Slaying monsters helps Oregon State student pay her way

Video game streamer Kira Nesser demonstrates her gameplay. The Oregon State University junior partially pays her tuition with the money she makes streaming.  (Hilario Gonzalez)

A resurrected elf journeys through an ancient land with one mission in mind: helping Kira Nesser pay her way through school.

He explores dungeons. He unearths lost treasures. He tames wild horses.

His name is Link. His quest is steered by Nesser, an Oregon State University junior who controls him as she plays “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” for a captivated audience on the video game streaming platform Twitch.

Twitch viewers helped her pay for textbooks one term through subscription fees and donations.

She used the cash from another fundraising drive on the platform to buy a new computer. And every bit that comes her way helps fund her eventual goal: a degree in nutrition studies so she can be a dietician.

“The money definitely helps because it means I have to work less; I would stream full-time if I could,” she said, noting she also works part-time as a server.

Gaming has soared beyond a mere recreational pastime. It’s grown an audience. And viewers equal cash, either through ad revenue, contributions or paid subscriptions.

YouTube creators who specialize in streaming games have long made big bucks. Sometimes brands for snack companies or video-game studios pay these creators to promote their products. Creators receive a share of the revenue for the ads on their channels.

The two highest-earning channels on the platform belong to video game content creators. Daniel Middleton and Evan Fong made $16.5 million and $15.5 million, respectively, in 2017, according to estimates by Forbes.

However, Nesser’s main focus is streaming on Twitch, a relatively new platform focused on live broadcasts where she’s known as Kira Kimura. It allows viewers to fund streams via subscriptions and tips. It’s the same place the NBA decided it would stream its video game league, elevating its profile and further legitimizing it.

Nesser once earned $1,529 from one tipper on Twitch. Another two sent her $275 each.

She also built a following on Instagram, where she currently has more than 4,700 followers. Nesser said people who follow her have supported her as she documents her healthy lifestyle. In turn, she interacts in a positive way with them.

“They’re there for me, so I’m there for them,” she said.

Kelli Matthews, a senior instructor of public relations and social media at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, said Nesser is spot-on in her social media strategy. Audiences want good stories.

Nesser noticed her viewers tune in when she opens up about school and her passion for health. She begins her broadcasts by greeting the people watching. She knows regulars by name.

Engaging with viewers keeps them coming back, Matthews said.

“Building an audience just based on content is pretty hard to do,” she said. “After all, social media is social first.”

Nesser wants to turn her passions — for social media and the healthy lifestyle she documents online — into a career.

“If you can make money doing what you love, that’s the goal,” she said. “At least for me.”

— Hilario Gonzalez, Lincoln High School
— Niyah Wilson, Parkrose High School