As gunfire erupts around her, Katharine Conti aims her Kar98k sniper rifle and takes out an enemy combatant with a single headshot―dropping them dead on the spot in front of a live, virtual audience.
But Conti isn’t firing a real gun, nor is she on an actual battlefield.
Instead, she’s live-streaming a virtual battle in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, a popular competitive shooter video game better known as PUBG. It’s also part of her job.
Conti, who’s better known by her username KatContii, is a local professional streamer and Esport athlete that makes her living from playing video games including PUBG, Call of Duty, and Overwatch.
What once began as a hobby has evolved into a game-changing career for Conti. Since she began her streaming career in 2012, Conti’s garnered over 116,000 followers on Twitch, and has competed in and hosted major world-renowned gaming tournaments including TwitchCon and the GLL Grand Slam in Stockholm, Sweden.
She primarily sustains herself through ad revenue on Twitch and is also a featured content creator and with professional esports organization Rogue. She also has a running sponsorship with Norton 360 for Gamers―specialized antivirus software for gamers―and UK-based energy drink company Sneak.
“I didn’t think it’d be possible [to play video games for a living], but with how the times are changing and how people in my generation are shaping what’s a job and what isn’t, now I’m like hell yeah, I can make a living from it,” Conti told Vegas News.
Conti’s love for video games began as a child with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and has traversed numerous consoles before Conti finally entered PC gaming several years ago.
Video games often served as an escape from family turmoil during her childhood, and still, continue to play an important role in helping her destress.
“Whenever I turn on my camera or my stream all of my stress and all of my sadness goes away because I have friends that I can play with,” Conti said. “I have a whole different world in gaming that just makes everything on the outside nonexistent.”
Conti eventually began streaming herself playing video games on the Xbox 360 including Call of Duty and other similar shooting games around 2012, and eventually got into PC gaming and competitive gaming a few years afterward.
Although she originally considered herself too shy to live stream, she became motivated by befriending fellow female streamers including Kelly Kelley ― better known by her username MrsViolence.
“During that time they were really big influential because they were women and they were also really good at gaming and took it very seriously,” Conti explained.
“So I started getting around to playing with them and Mrs. Violence actually kind of took me under her wing and she introduced me to the right people in the industry.”
Money eventually began flowing in through Twitch, which allowed her to quit a monotonous world of working 9-5 sales jobs.
Not everyone was on board with her decision to pursue professional steaming at first.
“My family wasn’t actually very accepting about it. It wasn’t until maybe a year or two or more after that my family was like ‘you’re actually making living from it,’’ said Conti.
The 29-year-old explained that even though streaming and esports are becoming viable career paths, there are still many misconceptions about her line of work.
“The biggest [misconception] for me—especially being a woman in this industry—is that people only watch women gamers because we’re women,” she said. “I think that one’s really high up there for me. Another one is the whole gamers are slobs, we don’t wash our face, we don’t take showers. That’s not true at all.”
Conti also acknowledges that people often don’t realize that streaming can be demanding.
“I try to stream for eight hours a day, but sometimes that can go for 16 hours,” Conti explained. “I have friends that do 24 hours like it’s nothing.”
That’s not counting the extra hours she devotes to setting up her stream, editing, and communicating with her agent and other business partners.
Both the global esports and streaming industries are projected to be worth $3.5 billion by 2025, rising from $2.1 billion in 2021 according to a study from Juniper Research.
Esports has also become a lucrative industry in Las Vegas, which saw the arrival of the 30,000 sq. ft HyperX Esports Arena in 2018, and even prompted one Nevada state senator this legislative session to propose regulatory guidelines for esports similar to casino gaming.
As competitive gaming becomes more mainstream, Conti believes that anyone can become a professional gamer just like her—but not without some real dedication.
“A lot of people perceive this to be so incredibly easy when in reality the people that are where they are today have worked their butts off,” Conti said. “And just like anything you have to put in time, nothing comes easy.”