As night fell on a nondescript day near the end of January this year, streamer Syeolli was beginning to wind down her live video game stream alongside her viewers. It had been an incredibly long session — the timer was ticking close to 18 and a half hours.
“I can’t believe I just streamed for 18 hours…that’s really crazy,” she says on the stream; originally intending it to be a short session. “I don’t know what happened; I ended up playing Valorant for 15 hours!”
While the length of the session might have caught her by surprise, the hours aren’t something that she hasn’t been used to already.
Syeolli (real name Shirley Soh) works as a full-time streamer on the popular game streaming platform Twitch, specialising in First-Person Shooter (FPS) games — a genre that is interestingly one that she once disliked due to bad experiences with motion sickness.
But before she was live-streaming her exploits in the virtual world to hundreds of viewers, she was soaring in the skies working as an air stewardess for Singapore Airlines (SIA).
Odd working hours are part of the job scope as an air stewardess — having to deal with long haul flights and different time zones — but it is also an experience that Syeolli has attributed to helping her keep her energy levels up for such lengthy streams. While that specific 18-hour stream was the longest she had gone thus far, she regularly does 8-hour streams when she goes live.
But let us first start at the beginning, how exactly did an air stewardess pivot into becoming a video game streamer?
The year was 2018, Syeolli was already considering taking up streaming but a conversation with her friend, a competitive DOTA 2 player, proved to be the final motivator for her to start with creating her profile on Twitch.
“At that point of time, streaming on Twitch wasn’t very saturated with a lot of streamers. I felt like if I want to start, I should start then,” explained Syeolli.
The timing worked out great for her as well. She was injured during that period and as such, was put on ground duty. This gave her a more fixed schedule and allowed her to pursue live-streaming while working, but it wasn’t without difficulties.
Speaking on balancing streaming and working for SIA, Syeolli says: “Streaming was, in a way, easier for me but I (still) had to juggle between sleeping at 2am and waking up at 6am for work. So I would start my stream at night and stream till like 1am and unwind after that — by the time I got to bed, it was like 2am. I (would) only have 4 hours of sleep.”
Many might find juggling the two quite draining to do, but for Syeolli, the experience from streaming outweighed the negatives, and she continued with that dynamic, at least until 2020 came along.
The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc worldwide, not just with the loss of lives but also with the economy. With countries all over establishing lockdown restrictions, the airline industry quickly became the biggest casualty, being unable to operate during this period.
It is no surprise then that airlines like SIA had to undertake measures to mitigate the damage caused by the situation. The unfortunate result for Syeolli specifically was the ending of her contract with the company.
But misfortune can turn into an opportunity, and that is precisely what happened for Syeolli. She swiftly decided to go full-time into live-streaming, having already thought about it for months.
And the transition over to being a full-time streamer has paid dividends. As her streams became more frequent, Syeolli started to see positive growth in her channel, with viewers returning to view her streams. A big part of that growth is undoubtedly due to the personality that she has injected into her streams — one aspect of which curiously involves a certain drink brand.
She’s seen with it on most streams, and she even professes her love of it on her ‘About’ page. “Yes, I’m known as the Coke Zero girl,” she proclaims unabashedly to me. Indeed, her enthusiasm for the drink has become a sort of in-joke for her viewers as well, regularly referencing it during her streams.
Syeolli continues: “When I tell people, ‘Eh guys I’m going to go get a drink, be right back!’, the audience will talk to each other, ‘guess what guys, let’s do a poll. Is she going to get water or is she going to get Coke Zero?’ that kind of stuff.”
As her popularity increased, it wasn’t long before she was starting to get noticed. In the middle of November 2020, she signed a contract with EMERGE Esports, a talent management company for gaming personalities; joining their pool of talents.
It was a decision culminating from several back and forths with her talent manager on Instagram, who sold the idea of the company to her.
The partnership has been beneficial to Syeolli in her streaming career, explaining: “I feel (like) they gave me more exposure in the gaming scene, and they were able to help me collaborate with gaming companies and non-gaming companies that I myself as a streamer wouldn’t be able to do on my own.”
Streaming may be the bulk of what Syeolli does, but she does have activities on her schedule as well. Recently, she was involved in a recently concluded programme called Pathway — an initiative by *SCAPE that aims to help develop budding streamers in Singapore.
There were 30 aspiring participants in the programme and Syeolli acted as the personal mentor for three of them, doing weekly sessions with each while touching on topics such as production value, technical aspects and camera presence among others; all with the aim to help them provide better content to their viewers and achieve ‘Partner’ status on Twitch.
Much has happened in her streaming career, and the experiences and success she has garnered thus far have very much answered the question of whether being a full-time streamer can be enough to be sustainable in Singapore, a country where the mindset is still very much on having a traditional job for stability.
There’s still more to come for Syeolli this coming year. In fact, she divulged to me a direction she is planning to pursue, which she is deeply passionate about.
“I want to provide a safe space for my audiences. I actually have new content that is coming up that is going to focus on mental health. I feel (that) this topic is not something that people always talk about, so I want to be there to help them because as a streamer, these people actually listen to us — whatever we say actually holds some value to it,” Syeolli explains.
She continues, saying: “I feel like sometimes, our audience, or most of us actually, do have problems and sometimes we are afraid to share them because we are scared that we might get judged. So I want to promote a safe space for these people, this is my direction for 2021, and I feel it is something that I’m looking forward to, which will help me grow and help other people grow as well.”
Photo by Brandon Neo of the DANAMIC Team. Additional visuals courtesy of Syeolli.