Soleil Wheeler, known to his fans as Ewok, has been on a winning streak for some time now. In 2018, he started playing Fortnite on Twitch, and over the next five years, his talent earned him hundreds of thousands of followers, recognition from celebrities and some of the biggest names in streaming, and a contract with a top tier esports organization. For such a notoriously competitive industry, Ewok’s achievements would be rare for any player. Even rarer for the industry, Ewok is seventeen years old, deaf, and trans—and he’s leveling the playing field for other streamers like himself.
“My identity as [deaf and trans] is a unique combination,” he tells INTO. “Just being out there shows them that as long as you stay true to yourself you can do a whole lot more.”
Like many gamers, Ewok’s path to success started with a grind. He was thirteen when he signed up for Twitch, and for the first several months, he played Fortnite with the use of audio visualizations to a viewership in the single digits. His Fortnite wins, on the other hand, were soon breaking the triple digits.
In March 2019, Ewok’s skills at Fortnite caught the eye of Timothy “TimTheTatman” Betar, an extremely popular Fortnite streamer. TimTheTatman hosted one of Ewok’s streams, funneling an audience of millions to the fledgling channel. Seemingly overnight, Ewok went from under a hundred subscribers to a hundred thousand, quickly making Twitch Partner in May of that year.
The following month, Ewok was invited to the Fortnite Summer Block Party, an Epic Games sponsored two-day event featuring some of the most popular content creators in the community. Not only did Ewok get to meet some of his heroes (including TimTheTatman, Ninja, DrLupo, Aydan, and Nick Eh 30), many of them learned sign language to communicate with him. As a result, he brought deaf representation and accessibility to the forefront of the event.
On the second day of the Block Party, Ewok participated in the Celebrity Pro-Am (professional-amateur), a match in which pro streamers compete alongside celebrities. His partner was Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kurt Benkert, and the pair’s performance scored them $20,000, which they donated to the National Association of the Deaf’s Youth Program. Two months later, Ewok competed in the World Cup Finals Celebrity Pro-Am with actor Jordan Fisher, earning another $20,000 for charity.
Following his performance in the World Cup, FaZe Clan—one of the top esports teams in the world—invited Ewok onto its team. By this point, little over a year had passed since he first began streaming, and now he was a recognized figure in the industry, with a professional contract and a huge subscriber count—all at fourteen years old.
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Although it was a whirlwind ride, Ewok looks back on the journey fondly. “Overall it was fun and educational,” he says. “While I was gaming, I learned the business side of things and exploring different ways to keep it fun and creative. It also forced me to get out of my comfort zone and build a network. The adventure definitely brought me many memories and I feel that I grew a lot. I had such a great support system along the way. My family, friends, agent, and orgs were supportive.”
Of course, behind the scenes, Ewok was still a teenager. When he wasn’t playing games (or drawing or weightlifting or spending time with his dogs), he was still developing his sense of identity—only now in the public eye. On National Coming Day 2020, he shared that experience with his many followers, coming out as trans and bisexual. “I never felt right in [a girl’s body] and struggled,” he wrote. “When I was 11 years old, I dressed up like a boy and grabbed some of my little brother’s clothes. I took pictures.
“For past eight years, I never was truly happy with myself and struggled. Last many years, I was at my lowest and I had bad episodes during school. I was frustrated and angry at myself. I am working on it and I am getting better. To this day, I realized that you can’t avoid any bad situations and you’ll have to face them eventually.”
Coming out on such a large platform was intensely nerve-wracking, but Ewok’s teammates quickly voiced support, along with several LGBTQ+ viewers. “There were some messages that touched my heart,” he recalls. “They said I helped them become comfortable with who they were. Even some of them were inspired to come out. Those who stayed by my side throughout my journey—that’s when I knew who my true friends are. They accepted who I am and embraced it.”
While being publicly trans and deaf online means dealing with the occasional troll, the support Ewok’s received has made it easier to ignore the haters. His advice to LGBTQ+ youth is to avoid sinking to their level. “There are trolls everywhere,” he says. “They come and go. We just need to educate them and ignore them if their sole goal is to get under your skin.
“People think they can do more things behind the computer screen and keyboard. Remember that in most cases they wouldn’t say [this] stuff to you in person. They have nothing better to do, but you can continue to take the high road.”
Following a streaming hiatus last year, Ewok left FaZe Clan to join the content creation team at esports org XSET, signing on as their “Agent of Positive Change.” Later this month, he’ll be heading to Singapore to join a panel at the Olympic Esports Finals.
In the meantime, Ewok treasures the opportunity to be himself and represent his community day-to-day on stream. “I am happy to be a beacon of light for the LGBTQ+ community especially during a time where multiple states are passing anti-LGBTQ+ laws,” he says. “I hope one day we all will accept each other and let us all be who we want to be.”