Yesterday, streamer Rachel “Valkyrae” Hofstetter posted a short, animated clip to Twitter — of a young girl playing a game that looks a little like Snake — that ended in a date and a time. By now, we know that when a streamer does this, it means they’ve signed (or resigned) a contract to stream on a platform exclusively; for Hofstetter, it means she’s going from Twitch to YouTube. The indefatigable e-sports consultant Rod Breslau had the scoop, which he tweeted an hour before Hofstetter’s official announcement.
Breslau also reported that the deal was worth less “than the $1 Million+ per year that other major streamers have received in their own deals.” While I couldn’t independently confirm that was the case, I have reached out to Hofstetter’s representatives and will update if there’s a response. That said, even a million dollars a year isn’t an outlandish ask for a streamer who has nearly a million followers on Twitch and who’s also part of one of the most recognizable e-sports brands in the world. (At the same time, YouTube also signed exclusive live-streaming deals with creators LazarBeam and Muselk, who have more than 20 million subscribers on YouTube between them.)
My sense here is that we’re still in the Wild West as far as streaming deals go. While it’s clear that streamers are worth significant amounts of money for the attention they command online, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s figured out exactly how that math breaks down. The arcane combination of viewership, brand value, and sponsorships varies individually, which means there’s really no set standard for how much someone should get paid. Commodities fluctuate in value based on supply, demand, and rarity, and platforms are still piecing together which streamers are worth their weight in gold.
At this point, a significant number of Twitch’s biggest stars have left the platform for (presumably) greener pastures. The list of the departed reads like a list of a very online band’s biggest singles: Shroud, Ninja, King Gothalion, Ewok, and more. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that any streamer with a significant following on the platform is up for poaching; Twitch’s competition needs content that’s already proven to be popular to grow, and they have money to burn. Here, Facebook Gaming is probably the most notable: it saw a 210 percent increase in hours watched on a 6 percent growth in streamers because it signed established talent.
All of this said, Twitch isn’t going anywhere. It’s still the biggest live-streaming platform by a large margin, no matter which way you slice up the charts. It’s still the home of huge names, like Ben “DrLupo” Lupo and Guy “DrDisrespect” Beahm. I think it’s probably a mistake to think that the fight for streaming talent is a war or even zero-sum.
It’s better to think of it in terms of simple economics: an industry is reorganizing itself around a newly valuable commodity. California, where a lot of streaming talent lives, was already the home of one gold rush, and it looks like it’s become the setting for another. The lesson of the first, though, was that the miners never made as much as the merchants who sold them their panning supplies — no matter how much money any individual streamer gets, the real winners are the platforms. That’s worth remembering.
Update January 13th, 12:27 PM ET: This piece has been updated to reflect that YouTube creators Muselk and LazarBeam have also signed with the platform, and will now live-stream exclusively there.