eSports is a type of competition where gamers play one another, often on teams, in a multiplayer video game and usually for the entertainment of viewers. The “sport” is estimated to have generated $1.5 billion in revenues in 2017, has launched dozens of scholarship-granting collegiate teams and is even being assessed by the International Olympic Committee for future Olympic games. It is one of the fastest growing segments of the entertainment industry and many of the biggest names in the market from Disney to the NBA to Amazon are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to gain exposure to its expected growth.
Dominated by young men and teenage boys, the competitions have managed to attract hundred of millions of viewers from across the globe. Just as traditional sports around the world have a handful of professional teams earning the lion’s share of the profits generated by the sport while the majority of athletes either play for pleasure or marginal earnings, video games too have a bifurcation of between the professional eSports teams and non-professional gamers. Unlike traditional sports however, some gamers have managed to use crowd sourcing opportunities to generate revenues that rival, and sometimes dwarf, those of their professional peers.
One such gamer is 26-year old named Tyler Blevins. Known more commonly as “Ninja,” Blevins has millions of followers across YouTube and the game streaming platform, Twitch, recently played Fortnite on Twitch with Drake for hundreds of thousands of fans and is reported to take home well over $500,000 A MONTH.
Twitch is an online platform that allows players to stream their games for others to watch live or at a later time. Acquired by Amazon in 2016 for just under $1 billion, the platform has UGC numbers that rival those of Google’ YouTube. While YouTube allows its content creators to monetize their popularity by earning a percentage of the ad revenue they generate, Twitch offers a much wider range of opportunities by crowd-sourcing its monetary support for gamers.
The first is through Bits. Bits are a virtual good that Twitch users can purchase for real money and use to support their favorite gamers. While viewing a live-stream, viewers use the Bits they purchased to cheer for the gamer they’re watching and often receive real-time appreciation shout-outs in response. Bits cost anywhere from 1.23 to 1.40 cents per bit of which roughly 1 cent goes directly to the gamer. Cheers cost viewers anywhere from a single Bit to over 10,000 Bits, meaning a single cheer could generate up to $100 for the gamer. In some cases Bits also grant the viewer exclusive content for when they’re playing the game themselves.
In addition to Cheers, fans can also directly donate to their favorite players through a PayPal linked feature. Like Cheers, Donations are immediately known by the streamer and often prompt a live shout-out on the gamers stream. Many gamers have generated tens of thousands of dollars through these Donations.
The most lucrative option a streamer has to monetize his or her popularity though is through the acquisition of subscribers. Subscribers pay up to $5 a month to gain ad-free access to the streams and periodic exclusive chat access to the streamer. Of the $5 subscription price, up to $3.50 goes directly to the streamer. In the case with Ninja, who has over 160,000 subscribers, this has the ability to generate hundreds of thousands of monthly income.
Much like we see with Patreon, which allows artists, including those on YouTube, to link with modern day patrons, Twitch has allowed video game content creators to crowd source a source of revenue and continue doing what they love. Unlike many content creators that rely on standardized ad streams and corporate partners that typically have a minimum size threshold, their creators can earn money irrespective of their size.