2016 was not without loss, heartbreak and distress for most people, myself included. But I've been struggling with a feeling of guilt because, plainly put, 2016 was my best year ever.
At the beginning of the year I was working a job I had been in for 3.5 years, bar tending in a trashy little spot, dealing with customers I couldn't stand, who treated me like dirt. I wasn't happy, but I wasn't yet miserable. I remember thinking about what I wanted my 2016 New Years Resolutions to be and I only had one: Create More.
On January 11th, 2016 I booted up my first stream on http://www.twitch.tv/kate. I played Borderlands 2 on an iMac, using a Magic Mouse [meaning I could either aim or shoot, not both] with no game audio for 19 people. I remember being totally terrified, nervous, and awkward, but absolutely loving it. I streamed a few days later and people actually came back to watch the stream again. I didn't know why they would after such an awful start, but I thought that was pretty neat.
My next vivd memory of the early days of streaming was a Google Hangout with 5 friends. 2 of them were Twitch employees who were trying desperately to help me broadcast game audio to both my viewers and me. Sounds like an easy fix, but streaming from a Mac is harder than it sounds. The other friends in the call were offering advice and generally laughing at how ridiculous all this was. I remember this overwhelming feeling of being so lucky that people wanted to help me do better.
My streaming schedule at the time was varied and hugely inconsistent. I would work at the bar until 11.30pm, and get home around midnight where I would stream until 3 or 4am. These late nights combined with work during the day meant I did little else for months. In March 2016, I moved into the apartment next door. It was much larger, brighter, and had a space for a desk. The very first thing I unpacked in the new apartment wasn't my kitchen, or clothes or even my bed - it was my computer. I wanted to get my desk organized, I wanted to get back to streaming. I had taken a bit of time off for the move, and I could feel myself itching to get back to it.
Shortly after I moved I got horribly sick with a cold. I had planned on canceling the stream, but I thought, 'What's the harm in doing a quick one?' That is the night that will forever be known as the night chat bought me a couch. A few people noticed I was surrounded by moving boxes but very little furniture. I had offhandedly mentioned that I would be saving up for a specific couch from Ikea, one with a pullout bed, so I could have friends stay when they were in town. Within an hour, chat had donated the money for my new couch, and I was reduced to a pile of tears and phlegm. I had never experienced this sort of kindness, or generosity before, and I didn't know what to do except let the emotions unabashedly wash over me.
On April 13th, 2016 I launched my Patreon. I wasn't sure how successful this was going to be, or if people were even going to take notice, but this was the first big step I took into making this little streaming thing I did legitimate. I was shocked by the response, and thankful that people wanted to support me. I'm still thankful to this day, because this Patreon continues to be my main source of income.
I don't remember exactly when the transition started, but as I was able to rely on streaming for income more and more, I was able to start working less at the bar. My employers didn't understand what I did from home or how I was making money from it, but I was and they were kind enough to be flexible with my schedule, basically doing whatever I asked of them. I started taking more time off from there to focus on streaming more. First it was just taking off Fridays, and then Wednesdays, and before I knew it [even though it actually took many months] I was down to 2 nights a week there, and streaming 4 nights.
Right before heading to Seattle for PAX West at the start of September, I launched my website and re branded my channel. I would not have been able to do this without the help of my partner in crime and dear friend Jamie - http://www.jamieldillion.com/ She spent countless hours designing my business cards, website, stream splash screens, and she made me feel confident going into PAX feeling like a legitimate business that people would want to work with. I owe a lot to her.
PAX West was a huge convention for me. It's always been an incredibly fun time where I get to see friends who I consider family, and have the best time surrounded by people I feel comfortable and at home with. This convention was slightly different because I was there for business. I was there hustling' and it felt so good. I had produced a small line of enamel pins [designed by Featherweight- https://twitter.com/Featherweight_ ] and people were actually coming to look for me to buy these pins, to say hi, to take pictures, or just to say they enjoy my streams. Putting faces to some names in chat was an incredible experience. Looking around at my peers who followed their dreams, and were doing what I was doing but on a much larger scale was hugely inspiring, and I remember coming home from PAX thinking that if I was spending time bar tending, it was actively taking time away from what I was meant to be doing - creating.
I was always wary about leaving my bar job. They had provided me with health insurance, paid vacation time, and a stability that if someday everyone decided to stop watching/supporting my streams, I would still have something waiting for me. It wasn't until a Thursday night in mid-September that something happened to help me make one of the biggest decisions I've ever made.
As I was working someone managed to sneak into one of the bathrooms in the bar and proceeded to shoot intravenous drugs. They obviously didn't take much care because as soon as they left and I walked in, there was blood all over the walls. It looked like something you'd never expect to see outside of a film. As the only employee on shift, it was my job to clean that up and as I was scrubbing the walls, I realized something. I remember stopping, taking my gloved hand holding the sponge off of the wall, and looking at myself in the mirror, and saying out loud 'What am I doing? I am worth more than this.' I finished the clean up, and the shift only to come back the next morning and quit on the spot.
I didn't know what I was doing but at the time it felt right, and I am so glad I did it. My Patreon exploded overnight with support, encouraging comments, new pledges, and it was exactly what I needed to feel like my decision was okay - that I was going to be okay.
The end of September brought me to San Diego, California to my first non-PAX convention. TwitchCon 2016 was unlike PAX in every way imaginable, but it was an incredible learning experience for me. It showed me where I could end up being and opened my eyes to a whole world of streaming I hadn't seen. I filmed one of my favorite ever vlogs, which included the travel there and back, an amazing behind the scenes look at the cosplay contest, and meeting Snoop Dogg & Shaq. I attended panels on how to build your stream, branding, growing a community/fan base, ideas to help make modding more productive, and I learned a lot. I was able to bring back these concepts and put them into action, which helped me immensely. It gave me confidence that I didn't have before.
I had a solidified schedule and I stuck to it. I tried to do include different things in my schedule, which is where #MakingMonday came into play. I thought the creative side of Twitch was so interesting and I wanted to be a part of it. I also wanted to keep playing my favorite game of the year, Overwatch, so I had dedicated days just for that. Keeping things different and ever changing was important to me, and I wanted to feel like there was something for everyone - that nobody would feel alienated for not liking a certain game, or not being into creative streams. Inclusively in my chat and my community is one of the biggest things I've worked towards in 2016, and I think it's something I can be proud of.
On October 18th, 2016 I launched my online store to sell my pins. I was overwhelmed with the response and quickly began shipping out orders throughout the US and Canada. In November I opened up international orders and began shipping pins to places like New Zealand, Tasmania, Singapore, England, Finland, Norway and Brazil. Seeing support coming from countries that far away was mind boggling to me, and it was incredible to see my pins, that I had literally sunk my entire life saving into producing, going into little bubble mailers and shipping worldwide. It still gives me great pleasure to pack up orders by hand, and write little notes to accompany my pins going out all over the world.
At the end of October I announced that I had partnered with Mionix, a peripheral gear company based out of Sweden. I had begun chatting with them at the beginning of September, and was so thrilled to finally sign on with them. They have been a constant provider of support, not to mention quality gear, and I'm pleased to continue working with them. Later in the year, I was lucky enough to partner with Loot Crate, and will be uploading monthly videos of their awesome products throughout the year.
In November, as per usual, I volunteered with Desert Bus for Hope 10 on the Social Media team. It was an insane week of song, dance, challenges, and being followed around by a professional documentary crew, which had an incredible talent for only filming me when I was crying from all the emotions. Keep your eyes out for that. I filmed and uploaded 6 behind the scenes vlogs [with one more on the way I promise] that managed to capture a bit of the insanity. During the week we raised over $695,000 for Child's Play Charity.
On December 3rd, 2016 I applied to the Twitch Partnership Program. I had previously applied in September and was rejected. That was tough, but lit a fire under me to keep going. On my second application I was more confident and eagerly awaited a reply.
On December 12th, 2016, I was coming home from the Child's Play Charity Dinner in Seattle. I had been sleeping the whole ferry ride back, and as my friend TQ woke me up as we were docking in Victoria, I quickly checked my email. There was 1 new message, and it was from Twitch Partner Applications saying I had been accepted into the program. I wanted to scream, but I was on a ferry, and that would be probably really bad? It felt like my hustle over the past year had actually paid off, and this had legitimized my work and my job. It was validation that I honestly really needed to keep going. It still feels very fresh, and it's one of the most exciting things that's happened to me. I'm still riding the high.
2017 has just started and it's already bringing more excitement for me. I'm in the process of trying out for a women only Overwatch team. I don't expect to make the team because the people I'm competing against are incredibly talented, but having the opportunity to play this game that has been such a huge part of my year, with this group of women has been an incredible experience so far.
I have a few goals professionally and personally that I'm hoping to achieve.
- Attend every PAX in 2017 and meet as many of you as possible. I wouldn't be where I am today without the support from each one of you, and I want to thank as many of you in person as I can.
- Continue building/growing the community. I'm so incredibly lucky to have such a beautifully accepting and supportive community around me. I want to continue fostering that inclusively and spreading that love.
- Create even more. I want to focus more on my YouTube channel, and upload some quality content for you to enjoy.
- Conquer my upload anxiety. I film videos that I'm excited about, and then when it comes to edited and uploading them, I get overwhelmed with anxiety. I can't seem to finish the project, and it goes untouched for far too long. I want to work beyond that, and be able to have a 2 day turnaround time for my videos.
As we approach my 1 year stream-iversary, words can't begin to express the love I have for the community I've been lucky enough to build. The support I've seen in the last 12 months have been incredible and unexpected. It's only because of you all that I'm able to continue doing something I love, and hopefully, you love it too.
Here's to another year.
Here's to creating more.
Here's to more laughter.
Here's to YOU.