photo courtesy: anne walter
UNL broadcasting major, Morgan Pruitt

A bedroom illuminated with fairy lights, a steaming cup of tea on the counter and a rabbit set the stage for what could be a full-time job.

Morgan Pruitt, a broadcasting major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, hopes to make this enchanting, surreal aesthetic her full-time job by streaming on Twitch, a popular website for gamers to live broadcast to those on the internet. Her online name is mizzlewizzle_, and she currently has 148 subscribers.

Streaming online video began in the 1990s with services such as YouTube, Hulu and Netflix. Some of the biggest streamers — YouTube celebrities, Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie) and Seán William McLoughlin (Jacksepticeye) who have a combined 130 million YouTube subscribers — stream as a full-time job. Streaming has increased in popularity because of its accessibility and personalization perks, and 63% of Millennials use streaming services, according to statistics.

“There was a lot of production quality that went into [streaming],” Pruitt said. “I’ve always been into playing games and talking everyone’s ear off.”

At UNL, Pruitt entered the esports community through a class. She also provided the color commentary for UNL’s FIFA 2020 tournament hosted by Alan Eno, an assistant professor of practice in the College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“I’m here to share my stories and shed light on what’s going on with me,” Pruitt said about why she streams.

Pruitt works to maintain a sense of community around her and makes a point to ask questions and engage with her viewers. Her community consists largely of personal friends from home and people she grew up with, along with the occasional wanderer who vibes with her existing community.

“The community is really interesting,” Soleil Smithberg, a regular viewer of Pruitt, said. “A lot of her viewers are from her regular life.”

New viewers are always welcome and because she plays different games, different viewers will trickle in based on interest.

“She gains different followers and viewers through the different games she plays,” Smithberg said.

Occasionally, a viewer will pop in and give Pruitt tips on how to play the game, and other times they’ll join just because the game is niche enough to pique their interest. Pruitt said it’s important to focus on a smaller, more narrow crowd.

“I like how she interacts with her followers, and doesn’t necessarily talk about the game the entire time,” Smithberg added.

Another hallmark of Pruitt’s streaming is her own personal branding on-screen and image she highlights. One of her own trademarks is her pet rabbit, Alice, Pruitt’s unofficial mascot. She also works hard to maintain a streamlined color palette. She focuses on bright, somewhat lighthearted colors such as pink and purple. Pruitt’s branding is described by Smithberg as “positive,” “quirky,” and “retro.”

A facet of Pruitt’s streaming life is the “behind-the-scenes” part of streaming: moderation, which, in the world of streaming, is usually done by a trusted person and in some cases a bot. This person or bot will often scan the chat and remove offensive or “spam” posts from the chat. The content that gets removed is usually set by the streamer themselves, and often instructions will be posted before a viewer enters the chatroom.

One of Pruitt’s close friends, Nick Nylan, is a key moderator for her chat.

“I just kind of make sure the chat is going all right,” Nylan said. “I make sure no one is using any bad language or spam.”

“Spam” in a chat can take a variety of forms, such as typing a block of emoticons, using caps lock to express excitement or saying the same expression over and over again to try and get the streamer’s attention.

“Spam is just the people who want you to buy followers or buy viewers or subscribers or whatever,” Nylan said. This can also take the form of people posting self-promotion links.

Even though Pruitt said she would love to become a full-time streamer, streaming comes with its own challenges, especially since Pruitt is a female. According to the NCAA, males make up 91.8% of esports players and 96% of esports coaches. Of the top 20 most followed Twitich streamers, only one – Pokimane – is a female.

This year, Pruitt was involved with the UNL Smash Bros tournament where she said she was singled out for being a female. Even though she was providing the commentary for the tournament, Pruitt was approached by several men who she said needed to explain the game to her.

“I did have someone try to explain some of the background knowledge,” Pruitt said. “I was literally announcing the game.”

One in particular made a show of himself and approached Pruitt to comment on her name badge. According to Pruitt, he asked if she “was a Kirby main” (that is, whether she played as a character named Kirby in the particular game she was providing the color commentary for) when in fact her name badge had Jigglypuff (an entirely different character) on the badge. Not only that, but he also told Pruitt he had been playing on the GameCube since 1997, and Pruitt had to correct him that GameCube in fact came out in 1999 (although it was officially released in Japan in 2001).

“He asked for my number to get a group of people together to play Smash,” Pruitt said. “He was hitting on me because he didn’t ask for anybody else’s number.”

Although there were about four or five other females who were playing in the tournament, Pruitt said she was the only female announcer there.

She also voiced other frustrations about being a female in streaming and said many of the men who approach her try to explain some niche component of the game, as if they are attempting to brag about their skills.

“It’s just, like, you have to expect to be talked down to,” Pruitt said. “Everyone just assumes you’re stupid.”

Often, Pruitt said she will have to endure an explanation about a particular game when she already knows the background or in some cases is more knowledgeable about it than those explaining it to her. During the Smash Bros tournament, Pruitt recalled three different instances where a male counterpart approached her to give her pointers on the finer details of Smash Bros.

“If I’ve got questions for you, I’ll ask,” Pruitt said, “I’ve been a Nintendo fan for so long.”

Another issue with being a female streamer is the objectification of her and who she is as a female. A certain instance occurred during her Sub-A-Thon stream in which a viewer insinuated that he wanted her to strip.

“It is a little difficult,” Pruitt said with a sigh. “I feel like I can’t joke around as much as the guys do. There are some things I can’t do because they’ll [think it was] cringy or that [I] can’t behave in that way.”

Pruitt said she feels somewhat trapped in a role because of the stigma around female announcers.

“I have to play the role of the professional, and I feel like I can’t really joke around because I’m just going to get bashed for it or it’s going to come off as flirty,” Pruitt added.

Since she is often paired with a male reporter, Pruitt said she has to be extra careful with what she says and often feels like her jokes will be seen as flirtatious or inappropriate.

However, despite these issues, Pruitt still loves streaming and announcing for the world of esports. Streaming provides her with an opportunity to both feed her own enjoyment of entertaining and broadcasting while providing her viewers with a fun atmosphere.

“I encourage people to chat and talk about the things that are going on in their life,” Pruitt said. “I can create a safe space for people.”