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How a 29-year-old medical student paid her tuition by broadcasting her life online

Michael Shulman
How a 29-year-old paid her medical school tuition by broadcasting her life on Twitch
(Kaitly_n / Twitter)

At some point during every one of the last 400-plus days, Kaitlyn Richelle has been broadcasting live to her followers on Twitch.

Whether she’s playing video games, at a hotel for a gaming convention, or doing something seemingly innocuous, such as studying or going for a walk, the 29-year-old isn’t without her legions of fans.

While this may seem invasive to some, it’s thanks to these followers that Richelle has been able to pay off her first year of medical school at Western University in London, Ont.

Richelle is a pro-variety streamer. What this means is she broadcasts a variety of activities, but her main attractions are playing video games like “The Witcher 3,” “Metal Gear Solid 5,” “The Last of Us,” as well as tabletop and roleplaying games such as “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Star Wars: Age of Rebellion.”

Prior to entering medical school, Richelle also spent nearly four years playing competitive “StarCraft 2,” during which she supported herself by streaming her progress and the 12 to 14 hours of practice it required a day. During this run, she achieved the rank of Grand Master eight times, which means she was one of the top-200 active players in her region.

It’s over these years that she has developed her fan base, which stands at more than 55,600 followers on Twitch and 14,000 on Twitter.

And though she was tentative at first, when she reached out to them to help her with the cost of her tuition – they delivered.

In October, Richelle held a 24-hour stream with the goal of raising half of the cost of her winter semester. She ended up raising about 70 per cent of the C$13,000 she needed for the entire semester, or about US$7,000.

And after a few other streams, she managed to raise the rest.

“I was so afraid that revealing that I was in medical school would cut my subscribers count in half. (That) it would make people think that I didn’t have time for streaming,” Richelle told Yahoo Finance Canada, adding that she actually didn’t tell her followers that she had started medical school in the summer.

“But it ended up actually growing my stream. Mentioning it, having the fundraising it actually let people see how passionate I actually was about medicine, which in turn grew my audience. It grew my community.”

Richelle said she makes most of her earnings through donations, but she said these can be “sporadic.”

She also gets more “consistent” revenue through different subscription models.

Her account on Patreon brings in more than US$650 a month, while base subscribers on Twitch pay a monthly fee of $4.99, half of which goes to the streamer. Twitch added premium accounts of $9.99 and $24.99 a month earlier this year.

“With Patreon you can at least estimate some percentage of your income. It’ll be consistent month to month,” she said.

On top of that, Richelle partners with various companies on streams and is hired as a personality for events.

This weekend she’ll be interviewing participants of the video game exhibit as part of this year’s North by Northeast festival in Toronto.

From gamer to doctor in training

It was when Richelle decided to pursue her dream of going to medical school that she needed to diversify her streaming activities beyond “StarCraft 2.”

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While she knew she would have to shift her priorities, she didn’t want to give up streaming and gaming altogether.

Instead of spending long hours trying to become a professional player, she could instead play games that didn’t require such an extensive time commitment and expand her audience.

“I really enjoy streaming and I enjoy gaming. It’s not something I want to stop doing … it will get more and more challenging, but it is something I’m going to keep up,” said Richelle.

“There’s no reason I can’t do both.”

While many may find Richelle’s her online gig strange, she said her peers have been understanding. One of her fellow students even recognized her at the white coat ceremony that celebrated her entry into medical school.

Dream job?

While getting paid to play video games may sound like a dream job, Richelle said streamers need to have a thick skin.

“If you’re someone who can’t handle backseat gaming, streaming can be really difficult for you,” she said.

She noted that women can also face sexist abuse from viewers.

“I had always struggled with random people coming into my chat, or even longtime viewers, saying something disturbing to me about how I look or weird gendered comment,” said Richelle.

Richelle said she’s noticed a difference in the way viewers treat streamers, noting that men don’t receive “weird” comments about their looks and commenters are more complimentary.

This is inline with recent research on Twitch chats, which indicated that messages directed at women frequently contained objectifying words such as “boob,” “pussy,” “hot” and “cute,” while in men’s channels words such as “points,” “winner,” “rank” and “kills” were far more common.

Twitch has since introduced an automated moderation feature, which is aimed at cracking down on this kind of abuse.

Tips for streamers

If you’re considering following in Richelle’s footsteps, she said the best way forward is for gamers to stream their progress, so they can develop a following.

This way they have a community to fall back on if the game’s popularity starts to dwindle or if they can’t hack it as they rise up the ranks.

She also said streamers should hold off on asking for donations until they’ve developed a “stable” user base.

Perhaps most importantly, Richelle advised streamers to show off their other talents or interests, because like the games they play – they aren’t one dimensional.

“You should really let the audience see how passionate you are about those other games or other hobbies,” she said. “It’s what really draws people to watch you: when people see that you’re really happy doing something.”