Popular Twitch gamer Ninjayla explains the importance of brands supporting diverse creators
23 August 2022 | By: Matt Miller, Sr. Copywriter
Ninjayla has just gone live on a Tuesday morning stream in late May, and she’s talking with her chat before entering her first of many intense Apex Legends matches of the day. The game is a futuristic Battle Royale-style shooter, and Ninjayla is one of the most well-known players in the world – one who plays for a top-tier e-sports organisation and has more than 120,000 followers on Twitch. But rather than spend the early moments of this stream psyching herself up for the action, she’s talking wellness tips and self-improvement.
“I’m working on my feminine energy,” she says. “I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist, but there are a lot of things I can work on as a person.”
“Do you overthink a lot?” a viewer in the chat asks.
“I’ve been working on my anxiety and overthinking,” Ninjayla responds. “I think I move a million miles a second.”
The conversation goes on like this for a while until Ninjayla gets into a match. Then, 10 minutes later, Ninjayla is screaming as her squad gets ambushed by two other teams and is nearly wiped out. Ninjayla manages to hang on, reviving her squad to fight another day.
“I talk to my chat the way I would talk to my friend if I was going through something,” Ninjayla says a few hours later when I bring up the moment during an interview. “I just want them to understand that we’re all the same. I think it’s really important for me to let them know that I struggle as well too. These are the things that I wish somebody would have told me at some point.”
It’s this type of pathos and honesty that has helped Ninjayla cultivate an engaged community on Twitch, and launched her stardom in the world of gaming. And along the way, she’s used her growing influence to advocate for better representation for women, people of colour and the LGBTQIA+ community in gaming.
A role model in gaming
Ninjayla first got into gaming through her older brother. “My parents would buy [video games] for him, and I would get upset because they didn’t buy them for me,” Ninjayla says. “So they started buying them for me too.”
She remembers, as a kid growing up in Virginia, having a Gameboy Advance before the handheld system had a back-lit screen, “so I had to buy an attachable magnifying screen and the light to play it in the dark.” The first game she genuinely loved, though, was Perfect Dark for the Nintendo 64, a first-person shooter that really “set the tone for all the rest of the games I was interested in.”
It wasn’t until after high school, though, that gaming became a more serious hobby. Some work friends got her into Call of Duty and Destiny. She’d bring her controller over to their houses to play, but she never really thought of a career in gaming.
When she was 19, she moved to Northern Virginia for a job working private security. That’s when she met a friend in streaming, and first heard about Twitch. “I was like ‘Oh, that looks so easy. You just sit there and play video games. I can do that.’” So she bought a webcam and went live for the first time in 2018, playing Call of Duty while sitting at the vanity bench in front of her dresser in her bedroom. She had no expectations, she said, and had few viewers in those early days and didn’t really care. But, within six months she was averaging 20-40 viewers a stream. “I was like, ‘Whoa every time I go live, there’s somebody that wants to talk to me or people checking in to ask when I’m going to be back.”
She loved playing games and being able to interact with viewers in her stream. At this time, though, in January of 2020, Ninjayla was streaming while also working 12-hour shifts and going to school full time to get a degree in physics.
“But I realised I was burning myself out and I wasn’t going to achieve anything if I kept doing what I was doing,” Ninjayla says. She had momentum in streaming, and at the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic had moved all her classes online, and she knew school would always be there.
The decision to choose streaming full time was a difficult one.
“I didn’t want to struggle at all. I come from a background where there was a lot of struggling and we didn’t have a lot of financial stability,” Ninjayla says. “So my most important thing was to always make sure that I was going to be financially secure.”
And within two years, she’s joined the e-sports organisation Complexity Gaming, and has become an important voice in the industry. In February of 2022, Ninjayla also got to see her own face on a billboard in Times Square as part of Twitch’s Black History Month campaign (“I’m on a freaking billboard in Times Square! Mama I made it,” she tweeted alongside a picture of herself in front of the billboard).
When she first started streaming, Ninjayla says she didn’t see very much representation. “That was one of the main things that kept me coming back. When I got to a certain point when my stream was growing, I understood that there were a lot of women and people of colour and people from the LGBTQIA+ community that were watching me and looking up to me, like, 'Wow, if she could do it, I can do it as well.' It was important to me to show up and show people that there is an audience no matter what you look like or how you identify.”
In just the last two years, Ninjayla says she’s seen a noticeable shift in the gaming industry.
“I’ve seen it changing,” Ninjayla said. “I’ve seen a lot of the Black women that watch me, they’ve started streaming. And I do my best to support them. Twitch added tags which has made it so much easier to find people of colour and people of the LGBTQIA+ community. I just only see it getting better, which I’m really happy about. We all deserve to be seen and heard and valued and supported.”
Ninjayla says there’s still progress to be made and that it’s important to continue to provide visibility and create opportunities for members of these communities.
How brands can support diverse communities on Twitch
That bold leap into full-time streaming has been possible with the help of Ninjayla’s work with brands. The first big sponsorship she had was with Coca-Cola. “I couldn’t believe I was gonna be on the front page of Twitch,” she remembers. “That was really big for me. I was so nervous and I hit 20,000 viewers on my stream for the first time. And I felt like I did such a good job just talking to the chat and entertaining. And I was like, ‘Whoa, I can really do this.’”
Ninjayla has since helped many brands engage viewers. With JBL, Ninjayla and other prominent women creators hosted a live discussion around women in gaming. For Converse, Ninjayla and her community helped design a custom shoe and offered it up as a giveaway to a lucky viewer. She’s also helped promote a single for Katy Perry and hosted a watch party on her stream to celebrate the premiere of a new anime series on Crunchyroll.