Ninja announced his move to stream exclusively on Microsoft Mixer, leaving behind the site that helped create his nearly 15-million strong empire of Twitch followers. At first glance it seems strange that Microsoft would spend a rumoured $US50 million on a single streamer. But with two-thirds of the population playing video games in Australia and global gaming revenue reaching into the billions, the move might be the most influential acquisition Microsoft has made this generation.
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the patron saint of Twitch, announced today that he is moving his channel over to the significantly less popular streaming platform Mixer. News of the frankly shocking transition comes the day before Blevins’ Lollapalooza stream, which will now take place here on Mixer.
Since Twitch has risen in popularity, other sites have developed products to take their slice of the streaming pie. While YouTube has always been a natural home for game reviews and playthroughs, Google launched YouTube Gaming in 2015 as a direct competitor after failing to acquire Twitch themselves.
YouTube has since closed it down as a standalone gaming hub but given the site's wide appeal, and with 701.6 million hours of live streaming being viewed in the second quarter of 2019 according to StreamLabs, YouTube is Twitch's closest competitor. It stills falls shy of Twitch's 2.7 billion hours during the same quarter.
Mixer was launched by Microsoft over two years ago and while it's had some success, it pales when compared to the soaring heights of Twitch and YouTube. While Twitch is said to own about 72 percent of the streaming market, Mixer is estimated to be around three percent. Ninja's move to the site will boost it a bit, but one lone streamer is probably not enough.
But while Twitch maintains its hegemony over the streaming world, Fortnite's popularity, and subsequently Ninja's, had begun to wane. Before announcing his departure from the platform, Ninja had already lost the title of the most-streamed Twitcher. Tfue, with nearly seven million followers, had superseded Ninja's average viewer count with nearly 49,500 while Ninja was averaging around 43,500, according to Twitch Metrics.
On Twitch, fans can subscribe to their favourite streamers, typically for $4.99 per month. Usually, that comes with minor perks like subscriber-only emotes, subscriber badges, and access to subscriber-only chat, if streamers decide to enable it. But now, streamers are getting a big addition to their arsenals: subscriber-only streams.
An obvious pairing
Long before the Drake and Travis Scott cameos on Fortnite launched Ninja into superstardom, Blevins played Halo and Halo: Reach professionally until around 2017. In his announcement video, Ninja referred to wanting to get "back to his roots."
It seems only fair Ninja and Microsoft would team up due to his history but it doesn't answer why a mega-corporation allegedly forked out a sum as huge as $US50 million on one streamer.
"[Ninja] is really that top fraction of a per cent that can land these types of deals," Cam Rogers, a digital entertainment lawyer, said to Kotaku Australia.
"I think companies are starting to recognise the value, more so internationally, of influencers and how they can reach their audiences more organically compared to [traditional advertising]."
Ninja's swaying power over his audience might not be enough to compel his audiences to purchase more Microsoft products, per se, but the power of audiences seeing him choose Microsoft might shape perceptions of the brand as more forward-thinking and supportive of the industry. And that's what makes the deal worth it for them.
When Tyler "Ninja" Blevins hit 100,000 subscribers on Twitch, he could barely form words. The streamer, sporting his trademark yellow headband, broke out into a fit of incredulous laughter before howling at the top of his lungs. But he had every right to lose his shit: after all, he'd just broken the all-time overall subscriber record with 50,000 subs a week earlier.
Rise of streaming, decline in gaming
Watching other people play video games has always been a popular pastime because for some people, it's as enjoyable as playing the actual game without some of the stress. While the internet became a home for gameplay videos initially, watching live streams of other people playing has dominated in recent years.
But when you have that many people watching live streams, even preferring it, there's no time left to actually play the games yourselves. This theory behind why the amount of time we dedicate to gaming has dropped in recent studies suggests we're happy to sit back and let someone else deal with all the trouble. The escapism and social aspect is there but without the need to grow frustrated or disappointed with your performance in a game.
The latest bi-annual report on the average Australian gamer is out, and we've already gone through some of the main takeaways. The average Aussie gamer is still 34 years old, and both women and men are playing slightly less per day on average. But why the drop in figures?
The future is influencers
Ninja's move to Mixer is already paying off for the streaming site. His debut stream has already clocked more than eight million views at the time of writing and his subscriber count has already exceeded his first million (it's sitting at 1.5 million, in fact).
While Ninja's departure from Twitch isn't likely to do any obvious damage to his former streaming home, it's clear his arrival at Mixer is likely to influence a lot of signups to the site. In mid-2018, there were approximately 10 million monthly users on the site so eight million views on a single video in less than a fortnight speaks volumes. The lure of a limited-time free subscription to his channel is only likely to amplify the FOMO.
Beyond streaming Fortnite, the partnership hints at something bigger. Influencers, such as streamers like Ninja, are in the sights of corporations and they're willing to fork out big money for them.
Earlier this year, Ninja was reportedly paid close to $US1 million to play Apex Legends by EA Games. There were reports of other streamers like Shroud and CouRage being offered big amounts too to stream during the game's initial launch.
Like traditional advertising before it, companies aren't expecting immediate return of investment on these big deals with the world's top streamers.
"Young people are getting their content from so many sources so it's not good enough to whack an ad on the television and say 'good job' anymore," Rogers said. "Influencers are allowing companies to tap into markets and reaching audiences they couldn't previously reach."
More deals between influencers and publishers in the gaming sphere are likely, even if they won't be on the same scale as Ninja. Just like influencers on Instagram, they'll allow gamers to attain a steady income stream while companies amplify their products to their preferred audiences.
For Microsoft, and perhaps Sony in the coming years, it's about their reach over audiences and waiting for it to pay off as consumers begin to recognise, respect and trust their brand. Ninja's younger fans from Twitch aren't going to suddenly become Microsoft fans overnight, but as Ninja promotes more Microsoft products (whether explicitly Microsoft or not), the FOMO effect kicks in and a new generation will want to try out what they've got to offer.
Microsoft's next-gen Xbox offering, codenamed Project Scarlett, is due next year and with Blevins on board, you've got one of the world's best hype men. Something that's surely worth $US50 million.
Microsoft today teased some its first plans for Project Scarlett, the next-generation Xbox, and the buzzwords make it sound impressive: up to 120 frames-per-second, a solid state drive, ray-tracing, and so on. It’ll be out in the spring of 2020.