The most popular professional gamers on platforms like Twitch and YouTube earn up to $50,000 an hour to play newly released video games for their live audience, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.
Successful video game streamers engage with millions of followers and often spend up to 12 hours a day playing a single game. Tens of thousands of viewers are watching these livestreams at any given moment, and video game publishers are increasingly eager to capitalize on those captive audiences.
Because they’re constantly engaged with their audience, a live streamer’s initial impressions of a game are often received as candid, even when they’re being paid for play. Night Media Inc CEO Reed Duchscher told the Journal that streamers that consistently have 15,000 or more concurrent viewers can command up between $25,000 to $35,000 per hour to play newly released games. The top streamers can earn even more based on the size of their audience.
With more than 14 million followers, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is the most popular streamer on Twitch. While best known for playing “Fortnite,” Blevins reportedly received $1 million to livestream “Apex Legends,” a newly released battle royale game from one of the video game industry’s largest publishers, Electronic Arts.
Blevins wasn’t alone either, Electronic Arts paid approximately a dozen popular streamers to play “Apex Legends” the day it was released and gave some of them a chance to play the game in a closed environment before it launched. The group shared early impressions of the game using the hashtag #ApexPartner on social media, which helped to organize promotion and show that their streams were sponsored content.
Despite launching with no advanced marketing, the #ApexPartner program helped “Apex Legends” bring in more than one million players in its first 24 hours. While the #ApexPartner program only lasted for the game’s first day online, it has welcomed more than 50 million players and is now the second most popular battle royale game on the market behind “Fortnite.”
More and more publishers are embracing livestreamers as a part of their marketing strategy. Last October, Blevins briefly switched from playing “Fortnite” to “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” for several days before and after the game’s release, and appeared at promotional events hosted by publisher Activision. The Wall Street Journal reports that Take-Two Interactive plans to partner with streamers for the launch of “Borderlands 3” in September, and French publisher Ubisoft will use a similar strategy for the upcoming “Ghost Recon Breakpoint.”
Twitch also works to leverage the success of individual channels by providing a “bounty” program that lets streamers choose specific games or events to broadcast in exchange for a cash reward. Reckful, a Twitch streamer with about 805,000 followers, briefly showed the bounty portal during a livestream last month. One such bounty simply required the streamer to watch and rebroadcast 30 minutes of a Street Fighter Pro League stream in exchange for $4,000, with no gameplay required.
Though Twitch viewers spend billions of hours watching livestreams, the vast majority of that time is spent with just a handful of popular games. There’s no way to guarantee that a new blockbsuter release will reach the top of Twitch or YouTube without support from major influencers on those platforms. With more people now depending on videos and livestreams to keep up with the latest video game content, it makes sense for video game publishers to pay for their game to be on the largest platform possible.