This article originally appeared on VICE IT.
Fiverr is good for a lot of things: finding cheap freelancers, paying people to impersonate celebrities, and – if you’re a lonely gamer guy – meeting women who will play video games with you, for a fee.
There are hundreds of accounts in the "gaming" section, some (usually belonging to men) offering training to master a skill, others (usually belonging to women) offering to play your game of choice or watch anime together for as little as €1 per session.
In March of 2020, a dedicated platform was launched to serve this audience. EPal.gg, formerly known as Egirl.gg, hosts hundreds of profiles listing mostly female pictures. Many of them embrace the e-girl aesthetic, with nods to anime and kawaii emojis. The website says EPal is about meeting friends with a shared interest in video games, emphasising the companionship aspect over training – but you can be picky, filtering gamers based on their physical aspect and tone of voice.
The website’s creator, 25-year-old UC Berkeley student Brian Xiong, has said the platform conducts a strict review of the profiles submitted to make sure nothing is explicitly sexual. But the girls working on EPal say that doesn’t prevent uncomfortable encounters. I spoke to a few of them about their jobs, how much they make and how they deal with creepy guys.
VICE: Hey Aurora, how did you get into gaming?
Aurora: When I was little, I used to watch my dad play video games – especially World of Warcraft – so I started, too. Thanks to this job, I found many other games I like. Now I mainly play League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone and Grand Theft Auto 5.
Did you tell people about your gig at E-Pal?
My family and friends know, I don’t hide it. I never give out my personal details to customers – I only share my name, age and nationality. Sometimes I tell them about my day, but I created a private Instagram account for this job and I never share my personal socials.
The fees on E-Pal are pretty low. How much do you make?
Not much – it starts from €1 a game, but the most popular girls can charge €20 to €25. I’m studying IT at university, so setting some money aside is a good thing, but I also do it to meet new people, have fun and play with someone.
Who are your clients?
Up until now, all my clients have been men, I’ve never had a girl. They’re under 30 and all employed. There’s a few Italians, but most are foreigners from the US or the Emirates, plus Asian people, mainly Japanese.
Why do you think they pay you to play with them?
Based on what they told me, they prefer playing with girls, because they encourage you, instead of focusing on your mistakes. They like foreign girls because they want to learn another language or get to know someone from the other side of the world who’s into gaming. Most people who get in touch with me are polite, but you’ve got to accept the right orders. I try to talk to clients a bit before accepting an order, and sometimes they end up being rude and saying they’re looking for something else. I often meet people who just want to vent or watch a series or an anime with someone else.
E-Pal looks a bit like a dating site – it was even called egirl.gg up until recently. What do you think about that?
Epal.gg tends to put girls on its front page, but guys do this job too. It feels sexist to me. It gives the impression that people are looking for girl gamers just because they are girls, not because we’re good at playing or entertaining. I think we need to open this job up to more guys.
VICE: How did you start gaming?
Sara: My dad bought me a Nintendo DS when I was six or seven, but I always played at home alone. The first time I got an internet connection I was 13, but I didn’t play a lot. I started playing competitively when I was 15.
Why do you do it?
Because you can make more than what you’d get as a part-time sales assistant in a shop – €30, €40 a day. I feel comfortable gaming, so I thought there was nothing wrong with it. I’ve been doing it for a few months now. I still have other prospects – I study at university and I’d like to have a career.
Who’s your average customer?
They’re all men, either young or over 50. They like to play with someone who’s good looking, because deep down, they want something else. Initially, they just want to play, but then they ask you for other stuff, like nudes. A guy just offered me €50 for a shirtless picture. Many girls do that and make a lot of money. I’ve played with guys who just wanted to play, but the topic inevitably comes up. It’s a very sexualised environment.
How does a gaming session work?
After the order, we start playing and the client decides if they want to see me or not. I never say no to using my webcam, even though clients often don’t show themselves. I get asked for weird stuff during most sessions, even though my profile clearly states I only play.
What’s your opinion of this industry?
We’ve been called the new porn icons. I’ve seen many gamers who got famous on streaming sites and then moved on to something else, like posing nude on Patreon. I asked a client why he wanted nudes, and he said he enjoys the attention of a real girl – even though it’s online. Unlike with porn, we're in touch with clients right away, we’re letting them see us and create a relationship. That automatically warrants the exchange of nudes in their eyes, something I’ve never done.
VICE: Hey Alice, how did you get into gaming?
Alice: I’m Austrian and my mum is Italian. I’m in my last year of high school. I started playing because my brother and cousin were into League of Legends and I decided to give it a go.
How did you find E-Pal?
A colleague showed me epal.gg as a joke. At first, I thought it was a dumb idea, but then I told myself there was nothing wrong with creating a profile.
Did you tell someone?
Just a friend. I’m afraid people would think I’m weird if they find out.
How are your clients?
I like to chat with them before exchanging contacts. Many look for things I don’t want to do – like nudes. I prefer playing with clients I personally like. Some are looking for a player to fill a specific role in the match, others just want company. A guy asked me to have a virtual date; we watched a movie and talked. I played with Germans, Austrians and Italians – in general, only people from Europe around the age of 25.
Do you have fixed clients? Or is it always different people?
There are people I talk to during the day and then play with at night, or clients who want to play two or three matches a night almost every day.
Why do they want someone to play with?
Playing with random people can be a negative experience. There’s a lot of toxicity online. Maybe they’re looking to play with someone who doesn’t have that toxic behaviour. It’s a pity that so many people feel the need to pay someone to have a positive gaming experience.
Do you have any tips for people interested in the job?
I’d say set some boundaries, because many clients will ask for inappropriate things. Remember you can always say no.
Chiara (Cocobun), 22.
VICE: Hey Chiara, why did you start working for E-Pal?
Chiara: I’m a graphic designer at a five-star hotel, so money is not an issue. I signed up out of curiosity because I like gaming and I was bored during the lockdown. The platform has been up since the end of February, and I think it’s been so successful because people were at home.
Who contacts you usually?
It’s the question I’ve been asked the most. It’s usually guys between the ages of 19 and 40. They often have a hard time with women or they say they have anxiety or body image issues. A guy told me he wrote me because he doesn’t enjoy sex, he’s only satisfied by online relationships and has a sort of fetish for hiring girls online. I only talked with him because I don’t do porn, I only offer my company and my voice.
What do you mean by voice?
Well, you’re not really required to play well, but you should know how to chat and entertain someone, maybe make them laugh or relax for half an hour. People contact me because they’re attracted by my voice, and some guys told me they feel better after talking to me. Your voice is important, and so are your looks.
So people contact you just to talk?
Yes, there’s a special section for that on the site. Usually, they get in touch based on your looks. Then you talk about a bit of everything – from how the lockdown is going to what you do in life and where you live, because often clients are from abroad, from Canada or the US. A guy told me he hires girls online to have someone who shares his interests, to talk to for half an hour. Then he asked me how tall I was, my weight and if I had a boyfriend.
Do you have regulars?
There’s a guy from Milan – I always accept his order, because I liked him from the start. There’s a German guy who hires me three or four times a week, and who sent me a few recipes; a very normal guy. He’s grown fond of me and he often gives me gifts – for example, on League of Legends – or he sends money to my PayPal, even €80 sometimes.