Eventually, he turned to his parents for advice. Their initial reaction, he said, was essentially: “Just do whatever makes you happy.'” Then they saw the actual offers he was getting. Wang said they told him, “Wow, that’s a lot of money!” He declined to provide details on the offer.
“When I told my family the offer YouTube had for me, it was a clear ‘yes,'” Hofstetter told CNN Business. She declined to give details on her offer.
The fight for top gaming talent mirrors the big budget battles for stars in the music and film industries. In every case, large tech platforms are looking to lure in customers and stand out from the pack with big names and exclusive content deals. For Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, livestreaming is another battlefield for our money and attention. At the moment, people are spending millions of hours online watching others play video games every day. Video gaming content generated $6.5 billion in revenue in 2019, according to SuperData, a Nielsen company that tracks the video game industry.
In December 2018, Twitch accounted for 67% of hours watched in the livestreaming gaming market, according to StreamElements. But Twitch’s share of the market declined slightly a year later — to 61% — as YouTube, Facebook Gaming and Mixer start to pick up traction.
Twitch, in many cases, has counter-offered, according to industry sources. But some say it isn’t doing enough. “Twitch hasn’t been that aggressive in defending their position. They haven’t dramatically changed their philosophy.” said Lee Trink, CEO of FaZe Clan, a major esports organization. Trink said Twitch ran “the risk of being complacent” given its dominance in the market. (Twitch declined to discuss its negotiation process.)
While lucrative offers have been making their way around the industry for more than a year, the talent exodus from Twitch appears to have picked up speed in recent months. And it largely started with a single departure.
How the streaming gaming wars kicked off
Mixer is paying Ninja between $20 and $30 million for the multi-year deal, according to Justin Warden, CEO of Ader, a marketing and talent management agency that works with Ninja, who said he had direct knowledge of the deal. Microsoft directed CNN Business to Ninja’s agency, Loaded, when asked about the terms of the deal. The agency declined to share numbers.
Warden, whose agency also works with a number of other prominent gamers, and Ryan Morrison, CEO of talent agency Evolved, estimate that streamers with 10,000 concurrent views on Twitch or more can get offers topping $10 million while smaller streamers can get up to $1 million.
“Now the streaming wars have begun. But it took someone to fire the first shot. That was Ninja,” said Devin Nash, chief marketing officer at N3RDFUSION, a talent agency that represents Twitch and YouTube influencers. Now, according to Doron Nir, CEO of StreamElements, a company that publishes quarterly industry reports, “it’s all about the content creators.”
For the tech companies, having big names is a crucial early step to establishing themselves as true gaming destinations. “I want users to feel like when they come into YouTube that we’ve got all the gaming video content that they’re looking for,” said Ryan Wyatt, global head of gaming at YouTube. At Microsoft, just the news of Ninja joining Mixer was enough to raise its profile among gamers and the public.
All of these platforms are also owned by tech companies with deep pockets — though some pushed back at the idea that they’re throwing cash at gamers. “We would not categorize our approach as a spending frenzy. It’s quite the opposite,” Leo Olebe, Facebook’s global director of games partnerships, told CNN Business.
However, multiple former Twitch employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, believe the exodus of talent is due to the big paydays stars like Ninja can get elsewhere. “These guys are keenly aware of their marketability and they also know very well that this window of opportunity is not going to be open forever, so they need to make as much money as they can while they can,” said one former employee.
Industry watchers also point to money as a key factor in the new streaming wars.
“The game is afoot,” said Trink, the CEO of FaZe Clan. “Mixer made a decision. Somebody said, ‘Let’s go in, let’s make real moves, let’s pay people to change the game.'”
Sometimes, even money and a household name aren’t enough for a company to land talent.
“We’re proud of what we’re building, but we also know we’re just getting started here. We’ve been following community reactions closely, and, yes, we’re aware of the perception some gamers have towards Facebook,” Olebe said, “Ultimately, we know that in order to win gamers over, words are only going to go so far. It’s critical for Facebook Gaming to prove it by creating real value on the platform.”
Debating when to jump ship from Twitch
“I definitely just aligned more with Facebook’s views,” said Fortnite streamer and Instagram model Corinna Kopf, who left Twitch for Facebook in December, the same month she claimed to have been temporarily banned from Twitch for being underdressed. “I know for sure that Facebook is more consistent when it comes to terms of service, their rules, policies and everything.”
Others, like Melissa Prizzia, a 22-year-old who goes by NuFo on Twitch and has more than 31,000 followers, argued that Twitch could offer better tools to help streamers tackle trolls on the platform. Prizzia said she was harassed on Twitch after publicly announcing she’d broken up with her boyfriend, who is a prominent gamer.
In a statement to CNN Business, Twitch said situations like what happened to Prizzia are “incredibly complex and don’t have straightforward solutions.” The company noted that it’s always implementing changes on the platform and working to fight bad actors. Twitch also said it doubled the size of its moderation team in the last year.
“Over 1.3 million people are on Twitch at any given moment, and we are excited to continue making Twitch the best place to watch and create live entertainment,” the company said in a statement provided to CNN Business.
Despite the buzz surrounding large deals offered by rivals, many Twitch streamers are staying on the platform — at least for now.
Streamers Nick “NickMercs” Kolcheff, Tim the Tatman, Dr. Lupo and Saqib “LIRIK” Zahid have all made announcements that they’re staying. Others have quietly renewed their contracts with Twitch as well.
“I’ve been streaming on Justin TV/Twitch for seven or eight years now, almost as long as it’s existed,” said Kolcheff, 29, from Detroit, Michigan, referring to Twitch’s original name. “I’d love to be able to stay on one platform, almost like staying on the same professional sports team, throughout my career. That’s special to me.”
For Twitch streamers weighing their options, staying comes with the assurance of knowing they already have strong fan communities that will tune into their live streams. And for some, there’s also a question of loyalty.
“I care too much about my community and that quality of stream,” said Jayden Diaz, who streams on Twitch as YourPrincess with more than 100,000 followers. “I care about all the people that are watching. So leaving that would be for money. I would have just sold out my stream, basically.”