How grandmother became popular gaming streamer

When Michelle Statham isn’t doting over her two grandkids, she’s building up her video game streaming reputation as the “Tactical Gramma.”

The 58-year-old has cultivated a following on platforms such as TikTok, posting highlights of her adventures in the first-person shooter “Call of Duty: Warzone,” a free-to-play, battle-royale-style video game for PCs and gaming consoles that has amassed a huge audience since launching March 2020. As of December, Warzone surpassed more than 85 million players, said publisher Activision.

Statham goes live on platforms such as Facebook Gaming and Twitch, but it’s TikTok where she’s watched her popularity surge. As of Thursday morning, her account boasts more than 570,000 followers.

Michelle Statham, known to her TikTok followers as 'Tactical Gramma,' poses for a photo with one of her grandkids.

Michelle Statham, known to her TikTok followers as ‘Tactical Gramma,’ poses for a photo with one of her grandkids.
Shawn Statham

In an interview with USA TODAY, Statham said it was her husband and kids who encouraged her to try streaming.

“I’m like, no one’s going to want to watch someone my age play video games,” Statham said. “They’re like, ‘Then you have nothing to worry about if no one’s going to be there. You might as well try it.’”

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Statham – who lives with her husband, their daughter and son-in-law, and two grandkids, ages 1 and 3, in Washington state – said she’s played video games all her life. After arthritis made it difficult to work with the thumbsticks on a console video game controller, she switched to a PC.

In 2019, she decided to take up streaming, playing the first-person battle-royale game “Apex Legends” before taking up “Warzone.” Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic kept Americans home, Statham, who had been a stay-at-home mom, started streaming full time.

Statham now streams roughly 40 hours a week, spending six days a week on Facebook Gaming and another two days weekly on Twitch.

Warning: This content contains graphic game violence. Viewer discretion advised

Her TikTok features clips of her using a sniper rifle to down opponents during “Warzone” matches. Although her earlier videos showed modest numbers of views, Statham’s account really took off after a video posted Jan. 28, where she shows the devastating precision of each shot.

“Oh, he’s down! Oh my gosh!” shouts Statham after delivering a headshot – which she calls a “forehead kiss” – to another player hiding inside a building. Moments later, she snipes a second player attempting to run for cover. “Whoooo Gramma!” says another player in celebration.

The TikTok clip amassed more than 5 million views.

“My grandma can’t even use her phone correctly,” jokes a TikTok user who goes by the handle @ericx1346 in comments for the clip.

“Grandma snipes better than me,” says TikTok user @lost_cp.

Statham said she had lost internet and cell service earlier that day and was unable to stream. She and her husband drove around town until they discovered a hotel with working internet access. After alerting her followers she couldn’t stream that day, she uploaded the video.

“A day where I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t stream, I couldn’t hang out with my community, I uploaded to TikTok and that was the one that went viral,” said Statham.

Most of the response on TikTok has been positive, Statham says. “I think they’re curious because I’m older,” she said, noting she’s unlike other people of her generation who may frown upon time spent playing video games. 

“Because I am older and playing, they’re like, ‘OK, finally someone in the older generation that kinda gets us a little bit,’ ” said Statham.

Her exploits have even garnered attention from popular video game streamers. “Wait this so dope,” said Swagg, a streamer with 1.5 million followers on Twitch who creates content for esports organization FaZe Clan, in a comment on one of her videos.

Video game play among seniors on the rise

The overall video game market remains dominated by younger players. Nearly 60% of Americans who play video games are under the age of 34, says a survey from the Entertainment Software Association.

However, Statham’s video game habits point to a broader trend: More seniors are taking the plunge into video games.

It’s no secret the popularity of video games surged during the pandemic as Americans sought activities to keep them busy as they remained stuck at home.

That was especially true for adults over 45, said research group NPD Group last December. According to a 2020 Evolution of Entertainment Report, video game players between the ages 55 to 64 increased time spent by 48% and money spent by 73%. Meanwhile, players 65 and older saw their playing time increase by 45%.

Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research at AARP, said the jump in gaming coincides with other increases in the usage of technology.

“This is not just a pandemic behavior,” said Bryant. “It’s something they’re enjoying. They’re seeing the benefit of it.”

Seniors were adopting video games even before the pandemic. A 2019 survey from AARP found 44% of Americans over the age of 50 enjoyed video games at least once a month, up from 38% in 2016.

Michelle Statham
I’m like, ‘No one’s going to want to watch someone my age play video games.’ They’re like, ‘Then you have nothing to worry about if no one’s going to be there. You might as well try it.’

And the trend toward more seniors playing video games is expected to keep growing. A big reason: the aging Gen X population. “They were the first ones to grow up with video game consoles in their house,” said Bryant.

Statham said she’s seen several responses to her streams and TikToks from viewers in their 50s who say they’ve been inspired to play “Warzone” after watching.

A benefit to her experiences streaming has been the community built through chats. “We are just an open place where everybody can come, hang out, have a good time, support each other.”

Statham said life as Tactical Gramma has been great for her personally, too. “I’m very much an introverted person,” she said. “But doing this, it’s incredible what going live and having this experience has done for me. It’s really brought me out of my shell.”

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

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