This time last year, Twitch was top of the molehill when it came to game streaming. Now several of its major stars are leaving for apparently greener pastures — namely, Mixer, YouTube, and Facebook (of all things). So what brought this on?
The deepest of these cuts, by far, was Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. The most popular of Twitch’s stars, Ninja quickly rose to prominence thanks mostly to Fortnite. His celebrity is such that he can appear on a Super Bowl and even my non-gaming family members recognize him. So when he announced in August he’d be streaming exclusively on Mixer, Microsoft’s streaming site that used to be called Beam, his community was shaken.
But he wasn’t the only one. Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek became the second major streamer to join Mixer in October. He said in a statement: “Streaming is my passion and I owe my success to my fans who have helped me get to where I am now. Mixer provides the flexibility to center my attention around them.”
— Michael Grzesiek (@shroud) October 24, 2019
The bleeding continued later in the year. Jack “CouRage” Dunlop revealed in November he’d be streaming exclusively on YouTube, while Jeremy “Disguised Toast” Wang and Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios moved to Facebook Gaming, of all things. Almost universally, the streamers claimed their primary motivation was to spend more time interacting with their fans and communities.
To be fair, Twitch is big enough now that no one streamer is a tentpole. While it was no doubt a disappointment to see these big streamers so publicly move to the competition, it doesn’t seem to have made that big of a dent in Twitch’s viewership. In fact, Twitch appears to be participating in this battle for exclusives. Last week, it signed exclusive deals with Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo, Timothy “TimTheTatman” Betar, and Saqib “Lirik” Zahid.
Ninja’s wife and manager, Jessica Blevins, told Business Insider that the move wasn’t motivated entirely by money. She and Ninja were allegedly chafing under a restrictive contract and were sick of Twitch for not returning their calls:
Everything we were asking, it never came back reflecting our wishes… it was really upsetting for us to go months and months and keep reiterating that we love you guys, we’ve been here for a long time, but the things that are in the contract right now just don’t make sense.
So how’s it working out for them? Well, some data suggests the transition hasn’t been seamless. A report from Streammetrics shows that Shroud lost two-thirds of his American audience. Ninja boasts an audience on Mixer only a fraction the size of that on Twitch. That said, both streamers have said that the chance to focus on a smaller audience was worth anything that might have been lost in transit. Shroud said during a streamed conversation with DrLupo that he feels less pressured on Mixer: “My favorite part about being here is that I can play whatever the fuck I want, and not have to feel so pressured to play the game that everyone wants me to play.”
Overall, this reminds me of a smaller-scaled version of the battle for exclusives between the likes of Netflix, Disney, HBO and the rest. Twitch, Mixer, and YouTube have come to the inescapable conclusion that the content creator matters as much as the content, and they’re locking down as many of the big ones as they can.