Know Your Neighbour

Rising livestream star Ashelyn Latam is building an inclusive community from home

Game-streaming site Twitch provides a meagre living and little moderation—but is helping Latam reach thousands

by Jamie Christensen
March 16, 2021
Know Your Neighbour

Rising livestream star Ashelyn Latam is building an inclusive community from home

Game-streaming site Twitch provides a meagre living and little moderation—but is helping Latam reach thousands

Photo: Submitted
Know Your Neighbour

Rising livestream star Ashelyn Latam is building an inclusive community from home

Game-streaming site Twitch provides a meagre living and little moderation—but is helping Latam reach thousands

by Jamie Christensen
March 16, 2021
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Rising livestream star Ashelyn Latam is building an inclusive community from home
Photo: Submitted

The space is small: a computer desk, illuminated by several high-end computer monitors and an LED light. A swivelling microphone boom on one end, a keyboard illuminated in every colour of the rainbow glowing directly underneath. 

It's well organized and clean but a bit cramped nonetheless. There’s just enough space to manoeuvre an office chair between the desk and a pop-up green screen—the only separation between the office and the rest of the small living room. 

On this still January afternoon, moments before going live, the home studio is silent, save for the soft purrs of a sleepy black cat next to the desk. There’s a small rustling sound and a light chair creak as the streamer themself (they use they/them pronouns) sits down. Then, with a series of clicks, they are live, broadcasting themself to an audience of potentially thousands via livestream platform Twitch.tv. 

This is just a normal Monday for 28-year-old Ashelyn Latam. Several times a week for the past few years, they have gone live online via their Twitch channel, TheGeckoGuild, at times reaching live audiences of hundreds or even thousands of people at once.

“It’s the community that keeps me creating content,” Latam says. They nod their head slightly as they say it, following the statement with a warm and grateful smile.

Streaming itself is a phenomenon. In the past decade, live streaming has gone from its infancy to being a major aspect of online gaming culture.

Born from the time-honoured traditions of people gathering together to play video games, live-streaming involves a streamer playing games over the internet with an audience. It’s a virtual hangout, with the streamer commentating over the game as they’re playing, usually acting as both a host and main attraction.

The streamer will even often pose questions to the chat and react to the responses they receive. It’s this level of interaction that draws viewers of all ages to streams, which often go on for hours at a time and provide a level of interaction and connection that is not possible in videos or podcasts. 

It’s become more than just a hobby for many as well: creators can earn money from their streams. The most popular streams can reach thousands upon thousands of viewers on a regular basis. However, most streamers average only a few viewers at a time.

Latam’s streams are somewhere in the middle. But they are very clear that it’s the sense of community that keeps bringing them back.

“It’s been a struggle at times keeping it up,” Latam says. “But I really am proud of the community that has sprung up around my channel.”

Latam’s channel is considered to be quite successful on Twitch. An openly non-binary streamer, they’ve attracted many LGBTQIA+ viewers who are looking for a welcoming spot on the internet. 

As a member of Transmission Gaming, a group of transgender and non-binary Twitch-based streamers that aims to amplify gender diverse voices online, Latam has had streams featured on the front page of Twitch multiple times. The most popular of these reached over 11,000 concurrent viewers at its peak, with proceeds from the stream benefiting the Transgender Resource Center of Long Island.

Most of their more recent streams reach just a few hundred people at a time, but despite this, Latam has still amassed more than 2,000 followers and counting. According to Twitch stat-tracking app TwitchTracker, this puts them firmly within the top percentile of streamers.

Platform letting down diverse users

In early February, Latam changed how they present their livestreams. They rebranded and became a so-called virtual streamer or “V-Tuber,” switching from using the name Arcade Ashelyn online to streaming under the guise of an animated gecko named Saren. This is where TheGeckoGuild name comes from.

“I didn’t feel like the name Arcade Ashelyn represented who I was anymore,” says Latam. As an openly non-binary transfeminine person, Latam has encountered large amounts of harassment on the platform. They have built a sizable team of moderators who watch over their stream chats to prevent targeted harassment. Latam wants to make sure their community remains welcoming to people from a wide variety of backgrounds—something they say Twitch doesn’t facilitate.

“The issue really lies with Twitch choosing not to moderate certain behaviours,” Latam says. “In their terms of service, they state that any sort of harassment or abuse towards any minority group is unacceptable. It’s explicitly stated. But in practice, a lot of the time that doesn’t get any sort of follow-through.”

Latam feels like their viewers have been able to come along on their journey transitioning. When they first started streaming in 2018, they had only recently begun hormone replacement therapy and were living with a roommate. Due to their living situation at the time, Latam’s streaming setup was mere feet away from their bed. 

They have since moved into a somewhat larger apartment with their longtime partner, Jude. But, while Latam appreciates no longer having to stream from their bedroom, they still wish they could have a proper dedicated studio space in its own separate room.

“I feel bad sometimes if Jude comes home from university or work and he’s having to be all quiet and wear headphones in the living room just because I’m streaming,” Latam says. Though Jude claims not to mind, Latam wishes there was a bit more room in their home, just so their work and living spaces could be further separated.

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Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Latam is also currently unemployed. They were previously working with at-risk children in the foster care system, though had to leave their job last year for reasons related to the pandemic.

Latam’s Twitch streams are monetized. That means that paid advertisements run on their livestreams, with each ad generating a little bit of revenue. Viewers can also do paid subscriptions to their Twitch channel, which gain them perks such as custom emojis for use in TheGeckoGuild stream chat. The caveat to subscriptions is that Amazon-owned Twitch takes a 50% cut of all of them.

Unless a streamer can average hundreds of concurrent viewers regularly or leverage external aids—such as paid subscription service Patreon, which allows content creators to offer monthly perks to viewers—making a living at it is easier said than done. Latam’s channel isn’t there yet. “It’s just not stable enough right now,” Latam says. 

The average earnings per-stream can vary wildly. A stream with an average of 15-20 viewers where half decide to subscribe may be more profitable than a stream of hundreds of people watching with low interaction. This is without even going into the realm of companies paying to sponsor streams. A channel like Latam’s can make anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars each month.

Stable or not, the end goal of many like Latam is to do this full time. It comes from a place of loving this hobby and wanting to continuously share their passion with the world.

“The dream is to someday be a full-time content creator,” says Latam. And they have made strides towards this. In late 2020, for example, Latam created a YouTube channel where they create content focused on exploring the mechanics of video games and showing off indie titles. For the sake of consistency across their outlets, this also uses TheGeckoGuild name.

In just two years, Latam has managed to reach over 680,000 people, with no plans of stopping soon. Latam says the most important thing they have learned from the whole journey is to allow who they are to be at the forefront of what they do: to focus on playing games they truly love instead of following trends.

Latam currently streams on TheGeckoGuild Twitch channel every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, with videos going up on YouTube when they can. They’re hoping to use their platform to further lift up other gaming-focused voices in the LGBTQIA+ community going forward and are in the early stages of creating a podcast with that focus.

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