While one of the biggest streamers on Twitch – Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins – makes the switch to the less popular streaming platform, Mixer, we follow his progress from what used to be a nerdy hobby to rivaling traditional sports in terms of viewership and sponsorships.
Since superstar game streamer Ninja went public with his decision to switch from Amazon’s platform, Twitch to Microsoft’s Mixer, his name has been on the lips of everyone in the gaming world.
It was a big and bold decision, deciding to stream his content exclusively on Mixer, a platform that not many had heard of until he made his announcement.
Ninja, headed for celebrity status?
Ninja is a shining example of a niche entertainer having a crack at the big time. Over the last few years, Ninja has made the right headlines, but he has been around for a while now. He started filming his content in 2011, but he has been a professional player even before then.
Those times seem a world away now considering that Ninja now appears on TV shows and in the company of non-gaming superstars like Drake and Neymar, both in-game and in real life.
Appearances on CNN and CNBC are just some other notable achievements, and he also boasts successfully hosting charity streams that have raked in donations to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to his wife, cum manager, Jessica Blevins in 2018 said, “We want him as a household name, so we’re trying to move him from just gaming to everywhere.” From all indications, they look to be heading in the right direction.
Ninja has more active subscribers on YouTube than his rapper friend, Drake, even though the latter enjoys more views per video than Ninja.
That can be explained easily by the higher amount of people that will go back to watch a music video than a Fortnite stream.
In the not so distant future, it might be Neymar benefitting from being seen around Ninja, a sharp contrast from the situation today.
Can we put a number to Ninja’s earnings?
This bit is not an exact science as Twitch does not exactly release information about how much top of the shelf streamers like Ninja or any others in that category makes. However, calculations put him anywhere between $6-15 million and growing by the second.
Most of his earnings have come in the last two years, and unsurprisingly, the Mixer agreement forms a considerable portion of it. Microsoft has not made the estimation any easier either, failing to disclose precisely how much it took to get the star with brightly-colored hair on their side.
An editor for Verge predicted something in the region of $50 million. That seems like an exaggeration when you look at the big picture, with soccer star Neymar valued at around $185 million. The streaming industry is just not in a place to throw those kinds of cash around yet.
“Where does all the money come from?” you might be tempted to ask. Using Twitch as a case study, most of it is from subscribers.
You can choose to watch a streamer for free by ‘following’ them or prove your commitment by ‘subscribing’ for a monthly fee of at least $5. On Twitch, Ninja had at least 50,000 subscribers. Users can also make occasional donations when they feel generous.
The followers who don’t pay with cash generate funds for Twitch and their favorite streamer when they watch pop-up ads, just as in YouTube. Another way is via affiliate sales (when a viewer buys an item from an ad on the streamer’s page), merchandise sales, and E-Sports league partnerships.
Streamers also make money by hosting sponsored streams. Videogame publishers can easily get their new products out there by having a big streamer play it for their large following to watch. An example that readily comes to mind is EA reportedly paying Ninja $1 million to play Apex Legends exclusively for a week, to the detriment of a rival title – Fortnite.
Last, but certainly not least are brand endorsement deals. Ninja has been in deals with Red Bull, and Uber Eats, and he also partnered with Samsung for a Galaxy Note9 advertisement.
Why did Microsoft snap up Ninja?
When you consider that only three percent of stream viewers use Microsoft’s Mixer platform with the rest divided between Twitch and YouTube, you can easily understand the rationale behind bringing someone of Ninja’s status on board. The injection of quality would be a welcome addition to their previously underperforming platform.
We can argue that it has turned out well so far, with Mixer skyrocketing, and going past YouTube and Gmail as the most downloaded app on the AppStore. But like Midas’ touch, it has a catch, with the coming months integral to its growth or natural death.
Five days after packing up and moving to ‘the other castle’ (Twitch’s jocular announcement of Ninja’s switch using the Mario game as a reference), Ninja announced having one million subscribers.
When you compare this to the 50 thousand subscribers that Ninja had on Twitch, you might be excused if you think this is a success already.
However, bear in mind that Microsoft has made a subscription to Ninja free for the first two months, only after which a monthly subscription of $5.99 comes into effect. The end of the two-month free trial period will no doubt see a drastic drop in numbers.
Hence, a subscriber on Mixer at the moment is only an equivalent to a follower on Twitch. While it is a sign of popularity, it does not bring in any revenue.
From this perspective, Twitch stands head and shoulders above Mixer as Ninja had an astounding 14 million followers on the platform.
The question everyone asks now is if the paying subscribers that will remain will be sufficient to keep Mixer around or that will be last we hear of it, probably taking Ninja with it.
It takes more than one Ninja to be an elite
Microsoft has shown its card, and it plans to give Mixer a fighting chance against Twitch. It could not have been more obvious, going for the biggest name in the game. The logical next step would be getting more names also to jump ship assuming this Ninja experiment goes on to be successful.
If these financial incentives become more commonplace, we could be seeing bidding wars over gamers like among record labels over artists now, or football clubs negotiating over the value of players.
Superstar streamers likely to be involved next would include the likes of Shroud, a.k.a. Michael Grzesiek ($4 million estimated yearly income, a close second to Ninja’s $5 million), TimTheTatman, a.k.a. Timothy John Betar ($2.7 million), DrLupo, a.k.a. Benjamin Lupo ($1.9 million), DrDisRespect (a.k.a. Guy Beahm), etc to mention a few. It could also involve more than a dozen more guys who play games and stream their content for viewers.
This is the future
Ninja’s case goes to prove that games, like traditional sports, are here to stay and they will be for a long time. You don’t have to be a player to enjoy these games; you can have as much fun watching it too.
When you throw in the fact that almost anybody can participate in these games without properly assimilating the rules (which is not quite the case with traditional sports), more people will get involved with esports as time passes.
A ready defense used by people who support this argument is that the North American League of Legends finale that held in April had more viewers online than the Superbowl. Interestingly, that is not a one-off. Even more numbers are expected at future events.
However, a sticking point that remains is the considerable remuneration disparity that still exists between a professional player and a streamer. The highest-paid footballer in the world, Lionel Messi is still about 30 times richer than Tyler Blevin, who occupies the highest earner spot for streamers.
E-sport is not there yet, but we cannot underestimate the power of the audience who are starting to spend their money on the things that they enjoy more. With tech giants like Microsoft now also prepared to fight for the big names, we can be sure of one thing – more cash flying around.