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E3 Conference Showcases New Kind Of Video Game Celebrity


The video game industry has been in Los Angeles this week for the annual E3 conference. They're showing off upcoming games like the new "Zelda" or the next "Call Of Duty." It's also a showcase for a new kind of celebrity - professional gamers who have huge numbers of online followers. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Most genres have their famous couples. Movies have Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Music's got Jay Z and Beyonce. Meet video game stars Sonja Reid and Tucker Boner, their stage names - OMGitsfirefoxx and Jericho. These folks spend five to six hours a day live-streaming online on Twitch, a game network. From their home in Portland, they make funny comments while playing video games in front of thousands of viewers.

So in your house, are you, like, each in separate rooms just, like, playing video games?

SONJA REID: Yes, so luckily we each kind of have our own office at the opposite ends because he's very loud, so (laughter) that's where we spend probably the majority of our day.

SYDELL: I met up with Reid and Boner outside the Los Angeles Convention Center at the start of the three-day video game trade show E3. They're an attractive, young couple who would not draw attention on the street. But in the Convention Center, they have star power. A man sees Boner.

TUCKER BONER: Not right now. I'm actually in an interview, and I've got a meeting.


BONER: If you want to send a - you can shoot me an email in my Twitter.

FUEHNEN: Do you have a card?

SYDELL: The man, Mark Fuehnen, works on the ad side of games and was hoping for a product endorsement from Boner.

FUEHNEN: I'm kind of in the business, but he's a very famous guy and a good one as well.

SYDELL: Fuehnen isn't the only one here who would like an endorsement from Boner. At E3, there are long lines to try games, but Boner and Reid get escorted to the front.

JEFF RUBENSTEIN: How you doing? I'm Jeff.

BONER: Nice to meet you, Man.

RUBENSTEIN: Nice meeting you, good to see you again.

REID: Good to see you.

RUBENSTEIN: I'm going to be taking you on your tour.

BONER: Cool.

REID: Awesome.

SYDELL: Jeff Rubenstein works for Microsoft, and it's his job to keep Boner and Reid happy.

RUBENSTEIN: They have, like, such an outsize influence. I firmly believe that for folks that are under 25 and 20 that they are the new media.

SYDELL: Jeff Rubenstein works full-time to connect with online stars who play games. Twitch reports it has 15,000 people with their own channels who make a living through ads, sponsorships and merchandising. At E3, Boner and Reid find new games to play in front of their fans. First stop "Sea Of Thieves," a multiplayer pirate game. The couple stand side by side, Xbox controllers in hand, trying to save their ship.

REID: Oh, no, we're sinking. We're sinking.

BONER: Listen; they don't...

REID: We got water - oh, no.

BONER: Put down those sails.

REID: Oh, no.

SYDELL: So I'm just curious. Is this what it's like in your household?

REID: Yeah (laughter) but worse sometimes.

SYDELL: Both Reid and Boner like this game because it's easy to make jokes, and its multiplayer, so people who are watching can play with them.

REID: So we can just get a bunch of Twitch streamers together and, you know, as Tucker said, enjoy a little rum, dress up as pirates and just have fun (laughter).

SYDELL: And it's hard work. In between looking at new games, Boner does a live stream from the floor of E3 to make sure his fans don't forget about him while he's away from home.

BONER: I'm only going to have time for, like, on video, one stream, so I kind of feel bad. Like, I want to get as much in as possible so you guys don't forget about me. I know you guys are going to move on. You found better streamers, Man.

SYDELL: Boner does preview his game recommendations to his fans.

BONER: I figure - let's just talk about some of that E3 stuff. I got hands-on with "Battlefield One." I'm stoked.

SYDELL: Boner and Reid are a new kind of star. Boner says he only got enough fans, ads and endorsements to make a living at this about three years ago, but he was doing it for fun for many years before that.

BONER: I feel like I'm a lucky but passionate individual that's managed to turn my hobby into my job.

SYDELL: And it was his hobby that got him a girlfriend. In case you were wondering, Boner and Reid met playing a game online. Laura Sydell, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.