Valkyrae reveals how her childhood shaped her love for video games, her grueling rise to success, and sexism in gaming.
For Filipino-American Rachell “Rae” Hofstetter, better known as Valkyrae, clocking in over thousands of hours of streaming gameplay on Twitch and YouTube are but other ways to unwind and make friends. From starting out as a store clerk at a GameStop while geeking over games released on what was then her Instagram account of just a few followers, who could predict that Rae’s way of rest and relaxation would set her to a path of good fortune?
Now, with nearly four million subscribers on YouTube, Rae is adored by fans the world over for her no-filter personality. A variety streamer, she plays a wide array of games from Fortnite to Among Us, allowing for audiences from all walks of life to enjoy her content. She’s even played with personalities from rapper Lil Nas X to comedian Jimmy Fallon, and politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Rae has been named Content Creator of the Year at The Game Awards 2020 and joined the ranks of rapper Drake as one of the co-owners of esports giant 100 Thieves. But while the sphere of games and streaming has gone through a kind of gold rush in recent years, Rae’s rise to prominence is not a matter of luck or bandwagon—it was gradual, earned, and powered by her soft spot for video games.
“I’ve been gaming my whole life. And from the start, I felt like I never really fit in,” Rae reveals.
Growing up in the small town of Moses Lake, Washington, her mom would be instrumental to her obsession with gaming, encouraging Rae to spend afternoons playing video games together with her sister in their room, serving as a distraction from the tensions at home and being bullied at school.
Rae would support herself throughout college, working multiple jobs at the same time. She was a waitress, a bank teller, a car wash attendant, an arcade staff, and, her most influential one being a store clerk at GameStop. It was there where she would gain access to all the latest games. Eventually, she would start an Instagram account where she’d geek over her collections, releases she was looking forward to, and GameStop hauls. By 2015, after hitting 15,000 followers, her fans would encourage her to get on Twitch, a then up-and-coming streaming platform focused on gaming.
“When I first started streaming, I didn’t know you could do it for a living. I was just doing it for fun. I didn’t really have friends at the time. So, I just did it to escape, and I did it to have fun and meet new people that play games as well.”
After posting on Instagram a clip of her playing Fortnite, Rae’s presence as a streamer gained more traction. “Eventually, I signed to YouTube and then Among Us happened and then that blew up like crazy.”
Many people remember the pandemic for the boom of online hangouts. Esports and multiplayer games provide alternative spaces for group interaction and live streaming, a platform where audiences get to interact with the hosts. Hosts have the chance to collaborate with other talent regardless of distance, which seems to break the parasocial nature of celebrity and fandom. The gaming community hailed Valkyrae as one of the main proponents for livestreaming’s rise in popularity, with fans clocking in over 24 million hours watched of her during the pandemic.
In 2021, 100 Thieves announced Valkyrae as co-owner, where she would receive equity from the company valued at $460 million. “Being a co-owner in an esports company, that’s insane to me. I still blow up my mind, like, I don’t even know how I got here,” she shares. She’s since become a positive presence in the daily routine of her fans and a disruptive force in a male-dominated sphere.
“There’s definitely still sexism, there’s still hate,” Rae says, when asked about her experience as a woman content creator in the gaming industry. “If I would have given up years ago because of the stuff that the people were telling me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I just try to remember that they’re probably feeling really broken and hurt and this is their outlet. It’s online.”
Rae cites being an inspiration to Filipinas and women all over as her purpose to keep furthering her career. “Just hearing girls and even boys sometimes come up to me crying, ‘like you changed my life, you inspire me to try really hard.’ It just reminds me, like, this is a good thing that I’m doing… even though it feels like I’m just talking and yelling at my computer and there are little girls watching.”
Last September, Rae announced that she would be streaming less frequently to live a more balanced life. A streamer of over eight years, clocking in long hours everyday on Twitch and Youtube, Rae’s was supported by her fans. The same month, Rae attended her first New York Fashion Week wearing a sheer cut-out dress from Mugler. Just a day before, she appeared in the billboards of Times Square as the new face of British fitness apparel brand Gymshark.
“That is another thing that I have been very excited about recently in life is focusing on fashion,” Rae says. “I’ve been trying to up my style. Going to Fashion Week was surreal because it really opened my eyes to how cool pieces can look. It was a great experience, and I’ve never done anything like that before. Just meeting new people and seeing all these different styles. It was really inspiring to me.”
In our interview, Rae earnestly mentions her mom: “I just want to let her know that this is for her. She’s the one that got me into this, and now here we are.”
She continues: “I want to make her proud and make all my fans proud, especially the Philippine fans. And continue being an inspiration to women and everyone who’s just trying to just make it in this world.”
Valkyrae’s personality, registered on thousands of hours worth of streaming, one of humor and kindness, has made a positive impact to all kinds of audiences. A celebrity whose authentic personality is a success to fans sounds like something of a myth, but the dawn of streaming seems to have contested that. Just watch Rae.
Photographs by Raen Badua. Styling by Renee De Guzman. Makeup: Mylah Morales. Hair: Yuma Bastet. Art Director: Jann Pascua. Production Design: Monica Baronia. Photographer’s Assistant: Miles Caliboso. Stylist’s Assistant: Dion Bleu Drake