Rumay "Hafu" Wang starts her regular work days at noon, when she'll turn on her computer and log on to Twitch, a live video streaming platform. It’s an unconventional time to start a work day, and Wang has an unconventional job: The 25-year-old is a professional gamer who broadcasts herself on the internet playing Hearthstone, a digital card game, for between five and seven hours at a time.
With over 400,000 followers and more than 45 million views on her channel, Wang has become a force in the esports (“electronic sports” or competitive video gaming) world since she started streaming full-time over three years ago. She is consistently ranked in the top 100 streamers on Twitch, which claims to have more than 1 million active broadcasters and an audience that is 75 percent male, according to the company.
“I love gaming,” Wang told NBC News. “The idea of doing it full-time — I thought was just a dream. And I already lived that dream when I was 17, traveling the world and winning tournaments.”
Living her dream, though, has come with a few bumps in the road.
Born in Newton, Massachusetts, to Chinese immigrant parents from Beijing, Wang grew up in Lexington, an affluent suburb of Boston, but remembers her family’s financial struggles during her early years. Her mother, a computer engineer, supported the family while her father completed his Ph.D. He later started a successful technology security company.
After her then-boyfriend and best friend introduced her to the online role-playing game "World of Warcraft" (WoW) in high school, Wang was addicted.
“My parents were really strict. I grew up to be everything they didn’t want,” she said. “They wanted me to study really hard because that’s how they found success. Instead of studying, I just played games all day.”
Not only was she addicted, even skipping her high school graduation to play, she was also good, topping leaderboards in WoW tournaments around the world.
“It wasn’t until I showed my mom the world leaderboard. I was like, ‘Look mom, I’m number one. Isn’t that something?’ That’s when she started letting me play, once I finished my homework,” Wang said.
After high school, Wang was accepted to Bentley University, where she pledged a sorority and was on her way to what she thought would be a lucrative and steady career in finance. “I have this appreciation for money because I remember being poor. The best way I knew how to become an adult was to do school, get a career in finance, do that path,” she said.
But her passion for gaming overtook her interest in college, as she regularly skipped class and started livestreaming. She dropped out by her third year to try streaming full-time. Her parents, understandably, freaked.
“They begged me not to," Wang said. "I told my parents, ‘If within one year, you don’t think I’m successful, I’ll go back to school.’” That was 2012.
Streaming full time was a major risk, but one that has paid off for Wang and other streamers. While she won’t reveal how much she makes, Wang said she pulls in a decent living from various sponsorship deals and gigs as a liaison between sponsors and other social media influencers.
She estimates that only 5 to 10 percent of her income comes from donations from her Twitch viewers and subscriptions, although in her early days, it comprised the majority of her salary. “Back in the day, if I didn’t make $100 that day, I might not be able to pay rent. I changed my business plan to be more about sponsors instead of relying on crowdfunding,” Wang said.
As a female gamer, Wang has endured constant harassment and trolling. When she was 17, one group of gamers named their team “Gonna Rape Hafu at Regionals” ahead of a competition. She warns other young female aspiring gamers that haters are part of the job and advises would-be streamers to have honest conversations with themselves before risking it all.
“If you wanna be a streamer, why are people going to watch you over me?" Wang said. "Why would someone ever choose you over someone else? And if you can come up with good reasons, then do it. It’ll take a lot of time and effort to build but as long as you have that goal in mind, then go for it. As long as it’s a sound goal.”
As far as her own career goes, Wang simply hopes to stay relevant in the streaming world. Whether that means continuing to play Hearthstone or trying a different game, she’s unsure. But she’s optimistic.
“The good thing is,” she said, “I don’t think I’ll end when Hearthstone ends.”