Once homeless, Quakes eMLS rep CaliSCG is gaming to help others in need

eMLS - Alan Ortega - San Jose Earthquakes - Looking up at the screen

EDITOR'S NOTE: The inaugural eMLS Cup will take place April 5-8, 2018, live at PAX East in Boston and streamed on Twitch. Learn more

Yes, Alan Ortega plays video games for a living.

Yes, he's amassed a following of more than 39,000 fans on Twitch; and yes, he’s the first eSports signing of the San Jose Earthquakes. And with next week's eMLS Cup inching closer, he’s in a reflective mood.

“I think about this every day,” says Ortega, whose gamertag is CaliSCG. “I’m aware of the fact that it’s a dream come true. Like, I play video games for a living. It’s a dream job.

“I’m very grateful for the position that I’m in, and even though I’m not the biggest streamer, that’s what I’m striving for.”

That Ortega been able to craft this success represents an incredible triumph, let alone when you consider it was nearly sidetracked altogether.

Ortega escaped a period of homelessness following his family’s eviction in 2016, living with Thavisay Thatsana, one of his best friends, while his mom stayed with his older sister. Despite an uncertain living situation and financial stress, he didn’t let the situation derail his streaming career.

Then just 22 years old, Ortega worked two jobs – one early in the morning and one in the afternoons – before arriving back to his friend’s house and hopping right back into the streaming grind, trying to get his show off the ground.

“There were a lot of people in my life to thank for helping during those tough times, from people watching my stream helping me to forget the stress of the day, to my friends helping me clean out the old house when we had to leave,” Ortega says.

Looking back, he credits his friends for helping him reach this early career peak, acknowledging that without their support and encouragement, he would never have been able to get off the ground.

Yet gaming wasn’t the only career path he considered. While attending San Joaquin Delta College, Ortega aimed to earn a position as a working academic. He’s passionate about helping people, and experience working with kids at an afterschool program directed him toward becoming an educator.

“I didn’t really know what my options were or what I wanted to do, but I found myself to be passionate about working with the youth while I was working at the YMCA,” Ortega says. “And it was just so fun for me working with kids that I was sure I wanted to go into teaching.”

But as his profile in the streaming community started to grow, a decision loomed: He could go into teaching, but likely at the expense of a credible shot at gaming professionally, which could help him support his family.

“It was definitely risky and a tough decision to make, going full-time on Twitch,” Ortega says. “I thought about it for months, and I’m the type of person that believes you should always do what makes you truly happy.

“I had a long talk with my mom about it before I made the final decision. She wasn’t in favor of it at the beginning, but I convinced her that this was something I really wanted to do, and I gained her support after that.

“Twitch was always something that I truly love.”

Then the real work began. Committing to streaming meant successfully navigating the Twitch partnership application process. Meet their criteria for eligibility, and he would become a partner. It took a year – during which Ortega was denied twice – before finally breaking through.

Now that he’s finally making his own dreams a reality, Ortega is using his platform to help others facing the kinds of adversity he has overcome in the past.

“At the end of 2016, I was working with eighth-graders,” Ortega says. “There were these two kids – a brother and sister – and then a younger sister in the kindergarten section. I knew they were going through a tough time, and then I got news that their mom had passed away from cancer.

“Their dad wasn’t in the picture, so they had to move in with one of their aunts, who had other children as well. Now, they suddenly had to take in three more kids, and their situation got a lot harder. So, I thought I would use my platform to try to raise some money to help the family out with the kinds of things they’d need for the rest of the school year.

Ortega was able to raise more than $1,500 to help the family through the power of the community he has built on Twitch, bringing people together to help others facing a tough situation – one not unlike what Ortega has faced in the past.

“This stream was an amazing experience, not just because of what we were able to accomplish, but because of how personal it was. It just hit so close to home,” says the Stockton, California native.

“I always told myself, you know, if I ever got a platform where I had a voice, I would use it not just to improve my life, but to help whoever I can.”

Ortega isn’t just a one-hit wonder, either. Since he began his partnership with Twitch in 2017 after graduating from college, he’s worked with several organizations to set up charity streams benefiting children.  Among these was a 30-hour FIFA livestream in December 2017, during which he helped raise more than $4,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“Staying awake was definitely the hardest part,” Ortega admits. “But I had a lot of help from the community, both in the chat and with some of the biggest streamers dropping by the stream to show support. I think at one point we had more than 8,000 people watching.

“That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, when it comes to streaming, but I knew it was going to be so worth it when I hit those 30 hours. It was basically me playing FIFA for 30 hours straight, interacting with people in the chat, them helping me stay awake during the rough hours, trying to keep myself awake.”

While the task of having to stare at a computer screen for more than entire calendar day is undoubtedly daunting, stream-a-thons are becoming an increasingly popular way for streamers to build their platform, benefit worthy causes, and give back to the eSports community.

Ortega’s work has indeed brought him an increased profile in the gaming community, which means the community of fans – not just streamers – is taking notice of him. Ortega has always valued the people who tune in to watch him play, and his ability to cultivate relationships and build an organic community starts with one simple step: bring the good vibes.

“The one thing that I mainly focus on is simply just asking how their day was,” Alan says of his interactions with fans in the Twitch chat.

“It just matters so much. If they’re having a good day, then they bring good vibes, and if they’re having a bad day, then it’s my responsibility to make them feel better and forget about it.

“If I know someone is having a bad day, I just try to focus a bit more on that person, I try to make sure I’m interacting with them. It’s literally like I’m hanging out with friends for however long I’m doing the stream. It’s super casual and really fun. But at the same time, it’s a little bit like having your own late-night TV show.”

Soon, Ortega will go from hosting his own show to guest-starring at eMLS Cup. His accomplishments are testament to his attitude: Alan Ortega is here to win.

“Going from being homeless to what I have now – I know the competition is [going to be] tough, but I don’t let that discourage me, because I know anything is possible.”