A 22-year-old Twitch streamer who earns over $200,000 a year shares how she got her start and the biggest misconceptions about making it big in streaming

  • Kailey "Kbubblez" Hankins has been a full-time streamer for the last four years. She first went viral from a video of her dad scolding her live on Twitch in 2017.
  • The biggest misconceptions about how to make it in her profession, she said, include retaining viewers, the time commitment, equipment requirements, and income expectations.  
  • Hankins lived in a streamer house in Austin, Texas, for a year, and was in the January 7 premiere of MTV's "Revenge Pranks."
  • Challenges to the job include the distance from family while in a streaming house, ongoing pressure to entertain, and the constant trolling, which wreaked havoc on her self-esteem for the first few years.
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Analysts predicted gaming revenues would top $159 billion before the pandemic last year. But with millions of people suddenly stuck at home and turning to games for entertainment and connection, the industry experienced a surge in growth like never before. By the end of 2020, that number crossed $180 billion, according to analysts at marketing intelligence firm IDC. 

With the industry flourishing, so are the gamers and streamers who are a part of it. 

Kailey "Kbubblez" Hankins, 22, is one of them. "Gaming has been a thing in my life for as long as I can remember," Hankins said. Her dad has always been a gamer, she said, and that's where her interest started.

"My mom and sister would always say, 'Come to the roller skating rink,' but we [my dad and I] would do raids on 'World of Warcraft' instead," she said. "My fifth grade present for getting straight A's in school was 'The Burning Crusade' expansion pack."

The nickname Kbubblez comes from her love for Bubbles of "The Powerpuff Girls." When she was a kid, she said friends and family would always call her bubbly because of her personality. "She definitely stands true to her name, Kbubblez, with her bubbly personality," said Amy Edge McCarthy, co-executive producer for MTV's "Revenge Prank," who worked with Hankins for her episode on the show.

Hankins has been a full-time streamer for the last four years, and went viral in 2017 after posting a video of her dad scolding her live on Twitch. She reported earning over $200,000 in 2020 and has over 210,000 followers across all of her platforms, half of which are on Twitch.

"If you could rank a streamer on a scale of 1 to 5, I'm like a 3.5," she said.

Hankins began streaming at the age of 18 and did it for 12 hours a day for the first two years

For the first four months, Handkins said she streamed without knowing how to make money from it. "I did it just to make more friends because I didn't have any friends that played games at the point because I was getting homeschooled, and I also didn't want to tell anyone I was a gamer because it wasn't cool then," she said. 

She started streaming 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for the first two years until she was finally able to quit her day job and do it full time. "It's not an overnight thing," she said.

Pre-COVID-19, she said, she would play on a strict 9-to-5 schedule, taking breaks for light exercise and lunch in between. Her schedule today is more scattered, with her streaming anywhere from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. She does gambling streams now, too, where streams herself in Poker tournaments and asks viewers for advice while also explaining how to play poker to those who don't know how.

The most common questions she gets are about the time investment, income, equipment, and getting more viewers as a streamer

Hankins said she receives dozens of messages a day from people wanting to become full-time streamers and learn from her success, and there are a few misconceptions she always has to address. 

The time investment to build a platform is a big one. "People message me that they're streaming once a week for an hour or so and get discouraged because they're not growing," she said. "It just doesn't work that way."

Second is income expectations. "It could be different every day," she said. "You might not make a whole bunch of money or have a whole bunch of people watching every day."

Third is about equipment. People will message Hankins asking what gear they need and include screenshots of their online shopping carts, some with over $4,000 worth of products. But she's reluctant to recommend that early on. 

"When I first started streaming, I had my dad's eight-year-old, hand-me-down computer, which was a case built with all of his old parts," she said. "That, and I had a $40 headset with duct tape on it. I'd do 12-hour streams on it, and during the summertime, it'd get so hot my computer would shut off two or three times mid-broadcast, but it didn't stop me."

The final concern is on the lack of views new streamers get. "There's a lot of people who are entertaining in this world, and what's going to make people want to watch you is building a relationship with them and being consistent with them," she said. 

Hankins really took off once she began to stream her day-to-day life, not just gaming

Hankins credits her success to treating her viewers as friends. 

This is what led her to start streaming her day-to-day life, known as 'IRL' streaming, and not just gaming on Twitch. This phenomenon was relatively new in 2017, and research now shows it can lead to deep and meaningful relationships over time. 

"That's when I saw the jump from a hundred to 500, 600, then 1,000-plus viewers," she said. With the increase in viewers came an increase in opportunities. "She's always been an absolute star," said MaryJLee, another popular streamer who first met Hankins at a TwitchCon event in 2017. 

In August 2017, an app company on Wall Street invited Hankins to their office. Following their discussions, she got her first endorsement deal, where she was paid to host an event at TwitchCon that year to promote their product. 

Friendships, opportunities and income have been the biggest benefits, while trolls, bullies, and pressure to keep creating have been the toughest parts

Money began to flow in, and with it, the opportunity to support her family more. 

"Probably the best part about it, aside from making money and being able to help out my family, was that I was doing it all by sitting on my computer and playing video games," she said. In 2019, at age 19, she was invited to live in a mansion in Austin, Texas, with several other streamers for a year. But with the upsides came downsides, some worse than others. 

Being away from family was one. The constant pressure to grow the viewership was another. "When your way of making money is determined by how many people are watching you, it's like every stream has to be better than the last one," she said. 

Fending off trolls was one of her biggest challenges at first. "At one point, I was gaining weight, and people had nicknames for me, like KBelly, KBoulder, and other stuff," she said. "So that was hurtful. I used to cry a lot. I would take a pretty picture and post it on Instagram, and people would comment all these mean things about me being fat." She has over 39,000 followers on the social platform.

"It got to the point where sometimes people, we did a live stream where we went on the boat because we lived on a lake, and people would take screenshots of me in my bikini and make me look way fatter than I was to make a meme out of it," she said. "So I decided to do something about it."

She began to use the mean comments as motivation. "I started dieting, I went to the gym, lost the weight, got in shape, and came back on the stream, and a lot of people had nicer things to say," she said.

With this new mindset of turning trolls into goals, Hankins now has her sights set on the future. "She has limitless potential," said Scotty Tidwell, chief community officer at G-Fuel and cofounder of Ember Talent, which manages Hankins. "I love sports, so I'd love to do something with that. And gambling. A mobile game would be insane, and a TV show, too."

She's confident she has the perfect formula for reality TV: a big Italian family, complete with a gamer dad, a "Fortnite"-obsessed brother, and a single-mom-sister all based in New Jersey.

"We have the full recipe!" she said. 

You can watch Roberts' full interview with Hankins below:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/aNXif7paNkA

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