Yesterday, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins made a deal to exclusively broadcast on Mixer, a streaming platform owned by Microsoft. As the first gamer to be on an ESPN magazine cover, Ninja made $10M+ last year by letting other people watch him play video games on Twitch (owned by Amazon). Ninja found his fame by riding the rise of Fortnite (200M+ MAUs) and has become one of the most prolific influencers in gaming (“Gaming: Athletes vs Streamers”).
To put this into context, this is as significant as Lebron James deciding to leave his partnership with Nike (Twitch) for Adidas (Mixer). For Ninja, this move comes at an interesting, and perhaps strategic, time in his career. While his personal brand is one of the most valuable amongst gaming influencers, his popularity has been waning as of late. The timing of this exclusive deal with Mixer may be the best way to gain his momentum back.
In March, 2018, Ninja has 285k subscribers and was making at least $500k/mo from paid subscriptions on Twitch alone. Over the past 385 days, Ninja was the most watched channel on Twitch. However, over the past 180 days, streaming influencers “Shroud” and “Tfue” have surpassed him. This is not surprising, though. Ninja primarily plays Fortnite, he isn’t affiliated with a pro esports team (“Esports Teams: Valued as Tech Companies”), and Ninja isn’t at the top of the charts competitively. In contrast, Shroud and Tfue play multiple games, continually compete at the highest level, and have tied themselves to the top esports teams.
The decline in Ninja’s popularity can be directly attributed to the fact the Fortnite made Ninja, not the other way around (“Why Fortnite Won’t Die”). As the game increased in popularity, viewers dispersed across the multitude of gaming influencers who fought for the player base’s attention.
1) Large talent contracts will accelerate: Just like athletes who have large personal followings, fans will follow them to whichever team (platform) that they choose to join. Fans of Lebron James will follow him from the Cavs to the Lakers, just like many Ninja fans will likely follow him from Twitch to Mixer. These contracts are not cheap, yet the payoff for the team/platform can be substantial. I expect Facebook, YouTube, and Caffeine to follow suit with other large gaming influencer contracts (i.e. Shroud or Tfue).
2) Market efficiency for streaming platforms: to date, streaming has been dominated by Twitch who have been head and shoulders above the competition in gaming. However, with the entrance of YouTube, Mixer, Facebook, Douyu, Huawei, Caffeine, and others, there is now much more competition. Simply offering the infrastructure or a good UX isn’t enough anymore. I believe this is a healthy development for the gaming entertainment market as it will drive price efficiency.
3) Console streaming could become mainstream: Mixer is owned by Microsoft, who own Xbox. Next year, the new Xbox console is going to be released. In anticipation of that major console release, we believe that Microsoft is going to use Mixer as a primary marketing channel for its console, games, and software sales. In 2019, we had the announcement of Google Stadia (the biggest console story this year), yet there is much more weight & expectation from the gaming community around Playstation (Sony) and Xbox (Microsoft). It’s not a secret that console streaming is abysmal compared to PC streaming. Ninja will likely go back to his roots as a pro Halo player (Xbox only) and stream on console more over the next 18 months. Therefore, Mixer has very strategically chosen Ninja as a streamer who can bridge the gap between PC and console ahead of the new Xbox console next year (watch Microsoft’s Xbox Project Scarlett Trailer).