Briana became Storymodebae when she started her Twitch channel in January 2018. Back then she was still a year away from graduating from college, and in her own words, got the idea to start making things online after she started watching Let’s Plays on YouTube when she found herself stuck in games. “I was like, ‘I mean, I like playing video games and I think I can crack a joke on occasion. So maybe I should give this a try.’”
Three years later, Storymodebae has made Twitch her full-time career — though she’s still understandably a little nervous about putting her full name online. (“You know, I don’t put the government out there,” she jokes.) Last year, Storymodebae hosted three shows for Twitch — This is Dope, Follow Fridays, and The Weekly — and also live concert shows for Live Nation. Her come up has been a wonderful thing to see: she’s a very visible Black woman in a scene dominated by white guys, and her streams are fun to boot.
And that’s kind of the reason she started in the first place. “I decided that I wanted to start streaming because I would look for Let’s Plays and things like that, but I didn’t see a whole lot of people that looked like me,” she says. “I saw Black men on YouTube. But as far as Black women, it’s like you have to type in “Black girl gamers” or these specific keywords so you could kind of find your tribe and find your people.” So she gave it a shot herself. “And it kind of turned into all of this. It started as a hobby, and now it’s the whole career.”
Today, when she’s not hosting shows, you can find Briana live on her own channel, where she mostly plays single-player games. “I focus on story based games. That’s where Storymodebae came from,” she says. Though lately she says she’s felt at a loss for finding new games to play. “It’s like, the last game I was really excited about was Spider-Man: Miles Morales. And then I thought I was gonna be excited about Cyberpunk. And I wasn’t.” (Though, to be fair, hardly anyone was.)
This week marks her third anniversary on Twitch, and it’s clear she’s come a long way from those early days when she was streaming without a camera; today, for example, she’s being featured in InStyle magazine on a list of badass women. Which she says is exciting, but it’s not exactly her goal. “My goal with streaming, if nothing else — I really want to inspire,” she says. “I want to inspire people that look like me, specifically women that, you know, they can do this too. And there’s room for them as well.”
It’s a noble mission. “As we know, the gaming industry is a very white male-dominated and, as we saw with everything going on with the PogChamp emotes, people will make it clear that they don’t want people of color, specifically Black people in this industry,” she says. “I definitely want to kick down doors and open doors not even just for myself, but for others that look like me as well.”
And she has. Briana’s been more successful in three years that most people ever become on Twitch; she’s hosting shows for thousands, that sometimes land on the site’s front page. Even so, despite all the success the last year has brought, Briana says that 2020 was tough. Which makes sense, considering the global pandemic and the continuing rise of the authoritarian right. “Personally, I feel like it was the hardest year I’ve ever experienced,” she says. “I went through depression, second-guessing myself, and impostor syndrome. And, you know, dealing with everything going on in the news and with COVID. And the government.” But in terms of business, and in terms of streaming specifically, she says it was the most successful year she’s ever had. (This year, Briana tells me, she plans to be kinder to herself, and mostly just to keep her sanity intact. “You can’t be in front of the computer all the time,” she says.)
2020 was also Twitch’s best year ever. The number of hours people spent watching Twitch have nearly doubled since last year, and the pandemic meant that the gaming influencer landscape had begun to shift and become much more mainstream. While Briana jokes that she wishes she’d found streaming earlier — “so I wouldn’t have all this student debt” — she does feel like she came into the space at an interesting time. Numbers matter less when working with brands, and, she says, brands are starting to realize the content and viewer engagement is more important when choosing who to partner with.
Even so, Briana says she wants to diversify her output. “What happened with Mixer really solidified something in my head, like, ‘OK, all of this could be gone tomorrow. What’s going to happen after that? What are you going to do?’” she says. “If all of my content is in one place, what am I gonna do if it’s gone tomorrow?” It’s led her back to YouTube, where she got her start, and also to TikTok. “While Twitch is starting to become a household name, a lot of people still don’t get it,” she says. Even her own family, it’s a strange conversation to have — she was in school to become a teacher, and now she plays games online for her community, the Bae Brigade.
By now it’s the end of our interview, and I ask my favorite interview question — is there anything that I should have asked you that I didn’t? “OK, so I was starting to think maybe we should use my full name,” she says. “It’s Briana Williams. I feel like you know, 2021 is the year that I maybe start using my government name.”