant community around it here as well—one that has had the opportunity to chit chat with Denise online for over 430 hours, heal their tired souls with her music for over 320 hours, and watch her play Valorant for 200 solid hours.